Providing inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s epics and Gauguin’s canvases, French Polynesia is the closest thing to Eden we’ve got. Strewn over an area of the South Pacific larger than Europe, it has it all – serrated green mountains rise imperiously from the ocean to make up the Marquesas Islands, while vertically challenged atolls huddle around neon lagoons in the Tuamotus.
Alternatively, head to the Society Islands for some grass-skirt-shimmying culture. Air Tahiti’s convenient island-hop passes make joining the dots a cinch – securing a place on one of the intermittent cargo ships requires a bit more stamina. Best to hire a yacht and follow your own South Pacific schedule.
Don’t miss: Scuba-diving the flood tide into Rangiroa atoll in the Tuamotus, one of the world’s greatest underwater sleigh rides.
Step back in time and down a gear on this isolated mid-Atlantic archipelago. The nine islands – peaks of a mighty mid-ocean mountain range forced up by powerful volcanic action on the sea bed – have an intriguing history of piracy and whaling. Today, they are a stopping-off point for yachts crossing the Atlantic, while the surrounding nutrient-rich seas are home to around 25 species of whale and dolphin. On shore, the tranquil islands offer excellent walking among ruined farmhouses and distinctive windmills.
Don’t miss: Having your boat directed by a traditional vigia (watcher), who looks out for whales from the shore.
In this tidy cluster of islands, the words ‘timetable’ and ‘schedule’ don’t hold much sway. LIAT (Leeward Islands Air Transport), the local inter-island carrier, more commonly stands for ‘Leaves Island Any Time’. Which is probably no bad thing – with rainforest-swathed peaks, lower slopes bright green with sugar-cane and languid coastal towns, you won’t be in much of a hurry to leave. Join the yachting community that zig-zags gracefully from one island to another, or jump on the local ‘bus’ that will ferry you to the next green dot on the horizon. Just make sure you’re not in any hurry.
Don’t miss: A boat-trip to the Frigate Bird Nature Reserve on Barbuda, the world’s largest nesting colony of the red-chested flappers.
Over the millennia, continental drift has yanked Svalbard from the toasty tropics up to the rasping Arctic, leaving an icily inhospitable yet wildly alluring mass of glaciers, fjords and sparkling beauty. Possibilities for spontaneous hopping are virtually nil, but what you lose in independence on a prearranged cruise, you gain in the security of a reinforced vessel and professional guidance.
Departing in the summer months, when the midnight sun dazzles off the snow uninterrupted, these experienced boats sail past breaching whales, Titanic-busting icebergs and skyscrapers of rock, while nippier Zodiacs deposit you on land trodden by few bar reindeer and seals.
Don’t miss: Catching a glimpse of a mighty polar bear striding across the pack ice.
The world’s longest archipelago, Indonesia – stretching for almost 5,000km between the Andaman Sea and the Pacific’s edge – consists of well over 13,000 (some say more than 18,000) islands. The southern chain of Nusa Tenggara is a hopper’s nirvana, with phenomenal cultural and biological diversity – the multicoloured volcanic crater lakes of Kelimutu on Flores, fine diving and tribal groups living traditional lifestyles – and almost as many ways of hopping as there are islands.
Regular ferries sail between major centres – the traditional overlander’s route along the islands of Nusa Tenggara – but you can charter old Makassar schooners to cruise along the chain, or outrigger canoes to Lombok’s Gili islands.
Don’t miss: The approach of a three-metre-long Komodo dragon on rugged Rinca or its namesake island.
A seven-island smear in the remotest Pacific, Hawaii is the remnants of volcanoes past, a craggy cluster of plunging cliffs, waterfalls and valleys. Apart from the ferry between Maui and Lanai – worth taking from January to March when humpback whales share the water – you have to get airborne to hop here, which means awesome aerial views. Cower from Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, on the Big Island, then head to untamed Molokai for mule treks into canyons before hiking in lush Kauai, where precipitous walls of rock crash down into uncurbed tropical forest.
Don’t miss: Exploring the world’s largest dormant volcano, Haleakala, on Maui, on foot, horseback or bicycle.
A chain of small specks known as Nansei-shoto¯ spans the 1,000km stretch in the East China Sea from the main Japanese islands to Taiwan. The islanders have retained cultural elements of the ancient Ryu¯kyu¯ kingdom, including renowned Okinawan cuisine and traditional music and crafts. The archipelago’s tropical climate, fine diving and relatively pristine forests attract relatively few Westerners – hopping between the jungle wilderness of Iriomote-jima and star-shell beaches of Ishigaki-jima by plane and ferry offers a glimpse of a seldom-seen side of Japan.
Don’t miss: Hiking among the giant cedars of Yakushima, stopping to pay homage to the 2,600-year-old tree called Jomon-Sugi.
Boobies. Giant tortoises. Marine iguanas. Schools of hammerhead sharks. Equatorial penguins. Darwin’s finches. Just a few reasons why anyone with an interest in wildlife itches to explore the world’s most famed eco-destination – and the incredible variations between species is another reason why island-hopping is the only way to get a real feel for the amazing biological diversity. To get to the finest sights you’ll need to take a cruise.
Don’t miss: Marvelling at equatorial penguins ‘flying’ through the water as you snorkel among them off Bartolomé Island.
Coll, Eigg, Gigha and Muck might not have the same romantic resonance (or climate) as Bora Bora or Koh Samui but if it’s nature in all its unkempt glory that you’re looking for, head for the wild beauty of the Inner Hebrides. With an Island Hopscotch Ticket in your pocket you can take your car on unlimited ferry-crossings between the isles. On dry land, develop your rosy-cheeked, Ready Brek-glow potential on bracing walks atop bird-swirling cliffs and rippling sands, fortified by a dram or five of the smooth local malts.
Don’t miss: Sailing to the cathedral-like Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa.
Nearly 200 islands slumber off Canada’s west coast, a crisp archipelago of glassy water and unsullied forests that seems to ooze wholesome healthiness. Many are just a nose of rock, but the larger islands harbour modernity-shunning artisans and organic brewers. Board a ferry, water taxi or classic yacht to explore – perhaps Salt Spring’s Saturday morning market and galleries for local arts and crafts, Mayne for gold-rush nostalgia, or Galiano for its Mediterranean climate and glorious views.
Don’t miss: Kayaking the inlets for sea-level encounters with seals and orca, while bald eagles soar overhead.
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