9 Remote Islands You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

Whether it’s because of Instagram’s alluring travel shots or the increasing accessibility of flights, today’s travelers are jet-setting across the globe at record-breaking rates. Previously isolated destinations like Iceland and Antarctica are now welcoming an almost unmanageable amount of tourists.

But fear not, aspiring explorers: Remote, nearly untouched destinations do still exist. With significant prep, planning, and funds, you can try to visit these nine remote, under-the-radar islands.

1. NIUE

Niue isn’t just a remote island—it’s one of the smallest countries on Earth. Located about 1500 miles northeast of New Zealand, between Fiji and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, Niue is a tropical paradise with top-notch natural adventures including limestone caving, swimming alongside wild spinner dolphins, and exploring one of the world’s largest raised coral reefs. The island is a self-governing nation in free association with New Zealand, and saw its first inhabitants more than 1000 years ago. Niue is more accessible than most remote islands: Air New Zealand offers weekly flights to Niue’s Hanan International Airport.

2. BOUVET ISLAND

The uninhabited, volcanic Bouvet Island is located 1600 miles southwest of Cape Town, South Africa—and almost any other inhabited land mass—making it one of Earth’s most remote islands. Discovered by French naval officer Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier in 1739, the island was claimed by the UK in 1825, and then claimed by its current occupant, Norway, in 1928. Today, the island, which was the setting of 2004 film Alien vs. Predator, is considered a nature reserve; its residents include fur seals and penguins. Bouvet Island is accessible by select cruise ships, but according to Polar Cruises, landing at Bouvet Island is so unpredictable they allocate two days (days 13 and 14 of the typical itinerary) to actually make it.

3. TRISTAN DA CUNHA

Another remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha is a hop, skip, and a one-week, 1750-mile boat ride from South Africa. The island is a dependency of the British overseas territory Saint Helena, and was discovered in 1506 by a Portuguese sailor, Tristão da Cunha, but the waters were so rough he couldn’t even land his ship. With a population of 275 residents (and a ban on new residents), Tristan da Cunha is the world’s most remote inhabited island. Residents are primarily Christian and farming is the main source of income. Getting to Tristan da Cunha is anything but easy; travel is done entirely by ship or expedition cruise.

4. BEAR ISLAND

Part of Norway's Svalbard archipelago, Bear Island (Bjørnøya) is a 110-square-mile nature reserve located halfway between Norway and Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard group. Bear Island’s terrain is rough and rugged, with near-vertical cliffs, sea caves, strong winds, and few protected bays for docking boats. While the island has no human residents, it’s home to an enormous variety of seabird colonies. Polar bears visit on rare occasion. Similar to most uninhabited islands, getting to Bear Island is tough—but these three brothers show it can be done. They hitched a ride with a cargo ship and spent two months surfing the isolated, icy waters.

5. NORTH SENTINEL ISLAND


By NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey - Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On North Sentinel Island, 750 miles from Myanmar in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, you can’t snap selfies or binge-watch Game of Thrones. The Sentinelese tribe, considered one of the world's last uncontacted peoples, have remained cut off from the rest of the world for 60,000 years. That means no Internet, no HBO, and, as a handful of unfortunate travelers have discovered, no outside visitors. Dubbed “the hardest place to visit on Earth,” the Sentinelese greet visitors to the island with spears and arrows. Researchers observing by helicopter are shot at with arrows and stones.

For that reason, little is known about the Sentinelese tribe. Here’s what we do know: They typically eat coconuts, fish, turtles, and small birds; they survived the 2004 tsunami, and the entire population could be wiped out by disease if they come in contact with outsiders (which has become an issue over the past 10 years). Can you visit North Sentinel Island? Out of respect for the tribe and for your own life, the answer is probably no.

6. ITTOQQORTOOMIIT, GREENLAND

While not technically an island, Ittoqqortoormiit—one of the most remote parts of the already remote island of Greenland—is covered by ice and snow for nine months of the year. In size, Ittoqqortoormiit is approximately as large as Great Britain, but in population? Just 450 souls. The town is filled with colorful wooden houses and offers plenty of Arctic scenery. In summer, icebergs float down nearby Scoresby Sund, the longest fjord on earth. Ittoqqortoormiit is accessible by cruise ships or by air, with two weekly flights from Iceland and West Greenland.

