The Best of Melanesia and Polynesia – New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Samoa

All we have to do to sell this tour to most birders is list the following: an endemic and bizarre family in the Kagu; silktails; shining-parrots; Orange, Velvet, Golden and Cloven-feathered doves; and Fiji, Red-headed and Pink-billed Parrot-finches. Job done! Although it’s primarily the incredible quality, rather than quantity, of birds that are notable on these white-beached Pacific paradise islands, many birders will be surprised to learn that over 80 species are globally restricted to this part of the Pacific and we will be targeting almost all of those, and this trip will yield a slew of stunning lifers for anyone who hasn’t been here before. Nearly every one of these endemics and near-endemics is serious eye-candy. And as we indulge in the island-hopping, the stunning improvements in tourist infrastructure mean that we are staying at moderate to good quality resorts with great food throughout. Quite simply, there is little hardship here at all, save for the agony of having to choose your favorite bird at the end of the trip! For keen water babies, there are possibilities to snorkel from some of the resorts we stay at if you choose to skip an afternoon birding session or stay a few days extra. In addition, each island group has its own flavor. From New Caledonia, with its continental waterfront and Brie cheese at the local convenience stores, to Fijian Kava ceremonies and the open smiles of Polynesia’s friendliest people. For those with additional endemic wanderlust, or simply a wish to visit the additional nearby lovely islands in this region, we have extensions to Vanuatu and Samoa.



Day 1: Arrival in New Caledonia. After arrival in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, we will do some local birding at in the nearby gardens, or maybe make a foray up to Mt Khoggis, where we may encounter the super-intelligent tool-using New Caledonian Crow, White-bellied Goshawk and maybe the stunning Cloven-feathered Dove. Five nights in Noumea.

New Caledonian Crows frequently use tools and are among the smartest birds on the planet.
New Caledonian Crows frequently use tools and are among the smartest birds on the planet. (Nick Athanas)

Days 2-5: New Caledonia. We have four full days to find the incredible Kagu, and other cool endemics of New Caledonia. White-bellied Goshawk, Cloven-feathered Dove, Goliath Imperial-Pigeon, Horned Parakeet, New Caledonian Lorikeet, New Caledonian Myzomela, New Caledonian friarbird, Barred Honeyeater, Yellow-bellied Robin, New Caledonian Whistler, New Caledonian Crow, New Caledonian Cuckooshrike, Striated Starling, Green-backed White-eye and Red-throated Parrotfinch. The critically endangered Crow Honeyeater and New Caledonian Grassbird are much more difficult, and we will put in a huge effort to try see these gems. The first morning we will visit the famous Riviere Blue NP to find the funky flightless Kagu and many of the other endemics. We will also visit Farino and some other inland sites for birds that don’t give up easily. So long as the conditions permit, we shall use a short flight to visit the Loyalty Islands to seek out the extremely local white-eyes: the abundant Small Lifou and rarer Large Lifou White-eyes. On another day we head to Ouvea for the local Ouvea Parakeet (similar to the Horned Parakeet!). If we are lucky some shore-based sea-watching may reveal Tahiti or Gould’s Petrels. If the key target birds fall quickly that again leaves us an opportunity for some optional snorkeling in New Caledonia. The worlds largest underwater NP, three times the size of Germany surrounds this tropical paradise. If you don’t want to bring your own gear, it can be rented on site for reasonable cost.

Kagus can be amazingly approachable at Parque Riviere Bleu.
Kagus can be amazingly approachable at Parque Riviere Bleu. (Nick Athanas)

Day 6: New Caledonia to Fiji (Nadi). We have the morning to again explore part of New Caledonia before we fly to Fiji (Nadi) for an overnight stay.

Horned Parakeet is a handsome New Caledonian endemic.
Horned Parakeet is a handsome New Caledonian endemic. (Nick Athanas)

Day 7: Fiji (Viti Levu to Kandavu). This morning we take the hop flight to the island paradise of Kandavu. We will be picked up and transferred to our lodge on this sleepy but forest-cloaked island that has four stunning endemics all to itself. The lodge’s lush gardens are excellent for birding and the nearby reef a great local snorkeling spot. We spend the afternoon starting our birding in earnest – luckily right in the lodge gardens!

The Collared Kingfisher complex is a mess (some 50 subspecies are recognized) and no doubt some will be split, such as this one endemic to Fiji.
The Collared Kingfisher complex is a mess (some 50 subspecies are recognized) and no doubt some will be split, such as this one endemic to Fiji. (Keith Barnes)

Day 8: Fiji (Kandavu). Kandavu has four endemic bird species: Crimson Shining-Parrot, Kandavu Fantail, Velvet Dove and Kandavu Honey-eater and we hope to catch up with them quickly as they all occur in the lodge’s gardens and adjacent forest. But the island also has many other good Fiji endemics such as Peale’s Imperial-Pigeon, Collared Lory, Slaty Monarch and Orange-breasted Myzomela and depending on what we still need we will target these too. However, for those that choose, there is plenty of time here for both birding and some incredible options for snorkeling (costs not included) in the late afternoon, which our resort specializes in.

