4 Islands That Seem Impossible

24.May 2013

Our Journey

Some of Earth’s landscapes are so alien and intriguing they appear like something straight out of a fantasy book. Islands have always held a particular mystique in the human imagination, enigmatic for the isolation they offer. Ask anyone to define the word “paradise” and they’ll likely mention an island with white, sandy beaches.

Our planet’s islands, however, offer more than picturesque retreats. Some of them are otherworldly in their distinctive, occasionally bizarre brand of beauty. Here are four remarkable island getaways you might not believe are real, but we promise you — they are.

Socotra: Sunny Sands and Dr. Seuss Trees

Socotra is a tiny archipelago off the coast of Yemen known as the “hidden gem of the Arabian Sea.” The four islands of Socotra feature the classic image of paradise — spotless white sandy beaches against crystal-clear water. The barely inhabited islands are also teeming with bizarre fauna featuring rare plants that evolved in extreme geographical isolation. Socotra’s emblematic dragon’s blood trees are reminiscent of cartoonish, umbrella-shaped structures found in a Dr. Seuss illustration.

The sprawling sands of Socotra are spread out against a backdrop of what look like enormous manmade rock pillars — the result of millions of years of unique wind erosion patterns. The biodiversity and geological oddities of Socotra are responsible for its scenery.

Bintan: Bold Beauty and Bizarre History

The beaches of Bintan Island are the jewel of the Riau Islands Province of Indonesia. From Singapore, visitors take a 45-minute ride on the Bintan resort Ferry and arrive on the island, formerly known as “Pirate Island” due to its waters being a favorite spot for Malay pirates to loot trading ships. Combined with the pirate mystique, the phenomenal tropical beauty of Bintan transmits a kind of adventurous element. Beachfront five-star hotels occupy the beaches of Bintan, while inland is a jungle home to several species of monkeys. The monkeys travel in groups to the beaches where they entertain (and annoy) tourists. Sea turtles also make their homes on Bintan’s beaches during their mating season when they lay eggs in its soft sands. The diversity of Bintan’s marine and jungle life includes several species of dolphin, hawks and eagles. The presence of these creatures adds a wilder side to what appears as just another white sandy beach.

Niihau: A Forbidden Paradise

Just outside the reach of the bustling resorts of Waikiki on the island of Oahu lies the seventh largest —and less famous — Hawaiian island, Niihau. Just 17.5 miles southwest of Kauai, Niihau’s proximity is a kind of paradox. It is both so close —and yet — so far, from civilization. Very few people, even native Hawaiians, have set foot on the impeccable sands of Niihau. Known as “Hawaii’s Forbidden Island,” its landscape is reminiscent of the original pre-modern, pristine beauty of America’s favorite subtropical vacation destination. The island keeps a low profile, but has a rather mysterious history, having been used as the site for confidential special-operations training for the US military. Those lucky enough to visit Niihau are often travelers with access to private helicopters, and have received special permission for visiting and lodging there.

The secretive military operations actually provide income to support the island’s approximately 130 native Hawaiian residents. Because travel to Niihau is so restricted, it maintains an air of mystery. The combination of a covert government presence, untouched wildlife and secretive local community make Niihau a destination often imagined but rarely realized.

Orcas Island: A Killer (Whale) View

One of 150 islands in the northwest part of Washington State, Orcas is home to only 500 eccentric permanent residents. The tiny island is accessible only by ferry, its beaches covered in smooth pebbles and what appear to be dramatic sculptures made of driftwood. Orcas lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and has dry summers with daytime temperatures averaging 75 degrees. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful vista than watching the sunset from an Orcas beach, its hues framed by the silhouettes of towering pines and the occasional shadow of a swooping bald eagle. Now imagine watching such a scene when — just as the sun disappears over the horizon — a pod of magnificent black-and-white orcas (a.k.a. killer whales) emerges from the waters. They frequent the waters around Orcas to feed on its plentiful supply of seals and fish, and their presence is a wonder of the natural world.

Visitors to Orcas can number over 1,500 a day in the summer, many drawn by the possibility of such a whale sighting.

Malta: One Of The World’s Smallest, and Most Densely Populated, Countries

History, culture, and crystal clear Mediterranean water abound here even though it’s only 316 square kilometres.

It may be small but this just means that a lot can be seen in a short period of time. In just a weekend you can try a new sport, find a beach to work on your tan, or cruise the historic sites of the island nation. People are friendly, there is plenty of nightlife (if that’s what you’re looking for), and restaurants (waterfront or not) are available at every price point. I think Malta has been pegged as an expensive place to get to but you can find cheap holidays to Malta, grab a vacation rental, and have a great time!!

About the Author: Louise Vinciguerra is a fantastic joke teller, has a million and one hobbies, and enjoys matching her fonts with her moods. This Brooklyn native dirties her hands in content on weekdays and as a devout nature lover, dirties them in soil on the weekends. When she’s not on Facebook, WordPress or Twitter, she’s traveling in search of fun food, dabbling in urban farming or planning nature trips from her resident city of Rome. When she’s not doing any of the above, she sleeps.

 

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