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With expedition ships visiting 42 countries exploring some of the world’s most intriguing off-the-beaten-track destinations, Coral Expeditions has gained a wealth of knowledge of 35 years. When it comes to showcasing the spirit of adventure in exotic destinations, we know what’s hot and what’s not.
While it’s not easy to narrow down our favourites, we’ve shortlisted our Top 20 Remote Travel Destinations, in no particular order. Enjoy!
With around 1,200 islands rising from the Indian Ocean if you can’t find a Maldivian island to whet your appetite you’re really not trying. Magnificent Meemu Atoll (also known as Mulaku) is drop-dead gorgeous – it’s your classic tropical atoll with a protected central lagoon rimmed by almost 40 low-lying palm-fringed islands that barely rise above the fringing reef.
Protected by an outer barrier reef down the western side, gaps through the reef allow boats to pass from sheltered water into the open ocean – a common mode of transport in this island nation. Meemu Atoll fishermen use traditional craft, known as dhoni’s, which are designed for navigating shallow lagoon waters. Dhoni are one of the oldest boats in the Maldives and were traditionally powered by elegant lateen sails, but these days are more likely to be driven by diesel engines.
Fast Fact: Veyvah Old Mosque was built by a Sultan in the 1600s on Veyvah Island within the Meemu Atoll.
Don’t Miss: Maldivian beaches are world-famous and Meemu Atoll has no shortage of these palm-fringed treasures that are washed by a turquoise sea twinkling in the tropical sunshine.
Port Davey and adjacent Bathurst Harbour in southwest Tasmania are one of the world’s great wilderness areas. With no road access, beyond embarking on a small ship expedition, the only way in is by foot or light aircraft from Hobart. Smack in the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Port Davey’s attraction is its raw beauty – untouched landscape with wild rivers cutting a swathe through jaded quartzite peaks. Button grass plains whose blooms sashay in the wind that blows uninterrupted all the way from Antarctica.
Over hundreds of years, pioneers have tried to carve a life from this wild landscape. Midway through WWII, Critchley Parker Jr was short on bushcraft skills but long on grand plans to establish a settlement for persecuted Jews. He died a lonely death with his grave now standing on a windswept Port Davey beach. Clyde and Win (sister of Denny King) Clayton were more successful harvesting crayfish commercially – their former home at Claytons Corner is now a memorabilia-filled hut used by bushwalkers.
Fast Fact: Denny King, tin miner, naturalist, conservationist, bushman and artist is revered, with his biography King of the Wilderness summing up the fifty-five years he spent at Port Davey.
Don’t Miss: One of the last habitats of the seriously endangered orange-bellied parrot, these beautiful yet rare birds migrate from Victoria to breed each year – try and spot them from the Denny King Bird Hide at Melaleuca.
Kangaroo Island, brushed by the Southern Ocean in the Great Australian Bight is all about pristine wilderness, unspoilt nature and wildlife aplenty. Known as a ‘zoo without fences’ thanks to robust populations of native Australian animals, almost one third of the island is a national or conservation park. Naturally there are countless opportunities to spot the much-loved marsupials the island is named after, amongst other wildlife like koalas, wallabies and echidnas.
Despite its name, Kangaroo Island is not all about wildlife. Kangaroo Island is blessed with a natural microclimate and richly fertile land meaning it has a thriving produce industry. With around 4,500 human residents, once you tire of viewing wildlife there are gourmet food and wine distractions by the way of cellar doors, farm gates and bespoke farmers markets.
Fast Fact: Wild Australian sea lions are one of the rarest species in the world with approx. 85% of the entire population found at Kangaroo Island.
Don’t Miss: A small colony of little penguins, the smallest penguin in the world – about the size of a litre bottle of milk – come ashore after dark to rest, nest and raise their chicks in burrows dug into the sand dunes.
Strung across the Solomon Sea east of mainland Papua New Guinea, the four main islands of Trobriand Islands are home to around 12,000 Melanesian people whose subsistence living revolves around fishing and seasonal harvests. Trobriand Islanders retain strong cultural traditions little-changed for hundreds of years, despite European Missionaries influence since the late 1800s. Trading rituals, yam cults and a matrilineal society where women choose their partners underpin life in the Trobiands.
