I love islands. It doesn't matter whether they're really big (Australia) or specks in the middle of the ocean (Moorea, in French Polynesia); whether they're culturally rich (Britain) or scenically rich (New Zealand); whether they're tropical (St. Lucia, in the eastern Caribbean) or temperate (Japan). There's just something about an island that appeals to my soul. With that in mind, here are three of my favorites, each with something special to entice the visitor.
Its dry, wild, windswept vistas aren't the Hawaii of travel posters, but Lana'i's beaches are just as white (or black) as those on its sister islands; the Pacific just as blue; the air just as sweetly scented; and the tropical blossoms just as profuse. Lana'i is what all of Hawaii must have looked like 100 years ago.
Formerly the Dole pineapple plantation, the island has changed little since those days, with no stoplights and fewer than 30 miles of paved road. Rent a four-wheeler and drive across the top of the island along the Munro Trail. Here, rows of pine trees tenaciously survive the pummeling and lashing of wind and rain, common at this altitude. The road snakes and threads through peaks and gorges for only 7 miles but takes nearly two hours to drive. Stop at one of the scenic overlooks, and if the veil of mist has blown off, you can see Maui and Moloka'i in the distance.
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Drive up to the Keahiakawelo Garden of the Gods, where giant boulders and multicolored rocks, supposedly hurled by a great volcanic tidal wave, bear scars from centuries of relentless winds and give proof to its ancient name: Ka'a, the barren land.
For a change of pace, I love to snorkel in Hulapo'e Bay's crystal clear water; wander through the petroglyphs at Kaunolu, a holy place where King Kamehameha and his priests built temples; or stand on the cliffs at Huawai Bay and watch humpback whales make their annual winter migration.
Uncover the Hawaii of legend at Polihua Beach, a remote spot on the north shore, mythic nesting ground of the green sea turtle, whose eggs were much coveted by the goddess Pele, and at Pu'upehe, a huge pinnacle that stands guard over Shark's Bay. Legend says that a young girl, Pehe, drowned in a sea cave here. With help from the gods, her grieving lover carried her body to the rock's peak for burial. Hence, the name Pu'upehe, Pehe's Hill, known to the locals as Sweetheart's Rock.
Learn more at Gohawaii.com.
Jersey, United Kingdom
It might be just nine miles off the French coast, but Jersey, largest of the Channel Islands, is proudly British. Originally a part of Normandy, it came under English rule when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and wrested the throne from the Saxon King Harold.
Jersey remained in English hands for two centuries, until King John lost Normandy back to France in the 13th century. The islanders were given a choice, revert to Normandy or remain loyal to the English crown. They chose the latter, thus gaining rights and privileges which to this day make them subject not to the British Parliament but to the queen.
Testimony to Jersey's role as pawn in the centuries-long chess match between England and France are the island's three fortresses: Mont Orgueil and Grosnez Castles, dating from the Middle Ages; and Elizabeth Castle, rising from a rocky islet in St. Aubyn's Bay, which became the main stronghold and was home to Sir Walter Raleigh when he served as the island's governor in the 16th century.
Raleigh wasn't Jersey's only illustrious resident. In the leafy graveyard of St. Saviour's Church, visitors seek out the gravestone marking the burial place of native daughter Emilie Charlotte le Breton, who gained international fame as Lillie Langtry, late 19th-century actress and mistress of kings.
Jersey's offerings are many and varied. The island has given the world the Jersey cow, Jersey royal potato, Jersey pottery and Jersey lavender. The latter is grown in St. Brelade at one of the largest lavender farms north of Provence, France. Blossoming in late May, the plants rise to a dramatic crescendo of purple at the end of June, when the harvest takes place.
Visitors may walk for a mile around the three main beds and then stop at the bottling room for a look at how the lavender is distilled into colognes, essential oils and other fragrant products.
With 50 miles of coast, Jersey offers many options. Take a leisurely walk along the west coast, where headlands, dunes and pastures studded with bright yellow wildflowers come together in Les Mielles, a paradise for birders and an incubator for exotic wild orchids.
The rugged cliffs of Portelet rival those of Cornwall, while the golden sweeps of sand at Green Island invite sunbathing. Then there's dramatic Corbiere Lighthouse, which at low tide can be reached by a causeway fringed by clear rock pools but where — upon hearing the sound of the warning bell — you must be ready to outrace the incoming tide.
Learn more at Jersey.com.
According to local legend, a dashing English adventurer and his beautiful inamorata first discovered this tiny island off the African coast when their ship capsized on its shores. While history hardly supports this flight of fancy, Madeira's gentle allure makes it easy to believe it began as a lovers' paradise.
Although technically part of Portugal, Madeira is a world unto itself — a 21st-century Atlantis where the heady scent of roses and jacarandas perfumes the air, waves lap the beaches in rhythmic cadence, and where you can look down on the clouds as you hike mountain trails.
The capital, Funchal, is a maze of cobbled streets, colorful squares, outdoor cafés and miles of beaches. A visit to the Madeira Wine Lodge, a former monastery, to sample the island's namesake wine is a must. As is a drive to Porto Moniz, a fishing village that boasts stunning ocean tide pools. These natural blue lagoons, trapped between weathered rock outcroppings, are among Madeira's premier beauty spots. The drive to Porto Moniz will take you through Camara de Lobos, the village whose colorful harbor Winston Churchill, a frequent visitor, loved to paint.
The Madeira Nature Reserve, a virgin forest with diverse and exotic flora and fauna, blankets two-thirds of the island's soaring mountain landscape. Hikers may choose between the challenging and the charming. Intrepid types will thrill to the breathtaking ravines, valleys and sea cliffs, including Pico Ruivo, Madeira's highest peak; while more gentle walks along some of the levadas, man-made canals that wind around the entire island, afford panoramic views for the faint of heart and height.
Learn more at Madeira-web.com.