For those who want to get truly far away from the fast pace of modern life, few things appeal more than a remote island getaway in the middle of nowhere. There are many thousands of small, remote islands in the world’s vast oceans, many of which are uninhabited and others which are home to small communities of indigenous peoples or those descending from colonists of times long past. Unfortunately, getting to most of these places won’t be cheap or easy, but that’s not to say it’s impossible, and if a once-in-a-lifetime experience is what you’re looking for, you might find some of the following island destinations interesting:
1 – Spitsbergen
About a third the size of England, the island of Spitsbergen is the largest island of the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a territory administered by Norway. The entire population of around 2,600 people lives on the main island, with the vast majority of them living in the main settlement of Longyearbyen. The only other settlement of any size is Barentsburg, a Russian coal-mining town.
Being approximately half way between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Spitsbergen is a lonely tundra with average summer temperatures of around 5 °C. Due to being far beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun never rises above the horizon during the winter months, giving way to some of the some of the world’s most spectacular natural light shows – the Aurora Borealis.
The main reasons for visiting Spitsbergen are the Northern Lights or the region’s unique arctic nature where there are more polar bears than people. Other indigenous animals include puffins, humpback whales, orcas, arctic foxes and caribous. Longyearbyen is where most people stay, and it is home to the northernmost church in the world as well as a number of museums, while Barentsburg is home to the world’s northernmost Lenin statue as well as various other examples of classic Soviet-style art and propaganda.
You can get to Spitsbergen by plane or boat. There are scheduled flights from both Oslo and Tromsø, including cheap flights with the budget airline Norwegian Air. During the summer, a number of cruises visit the islands, and these offer the only practical way to visit some of the more remote areas of the islands. There are virtually no ferries to the islands, although some cargo ships occasionally take passengers.
2 – Saint Helena
One of the world’s most isolated yet inhabited islands, Saint Helena is actually a British Overseas Territory right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The territory also includes the even more remote islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (the world’s most remote inhabited island). Jamestown is the island’s capital and home to some 700 of Saint Helena’s population of 4,200.
With a dry maritime tropical climate, this volcanic island offers average temperatures in the low- to mid-twenties throughout the year, with little in the way of seasonal variation. The island is also known for having hundreds of endemic species of plants and animals such as the wirebird and numerous fish and other sea life.
Saint Helena is most famous for being the place where Napoleon lived in exile until his death in 1821. The place where he lived, Longwood House, located in a village of the same name, is now a museum and one of the most important touristic destinations on the island. Other important sights include the Museum of Saint Helena, the Jacob’s Ladder staircase leading down into Jamestown, the seventeenth century castle and the nineteenth century Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
Currently, the only way to visit Saint Helena is by boat, and the world’s last surviving Royal Mail Ship is the only boat serving the island. The trip by RMS St Helena is an amazing experience in itself, and it departs from the South African capital Cape Town once or twice every month. The journey takes five nights. An airport is currently under construction, and is due to open in February 2016, after which the RMS St Helena is due to be retired.
3 – South Georgia
If you are looking for something truly remote and in the middle of nowhere, then the largely uninhabited island of South Georgia offers a truly memorable experience. The largest island of the inhospitable British Overseas Territory of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia presents some splendid unique wildlife and a harsh but beautiful landscape along with an interesting history.
There are only around thirty people living on the islands, including a science team based on Bird Island and King Edward Point as well as a few people who come and go to maintain the museum and church in the former whaling colony of Grytviken. Although largely abandoned, Grytviken is home to around twenty people during the summer. The town is characterized by its many rusting industrial buildings and whale bones which were left abandoned when the whaling station closed in 1966. The whaling station may be explored, and there is a museum which is open during the summer. Other important sites include the still-functioning church and the gravesite of Ernest Shackleton. King Edward Point is officially the capital, although under ten people are there during the winter months with as many as twenty during the summer. Visitors can walk 1 km along the coast from Grytviken.
The only way to reach South Georgia or any of the other islands in the group is to do so by boat. Adventurous sailors sometimes go there on their own yachts, but there are also number of companies which stop by the island on a cruise. However, if you are going to make the trip, you should be aware that the seas in the region tend to be extremely rough, and seasickness is a common problem for even the most experienced among sailors.