Then there is cricket, which is almost an obsession. Introduced by missionaries, cricket Trobriand Island style has evolved into a unique version of the international game. With no limit to the numbers of players per side, an innings may continue for days before all batsmen and women have had their turn at the crease. Cricket games are accompanied by obligatory dancing, singing and much merriment as games often coincide with yam harvest time.
Fast Fact: Yams are a sign of prestige and status with harvest time a chance for successful farmers to show off prized specimens for all to admire before being stored in yam houses purposely built to store the harvest.
Don’t Miss: Trobriand Island dances are lively and colourful performances with Trobianders fiercely proud of the beauty and skill demonstrated in the bodies and traditional finery of dancers.
Ningaloo Reef rivals the Great Barrier Reef when it comes to colorful coral reefs and an abundance of marine species. Anointed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011, Ningaloo Reef is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world. Running parallel to the coast of North West Cape, Ningaloo Reef is recognised as one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet which is inhabited by more than 250 coral and 500 fish species.
The beaches of the Ningaloo coast are an important breeding site for green and loggerhead turtles which come ashore to nest each year between November and March. From June to November humpback whales pass through the Ningaloo Reef area on their annual migration from Antarctic waters to warmer waters of West Australia. Manta Rays too inhabit the reef with a year-round resident population.
Laying close inshore, Ningaloo Reef is easily accessible from the beach, making it a popular destination for swimmers, snorkelers and divers keen on exploring this magnificent marine playground.
Fast Fact: Each year coral spawning takes place approximately one week after the full moon in March or April, which generally heralds the annual arrival of the first whale sharks.
Don’t Miss: Swimming with whale sharks is an unforgettable experience on Ningaloo Reef when the largest fish in the sea congregate annually between March and August.
Lining a dirt road on the outskirts of Morondava, the Avenue of the Baobabs is one of Madagascar’s most famous attractions. The imposing stand of 20 or Grandidier’s baobabs are the largest of Madagascar’s six endemic baobab species. With massive solid trunks that grow up to 3m across, mature baobabs can grow up to 30m tall and sprout flat topped crowns of foliage that branch out almost horizontally.
Baobab trees are known as the tree of life as they may provide shelter, water, food and clothing. The cork-like bark is fire resistant and regenerates itself after being cut from the bulbous trunk.
Fast Fact: The baobab trees are thought to be up to 2,800 years old and are known locally as renala in Malagasy, which translates as ‘mother of the forest.’
Don’t Miss: Sunrise or sunset is the best viewing time to see the magnificent Avenue of Baobab trees.
Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, was once the location of a large Allied base during WWII. Many of the buildings used by troops are still evident today, with Luganville’s palm tree-lined streets reverting to a more leisurely pace once the military departed. The sea surrounding Luganville is now where some of the region’s most extraordinary dive and snorkel sites can be found.
SS President Coolidge was a luxury ocean liner that was commandeered into military service to help with pre-war evacuations, then later utilized as a troop carrier. Coolidge’s staterooms were reconfigured to accommodate up to 5,000 troops and guns were mounted on her decks. Sailing into a minefield at Espirito Santo harbour, the Captain ran the foundering ship aground on a beach, with all but two crew surviving before the hulk slipped into deeper water and sunk.
Fast Fact: Downtown Luganville’s main street is overly wide apparently because a US Military base commander insisted that the road be wide enough for four army tanks to be driven side by side.
Don’t Miss: Snorkel or scuba dive over WWII wrecks at Million Dollar Point near Luganville where the US Military dumped jeeps, tanks and other machinery in the sea, creating a unique dive site now teeming with colourful corals and fish.
The mountainous island of Sulawesi is Indonesia’s fourth-largest in an archipelago country made up of 17,000 islands. Sulawesi’s diverse culture, intriguing history and abundance of wildlife are some of the attractions of this island at the confluence of the Java, Banda, Molucca and Celebes Seas.
