The South Pacific has a lot to offer the savvy shopper. From duty free stores to exotic handicrafts and clothing, here are some tips for where to find the best deals.
A colourful blend of French, English and Melanesian cultures, Port Vila is one of the last genuine duty free ports in the Pacific.
On the main street are several duty-free shops selling electrical goods, cameras, jewellery, French perfume, sunglasses bags, CDs, cosmetics, liquor, cigarettes and French crystal, where smart shoppers can make great savings on the equivalent retail prices back home.
Two that have an excellent range of goods are Sound Centre/Downtown Duty Free and Paris Shopping. The markets are good place to look for items such as brightly coloured sarongs, hand-printed shirts, and Pacific black pearls.
In Chinatown, you will find everything from religious memorabilia to tools and haberdashery, but you will need to bargain hard and most stores will only accept cash. Diana Tam is a renowned local artist where you can buy high quality paintings, glassware, t-shirts, gift cards and limited edition prints.
Local crafts, especially wood carvings, clothing and weavings made from tapa, are some of the best purchases in Fiji. Handicraft shops in Nadi and Suva sell a wide range of fairly ordinary souvenirs but good quality clothing. Jacks of Fiji has stores across the country and a good selection of everything.
Clothing in Suva, is an absolute bargain and can often be made to measure overnight by one of the city's tailors and delivered to your hotel.
Suva's Handicraft Market is also a good trading post for handicrafts from throughout the islands. Nadi has a number of duty free shops which sell cameras electrical goods at reasonable prices if you are prepared to haggle.
The Fijian Cultural Centre is the place to go for high quality handicrafts; while Savusavu has some of the cheapest bargains in Fiji if you buy locally made items. Handicrafts, fabrics and clothing are the best buys.
Cook Island women are renowned for their handcrafts especially the communally made tivaevae ceremonial quilts. Tivaevae is a major art form unique to the Cook Islands and just about every Cook Islander owns one.
Highly prized Cook Islands black pearls are also a popular jewellery souvenir. A number of fine artists exhibit in local galleries and there are several contemporary carvers working with local woods using ancient techniques.
The place to barter for a good deal is the local Punanga Nui marketplace, especially on Saturday morning which is its busiest time.
Beautiful local artwork and crafts can be found at the Beachcomber Contemporary Art Gallery, Women's Handicraft Centre, Akatikitiki Art Gallery, Island Craft and Tivaevae Collectables and The Art Studio all on Rarotonga. The local Cook Islands Trading Corp (CITC) in the heart of downtown has its own shopping centre with department store, and just about everything you could want.
Samoa's handicrafts are some of the finest in the South Pacific, and is particularly renowned for wood carvings; siapo (Samoan tapa), and baskets, bags and mats woven from pandanus fibres. All are cheap buys.
There are exquisite examples of ceremonial kava bowls as well as a range of coconut shell jewellery, shell ula (leis), printed t-shirts and the local sarong called a ‘lava lava'.
A great place to look for bargains is the Flea Market on Beach Road in Apia where you can watch local women at work in their stalls.
Aggie Grey's Hotel has one of Apia's best selections of sandalwood soap, small bags of kava, books about Samoa and watercolours by local artists. Jackie's Boutique specialises in Pacifica fashions without the cheesy Hawaiian shirts. Samoa is also known for the high quality of its organic coconut oil. There is no bargaining in Samoa – the price is the price!
Tonga renowned for its large and elaborate tapa (ngatu) mats and cloths which are used at all important gatherings, woven baskets and bone carvings.
The best places to start looking are the Women's Handicraft Centre and Tongan National Centre in Nuku'alofa. Fafine Tonga and Blue Banana Studios on the Taufa'ahau Road also has a good selection.
In Vava'u in the northern island group, South Sea Treasures is one of the best places for fine quality artefacts and jewellery sourced from around the Pacific Islands.
Tropical Tease has the best screen-printed T-shirts with original indigenous designs; while Hibiscus Hut has a good range of Polynesian inspired clothing and artworks. The main ‘Utukalongalu Market has a wide range of carvings of varying quality.
What you need to know:
• Most shops in the Pacific islands are closed on Sundays.
• Change money into the local currency for the markets and smaller shops.
• Don't forget your passport and ticket if you intend buying duty free goods.
• New Zealand has strict quarantine laws, and many items will need to be declared to Customs on arrival.
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