We're not very good at winter Down Under. Sure, there's decent snowfields and we might occasionally roast a marshmallow on the campfire, but all in all we usually just spend these 3 months of the year either hibernating or chasing the sun somewhere further north. From the ivory white walls of Santorini; the impossible turquoise waters of Turkey to the scorched red earth of the U.S. desert, there's no doubt that the Northern Hemisphere does summertime well. Down south, we do things a little different, and with endless expanses of coastline it's surprisingly easy to avoid the hoards of sun-chasers flocking to Bondi Beach and Rio de Janeiro. In these maiden days of our splendid summer, we wanted to celebrate everything south of the equator with a showcase of some of our not-so-well-known island destinations that ought to find their way onto your bucket-list.
GREAT BARRIER ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Just 90kms from the city lights of Auckland, you'll find yourself in place that forgot to jump on the bandwagon to the 21st Century. Great Barrier Island (or Motu Aotea) showcases everything we love about New Zealand - from natural hot springs, rugged green terrain, unique wildlife and pristine oceans. There's also a tiny population of around 950 people - but what they lack in numbers they make up for in famous Kiwi charm. Despite the island's magazine-cover looks, you definitely won't come across any Hiltons or Marriotts blocking the views or taking up prime sun-baking space. The inhabitants work hard to maintain the island's authentic, rustic charm, and would much rather you take a soak in an au-naturale thermal hot spring than a chemical-laden resort spa.
Strangely enough, one of the island’s main attractions is only visible with the lights are out. Great Barrier Island is the only island on the planet to have achieved ‘Dark Sky Sanctuary’ status, meaning that the locals take their responsibility to share their unbelievable night sky very seriously. In fact, last year the island hosted some of the best global experts in astronomy, planetary and evolutionary sciences to discuss one of life's deepest mysteries - is there other life out there? With inconclusive results, you might need to take a trip to Great Barrier and look skywards for the answer..
- Embrace the peculiar. The locals have thought up some really unique ways to explore the island, so there's absolutely no need to settle for a standard minibus tour run by a monotonous geriatric named Errol. There are 2 person trike tours, beachside horse rides, oceanic cruises and hiking expeditions that all allow you to see the island from completely different angles.
- Explore the oceans as much as you can. The island's coastline is frequented by dolphins, orcas, minke whales, leopard seals and the protected New Zealand fur seals who look like freshly washed puppy dogs straight out of a bubble bath.
- Get your cash sorted before you arrive. We weren't kidding when we said this place was a little old-fashioned, and ATMs are just one of the many modern luxuries that Great Barrier Island survives without.
- Medlands Beach Lodge: Located in the dunes of Medland Beach, this luxurious B&B is a few minutes walk away from one of the most beautiful surf beaches in New Zealand. From the lodge, the night sky is stunning and they've got their own Dobsonian telescope for guests to take a closer look.
- Fantasy Island: A tasteful, one bedroom cottage with cliff-top ocean views. This secluded little gem is set on 13 acres of bushland with a stunning white sand beach just at the bottom of the drive.
- Mount St Paul Estate: A colonial style lodge offering fine dining and country charm combined with incredible ocean views. It's set upon 108 acres of native land, so you'll relish in the feeling of seclusion, space and spectacular night skies.
NOSY KOMBA, MADAGASCAR
This low-key beauty is located just off the coast of northern Madagascar between the mainland and the tourist hotspot of Nosy Be. Known as ‘The Island of Lemurs’, this tiny volcanic paradise is ideal for those of us who are in the mood for a little bit of Mother Nature’s secret special sauce. The island is covered by dense tropical forest, and wherever you go you’ll find yourself amongst Planet Earth’s weirdest & most wonderful including chameleons, black lemurs and the kinds of tropical birds that seem to have had their colour saturation settings turned up to max level.
The name ‘Nosy Komba’ means “surrounded by rocks”, and these well-placed geological giants act as a strong barrier against rough seas. The result is a natural lagoon that's perfect for marine species such as Humpback Whales to raise their young, and for people like myself who would rather sizzle on the beach and die of heat-exhaustion than put my foot in the ocean if the waves are bigger than 2ft.
- Channel your inner David Attenborough and go in search of one of the many species of lemur on Nosy Komba. They’re cute as a button and cheeky as Macauley Culkin circa 1990. There are various local guides who’ll help you to suss out their favourite hangout zones.
- Take a trek inland to one of the many incredible waterfalls that kindly funnel the island’s fresh tropical rains into the perfectly formed swimming holes beneath them.
- Check out the villages and see how the locals make their living from what nature has given them. You’ll meet waterfall fishermen, traditional canoe-builders, Ylang Ylang oil distillers and the growers of some of the tastiest tropical fruits you’ll ever sample. This bustling micro-economy is truly fascinating to behold.
- Tsara Komba Luxury Beach & Forest Lodge - Accessible only by boat, this secluded, luxury resort offers just 8 dreamy little eco-lodges that are nestled perfectly within the lush landscape of palm trees, cocoa, wild pepper and vanilla.
- Tsanga Banga - With sweeping views of the Nosy Tanikely Marine Reserve, Tsanga Banga is for ocean lovers who live for a good sunset cocktail.
- Chez Madame Madio - Traditional style, budget accommodation consisting of Malagasy bungalows situated well within striking distance of beautiful white-sand beaches.
FERNANDO DE NORONHA, BRAZIL
So technically this is an archipelago, not an island, but let’s not let that get in the way of our fun. The remnants of an ancient volcano, Fernando de Noronha is a UNESCO World Heritage site that only allows 450 tourists visiting at any one time. If you’re lucky enough to make the cut, you’ll be rewarded with an unspoiled utopia that will make you feel like you've stumbled back to simpler times when people explored with their feet, not their thumbs. The surrounding seas are home to some of the best diving sites in the world, so you’ll be spending a good portion of your time underwater exploring the submerged secrets of the Atlantic. When you’ve dried off you’ll be greeted with emerald beaches, shady palm trees, ancient forts and dazzling ecological trails.
