Traveling the South Pacific
Insight and Tips From A Solo Woman Traveler
Article and photo by Erin Beneteau
| Huka Falls, on the North Island of New Zelaand, is renowned for its beautifully colored water.
Traveling solo means freedom, and really isn’t as scary as it seems. In fact, I found my solo trip around the South Island of New Zealand to be one of the best vacations I’d ever had.
There are some fantastic advantages in going on holiday on your own, in addition to not having to make compromises. You’re more likely to meet different types of people while traveling on your own rather than as a couple, and you get a chance to discover more about yourself. However, there are some disadvantages as well such as: potential safety issues, loneliness, and expenses. Yet those disadvantages can be minimized by planning and making informed decisions about your holiday.
Generally, the best precaution is to research and set up an itinerary in advance of your trip. The more research you do on your destination, the more likely you will have a terrific holiday. In addition to travel books such as the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide, the Internet is a fantastic resource. www.Tripadvisor.com, www.Bugpacific.com, and Lonely Planet’s thorntree forum can be useful for general information on destinations. I would also recommend looking at the website for the tourist board of your country of destination (see selected website references in below).
Happily, expenses, safety concerns, and loneliness can all be reduced by staying in hostels (called Backpackers in New Zealand). Backpackers are a terrific way to meet a diverse group of people. Singles, couples, and families all stay at backpackers. With a little research on sites such as Hostelworld.com, and thorntree.lonelyplanet.com, you can find out the reputations of the backpackers and choose the ones that fit your needs. Backpackers also offer the terrific advantage of being able to cook your own meals, saving you money and allowing you to meet other travelers.
A few basic precautions for the solo traveler are to make sure that someone, or maybe even a few people, know your itinerary in case you need to be contacted or should go missing. I would also recommend investing in a mobile phone that is compatible with the network in the country you are traveling. In most countries in the South Pacific region, you can purchase a SIM card that has a pre-paid amount of credit on it. Look for a mobile phone shop when you arrive for more information (Vodafone at www.vodafone.com is one option for the region, and you can visit www.telecom.co.nz).
Finally, a general precaution for any traveler is to consider the weather and the seasons. The countries discussed below are opposite seasons to the northern hemisphere. I would strongly advise consulting the tourist website a week prior to your trip to check out the local weather. Smaller countries can have variable weather.
As a solo female traveler, New Zealand is a fabulous place for a vacation. Overall, the standards of backpackers are fairly high, people are friendly, and it is a fairly safe place to travel. The recreational opportunities are endless. Whether tramping, kayaking, horseback riding, ice climbing, or whatever your chosen outdoor pursuits are, it makes sense to join up with a group, so that someone else is there if an accident should occur. Most backpackers will have information on tours for the main attractions in the area, and often they will arrange them for you. Information offices with the tourist board are also extremely helpful and can arrange accommodation, tours, and transport. You will recognize these locations with the “i” signs.
New Zealand, being a relatively compact country, is one of the easier places to go with a flexible itinerary. Even though I strongly recommend solo travelers pre-book and have an itinerary, New Zealand is a country where you can be relatively confident that you won’t end up in trouble if you decide to change plans midway through your trip. Of course, this is dependent on your transport. There are a few main choices: tour bus, intercity bus, or car hire.
Car hire is a good option if you want to “get away.” You could also hire a campervan if you wanted to get away from people even more. There are a variety of car and campervan companies available in New Zealand. Most of them allow you to pick up your vehicle in one city and return it in another. You will need to make yourself aware of the road rules and be prepared for some windy, narrow roads in the more remote regions.
Tour bus and intercity bus are good choices for providing more social opportunities, and alleviating any stress related to driving. The main tour bus company is “Kiwi Experience” (www.kiwiexperience.com). Intercity Transit (www.intercitycoach.co.nz) is probably the least social of the three buses but allows for a lot of freedom in planning your itinerary.
This is a country where you need to prioritize your sightseeing based on the activities you are most interested in. If you are keen for water sports, be sure to check the seasons for jellyfish. I would especially recommend joining a tour or taking a training course while in Australia if you are planning to do water sports. If you are into diving, research dive companies prior to going. If you are into snorkeling, see if dive companies allow snorkelers to come along. Many companies have information listed on the Internet, which can easily be found with a Google search or looking at links from Australia’s tourist board website.
Many of the same travel options discussed for New Zealand apply to Australia as far as car, tour bus, and caravan hire. Train travel is also an option. But be prepared to allow plenty of time for travel between destinations, flying might be the most efficient option. A look at flight times between cities in Australia will give you a good idea of how massive the country is.
If you are interested in joining a tour, there are heaps of options. All it takes is an Internet search or a talk with your travel agent and you’ll have loads of tours to choose from. If you’ve already tried the “Kiwi Experience” and found you enjoyed it, there is an affiliate, www.ozexperience.com, which you can join.
The Pacific Islands
Solo travel in the Pacific Islands is for the slightly more seasoned solo traveler. Less on the tourist track and definitely less on the solo tourist track, it is important to really determine what to expect before you arrive at your destination. There is a huge range of destinations in the Pacific Island region, and there isn’t a lot of information available specifically for solo travelers. These islands seem traditionally to be the destination of couples; however, it is still possible for the solo traveler to holiday in the Pacific Islands without feeling like a party-crasher on honeymoon island. Be sure to do some research on all of the islands before making your decision on where to visit...all Pacific Islands are not the same! Some have sandy beaches and some don’t. Some have protected reefs for snorkeling and some do not. Some have more coral than others. Research the backpackers that you think you’ll be staying in. You may also want to research staying in hotels for at least a part of the time, as backpacker standards may be rustic in some places.
It can be difficult to choose which islands to visit. Moon Handbook author David Stanley and Lonely Planet have guidebooks about all of the major Pacific Islands. Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet Thorntree forums are also useful resources. It is possible for a solo female to be the object of unwanted attention, and it is best to keep this in mind when planning your holiday. That being said, it is very possible to avoid attention with proper planning and research from the above sources.
I personally wanted to go somewhere a bit off the tourist track, not too expensive, with sheltered snorkeling, and where I thought I wouldn’t be the only solo tourist in the midst of massive numbers of honeymooners. I went to the Cook Islands and had an absolute blast, mixing my time between backpackers and a hotel. However, if you want more structure, socializing, and security, you can check into “FeeJee Experience” (www.feejeeexperience.com) affiliated with the same company that conducts the “Kiwi Experience” and “Oz Experience.”
Another way of taking some extra safety precautions that also gives you more exposure to the native culture is to investigate volunteering opportunities. It can take quite a bit of time and research, but when I made connections to volunteer, I met a number of people, who I later saw around the island. It added a sense of friendliness and also gave me an extra sense of security as I got to know local people. Plus, I was able to help the community I was visiting and experience a bit more of the culture. If this is of interest to you, I’d recommend checking out the tourist board website and trying to find contacts through there, or doing some Google searches for the type of volunteering you’re interested in.