It’s easy for the landlocked masses to assume the whole world is now charted and connected and accessible in a matter of hours. However, scattered around the world’s oceans are islands and archipelagos that remain truly remote. Some have no airports, and can be accessed only by epic boat journeys; others host whole eco-systems of unique flora and fauna; some have seen entire civilizations rise and fall. One, settled by a mutinous crew in need of somewhere to hide, these days requires you to have a licence from the governor before you can even set foot on it. Travel doesn’t get any further from the beaten track than these ten incredible destinations.
Thrust up by the activity of an ancient underwater volcano, the Ogasawara Islands are an archipelago of around 30 islands scattered off the south coast of Japan. Steep and jagged cliffs ring the islands, cutting down to immaculate subtropical beaches, which are all the more stunning when discovered after a day’s trekking through the islands’ hot, humid interiors. The archipelago’s largest landmass, Chichi-jima, hosts several great walking routes, including the Ogiura-Yuhodo Trail, which starts at the coast and passes through farmland, valleys, forests and a string of spectacular viewpoints, as well as an old World War II tunnel. And look out for the archipelago's utterly unique flora and fauna as you go, which has evolved for millennia in complete isolation.
Sprinkled over the South China Sea, the Xinsha or Paracel Islands are a lush, tropical Eden, fed by frequent rainfall and as yet only lightly touched by development. They’ve recently been incorporated into the itineraries of several cruise boat companies, but, with no permanent residents except a few fishermen and leftover military personnel – Vietnam and China went to war over the islands in the seventies – they are still exceptionally serene for most of the year. The islands divide into two groups, and the more remote of these, the Crescent Group, is particularly stunning, a handful of crescent-shaped isles enclosing deep, warm, sand-fringed lagoons. There are also fantastic SCUBA diving opportunities in the surrounding sea, amid a vibrant cluster of ocean reefs.
Three hundred miles east of Patagonia, deep in the South Atlantic Sea, the Falklands are best known as the site of a two-month conflict between Britain and Argentina. But in the decades since they’ve become an increasingly popular off-beat travel destination, a raw and exposed landscape of sandy beaches, rough grass, craggy cliffs and steep hills, unfolding between vast blue skies and the billowing sea. It’s also a superb wildlife watching destination, particularly for birdwatchers, with a broad array of unusual birdlife including two types of penguin, two endemic species (the Cobb’s wren and a flightless steamer duck), and 70% of the world’s black-browed albatross population, alongside many other species. The main city is Port Stanley, which makes a pleasant base for expeditions out into the islands’ wilds – just be sure to visit between October and April, unless you have a high tolerance for snow, sleet and freezing winds.
This isolated cluster of coral islands lies mid-way between Australia and Sri Lanka in the remote Indian Ocean. First sighted by western eyes in 1609, two of the islands are now inhabited: Home Island primarily by ethnic Malays, with a population of 550, and West Island by a small community of largely ethnic Europeans. Other than these tiny settlements, the Cocos are defined by their tranquil and unspoiled natural world: beautiful sandy beaches, studded with palm and Calophyllum trees and fragranced by native hibiscus circle the area. There is little more strenuous to do than explore this gorgeous and remarkably undeveloped natural paradise, either on foot or while island hopping by motorized canoe. A fun challenge undertaken by locals is to try and swim across the lagoon dividing West and Home islands, although be sure to have some support, as its not as straight-forward as it first appears.
Strung along the equator 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands’ sublime isolation has allowed an utterly unique – and remarkably fearless – community of wildlife to evolve, taking on attributes adapted to the isles and seen nowhere else in the world. It was observation of these creatures that catalyzed Darwin’s theory of evolution, and after a few weeks in the Galapagos he wrote: "We seem to be brought somewhere near to that great fact, that mystery of mysteries – the appearance of new beings on earth." Species that inspired Darwin, such as the giant tortoise, sea lions, marine iguana and an immense array of bird species, can be seen and approached on many of the bare and volcanic isles. There are plenty worth visiting, each with its own unique assemblage of wildlife and other sights (such as Darwin’s Arch). Visitors can either join a luxury cruise ship or, for a more independent and budget experience, gather a small group and charter a boat and crew from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal.
