For many of us, the ideal holiday getaway takes the shape of a pristine, white sand beach shaded by palm fronds. Perhaps, a tropical paradise on a far-flung island in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean springs to mind. Regardless of the location, many of these stunning destinations are slowly being submerged by rising sea levels and it’s a serious problem for future generations.

    From the tropical paradise islands of the South Pacific to the floating cities of European, these islands offer a diverse range of holiday experiences. Among the entries on our list, you’ll find ample diving, trekking, and off-roading opportunities. You’ll also uncover some great culinary and cultural attractions on our list of islands you should visit before they disappear.

    1

    Republic of Palau

    The Republic of Palau, nicknamed ‘The Underwater Serengeti’ for its abundant marine life, is known as one of the world’s top dive sites. Located 625 miles east of the Philippines most southerly island, Mindanao, Palau is made up of around 340 distinct islands, with Koror being the most populated.

    Apart from top-notch diving, there is a wide range of other activities to choose from. You’ll find opportunities for off-road driving, camping, and kayaking. Treks into the jungle may also reveal some World War II relics to the observant trekker. For the culturally curious, you’ll also find many examples of traditional architecture, such as the iconic meeting halls of Melekeok Bai in Babeldaob, as well as several well-organised museums to explore. The Etpison Museum in Koror, for example, does a wonderful job of showcasing local culture and explaining the impact of wider Micronesian influence on Palau.

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    2

    Maldives


    Sitting on the top of many a bucket list, the over 1,000 islands of the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean attract around 1 million visitors a year to picture-perfect shores. Bearing the dubious mantle of “the lowest country in the world”, it’s no surprise that the Maldives makes our list. On the positive side, its close proximity to the sea results in a wide range of habitats for you to explore, including coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands, and the deep ocean.

    This stunning location is best known for the indulgent luxury of its high-end resorts that attract honeymooners and high-fliers from all over the world. However, luxury resorts on their own private islands are not the only options available. Due to changes to tourism regulations here, guesthouses owned and operated by locals are becoming a more frequently available option, particularly on Ari and Male atolls, which serve as centres for this booming aspect of the industry. While this option may lack many of the creature comforts of the 5-star resorts, guesthouses offer a much more affordable option, as well as a chance to get a closer look at local life on these beautiful islands.

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    3

    Tuvalu

    Tuvalu is a volcanic archipelago sitting approximately halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Though well off the tourist trail, the majority of visitors who do make it out this way are attracted by the islands’ eco-tourism opportunities.

    Most visitors arrive via the single international airport on the main island of Funafuti, which also contains Tuvalu’s only hotel facilities. Guesthouse accommodation can be found on the outer atolls which can be reached by the infrequent passenger-cargo ships. As well as water-based fun such as diving, snorkelling, and yachting, Tuvalu offers visitors opportunities to witness cultural ceremonies and traditional dance at the local Maneapa (town halls) at various times throughout the year. Keep an eye out too for the national ball game te ano where the losers must perform a funny song and dance.

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    4

    Fiji

    White sand beaches, pleasant weather, and excellent diving opportunities prove the biggest draws for visitors to Fiji. Though the islands play host to many luxury resorts, there are plenty of accommodation options lying in the mid-range too.

    There is plenty here to keep you occupied apart from stunning beaches and vibrant coral reefs. If you’re looking for more activity on the islands, head to the jungle to enjoy great hiking opportunities. On Taveuni, Fiji’s 3rd-largest island, a trek up Des Voeux Peak will reward you with fantastic views and excellent bird-watching opportunities. If you want to get a real taste for the local culture, you could participate in a lovo – a traditional form of Fijian cooking where the food is cooked over heated stones buried in an earthen pit. The delicious results of this process are served on banana leaves with accompanying fanfare and celebration.

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    5

    Venice

    Given Venice is built on around 100 small islands in a lagoon, perhaps it's no surprise that the floating city under threat of rising sea levels. When we think of places under threat from rising sea levels, European destinations aren’t usually the first we think of, but Italy’s iconic waterborne city seems to be sinking. 

