Show Some Love!

While we love sharing important information about the places we’ve lived, it’s also equally important to share unique and useful information about what it’s like to live in places we haven’t lived, including the tropical, remote and gorgeous islands of the South Pacific.

Luckily for us, Sunshine Kessler and Josh Oakes have been kind enough to create a guest post about their experience living abroad in this area. Learn, enjoy, and read more about their travels on their blog, Love & Barley.

Living in the South Pacific

Lots of people dream about living in the South Pacific. Thanks in part to travelers like Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thor Heyerdahl, Europeans and North Americans are especially smitten with this part of the world.

So what is it really like to live in the South Pacific? The first thing on the digital nomad’s mind might be the quality of the Internet in the South Pacific. To tell you the truth, it sucks. But we survived, and were able to manage our business for the duration of our stay. Some places are better than others, though. The second thing for you might be the cost. Well that varies, too, but generally costs are nothing you should worry about, with some places (eg. Solomon Islands) more expensive than others (eg. Fiji). Before we go on, it’s worth pointing out that we haven’t been to most of the South Pacific, and are only speaking from our own experiences on a slow journey that began in Easter Island (Rapa Nui), and included French Polynesia, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and New Zealand. New Zealand? Yes, New Zealand is a Polynesian country in the South Pacific and is also known as Aotearoa. Maori are Polynesian people.

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Let’s backtrack a minute here for a little glossary of terms.

  • South Pacific: refers generally to archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean south of the equator. Thus, Guam, Palau, and Hawaii are not part of the South Pacific but are North Pacific.
  • Polynesia: a large ethno-geographic triangle stretching from Hawaii (in the northern hemisphere, east of the International Date Line), to Easter Island (in the southern hemisphere but also east of the International Date Line), to New Zealand (in the southern hemisphere but west of the International Date Line). French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Cook Islands are all within the Polynesian triangle.
  • Melanesia: an ethno-geographic region encompassing Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.
  • Micronesia: an ethno-geographic region including mostly North Pacific islands such as Guam, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and Palau. Nauru is one of the only Micronesian states in the South Pacific.

Living in the South Pacific

So basically the South Pacific is a large and diverse region with three primary ethno-linguistic categories, Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, and tons of variation within each one.

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Back to our experience and what it is like to live in the South Pacific: 1. Polynesia: Easter Island, French Polynesia (Tahiti), and New Zealand

Did You Know:

  • The original inhabitants of Polynesia arrived thousands of years from what is now Taiwan?
  • New Zealand and Easter Island are parts of Polynesia?
  • Tahiti and Bora Bora, which are French Polynesian islands, are technically part of France?
  • The national dish of French Polynesia is based on raw fish?
  • Many important english words are borrowed from Polynesian, like taboo and tattoo?

a) We began our journey in an unlikely gateway to Polynesia: Easter Island (Rapa Nui). In Easter Island, they only have satellite Internet. It is terrible, and not conducive to any online business management. However, the lifestyle is lovely and if you are not dependent on the Internet for your work, you can do a lot worse than to base here. It’s subtropical, and can be cool at times of the year. I won’t bother getting into the archaeology and all that, because it’s not the main subject of our post. Suffice to say that if you have any desire to see the archaeology, you must. It’s incredible. Only ways to get there (besides boat) are to fly from Chile, Peru, or Tahiti.

