Travel I number 01
Island Five Spice
WORDS: Chadner Navarro
If armed with fearless curiosity and a sailing yacht as a chariot, the world opens up in unimaginable ways. Taking to the open seas to chase the unfamiliar can lead to discoveries otherwise inaccessible. Considering the excitement and hunger for adventure that grip today’s intrepid sailors, a getaway to islands untrodden could be the perfect antidote to a year spent in lockdown.
But even in the world of the far flung, we can always go further and search deeper. “The concept of ‘remote’ in the past decade or so has lost some of its force,” says Henry Cookson, founder of Cookson Adventures. “The next level we’re looking at is the untouched where there might not yet be existing tourism.”
For those with an insatiable appetite for the obscure and the uncharted, there are pockets of the planet that yield awe-inspiring moments. TIDE has identified five such locales, but they’re reserved for travellers prepared to take a few extra steps. Having a sailing superyacht to get there is a good start.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Seychelles feel like a well-established holiday destination but drop all pre-conceived ideas and prepare for the unexpected. The East African archipelago comprises 115 islands, and Aldabra is an atoll secreted away on its western reaches over 1,100km from five-star infrastructure. Here, islands blanketed with sugary sand, dense forest and prehistoric tortoises are ringed by shallow lagoons that shelter one of the highest aggregations of blacktip reef sharks in the world. “These timid creatures are a delight to snorkel with,” says Cookson, whose established network of off-the-beaten-track contacts deliver enriching encounters with captivating wildlife. Think freediving with turtles, kayaking to seek out red-footed boobies, and joining conservationists by tender to gain behind-the-scenes insight into maintaining this pristine paradise. “There are beautiful bays and great diving, but you need to network outside of the established tourism scene to make the most of it.”
Political unrest has gripped Yemen for years, tarnishing its name as a wanderlust hotspot. But the mysterious island of Socotra on the edge of the Arabian Sea is an isolated oasis, and worlds away from the mainland turmoil. Notoriously hard to reach, it’s been left to organically thrive for centuries. Now, Cookson’s ex-military expertise has opened up its rugged geography of dragon trees and driftwood-scattered shores to reveal unique natural and cultural experiences. Snorkel with manta ray and dive to ancient shipwrecks with a marine biologist as your guide. Descend into subterranean caves to discover centuries-old petroglyphs. Spend an evening of campfire storytelling with a family in a local Bedouin village. “The communities are incredibly welcoming and are willing to share their culture and heritage with people from the outside,” says Cookson, “which, thankfully, hasn’t yet been eroded by the tsunami of western culture.”
Three hours from the coast of West Africa, Bijagós’ 88 secret islands (68 of them uninhabited) could be the stars of an island-hopping adventure like no other. Each island offers something truly unique, from the overgrown streets of former capital city Bolama’s colonised past, to a day spent with conservationists who are working to protect the hundreds of chimpanzees who call the skyscraping forests of Cantanhez National Park home. Anglers should sail to the private island of Kere to fish for 100kg tarpon. Twitchers will appreciate navigating the islands’ twisting coastal mangroves to spot the tropical African grey hornbill or kingfisher. “This place has never gained any recognition,” says Cookson, who visited the remote landscape in October 2020. “It is a wonderful detour for something different – a special segue away from the usual.”
Socorro, Revillagigedo Archipelago
With world-famous destinations like Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos on the menu, the idea that any part of Mexico is inaccessible may lead to some head-scratching. But factor in the need for special permits to visit the protected volcanic island of Socorro off the Pacific coast, and it becomes a little clearer. “In terms of Mexican culture, it’s non-existent,” says Cookson. “There’s a military base and the occasional researcher.” Stark in its entirety, this is where you go to truly get away from it all. Forming part of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, which nurtures a high volume of pelagic species, the diving around Socorro’s rocky outcrops is unsurpassed. This is Galápagos, silky and silvertip shark territory. Lobsters languish on rocky pinnacles and manta ray migrate through in large numbers. Few places on Earth provide sightings of breaching humpbacks in such desolate isolation. Only accessible by boat (with no accommodation ashore), you may be in the middle of nowhere, but the wonders of the planet are right underneath your feet.
South Georgia Island, Sub-Antarctic
Only true explorers follow in Shackleton’s footsteps and venture to Antarctica by sail boat. But those that do are rewarded with calving glaciers and icy tundra that serve as the perfect refuge for wildlife. For an out-of-this-world experience, South Georgia Island in the south Atlantic is so remote it’s described as inhospitable to humans. Reach it by sailing yacht and you’re handed VIP access. From September to November, expect front-row seats to rutting-season battles between brutish southern elephant seals. Vast colonies of macaroni, king, gentoo and chinstrap penguins thrive on these rarely-visited shores, sighted alongside the occasional minke whale. Cookson describes the scene as biblical, which further underscores why travellers here are seriously advised to bring experts and expedition leaders along for the ride. “You’re dealing with icebergs, extreme weather and stringent rules regarding wildlife,” he explains. “It’s a place enshrined in regulations and the conservation horse is pulling that cart.”