Five Top Handcrafted Island Vacations
By Sarah Binder
For many travelers, their vacation compass always points toward a tropical island getaway. Down Under Endeavours designs custom island vacations based on clients’ wants, needs, timeframe, and budget. Founder Corinne Goodman notes that now is the time to create a dream trip. “There has never been a better time; the strength of the dollar is that good,” she says. “I try to tell people, don’t wait; you can start planning a long time in advance.”
Her best overall tip? “Most islands offer early bird specials,” she says. “The farther in advance you book, the more you’ll save.” Here, Goodman previews some of the high-end accommodations and unique experiences awaiting visitors to several of the world’s most desirable isles.
Goodman expectedly has a difficult time narrowing down the seemingly never-ending possibilities for a handcrafted vacation in her native land. However,
Lizard Island, the only five-star property on the Great Barrier Reef, is highly popular with her and her clients. “You walk right off the beach and you are snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. I actually hand-fed a turtle; I was drifting backwards and a turtle came up,” she says. “They have more beaches than people and these gorgeous dinghies with canopies on them.”
Lizard Island also is famous for world record black marlin fishing, with a season from September to December. The 30th annual Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic will take place in October. On Australia’s west coast, Goodman recommends checking out whale shark migration with luxury adventure cruise purveyor True North. “It’s very rare to be able to swim in waters where there are six and seven whale sharks around you,” she says.
There’s no need for diving or snorkeling gear in Bora Bora, unless you want to use it. From an overwater bungalow, you can view myriad sea creatures directly through a glass floor. When the crystal-clear water does beckon, you can access it from your private deck and “never have to worry about the tide going out,” says Goodman. With the ability to enjoy an in-water massage or a gourmet meal for two delivered to your bungalow, this island destination is ideal for romantic getaways.
For travelers who want to learn and play as well as relax, the Le Méridien Bora Bora features the Bora Bora Turtle Center, a rehabilitation center where visitors can live the life of a healer for a day, as well as an Ecological Center, which has a museum and a touch pool. “For an extended trip, many travelers love to pair Bora Bora with Mo’orea,” she adds.
Renting scooters, kicking back at casual beach bars, world-class deep-sea fishing … this scene sounds like a Caribbean vacation. However, the Cook Islands, a South Pacific archipelago nation, offers travelers “the chance to have that Caribbean-style environment, with the freedom to move around and explore rather than staying at one resort,” says Goodman.
Most of the accommodations are self-contained, independent villas or apartments, such as the Aitutaki Beach Villas, from which you’ll see whales off shore, or the Presidential Beachfront Villa within Te Manava Luxury Villas and Spa. The Presidential has its own huge courtyard, three bedrooms, oversized waterfall showers, and private beach access. It’s located on the main island, Rarotonga, or ‘Raro’ for short, Goodman says. “The Cook Islands are the perfect stopover coming back to the United States from New Zealand or Australia,” she says. “They are closer to the U.S. than Fiji and run on the New Zealand dollar.”
People who fit Fiji perfectly are people who have a sense of adventure, according to Goodman, who likens the feel of the popular South Pacific locale to that of Costa Rica. She recommends the 240-acre Matangi private island resort, which was listed in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” and features both lush rainforest and white-sand beaches. An ideal day may include a scenic hike to a remote waterfall where you can follow up your refreshing swim with a private champagne picnic lunch. Elsewhere, Taveuni Island, or the Garden Island, is known for nature reserves with top-notch birdwatching and famous diving spots such as the Great White Wall, a drop-off covered in white soft coral.
“Fiji also is perfect for those who want to interact with the locals,” explains Goodman. “The Fijians often sing and they always say ‘Bula!’ which means ‘how are you,’ ‘welcome,’ ‘have a great day’…it means all of those things and more.”
Tank diving in a lively reef just feet from your deluxe beachfront villa — this is just one of the memorable activities that await guests at luxury Maldives resorts such as Baros, an easy speedboat ride from the international airport at Male. For world-class diving off the beaten path, try the Baa Atoll, which is known for its significant biodiversity and is situated on the west side of the Maldives atoll chain.
Not a diver? Snorkel while your traveling partner dives, visit a deserted island, or swim with Manta rays to complete the custom-designed island getaway of your dreams. Once you’re famished, you may be surprised to learn that the local cuisine has an African influence, says Goodman, despite the archipelago’s location off India and Sri Lanka. “One of the world’s most unique dining experiences can be found at the underwater restaurant at the Per Aquum Niyama. You feel like you’re sitting in an enormous luxury aquarium,” she says.