Living in the South Pacific

  • Mehana is a local microbrew that was hard to find, and might not be made anymore
  • Chilean macrobrews are widely available
  • Pisco sours and other drinks are great here
  • Ceviche is the thing to eat.
b) After Easter Island, we flew to French Polynesia. We spent about 3 months total in French Polynesia, including 7 different islands on two different island chains (Society and Tuamotu). The best Internet connections are in Tahiti, because they have some broadband, but don’t expect to download movies. It worked, but it didn’t work fast. The outer islands, such as the Tuamotu archipelago, are on satellite. We rented an apartment for a month on the island Moorea, which is connected (in theory) to Tahiti’s broadband. However, the Internet was not so good and we struggled. Loved Moorea, though, and from the digital nomad POV it’s livable, with easy passenger ferry connections to Tahiti for mainstream shopping, etc. Tahiti is of course livable from a digital nomad perspective. Price-wise, both Tahiti and Moorea can be done cheap. You can rent a house for less than US$1,000/month if you know what you are doing. Tattoo is literally in the blood here. Quality is universally high and prices reasonable. We got our first tattoos in Tahiti. There is also archaeology in French Polynesia if you know where to look. The island of Raiatea was originally called Havai’i, and it was from here the Polynesian peoples rowed to Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Moorea has excellent ruins too.
Drink Vicariously
  • Hinano is the French Polynesian macrobrew, and is all-malt, meaning few adjuncts and relatively high quality for the type of beer it is. When it is fresh it’s decent–and it is usually freshest on Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora.
  • French chain brewpub 3 Brasseurs in the capital, Papeete, offers a change of pace.
  • Poisson Cru is the thing to eat. Fresh tuna is cheap if you want to make it yourself. If you get to go to a Polynesian feast, you will have poisson cru and other delicious dishes, some of which whisper of Chinese influence, and others of which are baked in a pit in the ground.
  • The Sunday morning market in downtown Papeete offers both readymade meals and fresh ingredients you will not see otherwise on the islands.

c) We spent a few weeks on the north island of New Zealand (Aotearoa), but it was vacation time only. No work. We had to pay for Internet everywhere we stayed, and it was reasonably fast but expensive and annoying because you have to log onto LANs. New Zealand is where a lot of young Polynesians from French Polynesia and elsewhere go for college, jobs, and broader connection with their culture. So it’s become a sort of wealthy hub of Polynesian life.

Drink Vicariously

  • New Zealand craft beer is among the best in New World brewing countries, and the quality has far exceeded that of its neighbor Australia. This is due in part to the wide variety of regional hops from New Zealand, but also to an uncannily intuitive feel for what good beer tastes like and how it should be brewed. Visit Ratebeer.com for up-to-date reviews on beers and bars. When in Aukland, don’t miss the Galbraith brewpub for the best real ale outside the UK.
  • The coffee culture is also thriving in New Zealand, with third wave coffee joints in all urban centers like Auckland. Use the Coffee Geek app on your smartphone for up-to-date reviews.
  • Bivalves and mollusks (oysters and mussels) are things to eat. In cities, check out the Southeast Asian cuisine. Decent laksa can be found.
  • Manuka honey is dark and decadent, and you’ll like it even if you don’t buy into the hype that it cures diseases.

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2. Now we leave Polynesia for Melanesia: Fiji, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands

          Did you know:

