Australia is a country, and continent, surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans. Its major cities – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide – are coastal, but its capital, Canberra, is inland and nicknamed the "Bush Capital." The country is known for its Sydney Opera House, Great Barrier Reef, the vast Outback (interior desert wilderness) and unique animal species including kangaroos and duck-billed platypuses.
Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean lying south of Java, Indonesia. A national park covers most of the 135-sq-km island, offering rain forest hikes to wetlands and waterfalls like Hugh's Dale. Native wildlife includes nesting seabirds and the red crab, a land species known for its late-fall migration to the sea. The island is ringed with snorkeling and diving reefs.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands is a remote territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean. Its 2 coral atolls comprise 27 tiny islands with white-sand beaches, palm trees and lagoons. West Island has an airport and a visitor center. Across the lagoon, the Home Island Museum explores the culture of the resident Cocos Malay people. To the north, the isolated Pulu Keeling National Park has bird colonies and a shipwreck.
The Cook Islands is a nation in the South Pacific, with political links to New Zealand. Its 15 islands are scattered over a vast area. The largest island, Rarotonga, is home to rugged mountains and Avarua, the national capital. To the north, Aitutaki Island has a vast lagoon encircled by coral reefs and small, sandy islets. The country is renowned for its many snorkeling and scuba-diving sites.
Fiji, a country in the South Pacific, is an archipelago of more than 300 islands. It's famed for rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches and coral reefs with clear lagoons. Its major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, contain most of the population. Viti Levu is home to the capital, Suva, a port city with British colonial architecture. The Fiji Museum, in the Victorian-era Thurston Gardens, has ethnographic exhibits.
French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France, comprises more than 100 islands in the South Pacific, stretching for more than 2,000km. Divided into the Austral, Gambier, Marquesas, Society and Tuamotu archipelagos, they're known for their coral-fringed lagoons and over-the-water bungalow hotels. Island features include white- and black-sand beaches, mountains, rugged back country and towering waterfalls.
Kiribati, an island republic in the Central Pacific, comprises 33 coral atolls and isles stretching along the equator. With lagoons and white-sand beaches, many of its islands are uninhabited, offering a remote setting for fishing, diving and bird-watching. The crowded capital, South Tarawa, made up of small islets, retains remnants of WWII battles fought on its shores, and is known for folk dancing and handicrafts.
Nauru is a tiny island country in Micronesia, northeast of Australia. It features a coral reef and white-sand beaches fringed with palms, including Anibare Bay on the east coast. Inland, tropical vegetation surrounds Buada Lagoon. The rocky outcrop of Command Ridge, the island's highest point, has a rusty Japanese outpost from WWII. The underground freshwater lake of Moqua Well lies amid the limestone Moqua Caves.
New Caledonia is a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific. It's known for its palm-lined beaches and marine-life-rich lagoon, which, at 24,000-sq.-km, is among the world's largest. A massive barrier reef surrounds the main island, Grand Terre, a major scuba-diving destination. The capital, Nouméa, is home to French-influenced restaurants and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashions.
New Zealand is a country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean consisting of 2 main islands, both marked by volcanoes and glaciation. Capital Wellington, on the North Island, is home to Te Papa Tongarewa, the expansive national museum. Wellington’s dramatic Mt. Victoria, along with the South Island’s Fiordland and Southern Lakes, stood in for mythical Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s "Lord of the Rings" films.
Niue is a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. It’s known for its limestone cliffs and coral-reef dive sites. Migrating whales swim in Niue's waters between July and October. In the southeast is the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area, where trails through fossilized coral forests lead to the Togo and Vaikona chasms. The northwest is home to the rock pools of Avaiki Cave and the naturally formed Talava Arches.
Papua New Guinea, in the southwestern Pacific, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. A country of immense cultural and biological diversity, it’s known for its beaches and coral reefs. Inland are active volcanoes, granite Mt. Wilhelm, dense rainforest and hiking routes like the Kokoda Trail. There are also traditional tribal villages, many with their own languages
The Solomon Islands, a nation of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific, has many WWII-era sites. Guadalcanal, a province and one of the archipelago’s largest islands, honors fallen Allied soldiers at its U.S. War Memorial. Guadalcanal is also home to the nation’s capital, Honiara, whose bustling Central Market showcases the islands’ produce and traditional handicrafts.
Tokelau is a remote group of atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, of which it is a territory. It's usually accessed by boat from Samoa, a trip that takes around 24 hours. Nukunonu atoll contains accommodation and a clear lagoon rich in marine life.
Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 South Pacific islands, many uninhabited, most lined in white beaches and coral reefs and covered with tropical rain forest. The main island, Tongatapu, is protected by lagoons and limestone cliffs. It’s home to the rural capital of Nuku'alofa, as well as beach resorts, plantations and the Ha'amonga ʻa Maui, a monumental coral gate from the 1200s.
Tuvalu, in the South Pacific, is an independent island nation within the British Commonwealth. Its 9 islands comprise small, sparsely populated atolls and reef islands with palm-fringed beaches and WWII sites. Off Funafuti atoll, the capital, the Funafuti Conservation Area offers calm waters for diving and snorkeling among sea turtles and tropical fish. The marine area includes several uninhabited islets sheltering sea birds.
Vanuatu is a South Pacific Ocean nation made up of roughly 80 islands that stretch 1,300 kilometers. The islands offer scuba diving at coral reefs, underwater caverns and wrecks such as the WWII-era troopship SS President Coolidge. Harbor side Port Vila, the nation’s capital and economic center, is on the island of Efate. The city is home to the Vanuatu National Museum, which explores the nation’s Melanesian culture.
Wallis and Futuna, officially the Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands, is a French island collectivity in the South Pacific between Tuvalu to the northwest, Fiji to the southwest
Samoa is an country comprising the westernmost group of the Samoan Islands, in Polynesia. Many of its islands have reef-bordered beaches and rugged, rain forested interiors with gorges and waterfalls. The islands include Upolu, home to most of Samoa's population, and Savai'i, one of the largest islands in the South Pacific. Smaller islands may have small villages or be uninhabited, some with wildlife sanctuaries.