The region comprises the countries of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea; besides these independent countries, Melanesia also includes New Caledonia, a special collectivity of France, and the region of West Papua which is the location of two provinces of Indonesia, Papua and West Papua. The term was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands distinct from Polynesia and Micronesia.

The island groups are typified as being high volcanic islands with dense tropical rainforests fringed by clear waters and coral reefs. From the famous Mt Yasur volcano on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu to the spectacular Marovo Lagoon in the Western Solomon Islands, Melanesia is a region that overflows with natural beauty and wonders. There are believed to be over 1,300 tribal groups speaking an equivalent number of dialects throughout the region making for a colourful cultural patchwork that will enthrall any amateur anthropologist or enquiring traveller.