Some of the world’s most fascinating islands can only be reached by ship. Without airports or even bush strips, these remarkable destinations will always be reserved for committed expedition cruisers. Your 2011 Adventure Cruise Guide is out now, FREE with your latest issue of Cruise Passenger or by request here.
1. Deception Island, Antarctica
(62° 58’S, 60° 39’W)
This collapsed volcanic caldera off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most talked about islands on any of the southerly itineraries. Dripping in history, wildlife and stunning scenery, the island was home to several countries’ whaling and Antarctic bases until a series of violent eruptions sent them scrambling. After your ship makes the perilous entry through Neptunes Bellows, visitors can stroll around the abandoned base at Whalers Bay or visit the teeming chinstrap penguin colony where 200,000 birds all call at once. Sir Hubert Wilkins and pilot Ben Eielson set off from the narrow volcanic strip to become the first to fly over Antarctica in December 1928. Their hangar still stands. Any visit to Deception Island must be capped off with a swim in the volcanically heated waters at Pendulum Cove.
2. Beacon Island, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia
(28° 43’S, 113° 47’E)
In the middle of a moonlit night on June 4, 1629, the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia struck Morning Reef in the Abrolhos Islands, sparking off one of the most horrific tales of human savagery ever. Many of the 268 survivors, including women and children, were slaughtered by the mutinous and psychopathic Jeronimus Cornelisz, who was plotting a career in piracy. Relics of this spine-chilling chapter of Australia’s early European history can be found today, including several graves on Beacon Island. A cannon still lies in shallow waters where treasure hunters tried in vain to get the heavy souvenir ashore. Wiebbe Hayes’s ‘fort’ still stands on Wallabi Island: Australia’s oldest known European structure. The remains of the wreck, just off Beacon Island in about 5 metres of water, is now a popular dive site.
This unbelievably remote island still attracts the occasional visit by cruise ships. Tiny (78km2) Tristan da Cunha is characterised by its volcanic peak, which rises to just over 2,000 metres, and is 2,800 kilometres from the nearest mainland.
A sign proclaiming it the most remote island in the world is the souvenir photo to get. The community of 300 shares just eight surnames and has only recently earned a British postcode, TDCU 1ZZ. The island’s message to intending visitors is hardly inviting: “There are no package tours for independent travellers, no hotels, no airport, no holiday reps, no nightclubs, no restaurants, no jet skis nor safe sea swimming. Nevertheless, Tristan da Cunha is one of the world’s most sought-after destinations for travellers determined to find a special place.” There you have it.
Operators: Oceanwide Expeditions
4. Beechey Island, Canadian Arctic
(74° 43’N 91° 51’W)
If it weren’t for some odd blips in history, Beechey Island would still be the infinitesimal featureless, uninhabited satellite of its much larger neighbour, Devon Island, in Canada’s Wellington Channel. Some time in 1845, the still-lost English explorer, Sir John Franklin, stopped to winter in the shelter of Beechey Island. Three of his men remained there, a testament to greater events about to unfold. Now a site of territorial historical significance, Beechey Island plays host to Arctic expeditioners seeking to recreate Franklin’s historic, if foolhardy, voyage of disappearance. The amazingly well-preserved body of 21-year-old Petty Officer John Shaw Torrington provided some of the scant clues to the untimely demise of Franklin’s folly. He has since been reburied with his former shipmates.
Tiny Espanola was named by the Spanish for, you guessed it, Spain. The British also named it after the famous naval man, Samuel Hood. Tucked away in the far south-east corner of the Galápagos Islands group, its isolation was also its salvation as the more northerly younger islands were often visited by hungry seamen, pirates and whalers. Home to a wild cornucopia of birds, seals and marine iguanas, it is one of the must-do stops on any Galápagos island itinerary. Birders will go crazy for the bizarre ritual of the blue-footed booby as well as sighting the majestic, but critically endangered waved albatross. The marine iguana, native to the group, also has a brightly coloured sub-specie endemic to the island. Gardner Bay is the popular landing site and is great for diving, snorkelling and swimming.
6. Tuam Island, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea
(5° 57’S, 148° 01’E)
The Solomon and Bismarck seas north of Papua New Guinea are flush with gorgeous little islands, each with their own micro-culture, language and flavour. Tuam is situated right on the fork between the Dampier and Vitiaz straits, north of Finschhafen. Because the island is constantly swept by soothing sea breezes, the moving air keeps the island largely free of pesky mosquitoes and the immaculate little village has an unusually high population of senior inhabitants, including two of the last surviving ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels’. Beyond that, the village specialises in energetic and vibrant dance and several champion troupes reside on the island. Visitors are guaranteed a rowdy reception and are advised to bring their dancing shoes, because audience participation is part of the experience!
The former secret Soviet submarine base in Brouton Bay on the northernmost point of the 227.6km2 island has to be one of the most fascinating expedition cruise excursions anywhere in the world. The naturally occurring volcanic caldera created a perfect deep-water base for the USSR’s fleet of submarines, which were engaged in covert patrols during the final stages of the Cold War. Today, the concrete block base, once home to perhaps 3,000 inhabitants until 1994, is an eerie, derelict ghost town set against a backdrop of dramatic volcanic peaks and delicate wildflowers. The Kuril and Commander islands are only now finding their way onto expedition cruise itineraries after being shrouded in secrecy and seclusion for decades, and their native brown bears, whales and an amazing variety of birdlife are major attractions.
Operators: Heritage Expeditions
8. Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia
(9° 29’S, 139° 39’W)
The second most remote archipelago in the world (next to Hawaii) is the Marquesas. Fatu Hiva is well known as a centre for Marquesan arts and crafts; the village of Omoa on the western coast has one of the largest selections anywhere in the archipelago. Visitors can see men and women demonstrating their crafts including word carving, tapa (bark) cloth making and fabrics. Thor Heyerdahl and his wife spent time in 1937 for the famous book, Fatu Hiva, Back to Nature. Part of the visit includes an optional and challenging hike across the mountain to the delightful little village of Hanavave, possibly one of the most isolated anywhere in the Marquesas. The setting in the picturesque Bay of Virgins is a secret only shared by intrepid yachtsmen.
9. Komodo Island, Indonesia
(8.55° S 119.45° E)*
On the map, Komodo looks like just another stepping-stone across the archipelago of Indonesia, but… there be dragons! Yes, the Komodo dragon (varanus komodoensis) is the world’s largest living species of lizard – adult males can grow up to three metres long and weigh in at an average 90 kilograms. Think goanna on steroids with bags of attitude. Such is this animal’s fearsome reputation, it is held in mythical status by locals and is treated to sacrificed goats and deer off-cuts to appease its appetite. Ironically, the few thousand residents brave enough to share the island are descendents of convicts once exiled there and have learned to treat the dragon with respect. Still, there are several documented cases of humans falling victim to this savage carnivore.
Inhabited by about 20 Australian scientists and support staff, Macquarie (generally known as ‘Macca’) has only featured as a ‘tourist’ destination since adventure vessels heading to the Antarctic started looking for somewhere to break the many days at sea. Geologically attached to New Zealand but administered by Australia, it is halfway to Antarctica from Tasmania. The first residents of the island were fur seals and penguins, which were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries and replaced by cats, rats and rabbits. But man’s influence is slowly being reversed. Several varieties of penguins, elephant seals and albatrosses can again be seen on the island, and apart from the wildlife, Macquarie Island is famous for its rocks.