Ever since James Michener wrote "Tales of the South Pacific," the dreamers among us have been searching for our own Bali Ha'i. Among the many ways to explore the islands of the Pacific:

The "Lost Islands": The brochure for Society Expeditions cruises is tempting -- "We explore timeless island paradises inhabited by . . . friendly people." Indeed, the cruise line has scheduled a rare combination of cruises retracing ancient migration routes in Polynesia and Micronesia. One port, among many remote islands, is Pitcairn, home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers. Departures February and March in 1988 and 1989. A 14-day cruise begins at $3,690 per person plus air fare. Society Expeditions, (206) 285-9400 or (800) 426-7794.

The culture of Samoa: Samoa is perhaps the most ideal of the Pacific islands, says Unique Polynesian Adventures of Bel Air, Md., an islands specialist that offers small group tours of Western Samoa. The focus is on the culture and the natural scenery -- with time out for beach recreation. Lodgings are in small hotels and guest houses, and at least one night is spent in an open native-style fale or bungalow. Frequent departures from April to October. Price: $1,375 per person for an eight-day trip from Honolulu. Unique Polynesian Adventures, (301) 879-5010.

Tonga by sail: This is an exploratory trip offered by Guides for All Seasons, a California adventure travel firm making its first yacht tour of the tiny kingdom of Tonga. The 12-day cruise aboard a 51-foot yacht will explore Vava'u, the northernmost of Tonga's island groups. The yacht sleeps eight, and there will be one or more accompanying vessels for additional participants. Departure is July 7 from the West Coast. The cruise price is $1,620 per person plus air fare. Guides for All Seasons, (916) 583-8475 or (800) 457-4574.

A Tahitian escape: En route across the Pacific, break up the long flight with a four-day luxury layover in Tahiti offered by Abercrombie & Kent of Oak Brook, Ill. Night 1 is spent at the Beachcomber Hotel outside Papeete -- where some guest bungalows sit over the water. The next three nights are at the Bali Hai Hotel on Huahine, where thatched bungalows sit beside a lagoon. Year-round departures. Price: $585 per person for four days. Abercrombie & Kent, (312) 954-2944.