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Island Getaways: searching for hidden treasures

Amazing island destinations are often the first choice when it comes to zeroing in on that much-coveted beach holiday. Whether it is the endless coastlines and numerous beaches that present unique diving experiences in crystalline waters of coral-fringed islands or basking right under the towering limestone cliffs on secluded white sand bays or dragon spotting in a bizarre movie inspired setting, you are spoilt for choice. We select 10 islands that, apart from the certain givens like pristine waters, exclusive inland and beach experience, have an abundance of such luxuries as solitude, wellness, history and celebrity spotting.

Villa exterior Gaya Island Resort
Villa exterior Gaya Island Resort

1. Private havens where silence is divine

These exclusive private havens are islands unto themselves offering privacy and offbeat activities for the inveterate beach lover to choose from and indulge in. Here you lose the sense of time and space, merging with the natural surroundings around you.

White sand beaches & rich waters of Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia

From amongst a cosy cluster of a thousand odd islands just off Sorong are sublime visuals that seduce and tempt the senses. Endless stretches of white sand beaches glisten through the day and as the sun sets and the gentle lights around the island light up, this vision of serenity transports you to a different realm altogether. The dry months from October to April are the ideal time to visit when the perfect mix of sun and shade, breeze and stillness captivate against the luminous turquoise waters of the 4000 km stretch of coastline. Whether you want to snuggle up with a book or take endless walks hand-in-hand with a loved one or dabble in a series of water sports like snorkelling and diving, rest assured there will not be a single dull moment. A biodiversity resort in the vicinity offers a mild diversion, that is, only if you can pull yourself away from the magical sight of the changing water colours at Pasir Timbul beach.

Experience ‘pure activity paths’ on Gaya island, East Malaysia

Nestled in the haloed company of exquisite coralfringed islands in the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, close to the riveting coastline of northern Sabah and the imposing presence of Mount Kinabalu, lies Borneo’s Gaya Island. The mainstay of the setting is its commitment to deliver each visitor with the four pure activity paths; discovery, vigour, creativity and balance. The limitless, expansive and gently intoxicating flora and fauna of the adjoining rainforest and mangroves merge with sounds of the waves and winds. Even the flapping of a butterfly and the chirping of a distant bird become part of a music symphony that comprises of the best that nature offers. Brace yourself to spot hornbills, proboscis monkeys, bearded pigs, mouse deer and many more exotic animals as you venture deeper into the rainforest. This unspoilt oneness with nature is complemented with amenities on the island including luxurious villas.

2. Basking in celebrity spotlight

Just knowing that famous names from the world of movies, fashion and business have frequented these islands has a charming appeal.

Intimacy rules at Soneva Fushi, Maldives

Maldives as a honeymoon destination was the preferred choice for Tom Cruise and Katie Homes who island-hopped aboard a luxury yacht. Pop star Katy Perry and comedian Russell Brand indulged at Soneva Fushi in Maldives. Cherished moments on expansive beaches while being pampered by butler-served private-villa dinners are experiences easy to come by here. Some guests arrive at this secluded escape on small seaplanes and many on a private luxury yacht. Intimate evenings are spent in a thatch-roof overwater bungalow, complete with overwater wraparound hammocks, a custommade terrazzo tub and a personal villa host. Guestssoak in the hospitality and amenities and indulge in leisure activities such as playing tennis or diving amid parrotfish. To stay fit you could participate in a session of hatha and ashtanga yoga right on the oceanfront. The Six Senses spa has traditional and specialised therapies to treat body aches and pains and help you relax. End the stay with a specially planned champagne picnic on a deserted sandbar and wind down with a sunset sail on a traditional dhoni boat.

Royalty and Hollywood at North Island, Seychelles

The Republic of Seychelles, an 115-island country about 930 miles east of Africa shot into the spotlight when the reticent Prince William and the stylish Kate Middleton spent their honeymoon in 2011 at its 11-villa North Island Resort. With temperature ranging anywhere between 75 and 88 degrees, the graniticisland offered them a rich fare with its marine parks, natural reserves and bleach-white beaches. More recently, George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin chose the private island for their newlywed getaway. Bubble baths in luxe bathrooms open out into a magnificent view of the islands and the couples’ massage at the “spa al fresco” on the deck overlooking the Indian Ocean are a must. “Stand up pedalling” is an interesting sport that is ideal for the location given its quiet and unhurried pace. Quaint buggy rides around the island provide an expansive view of the island. Once you alight from the buggy with the breeze in your hair, the best thing would be to settle down on the beach with the waves of the ocean for company

Soneva Fushi Villa11 sunken dinning
Soneva Fushi Villa11 sunken dinning

3. Water sports kingdom

How much you can do with water is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. From white water rafting to flyboarding, surfing, scuba diving, windsurfing to snorkelling and Hobie cat sailing, the possibilities are as vast as the imagination itself.

Snorkelling at Lagen Island, Philippines

The famous green island of Philippines is covered with shrubs and herbs. Set against the aqua blue sea, it offers a mix of traditional Filipino games with modern variations. There is canoeing, paddle boarding, windsurfing and Hobie cat sailing along with ‘softer’ activities to indulge in with children and families. The island has an extensive reef area, perfect for snorkelling and diving. It has this beautiful marine life that is resplendent with coral gardens, flame scallops, nudibranch, lionfish and flatworms. Once you have had your fill with exploring the area, relax on the beach as the sun goes down. Big and small lagoons can be viewed from a distance. If feeling adventurous, take a kayak out and head towards the not so distant horizon. Hiking is a popular activity with a trek up to the peak of the hill. Then there are some beautiful caves to visit like the Tabon Cave which is said to be 22,000 years old. Having a shower at the falls is a must. The best time to visit Lagen is from November to April.

