Island Destinations Rated: Pacific/Australia/New Zealand
Introduction Africa Caribbean Region East & Southeast Asia
Indian Ocean Region Mediterranean North & West Europe
North America Pacific/Australia/NZ South America
Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These lightly edited excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
"A stunningly beautiful island, with an indigenous population that supports the tourist industry. Beach-oriented tourism balanced by an emphasis on local culture, preservation of archaeological sites, and protection of native species."
"Polynesian culture strong and intact as witnessed by the use of the language at Sunday church services."
"Hasn't been overdeveloped . . . yet. Prices are sky high."
"Very upsetting are large groups of day-trippers snorkeling on reefs clad in plastic slippers, not fins, and crushing the coral while under the direction of indigenous guides who 'wrestle' the rays and taunt the sharks."
Cook Islands, South Pacific
"Great place, with a diverse range of ecological niches and very strong cultural integrity (Cook Islands Maori). Relaxed and appropriate tourism development catering to all sectors. Locals well-integrated on developments and willing to maintain their assets. A wonderful destination for years to come."
"Snorkeling/diving is a big attraction with tour operators conscious of protecting the corals and natural environment, advising tourists of their responsibilities before they head to the water."
"One only has to attend one cultural show to appreciate how vibrant and alive the culture is, when the incredibly vigorous traditional dancing will leave you breathless when they entice you up onto your feet."
"Rarotonga is becoming one big resort all around."
"Significant pollution from pigs and runoff, but action is being taken to protect cultural heritage and improve environmental aspects of the place."
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Federated States of Micronesia
"High level of social and cultural integrity maintained throughout with visitors treated to ceremonial dancers, myths, and legends stories practiced by their forefathers."
"The FSM is beautiful and blessed with friendly people. It is very expensive to get there, due to the near monopoly of Continental Airlines."
"Cultural clashes with waste management. Amount of rubbish around dwellings and towns creates eyesores and health issues."
"Major threats are from global warming trends, rising sea levels, and employment prospects. Very attractive destinations, but difficult to access."
Fraser Island, Australia
"World Heritage status. High environmental quality with picturesque beaches, sand formations, and interesting flora. Despite being well informed, visitors interacting with dingoes have forced management to decrease their numbers. The increasing number of four-wheel drives on the island is also a concern for environmental sustainability and aesthetic impacts."
"One of the great sand islands of the world. It is under threat from excessive visitor numbers—it is being 'loved to death.' It is difficult to still achieve the wilderness experience of ten years ago."
"With boats, motorized vehicles, planes all landing, very chaotic. Overall, great awareness and interpretation, but some machines have got to go!"
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Hawaii (Big Island)
"My favorite of the Hawaiian chain—live volcanoes, rare birds, forest and waterfall hikes, well-presented Hawaiian and settler history, high standard of agritourism, and a wide range of small-scale, locally owned historic and contemporary accommodations achieve near-perfection on much of the island outside Kona."
"Variety of tourist landscapes: chic in Kona, rustic in Hilo, and down home in Waimea. Many beautiful facilities, but in danger of becoming too touristy."
"Growth in the Kailua-Kona area getting out of hand. Development threatens coastal areas, marine habitat, and historic Hawaiian cultural sites."
"It is difficult to find out much about native Hawaiians, They seem to have been marginalized."
"Far from the crowded Oahu, the development of a more authentic and sustainable tourism is becoming a reality."
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
"An interesting mix of agriculture, tourism, and wilderness that attracts a lot of visitors. Groundwater salinity a big problem in some parts. Recent tourism development has been sensitive to the environment, and some of the natural areas on the island are still in excellent condition."
"Coastal habitats are pristine, and rookeries of the little fairy penguin, seals, and sea lions are accessible. Its boardwalk across environmentally fragile high sand hills to a major sea lion population is one of the best I've seen, as is its regulations for interaction with the mammals, overseen by qualified guides."
"The one-third reserve/parkland of this island is well monitored and protected by professionals who know their stuff. Private farms, where more unique flora and fauna flourish, are open to small group tours. Locals are key beneficiaries of tourism development."