Sulawesi’s marine parks are home to the most biodiverse reefs in the world while its rainforests are inhabited by rare birds like Sulawesi hornbills or Celebes Macaque monkeys. Sulawesi’s Bajo people are known as sea gypsies who live in stilt villages built over the sea while craftsmen build timber ships known as phinisi on the beach at Tana Beru as generations before them have done. Divers and snorkelers will find plenty of underwater attractions and world-renowned reef locations of Bunaken and Lembeh.
Fast Fact: Early phinisi trading ships were strictly sail-powered, carving an elegant swathe across the sea as sails billowed with the trade winds, but these days are more likely to be engine-powered.
Don’t Miss: Sulawesi’s treasures are many: ancient hanging burial sites of Torajaland where wooden effigies keep watch; historic spice warehouse-lined streets of Makassar’s waterfront; look for the world’s smallest primates, the tarsier or black macaque monkeys.
After a meteoric rise to become 2019’s hottest travel destination with its kind people, rich culture and stunning shoreline, Sri Lanka continues to shine as a ‘must visit’ destination. The portside town of Hambantota provides easy access to Bundala National Park, a birdwatcher and nature lover’s paradise. The park’s location makes it a significant site for migratory water birds, including the greater flamingo which migrate in large flocks creating a spectacular sight. Other likely species spotted are saltwater crocodiles, wild boars, mongoose and monkeys.
Yala National Park is another wildlife sanctuary which offers a good opportunity to see leopards in the wild. Ancient caves concealed within a Buddhist temple contain rarely seen centuries-old rock paintings from the Anuradhapura period.
Fast Fact: Yala National Park was once a hunting ground when under British Rule before wildlife were protected when it was designated as a national park in 1938
Don’t Miss: Keep an eye out for Asian elephants at Bundala National Park, one of the few locations in Sri Lanka where these endangered creatures remain.
Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park’s star attraction in Central Kalimantan is Camp Leakey orangutan sanctuary. The park was established to protect orangutans and proboscis monkeys with Camp Leakey developed to rehabilitate orangutans rescued from domestic captivity. An active research facility, the sanctuary provides a base for scientists, students and Park Rangers.
Sun bears, gibbons, macaque monkeys, clouded leopards and porcupines also inhabit the park. Crocodiles inhabit the waterways while the forest canopy is a haven for more than 200 bird species such as colourful hornbills and kingfishers.
Fast Fact: Malayan sun bears are the world’s smallest bears and are threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting and poaching of young cubs for the pet trade.
Don’t Miss: Feeding time at Camp Leakey.
In the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island lays Fjordland, a maze of navigable waterways that penetrate deep into the snow-capped Southern Alps mountain range. Doubtful and Milford Sounds, with their steep, forest-clad near-vertical mountain flanks plunging into the sea are the undisputed stars of Fjordland National Park. Carved by glacial erosion during the ice age, British author Rudyard Kipling declared Milford Sound as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, writing a short story inspired by his visit to Milford Sound.
Waterfalls such as Lady Bowen Falls tumble down towering sheer rock faces with enough force to generate electricity for the residents of Milford Sound village. Snow-clad peaks dominate the landscape in all directions. Wildlife thrive in this remote wilderness region with bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, penguins and blue ducks inhabiting the waterways. Bird species include the ground-dwelling takahe, mohua, or bush canary and kakapos.
Fast Fact: Fjordland is home to one of New Zealand’s endemic species and the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo.
Don’t Miss: Cruise through the hidden channels and calm waterways of Fjordland to look for marine wildlife and birdlife.
Triton Bay cuts a swathe into the ‘neck’ of West Papua’s Bird’s Head peninsula and is renowned as a marine habitat with an abundance of species little-seen elsewhere. Bryde’s whales and dolphins are regular visitors but the real star of the underwater marine world at Triton Bay are the whale sharks which are attracted to fishermen’s floating bagan platforms.
Getting in the water and swimming with the largest fish in the sea, a wild animal which will decide if they wish to interact with you, is an extraordinary experience not to be forgotten. Whale sharks can grow up to 12m long and feed on krill, plankton and eggs, filtering food through gaping mouths up to 1.5m across. With a flattened head and a blunt snout, whale sharks have shot whiskerlike sensory organs, similar to those seen on catfish, that protrude from their nostrils.
Fast Fact: Whale sharks’ join-the-dots skin patterns are individually unique, much like human fingerprints, making them readily identifiable.
