Polynesia

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Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia

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Introduction

Pitcairn: last goodbye

Pitcairn: last goodbye

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Polynesia is one of the subregions of Oceania, located in the central and southern part of the Pacific Ocean, east of both Micronesia and Melanesia. In total size (including water) it covers a lot more square kilometres compared to the smaller two regions.
The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians, and share many similar traits including language family, culture, and beliefs. Historically, they had a strong tradition of sailing and using stars to navigate at night. The largest country in Polynesia is New Zealand.

The term Polynesia was first used in 1756 by a French writer named Charles de Brosses, and originally applied to all the islands of the Pacific. In 1831, Jules Dumont d'Urville proposed a restriction on its use during a lecture to the Geographical Society of Paris. Historically, the islands of the South Seas have been known as South Sea Islands, and their inhabitants as South Sea Islanders, even though the Hawaiian Islands are located in the North Pacific. Another term, the Polynesian Triangle, explicitly includes the Hawaiian Islands, as they form its northern vertex.

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Geography

Polynesia is characterized by a small amount of land spread over a very large portion of the mid and southern Pacific Ocean. Most Polynesian islands and archipelagos, including the Hawaiian Islands and Samoa, are composed of volcanic islands built by hotspots. New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and Ouvéa, the Polynesian outlier near New Caledonia, are the unsubmerged portions of the largely sunken continent of Zealandia. Zealandia is believed to have mostly sunk 23 million years ago and recently resurfaced geologically due to a change in the movements of the Pacific Plate in relation to the Indo-Australian plate, which served to uplift the New Zealand portion. At first, the Pacific plate was subducted under the Australian plate. The Alpine Fault that traverses the South Island is currently a transform fault while the convergent plate boundary from the North Island northwards is called the Kermadec-Tonga Subduction Zone. The volcanism associated with this subduction zone is the origin of the Kermadec and Tongan island archipelagos.

Out of approximately 300,000 or 310,000 square kilometres of land, over 270,000 km2 are within New Zealand; the Hawaiian archipelago comprises about half the remainder. The Zealandia continent has approximately 3,600,000 km2 of continental shelf. The oldest rocks in the region are found in New Zealand and are believed to be about 510 million years old. The oldest Polynesian rocks outside of Zealandia are to be found in the Hawaiian Emperor Seamount Chain and are 80 million years old.

Polynesia is generally defined as the islands within the Polynesian Triangle, although there are some islands that are inhabited by Polynesian people situated outside the Polynesian Triangle. Geographically, the Polynesian Triangle is drawn by connecting the points of Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. The other main island groups located within the Polynesian Triangle are Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Niue, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia.

There are also small Polynesian settlements in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Caroline Islands, and in Vanuatu. An island group with strong Polynesian cultural traits outside of this great triangle is Rotuma, situated north of Fiji. The people of Rotuma have many common Polynesian traits but speak a non-Polynesian language. Some of the Lau Islands to the southeast of Fiji have strong historic and cultural links with Tonga.

However, in essence, Polynesia is a cultural term referring to one of the three parts of Oceania (the others being Micronesia and Melanesia).

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Cities

  • Apia - capital and largest city of Samoa
  • Honolulu - the capital and largest city of Hawaii
  • Pago Pago - capital and largest city of American Samoa
  • Papeete - capital and largest city of French Polynesia.
  • Nuku'alofa - the capital and largest city of Tonga

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Sights and Activities

  • Aitutaki - the classic picture postcard of a palm tree fringed tropical island with turquoise waters, in the Cook Islands.
  • Atiu - a small island in the Cook Islands with caves, birds and bush beer.
  • Bora Bora - the most beautiful lagoon of French Polynesia, but incredibly pricey.
  • 'Eua - a small island in Tonga, home to some of the best rainforests in Polynesia.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - home to 3 active volcanoes.
  • Kiritimati - the largest coral atoll in the world and an off the beaten track destination.
  • Moorea - budget alternative to Bora Bora with beautiful scenery.
  • Vava'u - group of more than 50 islands in Tonga, a common destination for yachters.
  • Savaii - the largest island in Polynesia outside of Hawaiʻi and New Zealand. Covered in dense tropical rainforest.
  • Rapa Nui National Park made up of the Easter Island with its famous monolithic statues (moai).
  • Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument consisting of atolls northwest of Hawaii.
  • The Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, world's largest marine protected area.
  • Henderson Island, the largest of the Pitcairn Islands, with many endangered bird species.

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Getting There and Around

Compared to the rest of Polynesia, Hawaii has excellent connections from mainland North America plus many flights from East Asia. The southern parts usually have flights from New Zealand, Fiji and/or Australia. Easter Island is connected to mainland Chile and French Polynesia to Paris via Los Angeles.

Most travelers get around by plane here. The alternative is cruising on small craft.

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This is version 6. Last edited at 10:57 on Aug 22, 18 by Utrecht. 17 articles link to this page.

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