These exotic islands appeal to beachgoers, foodies, and adventure-minded travelers seeking paradise on the far side of the world.
Head southwest past Hawaii, stop just short of New Zealand, and if you’re very lucky you will find yourself in the Cook Islands, a 15-isle volcanic atoll in the South Pacific. With jungles for hiking and a seascape for pondering how many shades of blue you can name, it is little wonder the Cooks rank high on the list of the top five islands in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.
This year’s winner is the New Zealand island of Waiheke, praised by our readers for its “great bohemian, artistic vibe,” and “wine, sun, and great food, plus outdoor activities,” which make this not only a unique getaway, but also a “must.” Located just a 40-minute ferry ride away from New Zealand’s North Island, Waiheke is that rare destination that seems to have it all: beaches, vineyards, great cuisine, and friendly locals.
Three islands in French Polynesia also scored big with our readers, with Huahine, Bora-Bora, and Moorea (up from No. 3 on the list last year) all receiving top honors. The lush Huahine is revered for its lack of development and tourists compared with its more popular neighbor Bora-Bora, an atoll that continues to draw celebrities to its luxurious resorts with overwater bungalows. Moorea is surrounded by a blue lagoon that affords unparalleled diving and snorkeling; you can even feed reef sharks if that’s your idea of a good time. Hikes through the inland mountainous terrain are rewarded with a cooling shower under one of Moorea’s many waterfalls.
Our advice when it comes to choosing between these places? Open an atlas to this area of the world, close your eyes, and lower your finger. Among these five destinations, one can only go right.
5. Huahine, French Polynesia
4. Cook Islands
3. Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
2. Moorea, French Polynesia
1. Waiheke Island, New Zealand
If you’re planning a New Zealand getaway, add this island — which is just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland — to your itinerary. Popular for both day trips and long-weekend getaways, Waiheke is home to many artists and craftspeople who are inspired by its natural beauty. Adventure lovers can zipline and hike the cliffs that shelter the 56 miles of coastline, while those who prefer something more low-key can explore galleries in the main town of Oneroa and indulge in wine tastings at local vineyards. All can agree on the beaches, which include romantic Cactus Bay, accessible only by boat. Raves one fan of the island, “Unmatched beauty on earth.”