Don’t Miss: With whale sharks present in Triton Bay, unlike other areas where they make migratory appearances, swimming with these gentle giants is almost assured.
The largest Buddhist sanctuary in the world, Indonesia’s Borobudur Temple emerged from the valley between two volcanoes in the ninth century during the Sailendra Dynasty. This extraordinary monument was built as a shrine to Lord Buddha, blending Indonesian ancestor worship with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. Nine terraced platforms linked by stone steps are topped by a central dome with 72 Buddha’s each housed in individual stupas. More than 500 Buddha statues along with detailed galleries carved into stone walls grace the site which is now protected as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since being restored, Borobudur has become a significant pilgrimage site and place of worship for Buddhists as well as becoming one of Indonesia’s most visited sites for travellers interested in learning about the past.
Fast Fact: Borobudur was abandoned and lay hidden for centuries under deep layers of volcanic ash and dense jungle growth before a long-term restoration project restored the monument to its former splendour.
Don’t Miss: Allow plenty of time to walk around the extensive grounds to discover Borobudur’s extensive charms and intriguing symbolism.
The Alphonse Atoll is one of three extraordinarily beautiful islands (St Francois and Bijoutier Islands are the other two) in southern Seychelles. The small island was once the site of a copra industry, whose proliferation of coconut trees remain, along with the production of maize, pineapples and sweet potato.
Alphonse Island is a significant nesting site for turtles and sea bird colonies. Over 130 bird species have been recorded in these islands including red-footed boobies and frigatebirds. Divers and snorkelers should keep an eye out for large sea fans, whip corals and Eagle Rays. A small population of ten Aldabra giant tortoises, one of the world’s largest land tortoises, were introduced in 1999 in a conservation effort to preserve the species. There is now a healthy population of 50+ giant herbivores on Alphonse Island.
Fast Fact: 400km from Mahe, the main island of Seychelles, the ocean surrounding Alphonse Island is teeming with marine life and vibrant corals, making the crystal clear waters attractive for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Don’t Miss: View the slow-moving giant tortoises grazing on grass or foraging amongst low foliage on Alphonse Island.
In the narrow waterway that separates Australia’s Cape York from Papua New Guinea, Torres Strait is dotted with almost 300 islands. Prior to the last ice age the two countries were joined by a land bridge with the islands all that remains once the Arafura and Coral seas rose. Thursday (known as TI) and Horn Island are the largest and most populous of the 14 islands that are inhabited, with TI the administrative hub and an airstrip on Horn connecting Torres Strait Islanders to the rest of the world.
Badu Island was once known as an island of headhunters with warriors, turtles and dugong hunters having a feared reputation. Pearling was a major industry up until the 1950’s with a fleet of 13 pearl luggers creating employment until plastics replaced pearl shell in the button industry. These days cultural traditions are showcased through art crafted by Badu Islanders
Fast Fact: Separated by an intangible boundary in the sea and with some Torres Strait islands located closer to PNG than Australia, both countries co-operate under the Torres Strait Treaty to manage the strait.
Don’t Miss: Badu Art Centre is the place to purchase stunning artworks created by Badu artists inspired by strong cultural traditions, language and their connection to the sea.
Today’s sunshine-bathed Cocos (Keeling) Islands give little hint of the human dramas and tragedies from the archipelago’s colourful past. Since English merchant Alexander Hare settled here in 1826, through decades of rule by the Clunies-Ross dynasty, Cocos Keeling Islanders mostly remained disconnected from the outside world until the islands became an ‘official’ Australian territory in 1955.
For many years Cocos Keelings’ fortunes were built upon copra production which provided the main source of employment. The legacy of this once-thriving powerhouse are the thousands of mature coconut palms remaining after the industry closed down in 1987. With pared-back island lifestyles centred around golf course fairways dissected by an airstrip, white sand beaches shaded by palm trees combined with a turquoise lagoon make Cocos Keeling Islands a picture-perfect tropical outpost.
Fast Fact: Cossies Beach on Direction Island has been named the Best Beach in Australia.
