Top 10 remote and exotic islands you need to visit

1. TAHUATA, THE MARQUESAS ISLANDS, FRENCH POLYNESIA

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No man is an island, but it's worth trying … It's a thrill to visit some of the most remote islands in the world and they don't come any more isolated than the lush green volcanic Marquesas, 1400 kilometres north-east of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean and 4800 kilometres from Mexico. TahuAta is the smallest of the inhabited islands, so it's a shock to find a magnificent church there, which was opened by the Vatican. It comes complete with gorgeous wooden carvings, including of Mary with Jesus and breadfruit, and statues of bishops. More predictable are stunning beaches. Best reached via a cruise with the half-cargo, half-cruise ship, the 254-passenger Aranui 5. See aranuicruises.com.au

2. ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA

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This island 40 kilometres off the East African coast is a fascinating blend of cultures: African, Arabic and European. Once the world's largest producer of cloves, the air is still heavy with the scent of spices. The ancient Stone Town at Zanzibar's heart is a fascinating labyrinth of old alleyways, mosques, bazaars, and grand houses with massive carved doors, studded with brass fittings. The coastline is made up of white sandy beaches and coral reefs, perfect for diving and snorkelling, with dhows gliding past for sailing trips. See classicsafaricompany.com.au

3. NORFOLK ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

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From July 1, Australians no longer even need a passport to visit Norfolk Island, 1600 kilometres north east of Sydney and just a 2.5-hour Air New Zealand flight away. Now much more closely aligned, both politically and economically with "the mainland", the home of The Bounty mutineers – and now their descendants – still has a culture and atmosphere all its own. With rolling green hills, national parks, beaches and a decidedly 1950s sensibility, everyone's tipping Norfolk for a fresh tourist boom. See norfolkisland.com.au

4. GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR

A view from Bartolome Island.

Being on the Galapagos, the islands almost 1000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, feels like starring in your own Disney movie, with none of the animals – even the weirdest ones – appearing at all afraid of you. They thus gambol, swim and waddle around you, giving you the best view you'll ever have of massive marine iguana, giant tortoises, turtles, albatross, penguins, sea lions, dolphins … even whales. With the islands so far from everywhere, nearly one quarter of the islands' species are endemic, so it's little surprise it's the home of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. See peregrineadventures.com

5. TAPROBANE ISLAND, SRI LANKA

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This tiny rocky islet just off the south coast of Sri Lanka is the only spit of land before the South Pole but it's eminently physically accessible via a short paddle through the ocean at low tide. The only real hurdle is cash – it's the country's sole private island with an elegant octagonal five-bedroom house built in the 1920s and staffed by five, only available for hire for a pretty sum. Guests all have ocean views, there's an infinity pool and landscaped gardens filled with exotic plants and flowers. Little wonder it's been billed the most romantic escape in the world. See taprobaneisland.com

6. GREAT BARRIER ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND

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It may be only 90 kilometres north-east of Auckland, but this 285-square-kilometre island does feel a million miles from care. It's all about getting back to nature here, with walking tracks, mountain bike trails, diving, surfing, bird-watching, swimming, boating and fishing. A flight or ferry from Auckland, the rugged terrain has peaks falling down to wetlands, beaches and secluded bays. Logging, whaling and copper, gold and silver-mining were once the main industries but now it's much more about conservation and a fledgling tourism industry. See thebarrier.co.nz

7. AITUTAKI, THE COOK ISLANDS

str9-trav10-islands Aitutaki Lagoon2 David Kirkland Cook Islands Tourism

str9-trav10-islands Aitutaki Lagoon2 David Kirkland Cook Islands Tourism Photo: supplied

Caught in the middle of a triangular barrier reef with breathtakingly beautiful turquoise lagoons and white sand beaches, Aitutaki is a 50-minute flight from the main island, Rarotonga, between French Polynesia and American Samoa. Picnicking on uninhabited motus nearby, snorkelling, swimming, fishing, sunset cruising and kite-surfing are favourite activities. It's the closest I've ever come to paradise. See cookislands.travel

8. EASTER ISLAND, CHILE

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With Chile 3700 kilometres to its east and Pitcairn more than 2000 kilometres to its west, this far-flung island is best known for its 900 towering stone statues, or moai. Now dated at between 1100 and 1600AD, they're believed to represent the different lineages of the original population, later decimated by slave-raiders, smallpox and cannibalism. Despite the long flights from Chile or Tahiti, visitors still flock there to explore and experience the ultimate in seclusion. easterislandtourism.com

9. ROSARIO ISLANDS, COLOMBIA

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Join the locals for a day boat trip over to the Caribbean archipelago 100 kilometres off the coast at Cartagena. With the whole of the area declared a national park, there's swimming in the clear waters, snorkelling around the coral, sunbaking on the sandy beaches, an aquarium to visit and fabulous sunsets on the return journey. Fellow passengers are thrilled to show off one of their prettiest places. See rosarioislands.com

10. SHETLAND ISLANDS, SCOTLAND

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It's no utopia, but this wild and bleak archipelago 80 kilometres north-east of Orkney and 280 kilometres south-east of the Faroe Islands, a part of Norway until confiscated by the Scots in the 15th century over an unpaid dowry, has a certain charm. It's undergoing a mini-boom with the hit TV crime series Shetland set on the biggest island, based on the best-selling books by Ann Cleeves. There are ferries, flights and cruise ship stops. See shetland.org

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