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Travel guides to Australia from Ski Flights travel guides

Vast, diverse and enticing, multicultural Australia revels in a Pacific Rim location that drenches it in sunshine and an affable charisma. Sydney boasts the finest natural harbour in the world, comprising sandstone headlands, white sandy beaches and endless surf. Melbourne’s Victorian grace and easygoing charm belies a dynamic city that hosts the nation’s premier sporting and cultural events. Brisbane, the river city, is gateway to the tropical northeast, Adelaide is an impossibly well laid-out city oozing grandeur, while Perth is young, brash and alluring. Australia may be an island, but it is also the world’s largest one, encompassing a range of stunning landscapes, from immense, barren deserts to tropical rainforests and rugged mountains. Isolated from other continents, Australia has an abundance of unique plant and animal life recognizable by cuddly koalas, bounding kangaroos and ungainly emus. One of the country’s greatest lures is its sense of space. A beach, patch of tropical forest or piece of sandy desert all to yourself is an easy reality. Water sports are ferociously popular, especially surfing. The hulking form of Uluru (Ayers Rock), an impossibly large rock plonked in the middle of Australia that soaks up the reds and oranges of the outback’s fiery sun, is Australia’s most iconic image. Captain Cook stumbled onto Australian shores in 1770 to find an Aboriginal way of life that went back some 40,000 years. By 1868, Britain had sent more than 160,000 convicts to Australia. Experiencing the culture of Australia’s indigenous population is one of the great highlights of a visit. Many tensions still exist between mainstream Australia and its indigenous people. The first European settlers treated the Aboriginal population with appalling brutality, which gave way to racist and cruel policies from subsequent administrations. However, the slow march towards reconciliation was given a boost in 2007 with the new government’s promise of a formal apology. More about Australia

American Samoa, a tropical island paradise in the heart of Polynesia, has succeeded in keeping the traditional values of old Samoa. It is made up of seven islands, including Ta’u, Olosega and Ofu, known as the Manu’a group, which are volcanic in origin and dominated by high peaks. The islands’ volcanoes, inactive since 1911, have left an intriguing land formation, including lava tubes to explore. Most people live in villages along the narrow coastal plains, living off the sea and cultivating agriculture in the plains and nearby hills. Half the island chain is still covered with tropical forests and woodlands that are home to wildlife and birds. Traditional Samoan society is based on a chieftain system of hereditary rank, and is known as the Samoan way or fa’a Samoa. Despite the inroads of modern, Western civilization, local cultural institutions are the strongest single influence in American Samoa.  More about Samoa

Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are situated 3,500km (2,200 miles) northeast of New Zealand and 1,000km (600 miles) southwest of Tahiti in the South Pacific, forming part of Polynesia. The islands fall into two groups: the scattered Northern Group are all coral atolls while the Southern Group is of volcanic origin. Most of the larger islands include lagoons surrounded by small areas of fertile land above which rise volcanic hills. Unsurprisingly, given their beauty, the Cook Islands have been used as the setting for several films, the best known being Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. People come to the
Cook Islands for the beaches - and unspoiled ones, at that. The Cook Islands, despite covering a vast area, have a very small population, and the islands do not possess any of the large tourist resorts that some might expect from a lush holiday destination. Yet others might delight in the pristine, powdery beaches and the utter tranquillity. There are, of course, more developed resorts on certain islands than others, such as those on Rarotonga (where the airport is situated) and Aitutaki, which cater for various activities. For those simply wanting to swim, the best beaches of all are at Muri Lagoon and Titikaveka. But it won’t take much to entice you to dive beneath those clear, turquoise waters, which are teeming with colourful fish and swaying coral reefs. Rarotonga also offers a variation in scenery, should you (unlikely though it is) grow tired of tropical paradise, since it is a mountainous island with plenty of verdant scenery. The older volcanic island of Kauai offers comparable treasures. The islands were named after Captain James Cook, who became the first European to sight them in 1733. However, credit for the first discovery of these islands must go to the Polynesians who discovered them during their great migratory journeys across the Pacific in the seventh and eighth centuries. The main island, Rarotonga, was rediscovered by the Bounty Mutineers in 1789. In 1888 they became a British protectorate, and in 1901 became part of New Zealand. But in 1965, the islands achieved self-government as a New Zealand Dependency. More about Cook Islands