Don’t Miss: Snorkel the Rip at the southern tip of Direction Island, which is a narrow pass carved through the coral reef by currents. This exciting drift snorkel through the deep-water passage that flows into the lagoon is brimming with marine life.
Approximately 350km northeast of Cairns, beyond the outer Great Barrier Reef with no land in sight, Osprey Reef is the summit of an undersea 2,000m mountain located beyond the continental shelf. Enjoy amazing underwater visibility at Osprey Reef, which Sir David Attenborough called an ‘oasis for living creatures of all kinds,’ where a 2,000m underwater mountain rises near-vertical from the seabed beyond the continental shelf.
Osprey Reef benefits from a combination of light, sea temperature and geological conditions supporting distinct coral and fish species at differing depths. Magnificent corals, plummeting drop-offs and crystalline waters make Osprey Reef a highly prized tropical dive location amongst scuba divers.
Fast Fact: Osprey Reef is home to the world’s third-smallest fish, the stout infantfish, which grows to a minuscule maximum length of 10mm.
Don’t Miss: Diving at Osprey Reef is extraordinary with visibility often between 30m and 60m.
An elongated island in the Wessel Group on Australia’s northern Arnhem Land coast, most of the 2,000 or so Elcho Islanders live at the main community of Galiwin’ku. With 94% of Elcho Islanders being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, strong cultural traditions amongst 18 connected clan groups are at the centre of island life. Galiwin’ku was originally established by Methodist missionaries in the 1940s before with the community became self-managed.
Elcho Island artists create works which are highly sought after and pieces like dilly bags and woven baskets, Morning Star poles and yidaki (didgeridoo) have been exhibited in Paris. Elcho Island’s most famous son is ARIA award-winning musician Dr G Yunupingu who taught himself to play a toy piano and accordion at the age of four.
Fast Fact: Elcho Island was the inspiration for the song My Island Home, which was originally written for the Warumpi Band and performed by Christine Anu at the Sydney Olympic Games closing ceremony.
Don’t Miss: Purchase artworks from the source at Elcho Island Art and Craft centre which showcases traditional and fine artworks crafted from materials collected from bushland and beaches, reflecting thousands of years of tradition.
Australian Indigenous art represents the oldest unbroken art tradition in the world and Raft Point in Western Australia’s Kimberley region is home to an extraordinary rock art gallery. The fact that Raft Point is located on one of the world’s most remote coastlines where there are no roads and towns with the only access by the sea makes Raft Point’s rock art even more special.
Known as Ngumbree by Indigenous Wororra people, the peninsula which is dominated by a striking sandstone headland, is a fish dreaming place which holds the stories for the area which is documented in Wandjina artworks tens of thousands of years old gracing rock walls and under-hangs of the Ngumbree cave.
Fast Fact: The oldest dated rock art is an ochre-smeared chunk of limestone from the south-west Kimberley that was found in archaeological layers dated to 41,000 years ago.
Don’t Miss: Learn about the spiritual significance of Indigenous rock art through a guided interpretive tour with a traditional owner.
A small island off Tasmania’s east coast classed entirely as a natural wildlife sanctuary, Maria Island’s walking trails are world-class. Trails pass close by dramatic sea cliffs, through open woodlands and towering eucalypt forests as well as passing by remnants of historic ruins. The Painted Cliffs are particularly spectacular, especially when late afternoon sun bathes the undercut cliffs with their striking, swirling sandstone patterns in a warm glow.
Beyond plentiful wildlife (pademelons, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats) and bird spotting opportunities, Maria Island contains the most intact convict-era relics in Australia. Once a convict probation station and industrial hub, Darlington is now a ghost town with many restored buildings offering an intriguing insight into this former penal colony.
Fast Fact: Wombat scat is easy to identify by its cube shape though wombats themselves are a little more elusive. Wombats use their strong bottoms as a defence mechanism, burrowing headfirst into a hiding spot, using their bottoms to ‘plug up’ any gaps against intruders.
Don’t Miss: The trail to the summit of Bishop and Clerk starts as an easy stroll and ends in a challenging scramble across a scree-clad slope before a short climb up over-sized boulders. It’s worth every bit of energy spent with hikers rewarded with panoramic views across the Tasman Sea towards the Freycinet Peninsula.