gale-blasted cliffs of Scotland to the balmy shores of the Seychelles, travel experts
reveal their secret hideaways.
An island for history: St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda is a
windswept archipelago, 40 miles west of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides across the
north Atlantic Ocean. The islands have remained uninhabited for the last 82
years, when the last St Kildans were evacuated. Getting there isn’t easy – but
it’s certainly worth the effort. Looking up at its vertiginous cliffs from the
foaming sea is overwhelming: rolling banks of sea mist tumble down from the
slopes of the interior and birds wheel overhead. St Kilda is also home to the ghostly
remains of a village on the island of Hirta. It is very strange to walk among
the houses where a once-thriving community lived. The most memorable journey I
made to St Kilda was in the company of one of the last original inhabitants,
Norman Gillies, who was returning for the first time. We visited the small church
and the little school in which Norman was taught as a young boy. It was the
death of his young mother from pneumonia that prompted the evacuation. It was
decided that the islands were too remote to remain. Traditionally, the
islanders used St Kildan ‘mailboats’ to communicate with the outside world.
These consisted of a piece of wood, hollowed out so that they could hold a
small bottle in which a letter was placed, along with instructions for the
finder to post it and a penny for a stamp. Before I left St Kilda, I cast a
bottle adrift with a note of my own. I hope that someday someone finds the
message, telling them all about St Kilda.
Make it happen
St Kilda is run by the National Trust for Scotland. The National Trust operates
cruises of the Hebrides, also visiting St Kilda (from £1,600).
--By Ben Fogle, presenter of Lonely Planet’s
Year of Adventures on BBC Knowledge.
An island for seclusion: Moyenne, Seychelles
The island of
Moyenne looks like the rest of the Seychelles, but turned up to 11. Its only
inhabitant is Brendon Grimshaw, an 86-year-old former newspaper editor from
Yorkshire, who lives the life of a sophisticated Robinson Crusoe. The
difference is that he hasn’t been marooned there – he’s there by choice. I heard
about Moyenne when I travelled to the Seychelles when filming my Indian Ocean
series for BBC Two. As we approached the island by boat, it looked unreal, like
a paradise island – almost like something from a dream. Brendan’s story is a
fascinating one. He bought Moyenne for £8,000 in 1962. Since then, he’s set
about transforming a rocky island into a little bit of paradise, building a
small house, importing thousands of trees and turning the place into the
world’s smallest national park. He’s even got a few giant turtles for company.
Brendan has been offered staggering sums of money for the island – he even had
a Saudi prince offer him an unlimited sum – but he’s having none of it. He
wants to preserve the island for future generations. Today, the island is visited
by daytrippers from the rest of the Seychelles. There are some beautiful walks
around its shores and some great snorkelling in the reefs of its surrounding
waters. At the end of the day, no-one except Brendan is allowed to stay on
Moyenne – it’s very much his own paradise. I’d do it myself, but I’d be talking
to myself by the end of the first day.
Make it happen
Moyenne is located
to the east of the island of Mahé in the Seychelles. Day trips can be arranged from Mahé (from £90).
Reeve, presenter of the six-part series Indian Ocean.
An island for nature: Fraser Island, Australia
Though it may be just a few miles off Australia’s eastern coast, Fraser Island
feels as wild and untamed as many more distant Pacific islands. For the largest
sand island in the world, I was immediately surprised by how lush it was.
Fraser is covered by a bewildering diversity of flora – from pristine mangroves
to rainforest, with heathland, pine and eucalypts thrown in for good measure –
all of it growing on a vast bed of sand. Locals even claim that it has more
sand than the Sahara, because of the depth of its sand base. The island is only
accessible by 4WD, as its roads and inland tracks, like the rest of the island,
are made entirely of sand. The east coast beach is the island’s main highway,
and at times I felt like I’d joined the Paris to Dakar Rally. This beach road
forms part of the longest coastal dune system in the world – a stretch of
magnificent shape-shifting hills. I camped with friends by a quiet spot close
to the beach; there are no towns on Fraser. We spent the next two days walking,
driving through the forests and spotting wildlife, including a pair of rare
mottled-green ground parrots, and dingoes crossing the beach. We swam in the lime-green
Lake Wabby, one of the island’s freshwater lakes, and at night drank ice-cold
tinnies beneath a sky lit by the Milky Way. As I sat on the powder-fine sand, I
felt I’d never been anywhere like this – the place can be at once so near and
yet so far away.
Make it happen
Ferries depart for Fraser Island from near Hervey Bay
on mainland Australia (returns from £100 per vehicle). Purchase vehicle and
camping permits in advance.
Templar, producer of the BBC documentary series Human Planet.
An island for explorers: Great Abaco, Bahamas
Abaco has a sense of remoteness that can be quite hard to find in the
Caribbean. I last visited as part of the BBC’s Oceans series, when my job was
to dive the famous Dan’s Cave – a difficult, but truly remarkable dive. The
entrance to the cave is pretty small and unfriendly looking. It’s in the middle
of the forest and it looks like a muddy hole. Yet once you’re in, the whole
cave comes to life with beautifully dramatic colours and formations. Few people
go down there as the dive is very complex, which means that the cave is
perfectly preserved – there are some incredibly fragile stalactites dangling
down from the ceiling. The cave dive was an experience in itself, but I was
unprepared for the sheer beauty of the island above. I remember pulling up in
the harbour the first time I visited in 1986 – there were just a few small
fishing boats bobbing on the clear water, and I felt I’d really arrived in the
Bahamas. Take a short walk inland and you have the whole island to yourself.
There are dense little forests teeming with wildlife, such as songbirds,
lizards and snakes. There are even wild horses, said to have arrived on the
island from Spanish shipwrecks. Abaco is at the gun barrels of the Gulf Stream.
When you’re at a beach bar eating fresh fish and sipping on rum, it’s wonderful
to think that you’re at the beginning of the best-known and arguably the most
important current in the world – one that travels all the way to the coast of
Make it happen
BA flies from Heathrow to Nassau in the Bahamas
(from £790). From here, Bahamasair flies to Abaco (from £100).
Rose, presenter of several BBC series, including Britain’s Secret Seas and
An island for summer holidays: Martha’s
Going to Martha’s
Vineyard has been part of almost every summer of my life since as far back as I
can remember – it has taken on the character of an annual pilgrimage. The
island is only six miles away from the mainland, but far enough for it to
retain a distinct character. It’s a timeless distillation of what’s lovely
about Massachusetts, but with its timberframed houses hung with cedar shingles,
white clapboards and old lighthouses like Gay Head Lighthouse, it’s prettier
and quieter than the mainland. I usually catch the ferry from Falmouth, but the
most memorable crossing I made was with my dad in a rowing boat when I was
about 15. We made it across without difficulty, but on the return leg we got
caught in a riptide near East Chop lighthouse and started taking on water. It
was the only time I recall seeing my father scared. We were forced to turn
back. My ideal day on the Vineyard begins with coffee on the ferry across,
followed by a bike ride on the island’s trails, a swim in the Atlantic surf and
ending up back on the ferry to the mainland with mild sunburn and a box of
saltwater taffy. What brings me back is a collection of specifically New
England sensations that I associate with the place: free-wheeling a bicycle
down a sandy beach road, the tang of lemon on fried clams, the clear green
water of the north Atlantic and the pure maritime light.
Make it happen
Cape Air flies to Martha’s Vineyard from Boston (from
£100). Ferries also run from Falmouth (from £10).
--By Marcel Theroux, award-winning author and
regular guest on BBC Two’s The Review Show.
The article 'Cast away: five island paradises' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.