Beechey Island has the graves of three of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated team.
Beechey Island has the graves of three of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated team. Contributed

Thoughtful cruising

THEY'RE not the places you're going to get to on gargantuan cruise liners that register their guests in their thousands.

Nor where the emphasis boasts of gourmet dining – if such is not a paradox when you consider they're nightly churning out up to 12,000 or more soups, entrees, mains and desserts at dinner. Nor where afterwards your interest is a glitzy stage show through which you mostly ponder whether next day if it will be a facial, nail-job, time on the treadmill, or in the bar…

But then if the ships are what holds the most interest for you, you're probably not interested in these other places anyway.

We're talking about the world's most-remote island destinations, places that have even the eyes of your travel agent most likely glazing over in disinterest, and yet with our planet transforming every day, have 21st century adventure holidaymakers lining-up to visit like there's no tomorrow.

And they're doing it on “expedition vessels” that most often carry fewer than 100 environmentally sensitive and ecologically aware travellers to some of the most remote and fragile destinations on Earth.

“Expedition cruising is quite possibly the purest form of ecotourism,” says Roderick Eime, editor of Adventure Cruise Guide, whose fourth edition has just been published by Australia's Cruise Passenger magazine.

“Adventure and expedition ships take small numbers of thoughtful people to places where there is no infrastructure when they arrive, and at which no evidence is left behind when they leave.

“They're some of the world's most remarkable destinations and can only be reached by small ship – and the occasional yachtie – and thank goodness for that.”

We asked Roderick to suggest his favourite five island destinations you can't fly to, or ever hope to visit aboard the 3000-passenger behemoths. Here are his nominations:

1. Macquarie Island, Australia:

Home to about 20 Australian scientists and support staff, Macquarie captivates everyone who visits as part of an Antarctic adventure cruise. Halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica its seals and penguins were hunted to almost extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries. Replaced by cats, rats and rabbits, man's influence is slowly being reversed; the ferals are going, the wildlife returning. Apart from the wildlife, Macquarie is famous for its unique rocks.

2. Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia:

After Hawaii, the second-most remote archipelago in the world. Fatu Hiva is renowned for its unique wood carvings and tapa (bark) clothmaking. Thor Heyerdahl and his wife spent time in 1937 researching Fatu Hiva, Back to Nature. A visit can include a challenging hike across the mountain to Hanavave, possibly one of the most delightful and isolated villages anywhere in the world. The picturesque Bay of Virgins is visited monthly by cargo-passenger supply ship Aranui 3.

3. Espanola (Hood) Island, Galapagos Islands:

Tiny Espanola was named by the Spanish after themselves. The British also named it after their Admiral Samuel Hood. Its isolation in the Galapagos Islands was also its salvation as the more northerly islands were attacked by mutineering seamen, pirates and whalers. It's home to seals and marine iguanas, the unique blue-footed booby and critically endangered waved albatross. Excellent diving and snorkelling for its few visitors.

4. Deception Island, Antarctica:

This collapsed volcanic caldera off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula drips with history, wildlife and stunning scenery. It was once home to whaling and Antarctic researchers. There's a treacherously narrow and windy entry; visitors can stroll the abandoned whaling base and teeming colony of 200,000 chinstrap penguins. Sir Hubert Wilkins and pilot Ben Eielson set off from here to become the first to fly over Antarctica in 1928. Their hangar's still there.

5. Beechey Island, Canadian Arctic:

In Canada's Wellington Channel. Some time in 1845, the English explorer and one-time lieutenant-governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin, sheltered here in winter in 1845 during his ill-fated quest to chart the Northwest Passage. Three of his men are buried there today, including a 21-year-old petty officer whose body was found amazingly preserved above ground; the bodies of Franklin and the other were never found.

Adventure Cruise Guide details are available in select newsagents, and online at the website.


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