Epic Island Escapes

Kick back on these exotic oases.

By Hannah Doyle

Each of these secluded spots offers sights, monuments or activities you won’t find elsewhere.

Galápagos Islands

Ecuador

At the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos Islands are home to unique wildlife, from seafaring lizards to short-feathered penguins. The opportunities for adventure are seemingly endless: You can snorkel with sea lions, hike the dramatic Sierra Negra volcano or camp out in a Scalesia forest. Keep an eye out for the giant tortoises that inspired Charles Darwin.

Playful sea lions swimming in underwater lagoon, Galapagos Islands
Sea lions play in an underwater lagoon on the Galapagos Islands. (iStockphoto)

Mykonos

Greece

One of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, Mykonos—with its labyrinthine roads and iconic windmills—figures in Greek mythology. Today the “Island of the Winds” offers more-modern pursuits, such as sailing and surfing. On land, the Little Venice district is filled with 18th-century mansions with colorful balconies. Snag a seat at a waterfront café to sip ouzo, a Greek aperitif, and admire the stark contrast of whitewashed architecture against cobalt waters.

Waiheke Island

New Zealand

Only a 35-minute ferry ride from the capital city of Auckland, Waiheke Island is known for its thriving arts community and the cabernet varieties it produces on more than a dozen vineyards. Winery restaurants pair vintages with dishes that incorporate local ingredients, such as Ora King salmon ceviche and sweetcorn panna cotta. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding keep active types busy until dusk, when they can wrap up the day watching the sunset over Hauraki Gulf.

Tasmania

Australia

Glacier-carved highlands, temperate rain forests and remote beaches—Tasmania is an explorer’s paradise. More than 40 percent of the island has been set aside for national parks and reserves. Highlights include rafting the Franklin River, which flows from the Central Highlands toward the West Coast, or taking a ferry to the Museum of Old and New Art (655 Main Rd., Hobart; 011-61-3-6277-9900; mona.net.au; admission, from $15), set on its own peninsula.

Maldives

A country in itself, the Maldives’ nearly 1,200 islands are famed for their unparalleled snow-white beaches lined with swaying palm trees. The clarity of the waters makes the diving here spectacular: You can admire coral walls, caves and even the world’s largest known fish, the gentle whale shark. At nighttime, some of the beaches light up, thanks to the phenomenon of bioluminescence, which casts what looks like tiny blue glitter over the ocean’s surface.

Orkney Islands

Scotland

Old fisherman huts and even shipwrecked boats dot the shores of this archipelago off Scotland’s northern coast. Archaeological sites—such as the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn (Tormiston Hill, Stenness, Orkney; 011-01856-761-606; historicenvironment.scot; tickets, $7* a person), a burial tomb decorated with 12th-century Viking carvings, on Mainland—are scattered throughout the islands. Consider planning your visit around the northern lights, which are best seen in autumn and winter, to take in one of the most remarkable vistas between Norway and Alaska.

 Sea Cliffs at Marwick Head, Orkney (iStockphoto)
Sea cliffs at Marwick Head, Orkney. (iStockphoto)

Mooréa

French Polynesia

About 10 miles northwest of Tahiti, Mooréa is said to have inspired the mystical Bali Hai, which appears in James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical adaptation. A string of eight lush mountain peaks circle Mooréa’s lagoon, which visitors can snorkel, paddleboard or fish. It’s well worth making your way to the top of Belvedere Lookout for sunset. If you can, stop by one of the island’s pineapple plantations on the way for a tour and a taste.

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2016