Wattled Honeyeater was recently split into three species, all of which we should see on this tour. This is the Fiji Wattled Honeyeater.
Wattled Honeyeater was recently split into three species, all of which we should see on this tour. This is the Fiji Wattled Honeyeater. (Keith Barnes)

Day 9: Fiji (Kandavu to Tavueni). The morning around the resort can be used up either by some snorkeling or light birding before we pack up and return to the airport and fly to the paradise that is Taveuni in the north, perhaps the most idyllic of the Fijian islands. We will be picked up and whisked away to our seaside resort and may have some time for some late afternoon birding. The house reef here was impacted by the Tsunami, but reef fish persist if that’s what you prefer to do with your afternoon.

Orange-breasted Myzomela, a Fijian-endemic, is one of the best-looking small honey-eaters on the planet.
Orange-breasted Myzomela, a Fijian-endemic, is one of the best-looking small honey-eaters on the planet. (Keith Barnes)

Day 10. Fiji (Tavueni). We have one full day to bird this spectacular place and we will start early and with a packed breakfast. Using a 4×4 we ascend the spectacular nearby Des Vogues peak where will be stationed in the higher altitude mountains at dawn. Here we aim to find the marvelous blue spangled-gem Tavueni Silktail (it’s origins still of some dispute), noisy and glorious Red Shining-Parrot, omnipresent Fiji Goshawk, Fiji Bush-warbler, Fiji White-eye, gargantuan Yellow-billed Honeyeater, and if we are lucky the spectacular Orange Dove. We head back down to the lodge for lunch and then back out again for an afternoon session in some lowland forests that give us a better shot at Orange and Many-coloured Doves, or any of the endemics we may have missed.

The Taveuni Silktail (split from Natewa Silktail) is a near-silent understory enigma. It was once thought to be a bird-of-paradise!
The Taveuni Silktail (split from Natewa Silktail) is a near-silent understory enigma. It was once thought to be a bird-of-paradise! (Keith Barnes)

Day 11: Fiji (Taveuni – Suva). An early morning flight takes us to Nadi, and then we head to the opposite side of Viti Levu to Suva, where a short drive will have us in a forested valley with many of Fiji’s main island endemics nearby. With luck we may get Masked Shining-Parrot, Golden Dove or another of Viti Levu’s standout endemics before dinner.

Azure-crested Flycatcher is a mind-blowingly cool little monarch! Two races are endemic to Fiji and we plan to see them both.
Azure-crested Flycatcher is a mind-blowingly cool little monarch! Two races are endemic to Fiji and we plan to see them both. (Keith Barnes)

Days 12-13: Fiji (Viti Levu). Much of the island is unfortunately deforested, but we make our way to the best remaining patches of mid-altitude forest in the highlands. Here we will try track down the remainder of the available Fijian endemics. One of the main skulkers is the noisy but very inconspicuous Long-legged Warbler. Although views of this bird are never garuanteed, we will keep plugging away to try get it. The improbable Golden Dove and Masked Shining Parrot will be sought after if we did not catch up with them yesterday, as will Sulphur-breasted Myzomela, Kikua (split from Wattled Honey-eater) and Pacific Robin. Two birds that will require a concerted effort to see will be the snazzy-looking Black-faced Shrikebill, and the immaculate and rare Pink-billed Parrotfinch. Although both birds are extremely rare, they still persist and we have decent chances for them.

Pacific Robin is a fairly frequent ‘Australasian’ Robin found on Fiji.
Pacific Robin is a fairly frequent ‘Australasian’ Robin found on Fiji. (Keith Barnes)

Day 14: Departure (or begin Samoa post-tour extension). Today we make our way to the Nadi airport, either for flights home, or to enjoy the Samoa extension.

VANUATU PRE-TOUR EXTENSION

Day 1: Arrival in Vanuatu (Luganville, Espiritu Santo). The extension begins on the outer-lying island of Espiritu Santo. You need to arrive here by this afternoon.

Buff-bellied Monarch is a snazzy endemic to Vanuatu. Fortunately it is not rare!
Buff-bellied Monarch is a snazzy endemic to Vanuatu. Fortunately it is not rare! (Keith Barnes)

Days 2-3: Loru and Valthe conservation areas. Not only is Espiritu Santo the best island for Vanuatu endemics, these conservation areas hold the best remaining tracts of lowland forest on the island group. Our time here will be spent chasing down the rarest of Vanuatu’s endemics in form of the red-headed Vanuatu Scrubfowl and spiffy-looking Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher. If we are very lucky the Vanuatu Honeyeater may have wandered to lower elevations as they did the last time we visit Valthe, but we will not count on that. Other endemics we will need to find include the stunning Buff-bellied Monarch, noisy Melanesian Whistler, and yellow-speckled-emerald Tanna Fruit-Dove. Other localized specialties include Mackinlay’s Cuckoo-Dove, Pacific Imperial-Pigeon and Red-crowned Fruit-Dove.

