Islands are sanctuaries from the toil of landlocked life. But our top havens need protecting.
By Brian Schofield
Why do we choose islands? Why, when asked to relax into an imaginary holiday, do so many of us find comfort in wrapping the water right around us? It can’t just be because we relish heading in any direction, and eventually getting our toes wet.
Surely our love of continuous coastline is as much to do with protection as scenery — a guarantee that the stresses we leave behind will have to work that much harder to intrude on the peace and the rest we’ve found. There’s another attraction, too — of specific character and discreet size. Islands are distinctly knowable, and much more easy to befriend than whole nations. The delicious routines of a good holiday — breakfast from the same baker’s, sundowner in the same bar — can feel unambitious with a country to conquer, but on an island, they’re facts of life.
There is, however, a catch. The very characteristics that make islands so easy to love also make them far too easy to love to death. Unique, isolated cultures are far from resilient when foreign money arrives; space is at a premium; developments that might elsewhere count as nibbles from pristine landscapes take great chunks out of an island’s ecosystem; natural resources are scarce, and when they run out, there’s nowhere to turn. From the Bahamas to the Balearics, from the Keys to the Cyclades, thoughtless cashing-in on the allure of island life has left scars of almost laughable idiocy, empires of concrete and chlorine, asphalt and alcohol, which could take generations to clean up
The good news is that wisdom and forethought can affect an island community just as much as greed and short-sightedness. And there are archipelagos and outcrops we can visit safe in the knowledge that an island culture is being fought for, a natural inheritance is being protected, and the local people are doing their damnedest to ensure that our visit is a contribution, not a curse.
You can never go anywhere without changing it a little, but you can make sure you’re there on the locals’ terms. These 10 destinations mix the joys of an island escape with the confidence of a future well planned.
Prepare for envy — this picturesque Pacific republic of 83 islands is currently the number-one nation on the Happy Planet Index, which multiplies life satisfaction by life expectancy, then divides it by ecological impact (since you ask, we’re 108th out of 178, between Libya and Laos). And with white-sand beaches, dense tropical interiors, bountiful marine life and a climate as reliably cheery as the people, you, too, would be happy here. Culturally vital, with scores of native languages still in use, and with much of its ecology still intact, Vanuatu is carefully sharing its treasures with the outside world, mixing local-run lodges with high-end resorts and keeping the inevitable cruise passengers corralled in a few honeypots. Conservation areas keep development out of the finest ecosystems, and cultural protection is unwavering — you can pay a fortune to watch a fake “land-jumping” ceremony if you so desire, but be aware that you are not invited to the real rite.
Turquoise (01494 678400, www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk) can organise a two-week holiday, with flights via Australia and luxury stays on two islands, from £2,295pp. Or click the link for more details: