Sculpted by sky-piercing, moss-green peaks and lined with vivid turquoise lagoons, sultry French Polynesia is a place to take it slow and experience warm, laid-back island chic. Lagoon Spectacular While there are plenty of slim stretches of white-, pink- and black-sand beaches in French Polynesia, they are just pretty springboards into the real draw: the lagoons.
As Micronesia's most populous island, Guam is about as 'cosmopolitan' as it gets, so it cops a lot of attitude from Pacific snobs who reckon it lacks 'real island culture'. Sure, American accents are everywhere (it's an unincorporated US territory and many Guamanian homes fly the US flag) and the Chamorro language isn't spoken quite as widely as it used to be.
Curving its way above and below the equator, the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced 'Kiri-bas') encompasses the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands, and was known under British rule as the Gilbert Islands. Measured by land size Kiribati is a tiny nation of just over 810 sq km, but its 33 atolls span a huge 3.5 million sq km of the Pacific.
The air is tangy with sea salt on the thousand or so slender, flat coral islands that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Living on these narrow strips of land between ocean and lagoon, the Marshallese are expert fishers and navigators, having long been reliant on the sea. Local faces reflect the islands' history.
The people of the tiny, potato-shaped Republic of Nauru were once among the world's richest. Formerly known as Pleasant Island (and now abbreviated, more prosaically, as RON), Nauru supplied Australia with abundant fertiliser for almost a century after vast phosphate deposits were discovered in 1900.
Dazzling – yes, New Caledonia is dazzling. Its lagoon surrounds it with every colour of blue. So the light and the space delight your senses. The 2008 prestigious listing of the lagoon as a World Heritage site has brought the people together to celebrate and protect it, from village level through to government. New Caledonia isn’t just a tropical playground.
As the planet heats up environmentally and politically, it’s good to know that New Zealand exists. This uncrowded, green, peaceful and accepting country is the ultimate escape. The Real 'Big Easy' Forget New Orleans… NZ can rightly claim the 'Big Easy' crown for the sheer ease of travel here.
When you're the world's smallest independent nation you're allowed to be different - and Niue (new-ay) is very different. Don't expect the standard Pacific island experience: you won't be relaxing on palm-fringed beaches here, because there aren't any. Leave your idleness at home and bring a sense of adventure instead.
Northern Mariana Islands
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is currently undergoing massive change as its fiscally challenged capital Saipan painfully comes to terms with the loss of its lucrative Japanese tour market. But travel trends come and go; the charm of the islands endures. It's therefore your mission, should you accept it, to seek out the best of the CNMI.
If you're into counting off countries, don't leave tiny Tokelau for last. This dot in the Pacific may well be gone, swallowed up by rising seas due to global warming, if you leave it too late. Tokelau's name is Polynesian for north wind, and it's one of the most isolated places on earth.
The kingdom of Tonga is perched just east of the international date line: when it’s a fun-packed Saturday at the beach in Samoa, it’s already time for Sunday prayers in Tonga. Thus it’s said, most often by the island’s tourism industry, that Tonga is 'the place where time begins’. Others, perhaps observing the pace of local life, call it the place where time stands still.
In a stunning approach from the air, the islets of tiny Tuvalu appear like a mirage in the vastness of the Pacific. Barely higher than the surrounding ocean, and capped with a fringe of coconut palms, it's easy to understand why rising sea level due to global warming is a major concern here.