8 of the world’s best island holidays
These eight island escapes are some of the world’s dreamiest.
Seeking your perfect island escape? From family-friendly getaways and scuba diving adventures to remote surfing retreats and adults-only escapes, there really is an island for everyone. Which one is your favourite?
1. Bawah Reserve, IndonesiaBest for: barefoot luxury
Roll up the canvas walls of your beach suite and let the wind dance over your skin. At Bawah Reserve – a solar-powered private-island retreat in Indonesian waters – getting back to nature is easy. The resort’s restaurants and bars are mostly nestled in the forest canopy or open onto the beach, while the buildings are made of sustainably harvested bamboo and decorated with driftwood artefacts. Getting here is something of an adventure – a ferry from Singapore is followed by a seaplane flight – but once you arrive, switching off is easy. Let the winding down begin with a complimentary daily spa treatment followed by free yoga classes, snorkelling sessions and forest hikes, not to mention meditative art classes. Or simply indulge in a spot of beachcombing – with many beaches to choose from, you can always find your own private stretch of sand.
2. Papatura, Solomon IslandsBest for: wave chasers
There’s a timber picnic table with bench seats under a beach umbrella set in the tranquil sea in front of Papatura in the Solomon Islands. Yes, that’s right, it’s in the sea. At low tide the water laps at your ankles, but at high tide you’re sitting waist deep in turquoise water. Either way, it’s the ideal place for a cold SolBrew, the local beer, after a surfing session.
Papatura is a tiny, remote, no-frills island getaway with traditional-style huts on a jungle-fringed bay. There are at least a dozen reef breaks close by, accessed by boat with a guide. There are A-frames, lefts and rights over shallow water, mainly for intermediate-plus surfers. The swell is best from November to April, with one to two metre waves. Like all the Solomon Islands, the breaks are deserted. You and your friends are likely to be the only ones there.
3. Mamanuca archipelago, FijiBest for: couples
Blazing sunsets, swaying palms and dreamy lagoons: it’s easy to see why Fiji is one of the most romantic places on the planet. Throw in balmy weather, fish-filled waters and Fijians serenading you at every turn, and the amorous factor skyrockets. A string of islands much loved by Australians, the Mamanuca archipelago offers two adults-only escapes a mere hop from Nadi on the mainland.
Reminiscent of Bora Bora and the Maldives, Likuliku Lagoon Resort’s luxe over-water bures are truly divine. Wake to stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, swim and snorkel straight from your room and be sure to enjoy a picnic for two on “Honeymoon Island”. At nearby Tokoriki Island Resort, couples relax in contemporary Fijian bures (including some with a beachfront pool), siesta in hammocks swung between palm trees and shower alfresco under the stars. Tropical sojourns don’t get more romantic than this…
4. Raja Ampat, West PapuaBest for: die-hard scuba divers
Just a few seconds. That’s all it takes to understand why divers and snorkellers rave about the reefs of Raja Ampat. Your first glimpse beneath the waters of this 40,000-square-kilometre archipelago off West Papua introduces you to an astonishing underwater world. Colourful corals in a dizzying array of shapes – spiked branches, ridged domes, vast platters, lace-like fans – grow in astonishing profusion, made even more dazzling by the shoals of tiny neon-bright fish that drift past like confetti.
Larger creatures also abound; schools of sweetlips and giant trevally, imposing Napoleon fish, fast-moving manta rays and elegant turtles. Home to around 1,300 species of reef fish and 600-plus species of hard coral (75 per cent of the world’s total), you could spend six months on one of the live-aboard boats that ply the waters and barely scratch the surface of Raja Ampat’s wonders.
5. Rarotonga, Cook IslandsBest for: quality family time
The kids might not gasp at Rarotonga’s natural beauty or notice its enviably relaxed pace, but don’t worry. They’ll be so busy exploring the clear shallow waters that circle this friendly Pacific paradise – swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, paddle-boarding or perhaps learning to dive – parents can enjoy its many other charms while the kids are entertained.
As the hub of the Cook Islands, Rarotonga has restaurants aplenty, buses that loop the 32-kilometre-island all day and supermarkets for self-catering and wide-ranging accommodation. Some resorts even offer houses with several bedrooms, kitchen and laundry, but also with housekeeping, pool use and breakfast included.
Typical Cook Island portion sizes can – and should – be shared among the family, and hikes along lush trails await to work it off. Come evening, you could do worse than head to the Waterline Restaurant and Beach Bar for a few drink-in-hand sunset experiences. Even the kids will enjoy that.
6. Tanna Island, VanuatuBest for: adventure seekers
With 83 islands spread across 12,000 square kilometres of ocean, Vanuatu offers adventure seekers thrilling experiences in the South Pacific. You don’t need to journey far from Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, to find plenty of action. Just 20 minutes away, you can be snorkelling through coral gardens and coming face-to-face with turtles and migrating whales. Truly extreme adventure, however, awaits on Vanuatu’s outer islands.
Hike to the top of a live volcano as lava rocks the size of cars are blasted towards where you stand at Mt Yasur on Tanna Island (pictured). Then cool off with a dive at the world’s best wreck site – troop carrier SS President Coolidge sunk during World War II and now rests off the shore of Espiritu “Santo” Island. Santo’s entire east coast is riddled with limestone caves, freshwater springs and the island’s unique blue holes – explore them by kayak or stand-up paddle-board (SUP). Or head east to Pentecost Island between April and June and watch as locals jump 30 metres to earth from handcrafted towers to bless the annual yam harvest; an event which inspired bungee jumping.
7. Ha’apai, TongaBest for: whale lovers
Nothing quite prepares you for coming face-to-face with a humpback whale.
Few wildlife encounters allow you to get this up close and personal, while maintaining a respect for the animal and their environment. In the far-flung Kingdom of Tonga – considered one of the world’s best places to dive with whales – the experience is offered only through licensed operators. Just six swimmers are allowed in the water at once, and must remain calm and leave at least three metres clear of the whale. This ensures a peaceful interaction with minimum impact on these magnificent creatures.
North of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, the warm waters of Ha’apai offer calm refuge for humpback whales migrating from Antarctica to breed, birth and socialise. Finding the whales and watching them from the surface is exhilarating enough. But it is when you dive beneath the surface that the magic happens. The whale’s song echoes through the water and their curious nature brings them within metres, in an experience that is likely to inspire emotions as deep as the ocean.
8. Hayman Island, AustraliaBest for: Trend-setters
She’s been stealing hearts since the 1950s but this month, Hayman Island proves she’s still our number-one pin-up, debuting her latest nip/tuck post-Cyclone Debbie with a new name, new management and sleek new look. Trendsters will find plenty of shiny new playthings at the reimagined Intercontinental Hayman Island Resort, with freshly furnished suites, relaxed dining options (hello, grab-and-go wine cellar) and whole host of activities on offer, including a private fleet of luxury boats. The resort has also unveiled a very modern sustainability ethos, with sophisticated energy and water management systems, recycled glass ‘sand’ applications in the gardens, and a complete island ban on single-use plastic. (Now that’s the kind of trend we can get behind.) Just add a holiday snap of you, posing by that famously oversized pool, for the island holiday moment of the moment. Hay, man… we’re glad you’re back.
Ready to have your own island adventure? Choose from one of our great value fares and start planning!