Rev an Asia Itinerary With Lesser-Known Spots By Helen Brower / May 21, 1998 Share 1 -- NEW YORK -- With more and more Americans acquiring a taste for adventure in their travel choices, agents have an opportunity to recommend lesser-known areas of the Pacific to their clients. The following is a sampling of destinations that can be explored as side trips from a major destination or enjoyed on their own. Kiribati. Until 1976, Kiribati was known as the Gilbert Islands. The islands once belonged to Great Britain and stretch across the southwestern part of the Pacific at the point where the international dateline bisects the equator. Featuring coral atolls, coconut palms, rippling lagoons and a variety of undersea life, about half of the Kiribati landmass consists of Christmas Island, which was discovered by Capt. James Cook on Christmas in 1777. Kiribati is home to 65,000, most of whom are Micronesian. The capital island of Tarawa was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Here, in November of 1943, after fierce fighting, the U.S. Second Marine Division overcame a Japanese battalion.New Caledonia. This Pacific melting pot of 145,000 people is a melange of French, Pacific and other influences. A French territory, New Caledonia's capital is the lively city of Noumea, which many seasoned travelers say boasts the best French restaurants in the Pacific. Noumea, with its pastel-colored colonial buildings and flower-filled parks, is one of the prettiest Pacific capitals. About 40,000 of the country's inhabitants are native Melanesians, with the remainder of French, French-African, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Polynesian origins. Although the official language of this 250-mile-long island is French, many residents speak English.Tonga. The Kingdom of Tonga, home to the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific, stretches across the central southern Pacific, just east of the international dateline. There are 169 islands in all, clustered in three main groups across 140,000 square miles of ocean. Tonga has a population of about 95,000 people. Its capital is Nukualofa, located on the main island of Tongatapu. In addition to its beaches, Tonga has many historical sights worth visiting, including the royal palace in Tongatapu, the nearby royal tombs of Tonga's past rulers, the 10th century Haamonga Trilithon -- a huge gate, carved out of coral, whose stones weigh more than 40 tons each -- and Eua Island, featuring a forest with many species of tropical birds.Vanuatu. Until 1980, when this group of 80 islands located east of the Coral Sea gained independence from France and Great Britain, Vanuatu was known as New Hebrides. Various languages are spoken in this nation of 140,000 people. The official tongues are English and French, and both are widely used in the capital, Port-Vila, but visitors also can hear a form of English called bislama as well as many tribal dialects. Although most visitors spend their stay in the capital, a one-hour flight takes travelers to the island of Tanna, whose fine black- and white-sand beaches stretch beneath the towering Yasur volcano.Western Samoa. According to its fans, this nation of 160,000 people is a far more lively, colorful place than American Samoa. Although the island of Savaii is the largest in the group, most of the inhabitants live on the island of Upolu. Apia, the capital, has a romantic South Seas atmosphere. Fishing vessels and schooners of various nations tie up here and drop anchor in its palm-shaded harbor. English is widely heard, though the Samoans keep their own Polynesian-based language alive by speaking it as often as possible. Western Samoa served as the inspiration for James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific" and for many of the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, who was revered by the locals, who called him "Tusitala -- Teller of Tales."