These gorgeous Polynesian islands inspired Disney’s latest princess movie

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The Polynesian Triangle is a region of the Pacific Ocean anchored by Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island – and it just happens to contain some of the most unique and beautiful islands in the world. The customs, culture and history of these nations are still very much celebrated today – particularly traditions involving music, dance and the importance of family.

Sounds like the perfect setting for an uplifting story? Disney thought so too. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ newest princess is Moana, a headstrong Polynesian heroine, whose story is set against the backdrop of the undeniably beautiful Polynesian islands. The South Pacific might sound like half a world away, but these islands aren’t as difficult to get to as you might think. So if you find yourself inspired to start planning a far-flung holiday to Moana’s homeland (we can help with that if you do), we’ve pulled together a quick guide to help you discover what you can expect from some of the main Polynesian islands.

Start planning a Polynesian getaway

Hawaii, U.S.A.

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
Paul Bica, Waipio Valley via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Hawaii is a perennially popular destination and for good reason. Its diverse beauty and broad range of attractions make the 50th U.S. state attractive to many types of travellers. Hawaii is filled with natural wonders and is a haven for beach-lovers, hikers, divers and surfers alike. In terms of accessibility, Hawaii ranks highest when it comes to making like Moana and experiencing a little slice of Polynesia for yourself. Whether you’re hiking Diamond Head for impressive views over Waikiki, visiting Pearl Harbour, checking out the volcanoes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, swimming in waterfalls on the Hamakua coast, or learning to surf, you won’t be bored no matter where you end up in Hawaii.

How to get there: Hawaii is made up of eight main islands – Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai and Niihau – and hundreds of smaller ones. Flights from the UK will involve a stopover (usually in Los Angeles or Vancouver) before landing at Honululu (Oahu) or Kahului (Maui). From here you can take inter-island flights that are relatively inexpensive.

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Tahiti

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
Mayumi Ishikawa, Tahiti via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Tahiti is part of Polynesia’s Society Islands and is the largest island in French Polynesia, which also includes beautiful Bora Bora. Known as the Queen of the Pacific, Tahiti offers a lot more than just the chance to hit the beach. Make sure you visit the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands to learn about Polynesian history before you start exploring. Then, the island is your oyster. Tahiti is known for its lush, mountainous interior, filled with waterfalls, emerald valleys and lakes, which you can see via a guided nature hike or a helicopter tour. The island is also known as a great destination for diving.

How to get there: Tahiti is one of the most accessible islands in the region, being just an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles or a five-hour flight from Hawaii.

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Tonga

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
Tony Bowden, Coastline, Tonga via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The Kingdom of Tonga is comprised of a whopping 176 islands, only 40 of which are inhabited. This means there are a myriad of opportunities to relax on pristine beaches (and chances are you might just have them all to yourself). There’s a slow pace of life here, known as “Tonga time”, so this is the place to really slow down and enjoy life. When you’re not chilling out on a beach, Tonga offers plenty of opportunities to get active in the form of hiking, kayaking, diving, snorkelling, surfing and kitesurfing.

How to get there: You can reach Tonga from Auckland or via Fiji.

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Cook Islands

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
Robert Linsdell, Rarotonga via Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Cook Islands are made up of 15 islands that lie halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. No matter what you’re interested in – be it romance, family-friendly adventures or underwater exploration – there’s a good chance you can find it somewhere among the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is the largest of the Cooks and the capital of the island group. Here you’ll find over 50 restaurants and cafes, as well as a thriving local arts scene and plenty of opportunities to shop for island-made souvenirs. A 45-minute flight from Rarotonga gets you to Aitutaki, known as “Honeymoon Island” because of its secluded, romantic vibe.

How to get there: Air New Zealand offers flights to Raratonga via Auckland, Singapore and/or Los Angeles. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the most-visited among the Cooks, but you can get even more secluded with visits to lesser-travelled islands like Atiu and Mangaia via domestic flights from Rarotonga.

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Samoa

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
Andrew Moore, Samoa via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Considered the heart of Polynesia, Samoa has a culture that is over 3,000 years old. People here have largely stuck to a traditional way of life, making a visit to Samoa a culturally rich one. Savai’i is the largest Samoan island and is also the fifth largest island in Polynesia (after two of the eight Hawaiian islands and both the North and South Islands of New Zealand). The “Big Island” as it’s known, Savai’i, is a good place to get a taste of traditional Samoan way of life, which might involve watching (or even playing) a game of kirikiti (similar to cricket), or having a meal cooked in an umu (an overground volcanic rock oven).  You’ll find more action on Upolu, Samoa’s second island, but Samoa in general offers spectacular beaches, waterfalls and rain forests to explore.

How to get there: You can catch a flight to Samoa via New Zealand, Australia, Fiji or Hawaii. Savai’i is a 90-minute ferry ride from Upolu, home to the airport and Samoa’s capital of Apia.

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Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
kevincure, Easter Island moai via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Easter Island is one of the most remote destinations on earth and the most remote inhabited island in the world. It’s well-known for the massive statues (called Moai) erected across the island, of which there are around 900. The statues range in height from two to 20 metres tall and can weight up to 80 tons. It remains a mystery how the giant Moai would have been transported to their location and erected on the platforms where they stand by the ancient Polynesians who carved them. A large portion of the island is protected within Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you’ll find many interesting archaeological sites beyond the Moai. Easter Island is also home to a couple of white sand beaches and it’s also a good spot to do some snorkelling, diving, hiking, horseback riding and indulging in some seriously fresh seafood.

How to get there: Since Easter Island is a territory of Chile, flights are available from Santiago.

Norfolk Island, Australia

Make like Moana: Polynesia’s not really that far out of reach
thinboyfatter, Beautiful Norfolk Island via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Don’t let the island’s small size fool you – there’s plenty here to keep intrepid travellers busy. There’s good snorkelling right off the beach, eight kilometres of walking trails to explore, beautiful beaches to relax on, a national park to check out and museums to visit. The island also offers surfing, sea kayaking, fishing and a quaint weekend farmers’ market on Saturday mornings.

How to get there: Norfolk island is easily accessed via flights from Sydney, Brisbane or Auckland.

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These gorgeous Polynesian islands inspired Disney’s latest princess movie was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Jessica Padykula
Author: Jessica Padykula (16 posts)

Jessica Padykula is a Toronto-based writer and editor who regularly covers travel and lifestyle trends. When she’s not writing or researching a story she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world.