7. HANS ISLAND

Though it has no natural resources—really, it's just a barren slab of rock—Canada and Denmark are constantly “battling” to claim this half-square-mile territory, which is located between Ellesmere Island and northern Greenland. The island is named for Hans Hendrik, a Greenlandic hunter and explorer who joined several 19th-century British and American expeditions to the far north. Fortunately, the current battle for control of Hans Island requires no ammo, weapons, or injuries. In perhaps the friendliest fight ever, the Canadian and Danish militaries regularly wage a “whiskey war”—leaving a bottle of Danish snaps or Canadian whiskey and their country’s flag atop Hans Island for the other country’s military to find. Can you visit Hans Island? Perhaps, but given its size and lack of amenities, there are few (if any) actual tours out there.

8. SOCOTRA ISLAND


Described as “the most alien place on earth,” Socotra Island has 800 rare species of flora and fauna, including several that are up to 20 million years old. One-third of Socotra’s species are found only on the island, making it the Indian Ocean’s answer to the Galapagos. The 80-mile-long island is part of Yemen, and despite its listing as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, it still remains off most travelers’ radar. It’s home to 50,000 residents who reside in the archipelago’s main cities like Hadibu and Qalansiyah. Most visitors arrive to Socotra via Yemenia Airway and Felix Airways; a stopover in Yemen (about 240 miles away) is required. Travelers can also arrive by sea, but because the island receives two annual monsoons and suffers from offshore piracy, air travel is the way to go.

9. LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD

The world’s northernmost town with a significant population, Longyearbyen is located on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard. Longyearbyen’s winters get pretty frigid—12° F is the usual high—and all houses are built on stilts to avoid sinking and sliding when the island's top layer of permafrost melts in summer. In terms of tourism, Svalbard offers impeccable opportunities to view the aurora borealis, not to mention one-of-a-kind views of the native reindeer, polar bears, walruses, foxes, seabirds, and whales. The island has a few relatively inexpensive accommodations, and direct flights are available from Oslo and Tromsø, Norway.

9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

iStock
iStock

It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. The King Cake is believed to have Pagan origins.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. The King Cake stirred up controversy during the French Revolution.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. The King Cake determined the early kings and queens of Mardi Gras.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. The King Cake's baby trinkets weren't originally intended to have religious significance.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. Bakeries are afraid of getting sued.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. The French version of the King Cake comes with a paper crown.


iStock

In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. There's also the Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei, and the Dreikönigskuchen.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. The King Cake is no longer just a New Orleans tradition.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have a King Cake baby mascot—and it is terrifying.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

You Could Win an Inn on Swan’s Island, Maine, for Just $99 and an Original Essay

A lighthouse in Swan's Island, Maine.
A lighthouse in Swan's Island, Maine.
Timothy Krause via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For just $99 and a short, well-crafted essay, you could live out all your Gilmore Girls-inspired dreams and own a quaint New England inn.

The Harbor Watch Inn, located six miles off the coast of Maine on Swan’s Island, has two regular motel rooms with basic appliances, two rooms with full kitchens and balconies overlooking Burnt Coat Harbor, and a furnished one-bedroom apartment that the owner could either live in or rent out.

The island itself is pretty much the epitome of a sleepy New England town. It’s only accessible by ferry, 350 people live there all year, and the website specifies that “there are no McDonald’s, no strip malls, and no movie theaters.” There is, however, a lighthouse, a marine museum, hiking trails, and quiet, uncrowded beaches that might make you want to become the 351st permanent resident.

If owning your own piece of the tiny, water-locked paradise sounds like heaven, you can enter for a chance to win the Harbor Watch Inn here through March 31. In addition to answering a few questions about your experience, skills, and feelings about the small-town atmosphere, you’ll have to explain in 350 words or fewer why you believe you’ll succeed as an innkeeper and what you’d change about the inn.

For anyone willing to pen multiple essays and pay the $99 application fee several times over, go for it: According to a press release, there’s no limit to the number of applications one person can submit. They’ll all be evaluated by a panel of judges—led by retired school teachers—and the winner will be announced by mid-May. Not only will that winner get the property, they’ll also be awarded $25,000 to help them improve the inn and establish their business.

Contests like this one have gained popularity in recent years as a way to sell businesses to people who wouldn’t be able to afford them otherwise, but they don’t always go exactly according to plan—find out about the Humble Heart Farm, The Hardwick Gazette, and five other property prize stories here.

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