The endemic Vanuatu Honeyeater is very rare at the Valthe Conservation area, but maybe we will be lucky?
The endemic Vanuatu Honeyeater is very rare at the Valthe Conservation area, but maybe we will be lucky? (Keith Barnes)

Day 4: Departure. We return to Luganville and jet off for New Caledonia, where our Pacific ramblings continue.

SAMOA POST-TOUR EXTENSION

Day 1: Apia, Samoa. After arrival at Apia, we will make the short drive into the capital and onto the hill forest above the town, where some great endemics will be awaiting us upon our arrival.

Peaceful fisher-folk ply the waters around most of these islands. Scenes are pretty idyllic postcard pictures.
Peaceful fisher-folk ply the waters around most of these islands. Scenes are pretty idyllic postcard pictures. (Keith Barnes)

Days 2-3: Western Samoa. We will bird in both the extensive le Pupu-Pu’e NP and the valley down into the Vaisagno watershed. Our targets include the endemic Mao (a weird large spectacular honeyeater), Samoan Wattled Honeyeater, Flat-billed Kingfisher, Samoan Fantail, Samoan Monarch, the rare and temperamental Samoan Triller, and Samoan Starling. Blue-crowned Lorikeet is common here, and Red-headed Parrotfinch occur, but they do not like landing much and so we will need to be lucky to connect with them. If we have been lucky with the birds, and the tides work for us, we can take a swing by the Palolo Deep Marine reserve one afternoon which has fantastic shallow reefs and snorkeling kit for hire. If we’ve seen parrotfinches, we may as well try add some parrotfish too. The local birding is good for those that prefer to keep their feathers dry.

Day 4: Departure. After some local birding around the lodge we arrange for transfers to the Apia airport for departures. For those that want to extend their stay, speak to the office as there may be a possibility to head to Savai’i for the Samoan White-eye.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate. This tour attempts to see as many birds as possible, concentrating especially on the many Pacific island endemics and specialties available. Early starts are necessary since birding is almost always best early in the morning, and breakfast will usually start around 5:30am. On a few days there will be some downtime after lunch to relax, but most days will be full days in the field. There will be at least some packed lunches and breakfasts. Not much driving will be required on this tour as we are often close to the locations we will be birding in, one exception will be on days 12 and 13 on Viti Levu (Fiji), where we have to travel some distance to reach mid-altitude forest. These will require 4-5 hours of driving and packed breakfasts and lunches in the field.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most days will involve birding roads or fairly easy trails. Although there is not much difficult walking, there will be a lot of standing around and easy walking. You can expect to walk around 2-3 miles (3.2-4.8 km) per day on average. There are no very high elevation days.

CLIMATE: Variable. In the middle elevations at Tavueni and Viti Levu the climate is very pleasant (around 55°-78°F, 14°-26°C). At Vanuatu, Kandavu and Samoa it is warm to hot (around 75°-86°F, 24°-30°C) and quite humid. Rain can be expected; it usually falls in the afternoons and evening, but morning rain is also a possibility.

ACCOMMODATION: Accommodation is in good throughout the main tour to moderate on the extensions. All rooms have private, en-suite bathrooms, full time hot water, and 24 electricity.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but casual photographers will have great opportunities to photograph some of the birds, including Kagu. This is not a good tour for hardcore wildlife photographers.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. As at least four different nations are visited on this tour (if you include both extensions): Vanuata, New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa, it is best if you check your passport requirements yourself for each of these nations. Fortunately for most of these islands have very liberal visa-free policies and tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, all European countries, and many other nations for any of these destinations. However, policies change rapidly, and so it is up to you to ascertain whether you need any visas prior to travel. Visas are currently only required of a few nationalities, mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?:Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 13 (or end of extensions); meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 14 (or end of extensions, if you have a very early departing flight, you may miss the included breakfast on the last day); safe drinking water and/or juice, and tea or coffee during meals; safe drinking water between meals either from a designated spot at the lodge or provided by the tour leader; tea and coffee are available during meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 13 (or beginning and end of extensions); one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they are on the same flight); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 13 in a suitable vehicle; 11 flights for the main tour (Noumea-Ouvea-Noumea, Noumea-Lifou-Noumea, Noumea-Nadi, Nadi-Kadavu-Nadi, Nadi-Taveuni-Nadi, Nadi-Suva-Nadi), two for the Vanuatu extension (Espiritu Santo-Port Vila, Port Vila-Noumea) and one for the Samoa extension (Nadi-Apia) – these flights amount to a large proportion of the tour price (over $3000) – please keep this in mind when comparing with other companies that do not include flights in the cost of their tours; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); international flights arriving at starting and ending destinations for your relevant itinerary; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.