Untouched island of Koh Madsum, Thailand

Here is a rare and quiet gem in the Gulf of Siam, away from the crowded Andaman Coast. One can reach the tiny private island of Koh Madsum by a 30-minute long tail boat ride south of the established tourist hotspot of Koh Samui. This happens to be the largest of an archipelago consisting of more than 80 islands. Those staying on Koh Samui tend to take a day trip to Koh Madsum, however, there are many guests who come specially to seek the peace and quiet that is guaranteed on this little patch of land. In fact, here you almost feel as if you own the island, given the privacy that it ensures. Snorkelling off the coast of Koh Taen offers opportunities aplenty to spot exotic aquatic life. Some of the resorts on the island like The Treasure organise round-trip transfers for guests from the airport to the resort’s two private piers, and then to the island itself via a long tail boat or private speedboat. Plan your day by opting for guided or solo sessions of snorkelling, fishing, kayaking and cooking. The island tours are highly recommended and a private picnic organised on one of the many deserted, neighbouring islands is something you will not forget.

4. Wellness & Spas that redefine relaxation

A luxury spa is refreshing and an option for all seasons. There are some brands that make the spa experience truly wholesome and unique. By blending therapies that are traditional, drawing the essence from locally sourced materials, the spas combine the latest in wellness and healthcare effortlessly.

Balm for the body & soul at Pangkor Laut, Malaysia

With a spa that is recognised as among the best in the region and a tranquil, private island setting of ancient rainforests and picture-perfect white sand bays, Pangkor Laut Resort, located on Malaysia’s palm-fringed west coast is a popular island resort in South East Asia. Pangkor Laut has managed to retain a sense of remoteness and exclusivity, it is a beach paradise with an emerald sea of the Malacca Strait and endowed with spa villas. Dotted with open-air restaurants and an award-winning spa, the resort oozes style and sophistication at every turn. If you can peel yourself away from the allures of the resort itself, be sure to join Pangkor Laut’s resident naturalist on a trek to discover the fascinating history and unique ecology of one of Malaysia’s true island gems.

Barefoot informality at Milaidhoo Island, Maldives

In the Baa Atoll of the Maldives, there is this small boutique island resort with a spa that has an intimate “open air” experience. This UNESCO biosphere reserve, close to Hanifaru Bay is about 126 km northwest of Male and a 35-minute seaplane flight from the international airport. While the spa remains its major attraction, guests usually combine it with scuba diving. Interestingly the resort’s restaurants are housed in traditional native Indonesian boats offering mouthwatering local seafood specialities. The tropical island is surrounded by a vibrant coral reef, wrapped up in warm turquoise waters and safely tucked away in the well protected reserve. The area has a rich snorkelling and diving site although the thing to do here is to just lounge on the soft deep white sand beaches and listen to nature’s sounds as they lull you to a dreamless slumber. Alternate these lazy bouts of indulgence with spa treatments in the over-water treatment suites which offer inspiring views of sky and ocean. The holistic treatment menu incorporates the best of natural botanicals with entrancing healing traditions from Africa, doused liberally with local herbs and plants. The over-water open-air pavilion inevitably has meaningful activities such as yoga and meditation for guests to immerse themselves in.

Milaidhoo Maldives aerial view
Milaidhoo Maldives aerial view

5. An acquaintance with historical legends

A certain creed of travellers do give in to fervently, digging deep into the history of the place they are visiting. Stories, myths, legends, factual details and anecdotes from the past fuel their imagination as they juxtapose that to the current reality.

Folklore galore at Cat Ba, Vietnam

Cat Ba Island in Northern Vietnam literally translates as “Women’s Island” has a fascinating legend about the origin of its name. Many centuries ago, three women of Tran Dynasty were believed to have been killed around these parts. Their bodies washed up on different beaches and were found by local fishermen. Residents of the island built a temple for each of them and the island soon acquired the name of Cat Ba. Archaeological evidence suggests that there have been people living on Cat Ba Island for almost 6,000 years, with earliest settlements being found on the south-eastern tip close to the area where Ban Beo harbour exists. In more recent times, the island was inhabited largely by Viet-Chinese fisherman and was influenced by the French and American wars. At the heart of Cat Ba Island lies a visually stunning and ecologically diverse national park which UNESCO termed as a Biosphere Reserve Area. There is a lot more to the island, surrounded as it is by golden beaches, dense jungles and green mountains, so you can walk, trek, go bird watching, dabble in photography and sketch or simply observe the rich and abundant animal life. Boat and canoe rides are usually the preferred option and as you float on the still waters you will chance upon pearl and shrimp fishermen on tiny boats deeply engrossed in a way that is almost meditative. February to April being springtime is ideal to visit.

Date with a dragon at Komodo, Indonesia

Komodo is one of the 17,508 islands that form Indonesia – the habitat of the Komodo dragon; a large lizard in reality, the largest one on earth. Komodo is part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands that form part of the Komodo National Park in the Wallacea region of Indonesia, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. While it has its attractions in the form of diving and trekking, it is most often the choice of naturalists who come this far to get a glimpse of the incredible Komodo dragon. The island’s current residents happen to be descendants of former convicts, exiled to the island and who later mixed with the Bugis tribes from Sulawesi. The presence of these lizard dragons was first recorded when Dutch sailors visited the island in the early 1910’s. The lizard was seen as a mythical creature and was quickly labelled a dragon. The dragon has since become something of a living legend. There are as many as 2,500 of these reptiles in the park and another 2,000 on the larger Flores island. Whether you visit the island as a day tourist or choose to live in one of the properties, this is one of a kind island in the world.

© This article was first published in Apr/May 2017 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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