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Tuesday
Feb072012

Most Fascinating Archipelagos

Yesterday Into the Wild explored some of the world’s most remote islands, from the tropical paradise of Kiribati on the equator, to the isolated chilly outpost of Attu Island. Today we’re looking at some of the most fascinating archipelagos out there. So who’s made our top 5...

 

Photo courtesy of aschaf

Norway - Svalbard Islands

The Svalbard Islands, dominated by glaciers, mountains and fjords are nestled half way between Norway and the North Pole, which means the name Svalbard, or ‘cold edge’ as it translates, is more than apt. First used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries the islands were then abandoned until permanent communities were set up in the 20th century - after the coal mining industry came to the islands. In the dark winter months the extraordinary natural spectacle of the aurora borealis can be seen from the Svalbard Islands whilst for four months of the year the islands receive constant 24 hour daylight. At this time visitors can see the magnificent sight of the Arctic wildflowers coming into bloom all over the rugged landscape.

Seven national parks and twenty three nature reserves make up two thirds of the archipelago protecting the largely untouched, unique and fragile environment, which is an important breeding ground for many sea birds and home to polar bears, reindeer and various marine mammals. Surprisingly, local law actually requires residents and visitors of the islands to carry hunting rifles at all times when outside of the settlements for defence against the 500 native polar bears. Another odd law of Svalbard’s is that any citizens of countries signatory to the Svalbard Treaty may go to Svalbard without a visa and legally open their own coal mine.

Argentina/Chile - Tierra del Fuego

At the southern end of South America as the Andes Mountains descend into the Atlantic Ocean, we find the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. Shared by Argentina and Chile, the collection consists of a main island (Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego) and a group of smaller islands including Cape Horn. Renowned for its snowy peaks, much of the mountainous south of the group hosts protected regions of national parks and reserves which act to preserve the archipelagos unique environment and animals.

Amongst the islands’ wildlife are Austral parakeets, gulls, guanacos, foxes, kingfishers, condors, King penguins, owls, and firecrown hummingbirds. In the 1940s the North American beaver was introduced to the islands and since then have massively proliferated causing substantial damage to the islands’ forests. In the remaining Patagonian forests amidst the huge cypress trees visitors may catch a glimpse of the pudu-pudu, a deer that’s only 20 inches tall. Some of the finest trout fishing in the world can be enjoyed in the Rio Grande, San Pablo and Lago Fagnano: with keen fisher-folk landing themselves sea run brown trout exceeding 9kg.

Canada/USA - The Thousand Islands

The thousand islands are dotted amid the Saint Lawrence River between New York and Canada and have for a long time been home to the rich and famous. Straddling the Canada-US border, many of the islands are privately owned.

The bizarre list of owners includes, amongst others, Yale University’s secret society, Skull & Bones, who own Deer Island. Over time, the long list of curious inhabitants have shaped this archipelago and adorned the 1,800 islands with fabulous and ornate architecture. Heart Island is home to Boldt Castle whose towers, stained glass dome and a yacht house are currently being restored, whilst the crumbled ruins of a revolution-era fort occupy another. The Singer Castle, built for Frederick Bourne on Dark Island, has a series of secret passage ways which Fred had constructed so he could spy on his guests. Now renovated, the castle is open to tourists to visit.

Regulations of the Thousand Islands state that to be considered part of the archipelago, islands must be above the water for 365 days a year and be able to support at least two trees. Longue Vue Island is the only artificial island in the whole archipelago.

Laos - The 4000 Islands

Stepping it up from the Thousand Islands, we head to the 4000 Islands in Laos. Despite Laos being a landlocked country it is in fact the home of one our favourite archipelagos on the list – the 4000 Islands of the mighty Mekong River. Sitting in the south of Laos, the 4000 Islands, also known as Si Phan Don, are best visited during the dry season when the waters of the Mekong recede to reveal their full extent and beauty.

Only three of the 4000 Islands are permanently inhabited and many are so tiny that they’re not even big enough to host trees. The largest island of Don Khong is home to a collection of hundred-year old temples, ancient monasteries and traditional villages. One amazing sight to be seen from the 4000 Islands is the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins of the Mekong. Another stunning spectacle is the two impressive waterfalls of Tat Somphamit and Khon Phapheng, the latter of which is famed to be the largest waterfall in South-East Asia.

With the spectacular waterfalls and rapids of the Mekong swirling around the islands, fishing in the river is a daring and death defying experience; as you can see from the Human Planet clip.

Dubai - The World Islands

The World Islands in Dubai is an archipelago like no other on the list. An ambitious and extraordinary construction shaped like the countries of the world, it was intended to be a luxury possession for the world’s millionaires. Accessible by yacht or motorboat, the idea was that once built, the islands would be developed with tailor-made hotel complexes and luxury villas. However with the economic crisis bringing development plans to a screeching halt, all but one of the islands still remain uninhabited. The one island inhabited is Greenland – which was developed as a showcase and is owned by the ruler of Dubai.

It remains to be seen whether this ambitious and outrageous construction will reach successful completion, but let’s hope so as 70 of the 300 World Islands have already been sold. The man behind the development, Nakheel is also behind Dubai's famous Palm-shaped offshore developments whose villas were either given to or bought by footballers including David Beckham and Michael Owen. It was rumoured that Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie have bought Ethiopia, hoping to use the island as a means to showcase environmental issues. Their daughter, Zahara, was born in Ethiopia. If you fancy buying yourself a country, you’ll need to lay your hands on between 6 to 36 million dollars.

By Hannah Jones

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