LANDS APART

There’s noth­ing like an is­land es­cape to fire the imag­i­na­tion and the Asia-pa­cific re­gion has enough for a life­time of dreams.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Story by Steve White

There’s noth­ing like an is­land es­cape to fire the imag­i­na­tion and the Asia-pa­cific re­gion has enough for a life­time of dreams.

PIC­TURE YOUR­SELF ON AN IS­LAND. MOST of us surely im­me­di­ately think of a turquoise la­goon and an eye-wa­ter­ingly white beach, shaded by palms. The stan­dard ‘desert is­land’. In fact, there’s noth­ing idyl­lic about desert is­lands. The name uses an ar­chaic form of ‘desert’ im­ply­ing be­ing un­in­hab­ited rather than sand-cov­ered. The main rea­son is­lands are left un­in­hab­ited is be­cause they lack fresh­wa­ter – mak­ing them likely grave­yards for any­one un­lucky enough to be ma­rooned there. Hap­pily Asia-pa­cific has a vast num­ber of is­lands with wa­ter and resources to spare so to­day we have pop­u­lated is­lands of all shapes and sizes, most of them fre­quented by tourists, ad­ven­tur­ous or oth­er­wise. How many is­lands are there? No one re­ally knows. Indonesia is cur­rently re­count­ing, with the fi­nal fig­ure cer­tainly more than 14,000 and pos­si­bly as many as 18,300. The Philippines has re­cently re­opened the de­bate hav­ing long set­tled for the fig­ure of 7,107. Now they claim 7,641 (about). Throw in the 5,000+ is­lands of Mi­crone­sia and ap­prox­i­mately 2,100 of Me­lane­sia and it all makes Poly­ne­sia – Greek for ‘many is­lands’ – look a tad thread­bare with ‘only’ 1,000+ dots of land. Here lie the world’s two largest is­land na­tions – Indonesia and the Philippines. Then there are New Guinea and Bor­neo, the world’s sec­on­dand third-largest is­lands, both of them ex­pan­sive enough to be home to a sov­er­eign na­tion (Pa­pua New Guinea and Brunei, re­spec­tively) as well as bits of at least one other. Some is­lands are mere sand­bars or atolls, rings of reef barely emer­gent at high tide, while oth­ers rise to in­cred­i­ble heights. Most of the world’s high­est is­lands are in Asia, thanks to peaks such as Pun­cak Jaya or Carstenz Pyra­mid (New Guinea), Mt Kin­a­balu (Bor­neo), Yushan (Tai­wan), Gu­nung Ker­inci (Su­ma­tra) and Mt Fuji (Hon­shu). Indonesia and the Philippines are both stud­ded with vol­ca­noes – il­lus­trated here with our shots of Mt Mayon in south­ern Lu­zon, Philippines (left), and the is­lands to the east of Flores in Indonesia (right). The re­gion isn’t short of spots that de­liver the quin­tes­sen­tial desert is­land feel but we’ve mostly gone for places with a bit more go­ing on. Splen­did iso­la­tion is all very well for a while but even Robin­son Cru­soe strug­gled with bore­dom.

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