Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bora Bora reef sharks


Bora Bora reef sharks, originally uploaded by firefly242.
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EVEN IN THE IDYLLIC BLUE WATERS OF THE South Pacific, the natural colors of Vanuatu stand out. Here, ecosystems range from rainforest to grassland to coral reef, and the 3,000-year-old Melanesian culture nurtures more than 100 indigenous languages and dialects. But what really makes this island chain special is the fact that all of this still exists in a pure spectrum. "There's a realization by the islanders that they are stewards of a fragile environment," says Brian Mullis of Sustainable Travel International. It's more than a realization, in fact. "The ni-Vanuatu people depend on nature for their living," says Sebastien Bador of the Vanuatu Tourism Office. "Moreover, they believe their ancestors' spirits are alive in the ground. People here don't 'preserve' the culture: they 'live' it." The living land is cared for everywhere: UNESCO World Heritage sites honor Chief Roi Mata on Efate, Lelepa and Artok islands: the Vatthe Conservation Area offers an oasis of biodiversity on Espiritu Santo: and low-impact resorts such as the Epi Island Guesthouse provide responsible lodging. From countryside bungalows, travelers can explore volcanoes and limestone caves, visit banks that use pig tusks as currency and meet with tribes in treehouses. Islands don't get more colorful--or pure--than this. Rates from $50. epiislandguesthouse.com


When ISLANDS editor Ty Sawyer describes Dominica, it sounds like something out of Tolkien: "Rippling with waterfalls, boiling lakes, thick rainforests--in many ways, this island exists in a state of natural grace." Thankfully, Dominica is located in the middle of the Caribbean, not Middle Earth. In the Morne Trois Pitons National Park alone, there are 50 fumaroles venting volcanic gas, three freshwater lakes, five volcanoes--and ecological wonders are just the beginning. Dominica is also home to the Carib Territory, an enclave of 2,200 indigenous islanders whose ancestors predate Columbus. "The Carib village honors the heritage of the Kalingo people by presenting their traditions, like canoe building and herbal medicine," says Chris Vink of Calibishie Lodges. The resort offers island tours with a personal guide. Rates from $95. calibishie-lodges.com


A 2,000-foot-high peak, 429 coral varieties, 269 bird species. And that's only the tip of Papua New Guinea--the eastern tip, or Milne Bay province, to be exact. Nationally speaking, the numbers get bigger (more than 750 languages), but Ty Sawyer says this Pacific destination boils down to two words: "wonderfully primal." At the Tawali Resort on the coast of Milne Bay, rainforest hikes include skull-filled caves, dive trips reveal hammerhead shark sightings and rooms overlook the jungle. Primal? Maybe. Wonderful? Definitely Nightly rates from $170. tawali.com


Culture here isn't preserved behind museum glass--it's carried out by the semiautonomous Kuna Indians. Only 36 of these 365 San Bias islands are inhabited, and here travelers can witness life as it has been since the 16th century: Women stitch intricate molas; children practice folk dances in the street; men fish for lobster and spider crabs from dugout canoes. Since tourism doesn't fit into this simple way of life, mainland-based Coral Lodge offers the closest access. Says the resort's Marilu Henriquez, "We show guests the Kuna culture--and untouched beaches." Rates from $150. corallodge.com


One of the last expanses of temperate rainforest on earth does not merely exist on Tasmania it thrives on this island. The Tasmania Wilderness World Heritage Area covers 3.46 million acres (20 percent of the island) and is home to myriad threatened species, including the eponymous Tasmanian devil. But as ISLANDS editor Ty Sawyer points out, all that wilderness is tempered with a culture of luxury: "lf you like a good pinot after a day of spectacular adventure, then Tasmania will fire your wanderlust." Eco-minded luxury resorts, like Cradle Mountain Wilderness Village, offer both sides of Tasmania. Rates from $170. cradlevillage.com.au



You've heard the comparisons: This island is the Galapagos of this region; that chain is the Galapagos of that country. So why all the fuss? The UNESCO World Heritage List calls this mostly uninhabited chain of 19 islands a "living museum and a showcase of evolution," citing land iguanas, giant tortoises and assorted finches among the countless varieties. Much has changed since Darwin first theorized natural selection here; invasive species and increased human activity threaten the unique biodiversity of the region. But environmental awareness still reigns. "The Galapagos Islands are the benchmark for preservation," says Jad Davenport, who spent Io days exploring the region for an upcoming ISLANDS feature. "Step off the trail, and the conscientious guides will reprimand you very quickly." Eleven-day cruises from $5,695. abercrombiekent.com


You may never make it to Socotra. Situated amid political turbulence and only modestly equipped for tourists, the Yemenese archipelago is inaccessible at best. And that's a large part of its purity. The land of dragon's-blood trees has a long history of remoteness; ancient Phoenicians believed Socotra was home to the mythical Phoenix, and Egyptian pharaohs commissioned risky expeditions to the island for myrrh. But it's more than a land of legend. The UNESCO World Heritage List points to hoards of endemic species (37 percent of plants and 90 percent of reptiles), and the Socotra Eco-Tourism Society is on a mission to preserve them. So even if you only hear legends of dragon's-blood trees, you can rest assured they're actually there. For rates, e-mail ecosocotra@socotraisland.org.



In the heart of the Portugese island, Madeira hides a relic of old-world Europe. Old, old Europe. The Madeira Laurisilva Forest is the largest surviving area of its kind and a glimpse into the type of ecosystem that used to cover much of Europe. Spend your days hiking through the national park, spying endemic, long-toed pigeons. Then head back to Quinta del Bela Vista, a resort in Funchal, and spend your evenings sipping Madeiran wine. Rates from $230. belavistamadeira.com


It may be the 21st century when you board the flight to this island. But when you land on Lanai, it will seem very much like a different time period altogether. "The island feels like a perfectly preserved paradise," notes ISLANDS editor Ty Sawyer. Everywhere on the isle feels like another step back in time, from the plantation-era Lanai City (no traffic lights, no high-rises) to the natural wonderland at the Kanepuu Preserve (home to 48 species of native plants) to Hotel Lanai, a beautiful cottage resort that was built in I923 by James Dole. Rates from $99. hotellanai.com



Southern California wasn't always a playground for movie stars and celebutantes. There was a time when a healthy portion of the Golden State looked less like Hollywood and more like the uninhabited Channel Islands National Park, where the biggest star is a Pacific gray whale and the foxiest character is, well, an island fox. See Southern California as it once was on a day trip to one of the five islands with Island Packers, one of only a few certified tour operators allowed in the park. Day trips from $45. islandpackers.com * ISLANDS.COM/best

ISLANDS considered and ranked these pure islands based on the efforts to preserve culture and ecology with UNESCO World Heritage sites, national parks and sustainable opportunities for responsible travelers. Research came from firsthand insight by ISLANDS editors, along with Sustainable Travel International, local tour operators and ISLANDS readers. Agree with the rankings? Disagree? Let us know at islands.com/best.
Source Citation
"The best pure islands." Islands Magazine Apr.-May 2010: 74+. Popular Magazines. Web. 13 Apr. 2010.
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Gale Document Number:A223283658

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