From the South Pacific to Scotland: 5 stunning eco-friendly island destinations

The islands putting sustainability at the heart of your next holiday

The Azores islands of Portugal. Unsplash
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Thor actor Chris Hemsworth recently put Australia's Lord Howe Island on the map for ecologically-conscious travellers thanks to his envy-inducing holiday pictures. "@visitlordhoweisland is one of the most sustainable destinations in the world with only a few hundred visitors allowed at any one time," he captioned a post shared with his 44.8 million Instagram followers.

With sustainability fast making its way to the forefront of holidaymakers' minds, it’s becoming more of a crucial factor when choosing a destination.

We've found five islands which put conservation and sustainability at the heart of their tourism, so the only guilt you'll feel while visiting them is about that third trip to the breakfast buffet.

Lord Howe Island, Australia

A two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane, this World Heritage-listed island reopened to the public on October 2.

With about 70 per cent of it a designated park reserve, and the surrounding waters declared a marine park in 1998, this eco-intervention on the South Pacific island means that about 75 per cent of its original natural vegetation remains undisturbed.

Dedication to conservation: Conservation efforts date back to 1980 when goats, cats and pigs which had been brought there by early settlers were removed from the island to ensure the native flightless woodhen bird survived. Weed-mapping and rodent removal followed and the local fauna and wildlife flourished in the absence of outside predators.

What's on offer? The incredible variation in the landscape, which includes mountain ranges, valleys, rainforests and sea cliffs, means there's a endless list of things to do. Bird-watching, fishing, scuba diving, snorkelling, walking, surfing and paddleboarding are only a few of the activities on offer.

Republic of Palau, Micronesia

Located in the southwest corner of Micronesia, with the Philippines 890 kilometres to the west, a stunning barrier reef encircles most of this archipelago.

Reachable by direct flight from Brisbane, to ensure visitors are respectful of the environment of the Pacific Ocean islands, everyone who flies in receives a stamp in their passport upon arrival, which reads: "Children of Palau, I take this pledge, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly, and explore mindfully. I shall not take what is not given. I shall not harm what does not harm me. The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away."

Dedication to conservation: As well as the passport stamp, upon arrival visitors are treated to a video that aims to educate them to be environmentally responsible when visiting the country.

Home to the world’s only shark sanctuary, there are also protection measures in place for the turtles, dugongs and birds that inhabit the island.

What's on offer? Snorkelling, kayaking and fishing are all popular pastimes. And for scuba divers there are underwater caves, and US and Japanese shipwrecks from the Second World War to explore.

A downed World War II aircraft in the waters around Palau, attracts adventurous scuba-divers. Unsplash
A downed World War II aircraft in the waters around Palau, attracts adventurous scuba-divers. Unsplash

On land, enjoy treks to incredible waterfalls, ancient ruins and traditional longhouses. While a favourite destination remains the Jellyfish Lake which was created 12,000 years ago when the last Ice Age cut it off from the sea. Here you can snorkel among 13 million stingless jellyfish.

Chumbe Island Coral Park, Zanzibar

Established as an ecotourism destination in 1998, this private nature reserve restricts the annual number of visitors permitted to stay on the island. Surrounded by a protected coral reef, it is a marine-protected area where fishing is not permitted.

Dedication to conservation: With a coral reef sanctuary and forest reserve, all buildings on the island aim to have zero impact on the environment with rainwater catchment, solar water heating, composting toilets and more.

With 90 per cent of the island covered by tropical dry forest, fauna and wildlife have been left to flourish, and visitors will encounter lizards, non-poisonous snakes, coconut crabs and Aders's duiker, an endangered mini-antelope. Come August and September, humpback whales pass by on their way to Antarctica.

What's on offer? Whale-watching during the late summer and early autumn is a must, as well as spotting turtles feeding among the reef. There are also guided walks through the almost impenetrable forest, and guests can also enjoy night walks to try and spot the elusive coconut crab, which is the largest land-living crab in the world.

History buffs will love the lighthouse (solar-powered, of course), which was built by the Sultan of Zanzibar and the British in 1904, while the turn-of-the-century mosque is a beautiful and rare example of Indian architecture in Zanzibar.

Isle of Eigg, Scotland

The Isle of Eigg has been owned and managed by a trust created with the aim of ‘conserving our natural and cultural heritage to ensure that development takes place in a sustainable way’ since 1997.

Dedication to conservation: Partnering with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, wildlife conservation and island-sustainability is a priority.

Famous for its wild coastlines, woodland, moors and beautiful scenery, there's a variety of sustainability-focused accommodation options, including the Sweeney's Bothy eco-cabin with sea views, while the Eigg Organics campsite boasts views over Rum, and features compost toilets. The trust runs environmental awareness retreats, such as the residential eco course, eco escapes and yoga retreats.

What's on offer? Throughout the spring and summer months, you can join the Wednesday walks with a Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger and learn about the array of animals living on the island, including the golden eagle and white-tailed eagle.

Beyond the coastline, spot seals, otters and dolphins, and, if you’re lucky, minke and killer whales, as well as basking sharks.

There’s also bike-riding, kayaking and cliff-walking on the island that has been inhabited for over 8,000 years.

The Azores, Portugal

A beautiful volcanic lake on the Portuguese Azores. Unsplash
A beautiful volcanic lake on the Portuguese Azores. Unsplash

The island group was certified as a Sustainable Tourist Destination in December last year by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, the first to achieve this accolade.

Made up of nine islands divided into three groups, Western (Corvo and Flores), Central (Faial, Graciosa, Pico, Sao Jorge, and Terceira), and Eastern (Santa Maria and Sao Miguel), nature tourism is huge in this archipelago which has prioritised renewable energy, organic food production and waste minimisation, and is just a two-hour flight from mainland Portugal.

Dedication to conservation: Because San Miguel and Flores were chosen to be a part of the MIT-backed Green Islands Project, which explored ways to make the island less dependent on imported fuels, the archipelago is home to many protected habitats and Unesco biosphere reserves.

Rural tourism is the order of the day, with stays in traditional cottages and farmhouses prioritised over hotel bookings.

What's on offer? With five of the world's seven turtle species found in the Azores, it's best to keep a weathered eye on the horizon to look out for turtles, whales and dolphins. Inland, find extinct volcano craters, hot water waterfalls, hidden lagoons and swimming in warm volcanic lakes.