"Food and wine tourism is growing, and is run by local producers."
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"One of the most beautiful places in the United States. High ecological quality, historic plantation towns, mission churches, and tremendous scenic beauty, but in danger of being 'loved to death.' "
"Locals are being priced out of existence. Uninformed tourists show lack of respect for sacred heiaus, private land, and traditional family salt ponds and farms."
"Little interpretation of Hawaiian culture except in terms of luaus and hulas. Major massacres, labor problems, and the domination by United States interests important, but hushed up."
"Nowhere prettier, but 'Kauai mosquitoes,' i.e., sightseeing helicopters, spoil hikes on the Na Pali coast with their industrial noise."
"Attractive physical landscapes, including Haleakala and beautiful white-sand beaches. Highest quality resorts in the Hawaiian chain. It is also a cultural center with high-quality cultural and arts performances."
"An undervalued historical and cultural destination. Great natural beauty. However, hotel development and consequent traffic are a serious problem."
"Much of Maui remains environmentally sound, however, the resort destinations and related beaches are severely impacted. Coral reefs have been damaged beyond repair. Preservation has been too little, too late. Maui was a spectacular island that has been overrun with excessive tourism development in a matter of just 30 years."
"A pity more reasonable accommodation is not available for the Hana region. It's the most Polynesian part of the island and could do with some community-based tourism to help an economically depressed region."
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"Hiking in fabulous forests and ocean kayaking in the protection of cliffs and coral reefs—definitely an island for the physically active. The leper colony site is a challenge to visit, but a great piece of the island's history."
"A step back to the real Hawaii. The pace was slow and locals would sit and chat with the tourists. Open to telling their story."
"More than 60 percent of the population are native Hawaiians interested in preserving their heritage, homesteads, and family values. Many prefer to live on a subsistence level. Under these circumstances, they are resentful of and oppose tourist developments. Better to just leave the island alone."
Moorea, French Polynesia
"Stunningly beautiful. Its lush flora, extensive reef systems, diverse sea life, and some archaeological sites are protected by government policy. Local Polynesian residents work in the tourism industry and benefit from it. "
"Local culture remains stronger here than in neighboring Tahiti, which seems more French."
"Polynesian structures are resurrected, but majority are Western with few colonial ones left."
"Beautiful place but something seems to be missing . . . a sense of adventure?"
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"With one million inhabitants and five million tourists a year, Oahu is a small island of very intense human occupation. Outside Honolulu, the island landscape is more authentic, with mountains, agriculture, small communities, nice beaches, and tremendous waves."
"Greater Honolulu is jam-packed with people, traffic jams, and smog. The revamping of Waikiki is a big improvement, but something needs to be done about the mega-hotels—30-story high-rises are a blight on the Hawaiian landscape."
"Experiences of 'true' Hawaiian culture are lacking. Tourist experiences are part of well-oiled, commercialized machine."
"Oahu is heavily built and commercialized. Remaining natural areas are superb and well maintained. Although the ambience of Waikiki area is great, the beach itself is a disaster and one of the world's great tourist anticlimaxes. Diamond Head is excellent. The big negative of Oahu is that indigenous culture has been trivialized and commercialized. Hawaii and its tourist authority are to their great credit well aware of the problem and working to ensure that the outlook will be positive."
"Amazing! Among the top three diving destinations in the world. The coral reefs are lush gardens of color with a surprise around every corner . . . mantas, sharks, big fish . . . and lots of them."
"Ecological quality, cultural integrity, and aesthetic appeal high. The Rock Islands are iconic."
"Koror is cluttered and ramshackle, but the surroundings remain stunning."
"Trend is toward larger and higher-end development, pushed by Taiwanese and Japanese developers. Trouble looms."
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Solomon Islands, Melanesia
"Beautiful islands, crystal-clear waters, rugged forested mountains, secluded palm-fringed beaches. Coral and fish biodiversity richer than most other South Pacific islands. World War II shipwrecks are fascinating dive sites."
"Social and cultural integrity high in terms of tribal identity (93 distinct linguistic groups), but tribalism violence bedevils the state."