Baffin is the world’s fifth largest island, located in Arctic Sea between Greenland and Nunavut, in the Canadian mainland. Its remoteness is a result of its harsh Arctic terrain: most of the island’s population is concentrated in the capital, Iqaluit, and much of the rest of the island is contained within the rugged borders of Auyuittuq National Park. But just as this tough terrain explains the island’s isolation, it is also a major draw for hardy adventure seekers and hikers keen to experience the earth’s intense extremes. Auyuittuq, Inuktitut for "the land that never melts" , contains vast glaciers, polar sea ice, granite mountains and coastal fjords. One unforgettable hike involves crossing the Akshayuk Pass, an ancient mountain pass that runs through a spectacular valley carved by an eroded riverbed. Other activities on the island include skiing, kayaking, dog sled tours, and watching polar bears or the Northern Lights, all among the indifferent majesty of the Arctic.
When the British made the decision to exile Napoleon in 1815, they were careful not to take any chances that the wily and extraordinarily wilful general might escape. They chose to sequester him on Saint Helena, an island 1200 miles from South Africa and 1800 miles from South America in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, smiled on by the island’s subtropical climate, Napoleon pottered through the final six years of his life. Saint Helena remains fantastically remote today – it has no airport and arrival is either by RAF charter flight to neighbouring Ascension Island, or via an epic sea journey from Cape Town aboard the RMS Saint Helena. Once you’ve made it to the island, highlights include the capital Jamestown, with a fascinating museum on the island’s history, a 17th century castle, and a clutch of bars and restaurants serving endless G&Ts. Beyond the town, there is superb hiking or ambling through the island’s densely vegetated interior, speckled with ponds and pools for swimming and fringed with pristine beaches.
Marginally more remote than Saint Helena, Easter Island is a tiny speck amid the open immensity of the South Pacific Sea. It has a fascinating and potentially microcosmic history: Polynesian settlers arrived from the west centuries ago and found an abundant paradise, rich in wildlife and vegetation. They prospered, developing a mythology which birthed the incredible moai, hugely expressive statues of heads that can be found all across the island. Petroglyphs sketched on boulders and cliffs depict evocative half-bird half-human figures. But as the population grew, so did the pressure on the island’s environment, leading to outbreaks of violence which, exacerbated by colonial forays, have left only a few hundred native Rapa Nui people on the island today. Deforestation has made the landscape bare, but it’s still very hospitable to international travelers – there are frequent flights from Santiago and luxury accommodation options on the island itself. And alongside all the culture and history, you can ride horses along wind-whipped shorelines and surf the Pacific’s mighty swell.
The Pitcairns are another remote South Pacific archipelago with an utterly unique history. The small community currently living on the largest island are nearly all descendants of a crew of mutineers, who seized control of the British Navy ship Bounty in 1789. This crew kicked out their captain and sailed the ship on to Tahiti and the Pitcairns, establishing a settlement on the latter and sinking the ship in what is now called Bounty Bay. The islands can still only be visited by boat today, and the easiest way to do so is aboard the the Claymore II, which sails there from Gambier Islands every few months. But you’ll also need a license from the governor proving you can look after yourself for the month or so you’re likely to be stuck in his jurisdiction. The tale of the Bounty is a major attraction, and you can see its remains in Bounty Bay and visit a museum which tells its tale along with other aspects of local history. There’s a superb bird sanctuary on neighbouring Henderson Island, lots of beaches and caves, excellent swimming and diving, and plentiful opportunities for walking around rugged volcanic coastlines.
Cloaked in beautiful tropical scenery, Kiribati straddles the equator 1650 miles southeast of Hawaii. Its 27 islands are not an upmarket tropical paradise, and travelers have to be prepared to rough it during their stay. Still, these islands are idyllic places to explore by boat and foot, walking on warm sand and resting alongside deep-blue lagoons. Traditional cultures still thrive on a few of the islands, and are usually welcoming to the occasional outsider. The islands saw intense fighting during World War Two, remnants of which are visible on some of them – guided tours can be arranged if you want to learn more. And the area also hosts the world’s largest marine reserve, Phoenix Island, which is about the size of California. Visitors seeking something slightly more familiar should head to Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, which is where most American holidaymakers go to drink in the vibe of the islands.