Comprised of more than 300 volcanic and coral islands, the Fiji archipelago is at the crossroads of the South Pacific. In the days of sailing ships, it was known as The Cannibal Isles and carefully avoided by mariners because of its fierce warriors and treacherous waters. More recently, Fiji's tropical climate and location on Pacific air routes have made it a prime spot for tourists. Fifiian ethnicity
Fiji's population, which resides mostly on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, is divided between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, the descendants of indentured labourers brought from India. Mixing between the two groups is minimal, and informal segregation runs deep at almost every level of society. In recent years, many Indo-Fijian families have emigrated to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US and indigenous Fijians are again a clear majority. The Fijian experience - Fijians are known as some of the friendliest people in the world. They are not judgmental of other people and rarely express a negative opinion. Customs still prevail in the more traditional villages, especially those distant from towns and urban centres. And of course, Cloudbreak, an incredible offshore 6m (20ft) wave at Tavarua Island, draws surfers to Fiji from around the world.  More about Fiji

Tahiti & Islands
Tahiti and Her Islands exude a laid-back tranquillity, as romantic sunsets send giant curls of turquoise breaking over reefs. Remote and pristine, the islands really are a place where nature dominates. The first Europeans to arrive on the island groups were 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The British and then the French took control of the islands in the 18th century. Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, dominated by Mount Orohena at 2,236m (7,337ft) and Mount Aorai at 2,068m (6,786ft), and characterized by its spectacular tropical scenery, banana groves, plantations and flowers, was made a French protectorate in 1842 and a colony in 1880. The other islands were annexed by the turn of the century. This status quo remained until 1957, when Polynesia was made an Overseas Territory. A revised constitution, introduced in 1977, ceded greater autonomy. For the next 20 years, the islands’ politics were dominated by the French nuclear testing program. By the time the program ended in 1996, 150 separate explosions had been detonated, and Tahiti had become the focus of opposition from throughout the South Pacific, and several riots occurred. Although the protesters failed to stop the tests, their campaign had an important political effect by linking the anti-nuclear movement and the burgeoning pro-independence movement which had so far been largely unrepresented in any political forum, despite the support of a large proportion (possibly the majority) of the population. However, in recent years, changes have been afoot: Tahiti and Her Islands gained Overseas Country status in 2004, and pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru was elected in 2005. It only remains to be seen whether these changes result in imminent and full independence.  More about Tahiti

Due to the large US Naval presence, Guam is cosmopolitan and energetic. Hagåtña, the capital, has many historic buildings dating from the Spanish period. Tumon Bay, just up the coast from Hagåtña, is the main tourist center. Guam is the largest and most southerly island of the Marianas Islands, which were occupied by the Chamorro Indians from 1500 BC. It was claimed by the Spanish in 1565 and ruled by Madrid until the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Spanish governor was unaware of the war and, when a US frigate entered Hagåtña harbor with guns blazing, he apologised to the captain for not having a reciprocal salute ready. He surrendered the island the next day. US rule was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of 1941, to be reinstated after fierce fighting three years later. The island has been an important US strategic base since then.  More about Guam

Kiribati is remote and tourism is very much in its infancy. However, after Kiribati changed the International Dateline to make its uninhabited Caroline Island the ‘first to see the year 2000’ (causing hefty arguments with neighbouring ‘first-dawn’ contenders Fiji and Tonga in the process), the country has moved further into the tourist spotlight. The islands boast superb white sandy beaches and crystal-clear lagoon waters.  More about Kiribati

Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands form a nation of scattered atolls and remote islands, which are known for their marine life and diving opportunities. Many of the atolls are dotted with Flame of the Forest, hibiscus and different-colored plumeria flowers. There are also at least 160 species of coral surrounding the islands. The uninhabited atolls are noted for their coconut and papaya plantations and for pandanus and breadfruit trees.  More about Marshall Islands