"Unabated logging and marine harvesting."
"Industry and hospitality operations largely foreign-owned, causing issues among the local indigenous community and fuelling unrest. Local people live in severe disadvantage, whilst expatriate investors live comfortably."
Tahiti, French Polynesia
"Waterfalls, streams, grottos, and the natural countryside: very beautiful and unspoiled."
"French-built heritage cherished, Polynesian less so, the ceremonial marae especially. Appeal is for the landscape and climate."
"Significant feeling of French superiority and colonialism across the island."
"Most tourism development is through outside investment with little return to the Polynesians."
"Overpriced, too much traffic, and few offerings for tourists."
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"Environmental and ecological quality unmatched. Over one-third a World Heritage cool temperate rain forest, much of which is only accessible on foot in 'hard ecotourism' mode."
"Natural environment superb, but old-growth forests threatened by intensive logging for woodchips."
"Unique biotic environment, with the locals 'more English than the English.' Vicious debates pit environmentalists against industrial loggers."
"The finest colonial and convict heritage buildings in Australia, i.e., Port Arthur Settlement. World-class walking tracks and wilderness experiences. Famous for clean air and high quality food and wine."
"Beautiful islands, not so developed. Beautiful whale populations, at some exploitation risk; but thus far, the operators have respect for the environment and their whales."
"Main island of Tongatapu degraded, lagoon polluted, and many shoreline villages use the ocean for waste disposal. Outer islands, especially the Vava'u group, in better shape."
"A varied place, from the scanty Nukualofa to the relaxed Hapai, to stunning Vava'u, to stepping back in time at the Nias. Strongly unified in terms of identity. However, the kingdom is falling apart under the influence of new ideas."
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Upolu and Savai'i, Samoa
"Best kept secret in the Pacific! A cultural gem with beautiful lonely beaches against a background of magnificent volcanoes and rain forest."
"Beautiful sandy beaches, many without large crowds. Culture is important. Tourists advised of and expected to comply with Fa'a Samoa—the Samoan way of life."
"Most enterprises small-medium scaled and locally owned and operated. Small family-based beach fales (houses) dotted along the best beaches, rather than big resorts."
"Pollution, poverty, and waste and water management are concerns."
"Diamond in the rough! Beautiful islands with true indigenous people. Still a place when you make eye contact with a stranger, they smile at you."
"Stunning island scenery, inland tropical forests, coastal reefs, and active volcanoes."
"Unspoiled island settings, remarkable cultural diversity, and modest accommodations for tourists make Vanuatu attractive for the sophisticated traveler."
"Unique and diverse customs and culture. Cultural festivals of land diving and the Toka ceremony of Tanna Island and Ambrym are international pulls for visitation."
"Largely pristine, but careful management needs to be implemented."
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Viti Levu, Fiji
"Indigenous people, together with Indian, Chinese, and Rotuman communities, have maintained their culture—they speak their languages, celebrate their festivals, and conduct traditional dances, etc. Traditional way of life prevalent in the villages, settlements, and outer islands. Urban areas are Westernized, not well-maintained, and litter/rubbish is a problem."
"Dusty towns interposed with charming indigenous villages, punctuated by international resorts. Little evidence of community-based tourism in a culturally diverse and rich island."
"I live here. The Coral Coast is better renamed the Algal Coast—most of the coral is dead. Coastal problems associated with logging, mangrove clearance, reef mining, etc."
"Every few years there is a coup. Whenever confidence and trust is restored, the next coup is looming."
Yasawa group, Fiji
"Tourist capital of Fiji. Unspoiled, accessible, mostly pristine, secure, and inhabited by some of the friendliest people in the world."
"In good condition, small-scale tourism, and high social integrity, but becoming popular fast, so it's extremely important to control future development now."
"Fantastic in terms of environmental and ecological quality, cultural authenticity. Tourism benefits people who own the hotels."
"Some foreign investors use and abuse the local indigenous people, having no understanding of their cultures and social needs. Tourists may not be informed about the place, local customs, and appropriate behaviors."
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