While hopping from one island to another in French Polynesia I recommend you to book a two or three nights, three or four days on a catamaran to best discover the Rangiroa atoll. You can dive (lots of sharks), fish and BBQ your catch after that, snorkel, have romantic diners, enjoy the sun and the stunning beauty of this atoll. You might even stop by a tiny coconut farm also making local jewellery.
Far North Queensland has the tropical luxury of Port Douglas with lazy ceiling fans, cocktails and fantastic food but also back to basics four-wheel driving beyond Cape York with hidden pristine beaches. Even the main road from Cairns is a World Heritage area. The Coral sea is the most eye-catching aquamarine but take heed of the signs warning of salt-water crocodiles (salties.) The realisation that you're no longer top of the food chain gives you a whole new perspective on life. Still wanting to feel small in the marine world but much safer? Take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. Much quieter than the backpacker chaos of Cairns, no "salties" out this far, choose a boat with a marine biologist on-board and swap watching on BBC 2 for a snorkel and flippers. See it soon - global climate change might mean its all gone in thirty years time. Even that fact on its own has been life-changing for us.
We visited the reef with Wavelength www.wavelength.com.au/ - oldest in operation, set up by a marine biologist
Shop 20, Meridien Marina Mirage, Wharf Street Port Douglas
+61(0)7 4099 5031
An hour boat ride from the tourist-heavy Koh Chang is this amazing tiny little island. Here you will find the postcard beach scene you have always had in your head when you have sat at your work desk and dreamed of your own tropical paradise - white sand, emerald and turquoise water, green jungle and bright blue sky. The best thing? Once the (small number) of daytrippers leave the island the crystal clear water is pretty much yours alone to explore. The only shame is that with snorkel masks you can't open your mouth to say "wow". For somebody who has always wanted to have a go at snorkelling and pretend they are in a David Attenborough documentary it doesn't get any more perfect. A word of warning though - your blood pressure may drop dangerously low.
In the middle of the Gulf of Thailand, off Koh Chang. Boats leave Koh Chang daily and there are rustic beachfront huts on arrival.
Google map: bit.ly/f4E4Ml
Koh Lipe, a small island in the Andaman Sea, is a little gem 60km off the coast inside the Tarutao National Marine Park. Koh Lipe has become the southern anchor of the busy north-south Andaman tourist route and getting there these days couldn’t be easier with boats arriving from all up and down the coast including Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Krabi and Trang. Koh Lipe is also the jumping off point to Langkawi and Malaysia.
At it's largest, the island is only 2km long and 1km wide. With two main beaches each with their own distinct character, there is something for everyone. The busy one, Pattaya beach, has a wide beach stretched in a long crescent of fine white sand. In the evening it transforms as restaurants and bars set out chairs and bamboo mats on the sand and lit by candle lit and reggae tunes drift down the beach.
On the other side of the island is Sunrise Beach with views of several small nearby islands and a cool onshore breeze most of the year. Sunrise Beach is the opposite of Pattaya beach, with just a few resorts and bars, it is very laid back. It also has a very large coral reef with the best snorkelling on the island directly from the beach.
There are no cars on the island, and thankfully just a few motorbikes, so people get around by walking. The whole island can be explored on foot in a couple of hours. Pooh’s Bar (www.poohlipe.com) in the middle of the island is run by the charismatic Pooh and is almost an institution on the island. Famous for its live music in the evenings it draws a large crowd.
Karma Bar (www.karmabar.net) at the north end of Sunrise Beach is well known on the back packer scene with its mellow music and great location. At the other end of Sunrise beach Castaway Resort (kohlipe.castaway-resorts.com) has stunning sea and island views, which viewed from its raised candle lit deck has to be the ultimate in chilled out dining and drinking.
Tarutao National Marine Park has some of the best dive sites in all of Thailand. Within easy boat reach of Koh Lipe are hundreds of coral reefs with an amazing variety of huge hard and soft corals. The corals and seas around Koh Lipe are full of marine life, offering everything from turtles to huge rays. Even if you aren’t a diver you can enjoy the marine world drifting along the edges of coral reefs with a mask and snorkel. Compared to other dive and snorkel areas there is so much to see and no competition to see it.
Koh Lipe still has a lot of cheap back packers accommodation, with places like Varin offering simple bamboo huts close to the beach. At the top end is Sita Beach with a swimming pool and Castaway Resort with its two-story breezy bungalows which was described by the Lonely Planet as ‘the most chic on Lipe’.
Tips for travellers:
* If you are travelling from Hat Yai, be in Pak Bara before 11am to catch the speed boat.
* If you are travelling from Langkawi, the boat journey is shorter and there is a small efficient immigration on Koh Lipe.
* There are no ATM's on the island, so make sure you bring enough cash for your stay, and then double it as you'll end up deciding to stay longer!
* Varin2 on Sunrise beach has the newest and cheapest bamboo bungalow huts.
A small island off the east coast of Taiwan where you can enjoy some really remarkable diving and snorkeling in waters that are unbelievably clear. I've lived in Taiwan and it is amazing that you can go diving on Green Island just about all year round.
www.greenislandadventures.com has information about trips to Green Island and other parts of Taiwan.
It's a private villa in a really small quiet village called St. Spiridon, in the north of Corfu. What I really love about it is it's still home to many locals, so you can experience the true Corfu, as opposed to today's tacky modern complexes.
Close to small tavernas offering delicious locally cooked food, and just five minutes' walk from St. Spiridon bay, a gentle beach, perfectly clear for snorkeling.
I found it browsing through the search engines, it's shown on www.villas-in-corfu.co.uk
150km up the road from Coral Bay is Exmouth, which whilst a not particularly inspiring town itself has fantastic access to the Ningaloo reef nearby. The beach to aim for is Turquoise Bay and the neighbouring Drift Bay.
About a 45 minute drive from Exmouth around the top of the cape and back down the other side, these beaches offer fantastically clear water, beautiful sand, an isolated setting and snorkeling over a reef that you can easily swim to from the shore.
In Drift Bay, walk to the 'left' when you come onto the beach, swim out, and then let the current carry you over the top of the reef for a few hundred metres, where it will drop you at a small headland that pokes out into the bay. It's not as dangerous as it sounds, and can be done without the need for flippers, or any swimming at all, just float and let yourself be carried along.
There is a huge variety of underwater activity, with turtles, wrasse, angel fish, butterfly fish and even leopard sharks amongst the hundreds of fish doing their thing.
Having just returned from Heron Island, we can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy an easy few days, whilst capturing some of the most amazing natural sights. It is off the coast of Gladstone, Queensland.
Between December and March, female turtles come on the island to lay their eggs. Between January and March turtle hatchlings scramble to the sea. It is a great place to enjoy great beaches, great snorkeling and diving and nature at its most natural. Go on the free talks and walks early on and learn how to behave so that you watch but don’t interfere with the natural cycles on the island. I recommend the Beach House. It’s the most expensive accommodation, but is the most comfortable and is situated on the beach. If you get travel sick, try the helicopter, a much easier way of getting to the island, although there is a cost consideration.
Heron Island was the best part of a long trip. Highly recommended for experiences you won't forget.
A hotel that is close to the beach without paying the high price of staying on the beach. It also features the Ao Nang Divers who have daily snorkelling/diving trips around the nearby islands.
The rooms are immaculate, breakfast is basic, and massages and manicures are available at the pool. Unfortunately, this hotel probably has the worst pool in the Ao Nang area. But that will give you more of a reason to go to the beach.
143 Moo 2, Ao Nang, Krabi 81000
(just before the McDonalds);
tel: (075) 637242
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