    Best known for the romance of its gondola rides and exquisite architecture, Venice has much to offer visitors. Steeped in 1,700 years of history, you’ll find an impressive variety of museums and art galleries here. From the modern masterpieces that hang in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection to the classics of Venetian painting at Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice is a goldmine for fans of all things art-related. There are plenty of culinary masterpieces to enjoy here too, this is Italy, after all. Be sure to try the regional speciality risi i bisi while in Venice. It’s a combination of soup, risotto, and pancetta – simple and delicious!

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    6

    Torres Straits Islands

    The Torres Strait Islands comprise almost 300 islands off the northern coast of Australia. Home to numerous coral reefs and unspoilt rainforest, Australia’s northernmost outpost also plays host to a unique aboriginal culture developed over tens of thousands of years. The vibrancy of the local culture is apparent in the distinctive styles of dance, dress, and art that exist here. 

    While the unique culture of these remote islands remains a strong draw for visitors, there’s a wealth of additional attractions here. The islands have a fascinating military history and it’s possible to see many WWII artefacts in several locations. Horn Island was where over 5,000 Australian and American personnel were stationed during the war. Fishing the waters of the Arafura Sea is a popular pastime here, with golden snapper, mackerel, and coral trout to be found.

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    photo by Feral Arts (CC BY 2.0) modified

    7

    Tangier Island

    Tangier Island, located in Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, is actually made up of several small islands divided by marshes and tidal streams. Residents of this small group of islands still speak with a distinctly British sounding accent, a living relic of colonial days gone by.

    Though small in size and with limited amenities, the island has plenty of things to see and do. The Tangier Island History Museum is a good first port of call to gain an overview of the island’s history and community life. The area is renowned for its soft-shell crab production, which you can gain insight by joining a boat tour. If you prefer exploring on your own, the Tangier Island History Museum also offers free use of kayaks from its dock.

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    8

    Federated States of Micronesia

    Of the over 600 islands that make up the Federated States of Micronesia, only 65 are inhabited. Spread among 4 states – Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae – each is distinctive in its culture and landscape. The main attractions of this expansive country are its stunning scenery, world-class diving facilities, and fascinating local cultures.

    Diving in the M’il Channel off Yap offers the chance to swim with huge but gentle manta rays. You can also visit the wrecks of a Japanese fleet from WWII off Chuuk. If you prefer the feel of dry land below your feet, the islands have many fantastic hiking opportunities, particularly the volcanic landscapes of Pohnpei and Kosrae.

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    9

    Seychelles

    Made up of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles is well endowed with stunning natural attractions. With its paradisiacal beaches, impressive coral reefs, and exotic wildlife, it’s no surprise that tourism is the primary industry in Seychelles, despite its somewhat isolated location. As well as fantastic snorkelling and diving, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied during your stay here. 

    Mahe, the islands’ largest island and home to the country’s only international airport, is very likely to be your first stop. While the smaller islands are much quieter, you’ll find more bustle in the capital, Victoria. The town has interesting Creole architecture, delicious local food, and a bustling covered market selling seafood and souvenirs. You can also book boat trips here to visit other islands such as Curieuse, Cousin Island and St Pierre, where visitors can see some of the amazingly diverse wildlife the area has to offer. You’ll get a chance to see giant tortoises and other reptiles, as well as a wide variety of birdlife, including terns, magpie robins, and blue pigeons.

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    10

    Cook Islands

    The dreamy Cook Islands is made up of 15 small islands in the South Pacific but spread over an area roughly the size of India. With its swaying palm trees and turquoise waters, the Cook Islands look like the picture-postcard definition of an island paradise. You’ll find powder-white sandy beaches and friendly locals, making this a destination well-suited for those seeking a relaxing getaway.

    Lagoon cruises offer the chance to get some snorkelling in and are usually followed by a barbecue lunch. Diving here will give you the chance to interact with the region’s diverse marine life in the crystal-clear blue waters. Inland, you can cycle or even go off-roading. The main island of Rarotonga has hiking trails suitable for all levels, with the Cross Island Trek being particularly popular. This trek includes a strenuous walk and climb of Te Rua Manga which rewards the hiker with some impressive views of the local area at the summit.

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    Shane Mac Donnchaidh | Contributing Writer

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