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Boutique Island Cruises

Explore the world’s most beautiful island archipelagos and remote peninsulas in style on board these small-scale, intimate vessels

Words by Rachel Walker

Coast and Coral with True North The Kimberley, Australia

Western Australia’s Kimberley coastline is famously rugged and remote – an ancient wilderness with enormous skies, pristine corals and some of Australia’s best beaches. Which makes exploring it all by boat the most sensible way to reach secluded atolls, dramatic waterfalls, vast rivers and mangroves. All the more so if your chosen vessel is designed for a maximum of 22 guests and can go where larger boats can’t. Enter True North II, which has additional ‘adventure boats’ for excursions along the more shallow waterways.

True North II

Designed for travellers with a sense of adventure – from mud-crabbing to catch-and-release lagoon fishing, organised hikes and optional helicopter trips, there isn’t much time for lounging. Not that you’ll want to when you have the opportunity to swim and snorkel in some of the world’s most magical and untouched locations, in particular Rowley Shoals, a ‘tropical aquarium’ 300km off the Australian coast teaming with 600 species of brilliantly coloured fish, bright corals and giant clams.

Food on board is about much more than refuelling from the day’s endeavours, with modern Australian cuisine to the fore – think freshly caught barramundi with a mango, mint and roasted macadamia nut salad. Passengers will return to the old pearling port of Broome after an adventure of a lifetime, no doubt full of awe and nourished in every sense of the term.

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Travel Details

Departs 24 August. 10 nights from £8,496pp. 00 61 8 9192 1829,

Many Faces of Cape Verde with Panant Cape Verde

Le Ponant under sail in calm waters

If you aren’t sold on the white sand beaches, the year-round temperate climate could tempt you to dip your toe in the waters of Cape Verde. But with resorts dominating, few are lucky enough to truly get under the skin of the ten-island archipelago set adrift in the Atlantic, some 560km off the West African coast – yet the mobility and agility of Le Ponant allows you to discover the very distinct geography and personality of each island.

The trip starts on Mindelo, the cultural capital, where pastel-hued houses and soaring morna music – a traditional Cape Verdean style popularised by local legend Cesária Évora – create a colourful backdrop to the
historical district. From then onwards, the route weaves through the crescent of islands, taking in the pristine beaches on Boa Vista (‘the sand dune island’), hikes over old lava flows on Fogo and the farming terraces carved into Santo Antão’s steep hillsides.

With a maximum of 32 guests – and as many crew members – accommodated across 16 exquisitely appointed staterooms and suites, there’s a sense of privacy on board, although when everyone meets for dinner there’s a feel of a family coming together: shared experiences of breaching whales, migratory birds on the wing and navigating waters under sail only knit the groups more tightly together, in full communion with the elements in the Atlantic wilds.

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Travel Details

Departs 8 November. 7 nights from £6,670pp. 020 7660 4089,

Escape to Paradise with Blue Lagoon Cruises Melanesian Islands, Fiji

Yasawa Islands

If you dream of the raw beauty and crystal-clear waters of the South Pacific, it doesn’t get much better than the Melanesian Islands, and there aren’t many friendlier ways to experience them than on board MV Fiji Princess. Local company Blue Lagoon Cruises run a seven-night trip for up to 64 guests, and yes, the vessel is small and rooms are snug, but this is very much a base.

The excitement is to be had on shore, often on beaches inaccessible to bigger boats so guests have the whole bay to themselves. The all-Fijian crew are on hand to offer local insight and they manage to create a party atmosphere wherever the ship docks: expect beach picnics, dinner under the stars, a traditional kava ceremony and lovo feast cooked in an underground oven. There’s plenty to inspire awe, from the Sawa-I-Lau limestone caves (Yasawa Islands) to the majestic Sacred Islands and the opportunity to snorkel with manta rays.

As reluctant guests disembark, accompanied by the crew’s Isa Lei farewell song, all traditional cruise-ship formality dissipates as it feels more like a convivial homestay coming to a close.

