Islands – at least of the tropical kind – are the classic icon of the great holiday escape, promising adventure, a release from the grind of modern life, and a distinct sense of otherness. Needless to say, they're ideal cruise-ship destinations, and yet a surprising abundance of the world's islands and archipelagos remain largely unvisited. Certainly, you can sail the busy Bahamas or Mediterranean outposts, but equally you can find plenty of islands where expedition-style cruises provide access for just a handful of adventurous passengers. Here are seven superb examples.
SUB-ANTARCTIC ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND
WHY GO Seldom-visited Campbell Island and the archipelagos of the Aucklands and Snares, collectively World Heritage listed, feature dramatic sea cliffs, tussock-covered hillsides and wild landscapes. You'll encounter some of the world's most abundant birdlife and wildflowers, including many species found nowhere else.
WHAT'S ASHORE Scenery apart, it's mostly about the wildlife, which includes giant petrels, albatrosses, yellow-eyed penguins and parakeets. There are also remnant whaling stations and shipwrecks. Stewart Island has a small permanent population.
DON'T MISS Enderby Island, which isn't just one of the easier islands to land on and easy to walk around, but is one of the most beautiful, with eroded volcanic outcrops and sweeping beaches. It has incredible birdlife and sea-lion colonies.
SAIL AWAY Heritage Expeditions offers several itineraries, including an 11-day "Beyond Fiordland" cruise round trip from Invercargill from $US5995pp ($8350), departing December 13, 2019. See heritage-expeditions.com
WHY GO A cruise around this Indian Ocean archipelago takes you away from resort islands into an eco-destination where stunning granite outcrops, mangroves and orchid-studded rainforest shelter creatures such as giant tortoises and chameleons. Sapphire-blue waters are home to a kaleidoscope of tropical fish, with snorkelling or scuba-diving a must.
WHAT'S ASHORE Excursions with naturalists provide encounters with wildlife in World Heritage-listed reserves and marine parks. Colonies of breeding seabirds on Aride Island are astonishing. Curieuse Island features colonial villas and a ruined leper colony.
DON'T MISS Anse Source D'Argent on La Digue and Cote d'Or on Praslin are often cited as among the world's best beaches. The former has the edge for its electric-blue water, coconut-palm crewcut and pink-hued boulders.
SAIL AWAY Peregrine Adventures has eight-day cruises round trip from Mahe from $3050pp, with four departures monthly throughout the year. See peregrineadventures.com
CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN
WHY GO This Spanish territory off the west African coast is famous among hedonistic European sun-seekers and night-clubbers, but few cruises make in-depth visits and, away from the coastal resorts, you'll find dramatic volcanic landscapes, an ancient history and tranquil village life. This is also one of the world's top stargazing destinations.
WHAT'S ASHORE Plunging cliffs and occasionally snow-capped mountains give way to pine-shaded nature reserves and 60-odd beaches on Gran Canaria. Santa Cruz on Tenerife has an elegant old town and good botanical gardens.
DON'T MISS La Palma has impressive imperial Spanish architecture surrounded by orchard-filled valleys. Barranco de Guayadeque is honeycombed with cave dwellings, while Teror has gilt-laden churches and cobbled squares.
SAIL AWAY Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers several itineraries, including a 13-night "Canary Island with Madeira" cruise round trip from Southampton from £1499pp ($8350pp), departing April 18, 2019. See fredolsencruises.com
BIJAGOS ARCHIPELAGO, GUINEA-BISSAU
WHY GO If you want to cruise where few have gone before, then this west African archipelago of nearly 90 islands – only a quarter of which are inhabited – provides great boasting rights. Diverse ecosystems (mangroves, forest, savannah and sandbanks) shelter exceptional biodiversity.
WHAT'S ASHORE Learn about the matriarchal culture, ancestral traditions and tribal art of the Bidyogo people on the islands of Caravela, Carache and Orango. Excursions are often made to Goree Island in nearby Senegal, a major former slave post that's now World Heritage listed.
DON'T MISS The island's is home to the rare saltwater hippopotamus, which wallow in the lagoons and are sometimes seem on the beach. Other wildlife includes turtles, manatees, gazelles and monkeys.
