Six of the world's most isolated places to explore by ship

We round-up the most isolated places to explore by ship, with pioneering itineraries where the journey is very much part of the experience.

Moai statues on Easter Island, Chile.

Photograph by Alamy
By Sarah Barrell
Published 11 Dec 2022, 08:00 GMT

Going further than ever before, expedition cruises embody the very meaning of travel. They take people to remote, if not untouched, places on smaller ships that allow for excursions where engaging with nature and local culture is key. Post-pandemic, a slew of new expedition ships has taken to the water, often led by eco-minded tech, forging new routes into some of the world’s most far-flung and fascinating archipelagos, islands and rocky outcrops. 

1. Easter Island, Chile 

This small island in the southeast Pacific has a huge draw thanks to its dramatic display of monolithic ‘moai’, human figures hewn by the original Polynesian inhabitants of Rapa Nui, as Easter Island was known to them. These stoic statues line the shores of this treeless island in their hundreds: a dramatic sight, but with its location 2,220 miles from mainland Chile, it’s a hard-earned destination that’s arguably best combined with a cruise that packs in some of our planet’s other far-flung islands. And the South Pacific has some notables, including the Pitcairn Islands. The isolated volcanic island was once home to the mutineers of 18th-century British ship HMS Bounty. Today, it’s surrounded by Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, a vast biodiverse area of open ocean three times larger than the UK.  

How to do it: Abercrombie & Kent offers an exclusively chartered, 13-night all-inclusive voyage from French Polynesia to Easter Island cruise in October 2023 from £12,950 per person. abercrombiekent.co.uk 

2. Tasmania 

It may be little visited by UK travellers, but Tasmania is increasingly in the spotlight for its untouched natural beauty and burgeoning homegrown food scene. A savvy addition to any trip Down Under, sailing Tasmania’s east coast puts travellers within reach of the Australian Island State’s stellar sites — the curvaceous white sand-fringed Wineglass Bay, national parks where the carnivorous marsupial Tasmanian Devil roams, and the Bay of Fires strewn with red lichen-covered boulders.

How to do it: Launching January 2023, the Odalisque III is a custom-designed 80ft expedition catamaran that will take passengers into the Tasmanian wilderness in exclusive style, with six spacious cabins and a kitchen focusing on local cuisine. Routes are tailored to suit guests, with activities such as beachcombing and birdwatching led by the on-board wilderness guide. Four-night expeditions from AU$9,800 (£5,425) per person. All prices are all-inclusive, based on two sharing a cabin, not including international travel. onboardexpeditions.com.au  

A penguin family in Peter I Island, Antarctica.

Photograph by Alamy

3. Peter I Island, Antarctica 

Follow in the footsteps of the great Antarctic explorers to make a pilgrimage to the isolated polar outpost of Peter I Island. Named after Russia’s Peter the Great and claimed by Norway, scant few have set foot on the uninhabited volcanic island in the Bellingshausen Sea. Ponant launched high-tech icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot in 2021, which navigates parts of the White Continent other ships rarely reach. The journey caters for remote island hunters — taking in an approach to Marie Byrd Land, the largest unclaimed territory on Earth, and a voyage across the Ross Sea, the world’s largest Marine Protected Area, populated with Antarctic petrels and penguins. Plus, far-flung Macquarie Island: midpoint between Antarctica and New Zealand, it’s the only place where our planet’s rocky mantle rises above sea level — a destination of outstanding natural diversity and home to 3.5 million seabirds.  

How to do it: Pontant’s 30-day sailings, in January 2023 and 2024, are partnered with National Geographic, and led by expert naturalists and a photographer, from £34,600 per person. ponant.com

4. Ellesmere Island, Canadian Arctic 

The northernmost island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Ellesmere is a land of deep fjords, jagged mountains and towering ice shelves. Travel here involves navigating the infamously unmappable Northwest Passage, passing through Hell Gate channel to reach the top of the world. Ellesmere keeps superlative company, too. Axel Heiberg, Canada’s second most northerly island, is home to a fossilised forest dating back millions of years. Then there’s Somerset Island, which hosts an abandoned Hudson’s Bay Company fur-trading post at Fort Ross. Meanwhile, Beechey Island hums with the near mythical history of the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845-46, where crew gravesites represent one of Canada’s most significant Arctic exploration sites. Wildlife abounds throughout, with the chance to spot polar bears, musk ox, elusive Arctic wolf and cetaceans including narwhal. 

How to do it: Cruises aboard Quark Expeditions’ 2022-launched vessel Ultramarine come equipped with two twin-engine helicopters, 20 quick-launching Zodiacs and expert guides. Departing in August, from £10,800 per person. quarkexpeditions.com

The Pulau Wayag viewpoint, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Photograph by Alamy

5. Raja Ampat, Indonesia 

This jungle-clad easternmost Indonesian province crowns the Coral Triangle, the planet’s most biodiverse marine habitat stretching from the Philippines to Timor and Papua New Guinea. At the Indian and Pacific Oceans’ intersection, the archipelago’s waters are fed by deep-sea currents channelling rich nutrients into its coral reefs, blue water drop-offs and mangrove flats, sustaining a spectacular diversity of marine life. Raja Ampat’s 1,500 small white-sand fringed islands, cays and shoals house three-quarters of the world’s coral varieties and some 1,000 species of tropical fish — these are most visible to snorkellers, such is the high-definition visibility of its crystal waters. The four main islands, Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Misool have a modest scattering of hotels, largely catering to divers, but nothing beats exploration by pinisi, a traditional Indonesian wooden sail ship. 

How to do it: Regional specialist SeaTrek offers 10-day sailings between October 2023 and January 2024 led by expert naturalists aboard two pinisi (sleeping just 12 and 24 passengers), from $6,850 (£6,110) per person. seatrekbali.com

6. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador 

The remotest islands in this uniquely biodiverse archipelago — some 600 miles from Ecuador’s mainland — are an endemic wildlife bonanza. Little Genovesa and Pinta are the northernmost, home to the elusive fur seal and abundant avian life including several species of booby. Waters around Fernandina and Isabela islands, fed by the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current, are populated by sea lions, penguins and sea turtles. Floreana is perhaps most altered by humans: this southern outpost has seen convicts, pirates and colonists reside here since the 1700s, and is today home to a significant farming community.  

How to do it: The annual Galapagos Conservation Trust cruise takes in the remote Galápagos including Floreana, where its work aims to restore such endemic species as the Galápagos petrel and Floreana mockingbird. Dates and price TBC for 2023; the 18-day 2022 sailing departed in June and cost £10,790 per person, with a shorter option from £5,845 per person. galapagosconservation.org.uk  

Published in the Cruise 2023 guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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