Martin Clunes at Mount Yasur with one of the native villagers (Picture: ITV)
Martin Clunes is not only one of Britain’s finest acting talents, but also a keen traveller.
Since the early 2000’s, he’s documented a number of his trips around the world for television. This includes jaunts to America and Australia, in 2009 and 2018 respectively.
On his latest trip, he decided to fulfil a lifelong interest in the Pacific island which was inspired by a book given to him as a child by his father, Kon-Tiki and I.
So, where is he visiting on his Islands of the Pacific travels - and what has he said about his journey? This is what you need to know.
Where was Islands of the Pacific filmed?
Clunes told ITV his dream was to follow in the footsteps of the Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific.
This meant voyaging out into the largest ocean in the world and consists of tens of thousands islands within its vast 63 million square miles.
Here are the main locations he visits during the making of the three-part documentary, which was filmed in early 2020.
Clunes’ adventure begins in French Polynesia, a collection of 118 islands and atolls spread across 1.5 million square miles.
The islands were colonised by the French in the 1880s and it is still owned by France today.
Despite being situated in the South Pacific, far from France, the French influence is baked into their food (baguettes are available in the local bakeries) and referenced in their use of Franc as currency.
Clunes also learned of a vineyard on the island of Tahiti, owned by a Frenchman who is currently growing a grape native to the island and suitable for its hotter climate.
In an article for the Telegraph, Clunes said of his visit: “I love this well-heeled French feel, which sits alongside the hula dancing, traditional garland greetings and all those other fascinating parts of Tiki culture.”
From Tahiti, he continued onto Rangiroa which is known for having one of the best sea-life in the world.
It’s lagoon is much like an aquarium in its vast population of hundreds of species of fish and sea creatures.
While it may be idyllic and inviting, Clunes experience in the water was cut short when swimming with the sharks threatened his expedition, and life.
“I’m not comfortable swimming with sharks, but I’ll do it,” Martin told the guide who took him into the waters, “It is great to see their faces and get over the demonisation of naughty sharks. They didn’t bite me which is a huge bonus”.
However, the guide advised him that the sharks were looking for fish and could become dangerous if they got hungry, meaning he could soon become a target.
Whilst life on the Pacific islands and atolls may appear idyllic their existence is under threat from rising sea levels, and damage to the environment.
Clunes cites Tetiaroa as one of his top five spots in the Pacific, and the stunning lifestyle enjoyed by visitors to the island made it clear why he ranks it so highly.
It’s an atoll which is has made big waves in its bid to improve the environment, thanks to Hollywood star Marlon Brando.
The Hollywood legend visited Tetiaroa when he was filming Mutiny on the Bounty in the early 1960s, and fell in love with the place and its people.
Frank Murphy, executive director of the Tetiaroa Society, told ITV: “Marlon Brando bought the island in 1966. He had a dream, and the dream was to fund environmental and scientific programmes, by tourism. He was before his time in lots of things.”
The atoll is now home to one of the world’s most exclusive, and first eco-friendly hotels, appropriately named The Brando. There is also a research station used to host research scientists.
As his visit to Tetiaroa comes to an end Martin reflects: “This island is so special. Marlon Brando’s vision way back then was so revolutionary. I think it is quite unique. I am increasingly falling in love with the Pacific.”
The Marquesas islands
On his final stop in French Polynesia, Clunes finds another gem of an island.
He makes friends with local horse trainer Jeremy, on the island of Hiva Oa. Jeremy teaches the wild horses and allows Martin to ride one. Clunes also watches on as the horseman rides into the sea on horseback.
The island is almost unknown to tourists and has a small population of only 8,000.
Clunes said of his time on the island: “I stayed on Hiva Oa, which felt pristine and untouched – there are tropical birds and flora and fauna everywhere.”
The island has preserved the remains of the villages lived in by an ancient civilisation, which can be visited if you access the island by travelling on the Aranui 5, which is half cruise ship and half cargo ship.
South West Pacific
In episode two, Clunes leaves French Polynesia and travels to the South West Pacific, where his first stop is to the Republic of Vanuatu, on the islands of Tanna.
While four out of five tsunamis and earthquakes occur in the Pacific, Tanna is ranked the most disaster prone nation.
All 83 of Tanna’s islands were born of fire, from the deep faultline into the Earth’s crust on which they sit.
While visiting the republic, Martin climbed the crater of Mount Yasur, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, which reaches 360 metres above sea level. The volcano is almost constantly erupting, as it has done for hundreds of years.
On his ascent of the volcano, Clunes meets Chief Jimmy Namry and his nephew Philip who have walked up from their tribal village just a hundred feet below.
Jimmy says there has never been an accident with the tribe and the volcano because they are a family bonded by their spiritual relationship, and they respect the volcano.
Martin then travels onto the remote village of Yakel, the home to the tribe who believed Prince Philip is their God. Martin presents them with a photo of the late consort, though the documentary was filmed prior to his passing last year.
They tell him that they see Prince Philip as the son of a mountain god, and although he has never visited them there, some of the tribe met him in London.
Martin’s journey took him to the 170 islands of Tonga, which has 170 islands. The largest island, Tongatapu, is home to 75,000 Tongans – more than two thirds of the population.
Tongans are descendants of the Polynesians who travelled thousands of miles to other islands such as Hawaii, Tahiti and south to New Zealand.
Tongans have never been colonised by Europeans, making it the only Pacific island monarchy that still survives intact with a king named Tupou VI,
He lives in the modern red-and-white royal palace, built of New Zealand kauri wood in 1867.
Despite its modern palace, it is also home to thousands of ancient ruins and royal tombs which date back thousands of years.
Clunes then travelled 500 miles west to the picturesque, glorious islands of Fiji, which he admits he previously thought was one island.
He said: “Before I came out here I thought that Fiji was one island, I thought that Tonga was one island, and I’d never even heard of Vanuatu.
“What I’ve found really exciting is, they’re all very different and they’re all very much alive in the modern world. But they’re all completely in touch with their cultures and their traditions, and those are based on real things like having enough to eat, having a shelter, being in touch with the mountain and the volcano – and I really like that.”
The palm fringed shores of Fiji attract nearly a million visitors each year, in search of the picture perfect waterfalls and mountain pools.
Fiji is a culturally diverse group of 330 island, with one third of the population from Indian descent.
The migration of over 60,000 Indians took place across 40 years, as they travelled to work on British plantations of sugar, banana and coffee and dreamed of a better life.
From the 1980s, native Fijians and Indians rivalled over the land and culture, which resulted in several military coups until peace was restored in 2014.
The city of Nadi is home to the vibrant Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, the largest Hindu temple anywhere south of the Equator.
Martin’s last stop in the Western Pacific is to Rabi Island, where the locals explain how they were moved from their homes on Ocean Island.
The Banaban people have been residents of the island for 70 years, currently led by chief Karia Christopher.
They moved there in 1900, when a British mining company moved in to extract phosphate and shipped the Ocean Island natives across to Rabi.
The Banabans have never been able to return to Ocean Island, as it was left inhabitable when the mining company completed its work in 1979.
Now, they thrive on Rabi by producing a number of highly sought after coconut based products.
When is Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific on TV?
Islands of the Pacific premieres on Thursday 13 January on ITV at 9pm.
The two other episodes air on consecutive Thursdays.