2016 has been a strange year. Celebrity deaths, politics dramas, it’s all starting to feel a bit apocalyptic. If you’re already googling desert islands to run away to, here’s a data-driven list of the best to make light work of it.
The data analysts at Booking.com looked at endorsements from global travellers for islands in the South Pacific. According to the real experts, the Booking.com customers, the following islands make for the greastest escapes.
Swim in the surreal Sua Ocean Trench
Most endorsed for: friendly people, culture, markets
A tiny island in Samoa, Upola really feels like another world. Especially when you visit its Sua Ocean Trench. Here, a volcanic eruption caused the ground to cave in, creating a fantastical grotto connected to the ocean via underground tunnels and thus filled with crystalline seawater. A wooden ladder descends into the depths, which you can dive into when the water levels are high enough.
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Vineyards on Waiheke Island
Most endorsed for: vineyards, wine travel, cafés
Though not yet internationally well-known, Waiheke has recently been topping polls of the world’s best island destinations. It is a rare combination of easy island living with a sophisticated and serious approach to food and wine. It’s hard to believe it’s just a short ferry’s ride from Auckland when you’re surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and pristine, pearl-coloured sand. But on the island’s landward side you can watch the sun set over the city in the distance, preferably from the verandah of a smart restaurant perched atop a rocky cove. The other side of the island is where you’ll find all the sandy beaches, while inland you’ll find walking trails. It’s worth partaking in the obligatory New Zealand adrenaline-fuelled activities, such as zip-lining over native forests.
Viti Levu, Fiji
Beach view on Viti Levu
Most endorsed for: relaxation
Viti Levu is the largest island of the Fijian archipelago and with a lot to offer. Its mountainous interior, featuring extinct volcano Mount Tomanivi, is studded with waterfalls and rainforest. Its coastline is lined by coral reef perfect for snorkeling with exotic fish, or lagoons where you can scuba dive with tiger sharks. A veritable tropical paradise, you’ll quite easily lose track of time exploring the rich greenery and taking dips in creeks and lakes.
Stewart Island, New Zealand
The stunning, windswept coast of Stewart Island
Most endorsed for: bird watching, wildlife, coastal walks
Separated from South Island by the Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island feels a lot more remote than it is. Warm weather plus generous rainfall has blanketed the entire island in thick forest. And the absence of predators typical to the mainland means that fauna has thrived as well as flora here. It is a good location from which to watch the Aurora Australis (the Antarctic version of the Northern Lights). Until tourists began to discover the island, it was almost entirely a farming and fishing community and retains a strong tradition of wholesome, farm-to-table cooking. For those looking to get active on holiday, there is plenty of diving, kayaking or walking.
Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
Rocky coves on Saipan
Most endorsed for: beach, snorkeling
Deep in the Western Pacific lies Saipan. It’s a little-known island marked by limestone peaks and dreamy desert island shores. It also happens to be a U.S. commonwealth and has a surprising collection of championship golf courses. Not to mention a gripping history, scuba diving and lots of activities for outdoors-types. Last but not least there’s the impressive wildlife and scenery. All manner of exotic creatures call various parts of the island home, from the sharp cliff faces to the white sandy stretches gently lapped by the surf.
Efate is a tropical paradise
Most endorsed for: tropical, snorkeling, kayaking
Of more than eighty islands that make up the nation of Vanuatu, Efate is where most people tend to stay or at least start their trip. A drive around the island’s coastal road is a highly recommended way of taking it all in, or venture inland to cool off in cascades that are almost obscured by dense rainforest. There is a multitude of things to do and see here, whether you enjoy visiting local markets and learning about the island’s strong culture and history, or would prefer to lounge by an impossibly blue lagoon.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
Take a boat trip across Aitutaki's incredible lagoon
Most endorsed for: snorkeling, sand beaches, beach walks
Aitutaki is made up of a collection of small islets dotted around a flawless blue lagoon. These islands are uninhabited and the nature is very well-protected, so it still feels like you’re the very first person to come across its bright turquoise shallows and blindingly white sand. The lagoon is surprisingly large, taking about an hour to cross by boat but such an expedition is not to be missed if you want to get the most out of your visit. And if you want to spot a turtle or two.