When the navigator Américo Vespúcio first discovered the island in 1503, he famously remarked that “Paradise is here”. I never knew him personally, but I’m guessing that Vespúcio might have been onto something..
- Dust off your hiking boots and head to one of the 5 incredible hiking trails around the island. You'll find pods of spinner dolphins, secluded beaches, natural swimming pools, lighthouses, caves, forts, churches, museums, palaces.. To be honest, I’m out of breath just thinking about it.
- Scuba dive Corveta V 17 - the remains of a sunken navy ship. Considered to be one of the best wreck sites in the world, you’ll spot everything from mahi mahi to whale sharks and if you happen to be comfortable 50m below sea level you can still explore the ship’s relatively intact interior.
- Take your surfboard. With swell averaging between 7ft and 15ft from November to March, it’s an ideal place to find postcard perfect barrels. The best beaches for surfing are Cacimba do Padre, Boldró, Biboca, Cachorro, Bode, Conceicao and Meio.
- Pousada Maravilha - It’s pretty hard to get over views like these. With suites and an infinity pool overlooking the famous Sueste Bay, you'll find this resort the perfect mix of luxury and low-fuss beach vibes.
- Pousada Naiepe - Homely and warm, this relaxed inn is located in the island’s central region close to shops, restaurants and Fernando de Noronha’s Historic Centre. They’ll sort you out with everything you could possibly need, from stand-up-paddle boards to buggy rentals.
- Vila Mar - Low key. Low fuss. Unbelievable location. This place is great for people who don’t want to spend heaps of time indoors and want to be super close to the island’s finest attractions including the National Marine Park and Forte De Nossa Senhora Dos Remedios.
AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS
A short 45 minute hop from Rarotonga, Aitutaki is home to what some highly reputable sources consider to be the most beautiful natural lagoon in the world. Far less commercial than the mainland, you'll have no problems in snagging yourself an uninhabited island for the day or a quiet spot to explore the underwater world which teams with wildlife all year round. If you're a bit of an adrenaline-junkie, you might find this island a little short on action, but if you're in the mood for some R&R then Aitutaki will definitely rub you the right way.
The word about town is that Mother Nature herself invented the colour 'blue' in Aitutaki, and I think anyone who's been here will tend to agree.
- Hire a boat and find yourself a motu for the day. These are tiny uninhabited islands such as Tapuaetai or One Foot Island which offer incredible views of the lagoon and the chance to enjoy some glorious privacy.
- Giant clams are way more beautiful than they sound. You'll never find water clearer than this, so whip out your goggles and say hey to the locals!
- Saturday is market day in Aitutaki, so head into town and snatch up some beautiful local produce and handicrafts.
- Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa: This is the only resort located directly upon the lagoon with thatched bungalows perched atop champagne sands. It's adults-only, so ditch the groms for a week and soak up the romance.
- Aitutaki Seaside: Every review of this place gushes about the exceptionally friendly staff and peaceful location. With beachfront views and a casual atmosphere, this is a great pick for a cheap and cheerful vacay.
- Kuru Club: This eco-friendly, sustainable hotel is modern, vibrant and fun. If you're looking to explore, it's in a great location just a few kilometres from town and Ootu Beach where there's an abundance of amazing restaurants and bars.
NORFOLK ISLAND, AUSTRALIA
Okay so you've probably heard of this one, but we couldn't help but add a sneaky Island of Oz to the list. Famous for its mountainous pine forests and dramatic coastline, Norfolk Island is a whole different kettle of fish to the likes of Rottnest and the Whitsundays. Rugged, remote and raw, you won't want to spend too much time sipping cocktails by the pool when there is so much of nature's amazingness to be explored.
What will strike you most about Norfolk Island is its feeling of harmony, with every living creature fulfilling a specific role in the enclosed eco-system that has flourished for many centuries. Stand atop a cliff-face and breathe in the fresh air whilst seabirds soar above you, or explore the forest and see rare species like the Green Parrot that can't be found anywhere else in the world. It's a place that will make you appreciate just how wonderful it is to be floating around space on this weird little green & blue planet of ours.
- Spend a day at the picture perfect Anson Beach. It's a bit of a trek but this only makes the reward even better.
- Wave at every single car that drives past. Seriously. The local community here are renowned for being some of the friendliest people on the planet, so don't be stingy with the smiles and 'hellos'.
- Become a history buff by checking out the many museums and historical sites dedicated to the island's rich history. First settled by Polynesians, the island was then discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 which marked the beginning of a tumultuous history of convicts and mutineers..
- Mokutu Norfolk Island - Boutique chalets that are each decorated by a different local artist to create uniquely unusual decor. You'll find these adorable A-frames just a short drive from Burnt Pine, with panoramic views of the island's forests, mountains and ocean.
- The Tin Sheds - A little more luxurious than the name suggests, these self-contained apartments offer boutique, 5 star accommodation set amongst stunning private gardens. Close to national parks, beaches, and the historic centre, you can choose to explore your surroundings or indulge in the impressive facilities including infrared sauna, jacuzzi, plunge pool and Swedish massage parlour.
- Forrester Court Clifftop Cottages - perched between sea and sky, these clifftop cottages are set across 16 acres of lush subtropical gardens with stunning ocean and bay views over Cascade Bay and Elephant Rock. With options of high-tea or your own personal chef, plus tennis courts, massage, and a private library - we think you'll be just fine when it comes to whiling away your days on the island.
Words // Anna Jordan @annajordan89