SAIL AWAY Ponant offers a nine-day "Adventure in the Bijagos Archipelago'' cruise round trip from Dakar from $6650, departing October 8, 2019. See au.ponant.com
LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS, INDIA
WHY GO This group of some 40 low-lying islands and atolls off India's south-west coast is part of the same submerged mountain range as the Maldives, yet is far more low-key, with few amenities and a population reliant on fishing and the coconut trade. It's the ultimate castaway experience.
WHAT'S ASHORE The islands have tropical beauty, but it's really what's underwater that stuns. Reefs provide encounters with eagle rays, reef sharks, green turtles and a multi-coloured variety of fish and coral.
DON'T MISS Cheriyam Island, which has a tiny settlement and lighthouse and meandering sand paths through the coconut groves. The shallow lagoon is dotted with sea cucumbers, while the reef wall is rich in underwater life.
SAIL AWAY Silversea offers a 12-day "Male to Chennai" cruise between the Maldives and India from $13,700pp, departing January 10, 2019. See silversea.com
CHANNEL ISLANDS, US
WHY GO This national park of five islands off the coast of California provides an active outdoor experience that might include kayaking to sea caves, exploring tide pools and hiking white-sand beaches and sunny hillsides. There's abundant endemic wildlife.
WHAT'S ASHORE The islands have rugged ranges and canyons and interesting historical remnants that include 13,000-year-old native American Chumash settlements, US military installations and abandoned cattle ranches and abalone fisheries.
DON'T MISS Cruises usually also visit Santa Catalina island, developed in the 1920s as a tourist destination by chewing-gum baron William Wrigley. It has beautiful rocky coves, a wine estate, good seafood restaurants and activities such as submarine tours and zip-lining.
SAIL AWAY Lindblad Expeditions offers a five-day "Base Camp Channel Islands" cruise round trip from Los Angeles from $3120, with five departures between September and December 2019. See expeditions.com
SPICE ISLANDS, INDONESIA
WHY GO The nutmeg, mace and cinnamon of these islands was a key impetus for European colonialism, and the region is scattered with Dutch-era remnants, as well as WWII sites. Smoking volcanoes, glorious beaches and rugged waterfall-draped islands provide wonderful scenery.
WHAT'S ASHORE Banda's street markets are filled with the aroma of spices and tropical fruit, while island villages allow for encounters with locals. Hike into rainforest for a chance to spot birds of paradise.
DON'T MISS Raja Ampat has some of the world's most outstanding snorkelling and diving, and Cenderawasih Bay is home to a large school of whale sharks, providing an unforgettable close-up encounter with these huge fish.
SAIL AWAY Coral Expeditions offers several itineraries, including a 12-day "Spice Islands and Raja Ampat'' cruise from Darwin to Biak from $11,290, departing December 21, 2019, and January 2, 2020. See coralexpeditions.com
THE OBVIOUS ISLANDS
You've good reason to sail onto the more beaten wave for an encounter with these classic island cruise destinations.
THE GREEK ISLANDS
The scattered Aegean and other islands of Greece offer splendid scenery – the sail into the volcanic caldera of Santorini is magnificent – and chic holiday destinations such as Mykonos. You'll encounter an abundance of history, with sights from ancient Greek ruins to Venetian-era castles and the crusader citadels of Rhodes. See starclippers.com
These are the quintessential romantic tropical islands, and they live up to the stereotype thanks to their combination of jagged mountains and improbably blue lagoons filled with flitting fish and slowly flapping manta rays. The most beautiful might be Bora Bora, but Huahine and Moorea are close seconds. See pgcruises.com
One of cruising's heartlands, thanks to its proximity to America, provides a dazzling array of landscapes, cultures, peoples, ports and cuisines, plus outstanding scuba diving. Interest has ramped up another notch with the opening of Cuba to tourism, with many cruise lines now visiting its historic, Spanish-era coastal cities. See oceaniacruises.com
Though remote, this Pacific archipelago has become something of a cruise staple thanks to its connections to Darwin and his theory of evolution. It has famously unfazed, easily approached wildlife such as seals, iguanas, giant tortoises and boobies, but the arid, colour-banded volcanic scenery is wonderful, too. See chimuadventures.com
There's good reason why this is a classic cruise destination: Mark Twain rightly called Hawaii "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean". Volcanoes, emerald mountains, waterfalls, coffee plantations and golden beaches combine. The multi-ethnic blend of cultures is interesting, too. See celebritycruises.com