The Federated States of Micronesia boast some of the clearest-blue seas you’ll ever see, with white, crumbly sand shores. In islands like Chuuk are shallow and vast lagoons of monumental beauty, filled with shipwrecks and kaleidoscopic corals. The islands are a paradise for divers, and many argue that the area’s diving and snorkelling ranks among the best in the world. The Micronesians combine a profusion of languages, customs and folklore. On the island of Yap, islanders still trade using the ancient stone currency. Micronesians may still be glimpsed in traditional garments. Throughout, you are likely to stumble across snatches of unique island music and witness zesty, time-honoured dances. The area became a US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. This followed colonization by the Portuguese, Spanish, Germans and Japanese. In 1986, the Federated States signed a Compact of Free Association with the USA, allowing for near-independence with US defence support. The islands suffer from remoteness and lack of industry and infrastructure. There is development potential, but as yet Micronesia remains dependent on US aid. Tourism is one industry that could potentially boost the island’s fiscal situation. However, even if tourism takes off, with over 600 islands to this country’s name, finding some desert island bliss of your own here shouldn’t be hard.   More about Micronesia

New Caledonia
New Caledonia offers an endless variety of landscapes, from some of the best white sand beaches in the Pacific to spectacular mountain retreats. It is surrounded by a 1,600km- (1,000 mile-) long coral reef, and claims the world’s largest lagoon. New Caledonia is not volcanic, like its neighbours, but a fragment of an ancient continent that drifted away some 250 million years ago. As such its flora and fauna have evolved in isolation, and are now quite unique. A wide variety of endemic species have flourished. New Caledonia is the third largest island in the Pacific Region after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. It became a French colony in1853 and a French Overseas Territory in 1946. The indigenous population has attempted to free themselves from French rule on several occasions, including the Kanak Revolt of 1878. Conflicts still flare up today, reflecting the countries’ differing attitudes on self-government, French nuclear testing in the region and more.  More about New Caledonia

New Zealand
New Zealand is a unique land of breathtaking scenery. Craggy coastlines, sweeping golden beaches, verdant rainforests, snow-capped alpine mountains, gurgling volcanic pools, fuming active volcanoes, flashing fish-filled rivers and glacier-fed lakes compete for attention, all beneath a brilliant blue sky. Pair this with a thriving indigenous culture, bustling cosmopolitan cities, traditional towns and friendly people with a distinct lust for life and you have an outstanding and unusual combination. New Zealand is spread over several small islands. The more developed North Island is home to the main cities, whilst the vast empty spaces of South Island are best for escaping the crowds. Tiny, undeveloped Stewart Island is reminiscent of how New Zealand must have looked before the arrival of people. Getting around is easy as the country has a modern and efficient transport network, quiet roads, plenty of flights and two stunningly scenic rail journeys. The plant and animal life are also excellent offering opportunities to see the varied birdlife (including kiwis), seals, dolphins and whales. Enjoy the chance to explore two of the richest New World wine regions on the planet, taste wonderful cuisine, stroll on moody beaches, tramp through the national parks or over alpine passes on well-maintained, beautifully sited tracks. The country is also perfect for every kind of outdoor activity. Not surprisingly, some of the world’s most cutting-edge adventure activities originated in New Zealand. Try bungee jumping, caving or white-water rafting. Or if that is not your bag, immerse yourself in culture in the museums and galleries of New Zealand’s main cities - Auckland, Christchurch and the capital Wellington. New Zealand was first settled at least 1,000 years ago by the Polynesian Maori, a well ordered tribal society. The first European arrival was Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1642, although it was not until the voyages of Captain James Cook, in 1769 and 1779, that the islands were charted and explored. Since then the country has developed into one of the cleanest, greenest, most popular places to live and visit. Tourist numbers rocketed around the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which showcased New Zealand’s fantastic scenery to a worldwide audience.  More about New Zealand

Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands consist of a chain of 14 islands nearly 89km (55 miles) in length. Volcanic in origin, they host a variety of scenery including beautiful bays, spectacular cliffs, caves and mountains. Because of their location they played a significant part in WWII, and the many shipwrecks around the coast bear witness to this. These, the numerous coral reefs and the clear water make them particularly good for diving. Note: The Northern Mariana Islands include Saipan, Tinian and Rota (formerly the Marianas.)  More about Northern Mariana Islands