  • Melanesia is an arguably racist name given to the islands populated by dark-skinned people (ie. people with a lot of melanin in their skin)?
  • A recessive gene for blond hair expresses itself occasionally in the people Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea?
  • Cargo cults still exist in Melanesia? The cults sprung up after first contact with Westerners around a hundred years ago and are based on the belief that modern material objects, from Coke bottles to computers, are signs from the gods.
  • Parts of Melanesia are on the fringes of globalization, have no electricity, and no paper money?
a) For 6 weeks we rented a converted shipping container on the island of Vanua Levu, town of Savusavu on Fiji. Container life was a real experience. The Internet was mediocre at best, relying on one of those USB sticks. No streaming video, but we still worked at least 60 hours per week online. Yes it was frustrating, but it could have been worse. The shipping container was on grid for electricity but for water dependent on the skies. We ran out of water once, and it made me feel really connected to the earth and cycles of nature. And to people. In town one day, a woman says to me, “Oh, are you the girl who ran out of water and had to call my dad?” That was pretty funny. Small town life is the same anywhere in the world, I’ve learned. Big city people are the same all over, too. Urban versus rural can be a more important division of people than ethnicity. In any case, Savusavu is an interesting home base in Fiji because there is a healthy contingency of international sailors, cruisers, and yachties docked in the little marina. If you are feeling sociable, you can meet many of the crusty pre-digital as well as digital nomads skulking about. Yarrr!
Drink Vicariously
  • Fiji Best Bitter and other local beers are godawful, no matter how cold or fresh. However, you haven’t got much of a choice in the matter.
  • Fijians’ drug of choice is kava. It’s easy and cheap to prepare it yourself if you are living there.
  • When Fiji was a still British colony, south Indians were brought over for cheap labor. Now, Fijian Indians have their own culture and community and their food fuses local ingredients with Indian spices.
  • Kokoda is the thing to eat–it’s somewhere between ceviche and poisson cru, but is its own thing.
b) We enjoyed valuable down time in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is like a big playground, with an activity-oriented tourism infrastructure similar to Costa Rica. Lounging on the beach is secondary to “doing stuff.” Great for backpackers and gap year types. Lots of adventure, but Vanuatu also offers unparalleled anthropological encounters, and opportunities to get up close with people and communities untouched by the trappings of modernity. You can stay for next to nothing (or perhaps nothing if you volunteer) if you don’t mind “roughing it” without electricity. If you’re the kind of person who longs for homestays in villages with children running around and a real connection to daily life, then you can do that here for sure. But even if you’re not into that,you can stay in a private room and do whatever you want. However, you will not necessarily have Internet or even electricity everywhere. One thing digital nomads need to keep in mind about Vanuatu is that there is a solid expat infrastructure in the capital, Port Vila. The Internet is not great, but certainly do-able as long as you don’t need to upload video. Port Vila has a good quality of life, with opportunities for penetrating local culture while also enjoying a creature comfort bubble.
Drink Vicariously
  • Visit Tanna Coffee roasters near Port Vila: locally grown, roasted, and brewed.
  • The island of Tanna is one of the easiest places to see a cargo cult in action, and also has an accessible active volcano.
  • The capital, Port Vila, has a brewpub called Seven Seas, run by American expats with good taste in kitsch and barbeque.
  • Vanuatu’s recreational drug of choice is kava, and is drank in local institutions called nakamal. In Port Vila, the nakamal are co-ed, but in villages, they are likely to be men-only.
c) Solomon Islands might have been my favorite part of Melanesia so far. I just loved how colonialism hasn’t done too much of a number on it in Solomons, and people still live much as they have since they first settled there. Don’t go if you want to do your digital nomad thing and work, but if you want a really cool cultural experience, go there for sure. I can’t wait to go back. It’s not in danger yet of being “discovered,” but if it does, you’ll thank me for going sooner rather than later. This is a place that stole my heart.
what is it really like to live in the south pacific
  • Guadalcanal, the main island and home of capital city Honiara, was the stage for one of the most important battles on the Pacific front of World War II.
  • Solomon Islanders’ drug of choice is betel nut, which is gnawed raw along with a bean dipped in calcium hydroxide (lime powder), creating a chemical reaction that at once aids the digestion of the betel but also turns teeth red. If you’re familiar with pan in India, it’s basically the same raw ingredient.
  • The beers available are made by the only brewery, Solomon Brewery, and none are good.
  • Lime Lounge in Honiara is more than an expat hub; their coffee is at New Zealand standards. Beans are brought in, and baristas trained at properly folding milk into wet drinks like flat whites.

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Some general notes:

  • Polynesia and Melanesia are very different from one another, and the differences are immediately apparent.
  • Tattoo, raw fish, and surfing are entrenched parts of Polynesian culture, but not as much in Melanesia.
  • There is a lot of cultural pride and anti-colonialism in the Polynesian consciousness. The same is generally true in Melanesia, but the politics and identities are very different. In Melanesia, they identify as “black,” and you may feel hints of Caribbean vibe there as a result. Polynesians identify as Polynesian, and that’s its own thing. If you’ve been, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I hope you get to go, because I feel these are important places to visit for understanding the gamut of humanity.
  • Seventh-Day Adventism is common throughout the South Pacific, leading many stores to be closed Saturday and refuse to sell alcohol.
  • As you might have gathered, there is a lot more to the South Pacific than palm trees and beaches, and you will love penetrating the nooks, crannies, and cultures of this diverse part of the planet.
  • We look forward to visiting Micronesia to complete our understanding of Oceania.
Article and Photos by Sunshine Kessler.
Sunshine out.
Thank you sincerely to Kelsey and Peter for having us as guest bloggers!