Manta Ray

Travel Details

Departs every Friday from Port Denarau. 7 nights from £2,185pp. 00 679 999 5512,

Island Hopping with Variety Cruises The Seychelles

Island hopping aboard Pegasos builds in plenty of time for swimming

There’s clearly no shortage of lush rainforests and mangroves, white-powder beaches lined with coco de mer palms and tropical bursts of colour from hibiscus and bougainvillea. Yet the thing about the Seychelles is that no matter how breathtaking the landscape, the most alluring scenery is found beneath the waves, where clownfish and jewel-like parrotfish weave in and out of bright-coloured coral. Indeed, scattered across a stretch of the Indian Ocean some 1,600km off the coast of Kenya, the 115-island-strong archipelago consists of 99 per cent water with a mere 450sq km of land. There are few better ways to explore than aboard Pegasos, a classic double-hulled yacht housing 44 guests.

On the round trip from Mahe, frequent dockings allow for early-morning guided hikes through nature reserves in pursuit of indigenous species like the once near-extinct Seychelles warbler or the Aldabra’s iconic giant tortoises. Travelling at just 10 knots per hour, the leisurely pace is intoxicating and there’s time aplenty for swimming, snorkelling or simply soaking up the natural beauty that stretches as far as the eye can see.

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Travel Details

Departs most Saturdays from 27 January. 7 nights from £1,056pp. 020 8324 3114,

Tall Ship Sailing with VentureSail Holidays The Caribbean

Florette's guest 'crew'

Experience first-hand the thrill of life on the ocean wave – as it used to be in the days of traditional rigging and sails set by hand – aboard a classic brigantine. Florette is an exquisite piece of maritime history and life on board is an adventure in the company of Captain Ron, who grew up on the boat and is the second-generation to run and sail it, with his wife Nicole heading up the galley. Florette is constantly sailing, and an ideal place to jump aboard is the Caribbean for island- hopping during the daytime followed by sundowners and supper on deck. Authenticity takes precedence over five-star luxury – cabins have two- or three-berth bunks (28 in total) and bathrooms are shared – but the advantage is a sense of flexibility and fun that will particularly appeal to families. Guests under the age of 30 can rig up a hammock for the night and anyone with a sleeping bag is welcome to kip under the stars. No prior knowledge is needed for this ‘all hands on deck’ experience – as Captain Ron says, all you need is ‘an open mind and a good sense of humour’. It’s going to be an unforgettable week.

Breakfast on board Florette Caribbean

Travel Details

Departs 9 March (Antigua to St Martin). 7 nights from £1,790pp. 01872 487288,

Scents of the Spice Islands with Seatrek Indonesia

Ombak Putih

The Moluccas are a volcanic outcrop in Eastern Indonesia, far from the well-trodden path – for the modern traveller, that is. The islands first attracted European powers seeking valuable nutmeg in the late Middle Ages and, incongruous as it seems now, the serene archipelago formed the backdrop to 200 years of bitter conflict that shaped global history. To visit without learning more about the islands’ unique past would be remiss, so the chance to do so on board the traditionally built wooden pinisi ship Ombak Putih is too good to miss. Kitted out with modern comforts, it makes for a luxurious, intimate base to follow ‘the scents of the Spice Islands’. With 12 guest cabins and a crew of 14, you’ll get to share local knowledge, spotting the likes of golden birdwing butterfly and jewel-like mandarin fish.

You’ll also take in ancient Waipauwe Mosque, Dutch forts and traditional Balieo houses, but the highlights come from Seatrek’s links with island hosts – try papeda sago porridge made by Saparua villagers and get the rare chance to visit the Sama-Bajo boat dwellers and marvel at their stilt- house settlements. An expedition that proves beyond glorious white beaches there are plenty of fascinating, gritty and delicious stories to be discovered.

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Travel Details

Departs 20 September. 11 nights from £7,400pp. 00 62 361 474 3902,

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