Located between Guam, The Philippines and Papua New Guinea, Palau is a 640km- (400-mile) long archipelago that harbours one of the world’s greatest concentrations of corals, fish and other marine life. As such, Palau has some of the world’s most spectacular snorkelling and diving locations and a well-developed diving infrastructure, with numerous operators offering a wide choice of facilities, including live-aboard dive tours to more remote sites. Palau’s coral reefs are home to more than 1,500 species of fish and 700 species of coral and sea anemones. Plunging walls, coral gardens and WWII wrecks are all part of the range of diving available. The local marine life is abundant and varies from schools of triggerfish, snappers, butterfly fish, spadefish and barracudas to grouper, Napoleon wrasse and a variety of reef sharks. Manta and eagle rays, cuttlefish, hawksbill and green turtles are also frequently sighted. Note: Palau was formerly part of the Caroline Islands.  More about Palau

The fascinating country of Papua New Guinea is made up of over 600 islands forming the middle of the long chain of islands stretching from mainland South-East Asia. The country was administered by Australia, situated 160km (100 miles) to the south, until independence in 1975. The tribal diversity of a country with over 700 languages cannot easily be summarised, although in Papua New Guinea it is the tribal life that is most fascinating to the visitor. There are many unique attractions, excursions and activities on offer, from discovering wrecks of WWII aircraft that lie in the jungle to peeking inside the sacred wooden haus tambarans (spirit houses) of towns and villages in the country. Normally only initiated men of a tribe can enter the latter, but in places this rule is relaxed for foreigners, who may glimpse the extraordinary carvings and masks inside.  More about Papua

Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands archipelago is made up of nearly 1,000 tropical islands scattered across the south western Pacific, just to the east of Papua New Guinea. The remote location has kept the islands as an unspoilt gem of a travel destination, with a slowly developing tourist industry. One of the main draws for holiday makers is the superb marine life - making the islands a diver’s paradise. The main islands to visit are Guadalcanal, Malaita, Choiseul, New Georgia, San Cristobal and Santa Isabel. The capital of Honiara, on Guadalcanal, is also well worth some time, with a museum, botanical gardens and it’s very own Chinatown. Villages and scenic drives are within easy reach of the capital, as are the popular WWII battlefield tours and carving villages on the islands of Rennell and Bellona.  More about Solomon Islands

Tonga’s 176 islands range from steep, active volcanoes to low coral forms, most of which are uninhabited. Sightseeing highlights include the Royal Palace on the waterfront in Nuku’alofa, the Mala’ekula (Royal Tombs) and the Anahulu Cave, an underground cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. The islanders enjoy a laidback pace of life which visitors find easy to adopt, whether relaxing on one of the magnificent white sand beaches, diving among the stunning coral reefs or watching the migratory whales return to their breeding grounds from June to November. The islands were first visited by the Dutch in the early 17th century, and later by the British seafarer Captain Cook, who dubbed the archipelago the ‘friendly islands’ in 1773. The adoption of Christianity by the ruling family - which followed the arrival of Methodist missionaries in the 1820s - and an overall policy of accommodation with the British - then the principal imperial power in the area - meant that the islands were not formally colonized. The ruling family of Tonga, the last remaining Polynesian Kingdom, can be traced back more than 1,000 years.  More about Tonga

The islands are an adventure enthusiast’s paradise. The geologically active archipelago is a natural playground of colourful reefs, bubbling volcanoes and lush jungle. Visitors can drive up to the crater of Yasur, cited as the most accessible active volcano in the world, sea kayak round the islands’ shorelines, explore underwater WWII relics, or hike and bike through coconut plantations and tropical rainforest. Those less inclined to exert themselves can relax on the many beautiful beaches, sample the multicultural cuisine in the capital, Port-Vila, or charter a boat from one island to the next. Tourism is centred on the islands of Efaté, Tanna and Espiritu Santo. International visitors arrive in Port-Vila, on Efaté, and from here can travel by boat or plane to explore the rest of the country. The island group of which Vanuatu is a part has been settled since BC 500. Up to and beyond the 13th century AD, it was at the heart of the empire of Tonga. During the 19th century, the islands making up Vanuatu (then called the New Hebrides) were settled by British and French missionaries, planters and traders. The UK and France eventually agreed on a condominium over the two islands. After WWII, a complex power struggle began between the indigenous islanders and the dual colonial interests over the future political and economic course of the islands. The constitutional position was settled in 1977, at a conference between British, French and New Hebridean representatives in Paris, and the islands became fully independent in 1980.  More about Vanuatu

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