Tired of the snow? Counting the days until spring? There’s still time to fly south — as in below the equator — to an island bathed in summer sunshine. From the South Pacific to the Indian Ocean, balmy breezes beckon. Here are 10 islands to consider for a last-minute getaway. Or simply plan ahead for next year.
Nature meets nurture — as in postcard-perfect beaches and secluded resorts — in this Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands. The gateway is Mahé island, where you can delve into the multicultural, Creole-centric Seychellois experience, see rare flora and fauna (including the suggestively shaped Coco-de-Mer nut and giant Aldabra tortoises) and enjoy day trips to nearby isles, such as Praslin and La Digue. Resorts on the latter two offer a combination of low-key relaxation and visual drama, with large granite boulders that seem positioned by the gods on spectacular talcum-soft beaches.
For a South Pacific paradise that’s lush, mountainous and surrounded by a serene turquoise lagoon, there’s no need to travel farther than Moorea. And logistically, this heart-shaped isle in French Polynesia isn’t even all that far away — just an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles to Papeete, on the main island of Tahiti, followed by a short ferry ride. What can you enjoy? A sexy overwater bungalow for two; relaxing massages with heavenly monoi oil; sunset cocktails and a Polynesian dance show; snorkel cruises to feed stingrays and black-tipped reef sharks; 4X4 excursions through scenic valleys — and, of course, shopping for Tahitian black pearls.
This island nation’s sunny South Pacific location — from LA, it’s an 11-hour flight to Nadi on the main island of Viti Levu — coupled with its welcoming people and private-island resorts make it the perfect spot to chill. Fijians may once have been fierce warriors, but these days their favorite pastimes include drinking ceremonial kava (you can sip it, too), carving wooden handicrafts and singing in a lullaby-like harmony that’s totally entrancing. If scuba’s your thing, the waters surrounding Fiji’s 332 islands are filled with colorful marine life (including the adorable clown fish — aka Nemo) and some of the world’s most spectacular corals. We say, bula (welcome) to that!
Located in the Indian Ocean about 500 miles east of Madagascar, this multicultural, mountains-meets-sea island has something for everyone: beautiful beaches, great golf courses, challenging hikes, terrific bird watching, colonial architecture — and even one of the world’s oldest horseracing tracks, Champs de Mars in the capital, Port Louis. The island’s mix of Indian, Creole, Chinese, French and African cultures gives it a vibrancy and warmth that flavors both its hospitality and its cuisine (curry lovers, you’re in for a treat). So whether you visit for relaxation at a beach resort or adrenaline-rush adventure during a scuba dive or waterfall hike, Mauritius is the place to create vivid travel memories.
Yes, it’s in Australia — and part of Kangaroo Island’s appeal is that it’s named for the country’s best-known marsupial residents. This 1,700-square-mile island, located off the Fleurieu Peninsula about 70 miles from Adelaide in South Australia and home to just 4,400 people, is famous for its adorable wildlife as well as its dramatic wind- and water-sculpted Remarkable Rocks. Viewing local species is a highlight — in addition to its population of kangaroos, you can also see koalas, wombats, penguins and sea lions — but there’s no public transport, so an organized tour or rental car is the way to go.
Its name might sound sci-fi fictional, but there really is a place called Florianopolis. This 33-mile-long island sits in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Brazil’s southernmost state, Santa Catarina, and is known for attracting both sun-loving social types to sip caipirinhas at trendy beach clubs and thrill-seekers to ride its legendary Joaquina sand dunes — where sandboarding first gained popularity. Connected by a bridge to the mainland, Florianopolis is popular year-round, but especially December through April when summer’s heat gives its beach scene some Brazilian sizzle.
Two-for-one deals are irresistible and so is New Zealand, a pair of must-see islands located deep in the South Pacific. The more populated North Island is home to both the country’s capital, Wellington, and its largest city, Auckland, while the rugged South Island is known for its mountains, fjords and other natural spectacles. Volcanic in origin, the islands offer activities that are as calm (golfing and fly fishing) as they are crazy (bungee jumping and zorbing — both invented here). You can also visit vineyards producing excellent Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, bird watch at cliff-top gannet and albatross colonies, walk amid steaming geysers, climb gleaming glaciers and learn first-hand about the native Maori people and their culture.
If you enjoy going places your friends have never heard of, consider this appealing South Pacific destination, the largest of the 15 Cook Islands. Here, you’ll enjoy a less-commercial, more old-school slice of Polynesia, where a single road rings the entire 26-square-mile island, charismatic local herbalist/medicine man Pa leads nature treks, and the island’s fittest young drummers and dancers will leave you hypnotized by the speed of their beat — and their hips! As on other South Pacific islands, the snorkeling and diving are sublime and you shouldn’t miss a traditional feast: roasted pork, fish and vegetables slow cooked in an umu, an underground earth oven.
Your search for the perfect stretch of sand might just end here — at Whitehaven Beach, a 4½-mile swoosh of virgin white silica located within the Whitsunday Islands National Park. Just as impressive: the warm swirls of vivid turquoise and blue water that lap it, since the Whitsundays, comprised of 74 islands off the Queensland coast, are in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. This makes a vacation here ideal for divers, snorkelers, sailors, windsurfers and anyone who loves aquatic adventure. Couples and families can also experience Down Under hospitality at a variety of island resorts, from eco-friendly to five-star chic.
This group of South Pacific islands located about 900 miles from Australia might not be as well-known as Tahiti, but New Caledonia’s French connection (it’s an overseas territory) and diverse cultural heritage (indigenous Kanak people mixed with Asians and other Pacific islanders) give it an eclectic energy. From the culture-rich capital of Nouméa (a city of about 100,000 on the main island of Grande Terre) to pristine Isle of Pines and Ouvéa island, there’s always a fabulous water view — and New Caledonia’s gorgeous lagoon, the largest in the world, is a UNESCO World Heritage-protected site.