National Geographic Expeditions takes you on a voyage of discovery to the islands of Melanesia. As we explore New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands on our 12-day expedition, we will discover the diverse local cultures and the paradise landscapes found on these island shores.

Sailing from Nouméa to Honiara, you will travel in the company of both a National Geographic photographer and expert, who through lectures, workshops and one-on-one discussions, will give you a deeper understanding of the sights and significance of your journey and teach you how to capture the story of this incredible expedition through your own photography.

After joining Le Laperouse in Nouméa, you will sail to the idyllic island of Lifou, with its white sand beaches, emerald clear waters, and lush tropical vegetation.

Sailing northwards, your voyage continues to Vanuatu, famed for its ancient traditions, rumbling volcanoes and renowned as one of the “happiest countries in the world”. Scattered across 83 islands, this Melanesian archipelago features pristine tropical forests bordered by both white and black sand beaches, with volcanoes rising above them. Your time here will be spent on a cultural adventure as we visit the traditional villages nestled on these island shores.

Our first stop is at Tanna, where you may visit Mount Yasur, one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world. As we continue northwards, we will visit traditional villages of Melekula, Ammbrym and Ureparapara Islands. Each island has their own unique traditions and dances, as well as deep spiritual beliefs ranging from the cargo cults to black magic.

Sailing in the company of both your National Geographic expert and photographer, you will have the unique opportunity to learn about, experience, and photograph these fascinating cultures with the very best insight and guidance to leave you with a deeper understanding and an unforgettable voyage.

As we sail onwards to the Solomon Islands, we visit the community of Owaraha, known for their traditional wood carvings. With the opportunity to enjoy both the community, and the warm waters around it, you will be able to reflect on our expedition before sailing for our final port at Honiara.

As the plane climbs away from the legendary Henderson Field, take a last look at the dramatic landscapes you leave behind as you return from this spectacular tropical region that played a critical role in World War II.

This Expedition Cruise is onboard PONANT's Le Laperouse ship, part of the Explorers fleet.

Trip highlights

Sail with a National Geographic photographer, who will be available for lectures, workshops, and one-on-one sessions to help you capture the story of your journey, whether you are a seasoned photographer or just using your phone.

Sail with a National Geographic Expert, a leader in their field who will bring to life the insights and stories of their work, and will guide you to experience this region through the lens of National Geographic.

Discover New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands on a unique tropical expedition voyage: traditional villages, tropical beaches, coral reefs, active volcanoes.

Discover the arts and traditions of the Kanak culture, the tribes of the "Big Nambas" on the island of Malekula, and the famous Rom dance of the Ambrym Islanders.

Experience the tropical volcanic landscapes of Vanuatu, by sailing into the Caldera of Ureparapara and walking to the top of an active volcano on Tanna Island.

Possibility of diving (PADI Advanced Open Water Diver or equivalent) with an experienced instructor on board and of snorkelling with your expedition team.

By travelling with National Geographic to Melanesia, you will also be doing your part to protect it, as part of the proceeds of your trip are returned to the National Geographic Society, who works to further the understanding and protection of our planet.

Itinerary - 11 Days

1 Nouméa, New Caledonia

Your voyage starts in Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia. While the first European to sight New Caledonia was James Cook in 1774, the islands had already been inhabited for over 3000 years by highly skilled navigators, the Lapita. Nouméa was founded in 1854 by the French and originally called Port-de-France, before becoming the headquarters of the United States military for the South Pacific campaign in World War II. As we start our voyage, embrace the tranquil beauty, traditional cultures and stark outside influences that have shaped these islands and the cultures we will meet throughout the next 12 days.

2 Lifou Island

Lifou is the largest of the Loyalty Islands and is a makatea, a raised coral atoll. Due to its formation by the geological uplifting of the coral platform, the island is flat with coral cliffs and is the highest of the Loyalty Islands. As you explore this outstanding natural site, note the occurrence of caves that penetrate beneath the island and give access to its fresh water. As such, these caves have played a key role in the island’s mythology. To the south of the island are expanses of long, white sand beaches and in the interior is an abundance of tropical plant life. The local community will give you insights into their rich and authentic Kanak culture that is proudly upheld to this day.

