The words “cruise” and “fearless exploration” often don’t go together, but there are parts of the world that can only be reached by boat – and some of those boats come complete with en-suite cabins and captain’s tables. From the paradise islands of the South Pacific to the icy waters of Antarctica, read about places that planes, trains and cars can’t reach, but cruise ships can.
Conflict Islands, Papua New Guinea
In September 2022, this blissful atoll near Papua New Guinea made headlines when its owner, developer and billionaire Ian Gowrie-Smith, allegedly launched a search for a buyer. Previously, the 21-strong collection on mostly uninhabited islands (one of only a handful of atolls on the map) was largely unknown to the outside world.
The lack of interest may have contributed to the flourishing of local flora and fauna: turtles nest on the icing sugar sand, there is a higher concentration of fish than on the Great Barrier Reef, and the corals are much healthier. Meanwhile, the tangle of greenery hides rare tree kangaroos and kingfishers.
The only way to reach this atoll is by boat and, improbably, cruise ship passengers are among its most frequent visitors. Join them on a 10-day Princess Cruises cruise from Brisbane that also visits other destinations in Papua New Guinea.
Pitcairn Islands, Pacific Ocean
Follow HMS Bounty on one of the few ships to stop at an island where the descendants of the famous mutineers still live. On remote Pitcairn, which was lost in the Pacific more than 930 miles from Easter Island, only 50 people remained. But their story has long fascinated those familiar with Crusoe and other childhood castaways.
There’s Remote and there’s Pitcairn. Even getting to the island by cruise ship is no mean feat. Since there is no port large enough to accommodate giant boats, larger vessels (such as the one making the MSC two-day voyage from Rapa Nui) simply glide past the shore. Meanwhile, those on smaller vessels such as the Silver Explorer Silversea transfer to the Zodiacs for a further rocky journey ashore or, in inclement weather, invite the locals to meet in a longboat.
On the island, visitors can hike to Christian’s Cave (where rebel Fletcher Christian is said to have watched ships pass by) or explore the tiny capital city of Adamstown, home to the bustling Whale’s Tooth Inn.
Deception Island, British Antarctic Territory
A journey from Patagonia’s World’s Edge to what lies beyond, the odd juxtaposition of sparkling volcanic beaches and icy glaciers that make up the Deception Island Caldera. Resembling a giant fortune cookie tossed from Latin America towards Antarctica, it is a key stop on voyages to the region, although no one has lived there year-round since staff at the British station were evacuated in the late 1960s after a series of volcanic eruptions. Meanwhile, the feathered species is full of permanent residents: the island is home to the world’s largest colony of chinstrap penguins.
There’s no airstrip here. Instead, visitors like those of the Hurtigruten Antarctic and Patagonia expeditions follow in the footsteps of the first polar explorers through the once treacherous waters around Cape Horn and the swirling waves of Drake Passage. Then, upon reaching Deception, they transfer to the Zodiacs to go straight to the sunken crater that forms the island’s natural harbor, looking for whale ship wrecks.
Recently, however, travelers aboard ships such as the 96-passenger Magellan Explorer have been able to fly to Antarctica and then sail straight to the center of the caldera on smaller vessels, cutting off the long sea journey.
Aeolian Islands, Italy
In summer, you’ll find Europe’s humblest millionaires hopping on a yacht between a handful of charming Italian islands. The little enclaves tucked away from Sicily make up a fine line of hippie shops and restaurants, while many are car-free and inaccessible by plane (although the super-rich use Air Panarea’s helicopter service).
Each has its own unique character. Among them are the volcanic Stromboli with its eternally smoking peak and black beaches, the bustling Lipari with its harbor the color of the setting sun and side streets full of boutiques and cafes, or the small Panarea, which with its scattered houses made of sugar cubes and coastal paths interrupted by emerging cacti, it’s like a greek island with the addition of pasta.
Take them all on a seven-day break with Variety Cruises that also includes time to explore Malta and Sicily. Huge cruise ships do not reach the Aeolian Islands, and Variety Voyager with 36 cabins is worthy of these millionaires, with a Balinese spa and panoramic restaurant.
Lelepa, Vanuatu, South Pacific
To differentiate themselves from rivals and attract customers, cruise lines now have their own exclusive island enclaves. Primarily in the Caribbean, they allow passengers with cabin fever to spend some time at the beach, order food from restaurants on the sand, and even use a water park or spa.
However, the most exciting of them are found in the pristine waters of the South Pacific. Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at Lelepa, scheduled to open in 2023, will be the first private island for cruise passengers in the Southern Hemisphere, offering something a little different from banana trees and all-you-can-drink pina coladas. Attractions include 160 acres of rainforest and the UNESCO-protected cave paintings of Feles Cave.
the North Pole
Prior to 2022, the only way tourists could reach the geographic North Pole was by expedition ship or a 50-year-old nuclear icebreaker from Murmansk on a journey of up to six long days. Only 1,000 people per year reached 90 degrees north, all traveling by boat and most in basic conditions.
However, last year a lucky few were able to see the farthest point of the Arctic Ocean in a different way, on the French LNG-powered icebreaker Le Commandant Charcot.
While reaching the icy destination is not guaranteed, this boat is equipped with luxuries that should counteract any disappointment. Dressed in the neutral colors of an expensive boutique hotel, it’s cooler than the Cold War with an indoor pool, restaurant, split-level suites with their own jacuzzi and terrace bar that make the 435-mile journey from Spitsbergen much more comfortable. Grab a glass of champagne and wave to seals, whales and polar bears as the captain sails across the icy waters towards the northernmost point of the planet.
Vast Iquitos is the world’s largest non-island city with no road access. Although you can fly to it, it is the gateway to remote areas of the Amazon that can only be reached by boat, including the Pacaya-Samiria National Park, five million acres of river and sometimes flooded forests that are home to plenty of wildlife, including dolphins, jaguars, manatees and caimans.
Explore this less-visited stretch on a dolphin cruise, walking along the Amazon River to the tune of countless bird calls before exploring its winding tributaries by kayak as they cut through protected jungle. Do it during the high tide season (December to May) and you’ll reach places that are completely cut off when everything dissipates, or tackle them during the low tide season to explore further on foot.