Islands with romantic names like Bali, Fiji, Seychelles and St. Lucia evoke thoughts of clear blue skies, sun-drenched sandy beaches and swaying palm trees, surrounded by crystal clear azure waters. Many of us island hop on cruise ships, through warm waters from one island to the next. These islands are exotic, laid back and relaxing. These are the destinations we plan vacations to in search of tranquility and rejuvenation.
Some islands are so remote and desolate, that you will find the animals to be ruling. These locations are ones that if you do visit, it’s often for short periods; perhaps to take some photos, experience the uniqueness and get out. These are places where horses roam freely, bunnies chase you down for food and seals frolic freely on rock formations surrounded by crashing waves. Regardless, there is always beauty to be found. How many people can say that they had a pig swim along side their boat? Either way you put it, these islands are truly unique.
On your next vacation, if you’re looking for a little more adventure than laying on a white-sandy beach, sipping a piña colada, here are a few options to add to your list.
10. Iguana Island, Cuba
Iguana Island or Cayo las Iguanas, is located approximately 20 miles off the south Cuban shores of Trinidad, and is home to the rare endemic Cuban Iguana. The great marine life and natural beauty of this island attracts tourists who can access it via organized tours and private yachts that leave every day from Trinidad. Once here, you’ll have a chance to mingle with the locals—iguanas.
9. Pig Island/ Pig Beach, Bahamas
There’s nothing boaring about this place. The official name of this island in the Bahamian archipelago of Exuma is Big Major Cay, but it’s become affectionately known as Pig Island or Pig Beach thanks to the wild pink pigs that freely roam the land. There are various theories about how the pigs got to the island, including sailors who dropped them off believing they would be a good food source.
The sailors left; the pigs stayed. Another theory is that they are survivors of a shipwreck. Whatever the real story is, these privileged swine have claimed stake to their own piece of paradise on this uninhabited island. Tours offering the opportunity to swim with and feed the friendly pigs are available from nearby resorts.
8. Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Located 110 km (70 miles) southwest of Adelaide and easily accessible by ferry or plane, Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island. Contrary to what its name might lead you to believe, the island is not known for Kangaroos, but rather bees–Ligurian honey bees to be precise. The bees are not native to the island, but rather Bologna, Italy. Their roots have been traced by author/beekeeper Peter Barret who credits August Fiebig with establishing the first apiary in 1881. Kangaroo Island known for its vast amount of wildlife was declared a bee sanctuary way back in 1885. In so doing they assured the purity of the Ligurian bee strain on the island thus making Kangaroo Island the oldest bee sanctuary in the world.
7. Puffin Island, Wales
Located just off the coast of Anglessey, Puffin Island (Ynys Seiriol in Welsh), which is uninhabited, has been designated a Special Protection Area due to its large seabird population, such as guillemot, razorbill, shag and kittiwake. Puffins however, as the puffins from which the island gets its name, were practically all wiped out by the accidental introduction of rats in the late 19th century. A poisoning program to rid the island of its rats has helped the puffins recover in recent years.
In the summertime, cruises around the isle are available.
6. Puffin Island, Newfoundland
Yes, there is more than one Puffin Island. This one is off the shores of Newfoundland, in Baccalieu Tickle channel and it is the ecological reserve of North America’s puffins. Here, puffins thrive. The island is inaccessible from the water and offers ideal protection for the colonies of Atlantic Puffin that make this island their home. In the summer, tours from nearby communities take tourists around the island for some great viewing of not only puffins but also the marine life Newfoundland is known for.
5. Bird Island, Seychelles
Named in honor of the 700,000 pairs of Sooty Tern that nest on the island, Bird Island is the northernmost island in the Seychelles archipelago. The birds make this island their home from late March, laying eggs in May and remaining until October before they leave the island again. Other incredible birdlife can be found here including fairy terns and common noddies. Bird Island has been a privately owned resort since 1967. It was formerly a coconut plantation, and cash crops such as papaya and cotton were also grown here. Given the island’s ecological importance, conservation efforts to protect its birdlife, along with the nesting sites for the Hawksbill Turtle and the translocation of a population of Seychelles Sunbird are in place.
4. Cat Haven Island, Japan
Officially known as Tashirojima, cats were introduced here to keep mice population under control from the silkworm farms. Eventually the industry, and the people running it left the island but the cats stayed. Tashirojima, or Cat Haven Island as it has affectionately been nicknamed, is today a small fishing community of 100, with a cat population that is thriving. The local residents feed and care for these felines believing they bring them luck and prosperity, in other words these cats are treated like kings and queens. The fishermen believe the cats help predict weather patterns. It’s no surprise that the cats have also brought up tourism as the island is now a popular tourist destination. No dogs allowed.
3. Seal Island, South Africa
Seal Island is named after the large number of Cape Fur Seals that occupy it. Sea birds also make this small land mass, located off the northern beaches of False Bay near Cape Town, their home. There is no vegetation or soil here. During World War II a radar mast was built on the island by a crew who lived in prefabricated huts. The tower was blown over in 1970 by a winter strom. Today, all that remains are a few ruins of huts and other structures from the sealing era. And of course, the Cape Fur Seals.
2. Bunny Island
Ōkunoshima is the official name of this island located in the Inland Sea of Japan. It has become known as Bunny Island because of the numerous feral rabbits that spring around the island. How they arrived here is a rather sad tale. During World War II Ōkunoshima played a key role as a poison gas factory for much of the chemical warfare that was carried out in China. Many rabbits were used in the chemical munitions plant to test the effectiveness of the chemical weapons. Some sources claim that the rabbits are from when the factory shut down the employees set 8 bunnies free. Another source claims that the bunnies were brought in by children who were visiting while on a field trip. Either way the rabbits are now protected as hunting the rabbits is forbidden. Visitors are allowed to feed the rabbits and can purchase pellets of rabbit food for ¥100 a cup. In order to ensure the bunnies safety dogs and cats are not allowed on the island. It is estimated that over 300 rabbits inhabit the island.
1. Sable Island, Nova Scotia
Home to over 400 free-roaming horses, Sable Island is located 300 kilometers southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Year-round, it’s home to approximately five people (government employees). In the summer, tourists and scientists alike visit here, mostly due to the famous Sable Island horses, who likely arrived here as part of an effort by a Boston reverend to settle the island in 1738. In 1960 the Canadian Government gave the horse population full protection from human interference. Sable Island is protected under Canadian law and requires permission from the Canadian Coast Guard to visit. The island is also a protected National Park Reserve of Canada.
Sheila Hirtle, a researcher who visited the island in October, 2002, after receiving permission from the Canadian Coast Guard claims, “When you’re there, it feels like you’re on the moon,” she said. “There’s just an incredible loneliness on the island. You can see boats going by as they travel to the oil rigs, you can hear planes overhead, but you have no connection to any of it.”
Clearly, this is not your typical tourist island destination.