3 Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Mount Yasur volcano is a key feature of Tanna Island and indeed it was the light from this volcano that led James Cook to its shores in 1774. Today it is still possible to witness its persistent activity of regular small to violent explosions. When the influence of World War II was felt on these shores, it led to the development of cargo cults due to the dramatic differences in living standards and technology that the local people experienced. Still today, the John Frum cargo cult persists, as well as the Prince Philip Movement, which revered the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

4 At Sea

During your day at sea, make the most of your time onboard Le Laperouse. Meet your onboard National Geographic Expert to get greater insight into Melanesia via lectures and discussions over coffee in the bar. Meanwhile your National Geographic photographer will give initial talks and workshops to help you capture the story of your adventure with your camera, whether you are a seasoned photographer, or using your phone. Come and learn how to make the most of the incredible photographic opportunities you will find along your voyage. Alternatively, venture to the upper deck to enjoy the spectacular scenery and you may be lucky enough to observe marine wildlife in the waters below alongside one of our naturalists.

5 Malekula Island, Vanuatu

Malekula is the second largest island in Vanuatu and the most diverse, culturally and linguistically, with over thirty distinct languages spoken and some of the most renowned traditional dances coming from the island. The very friendly villagers will be proud to share with you their cultural heritage. Take tips from your National Geographic photographer on how to capture these unique cultures, while you have an opportunity to witness traditional village life in Malekula, with demonstrations of traditional village practices such as weaving and Kava.

6 Ambrym Island

The island of Ambrym is known as one of the centres of black magic in Melanesia. It is believed the source of the magic is the twin volcanoes, and it is this volcanic origin that gives the island its iconic black sand beaches. Still today, black magic plays a key role in the traditional customs of the villages and often the elders are willing to demonstrate their prowess. Ambrym is also known for its magnificent tam-tams (slit drums) sculpted out of tree trunks, and the Rom dance, where 9 foot masked ‘spirits’ dance ancient rhythms to the beat of the drums in jungle clearings.

7 Espiritu Santo Island

Espiritu Santo is the largest island in Vanuatu and it has been widely featured in fictionalized popular culture. Espiritu Santo played a key role as a major US supply and support base in World War II, and it was the setting of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘South Pacific’. It is considered the most beautiful island of Vanuatu, with beautiful beaches and lagoons with a backdrop of dense jungle and high mountains. Today, much of the economy is based on farming the land and welcoming visitors to this ‘paradise in the Pacific’.

8 Ureparapara Island

Ureparapara, also known as Parapara, is the third largest island in Northern Vanuatu. Ureparapara was known for a period as Bligh Island, after being sighted by Captain William Bligh during his open boat voyage from Tonga to Timor after the mutiny on the Bountya. The island is formed by an extinct volcano cone that has been breached by the sea on its east coast, forming a spectacular 3km long harbour. Our ship will sail into the natural harbour, offering guests spectacular views of the caldera from the outer decks. You will also have the opportunity to visit the community ashore and experience the local traditional welcome and dances, a unique opportunity to witness life in one of the most remote parts of Vanuatu that only few vessels can visit.

9 Vanikoro Island, Solomon Islands

Vanikoro island is largely forested and has been identified as an Important Bird Area due to its endemic species. Located in the Santa Cruz group and consists of several islands surrounded by a single belt of coral reef. Unusually, the islands consists of two populations, who live separately, with about 800 people of Melanesian descent and 500 of Polynesian descent, having originated on Tikopia. The French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse was stranded on Vanikoro after both his vessels struck the reefs of the island in 1788. They story of their disappearance inspired stories about the possible fate of the expedition, including a chapter in Jules Verne’s ‘Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea’. Enjoy a welcome and cultural performance whilst pondering the fate of the expeditioners.

10 At Sea

Today is your last day at sea and we encourage you to make the most of your time onboard Le Laperouse. Catch up with our onboard National Geographic photographer for some final tips and practise your new-found skills out on deck capturing some seabird photos, or talk to the National Geographic Expert to recap on your Melanesia adventure and better understand its peoples and landscapes. At National Geographic Expeditions we believe that when people understand the world, they care more deeply and are inspired to act to protect it.

11 Owaraha, Solomon Islands

Owaraha (formerly Santa Ana) is located at the eastern end of Makira and north of the smaller Owariki. We will navigate through the picturesque channel separating the Islands before stopping at Port Mary. Known for their intricate wooden carvings, you can find magnificently carved fishing floats and ceremonial bowls intricately inlayed with shells. Take the opportunity to experience life in a traditional Solomon Island village or take a swim in the warm tropical waters of Port Mary instead.

12 Honiara, Guadalcanal Island

Finish your expedition cruise in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands and the location of some of the fiercest fighting in World War II, as depicted in the film ‘The Thin Red Line’. Its international airport Henderson Field was originally built by the Japanese in World War II and was the location of a major land offensive between the United States forces and the Japanese as they fought over this key infrastructure. Honiara comes from the local Ghari Language “naho-ni-ara” meaning 'facing the Ara', the place where the southeast winds meet the land. Discover this city and its beautiful landscapes before going back home after exploring the mysteries of Melanesia.

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