SOUTH PACIFIC (2006 Winner)
In 1790, the mutineers of the HMS Bounty selected Pitcairn Island, some 1,200 miles southeast of Tahiti, to live with their Tahitian brides because it was so far away and nearly an impossible place for their pursuers to anchor safely. Today, their 50-some descendants see few visitors for the very same reasons. Get a feel for their isolationist way of life by spending a week hiking craggy hills, helping the residents maintain their longboats, and hearing tales of life on a forgotten island. That's just the headliner of this three-week South Pacific voyage, most of which you'll see from the comfort of a 60-foot luxury sailboat. You'll also snorkel reefs teeming with tropical fish, hike the goat paths of Mangareva (a "floating mountain" in the Gambier Islands, 320 miles west of Pitcairn), and learn to trim the mainsails en route to uninhabited sand spits like Henderson and Oeno islands, where you can pretend you're starring in your own episode of Lost.
Outfitter: Ocean Voyages, 800-299-4444, www.oceanvoyages.com
When to Go: July-October
Circumnavigating the South Island
During Active New Zealand founder Andrew Fairfax's 2,700-mile cycling expedition from Istanbul to London in 2003, he thought, Why aren't we doing this at home? The result of that epiphany is the Weka, a 13-day supported bike trip circling the South Island. It hits all the top spots, like the majestic peaks and gushing waterfalls of Milford Sound and the blue ice of the Franz Josef Glacier, while staying off most of the main routes, worn thin by tourist traffic. You'll log roughly 400 miles on Specialized hybrids that can handle gravel farm paths and other classic Kiwi obstacles like cow dung and stubborn sheep. Typical day: Pull off the Central Otago Rail Trail, ditch your gear in a renovated millhouse that serves as home for the night, and head to a tiny rural-outpost pub for a Speight's with the locals.
Outfitter: Active New Zealand, 800-661-9073, www.activenewzealand.com
When to Go: October-April
Want to find out what Bora Bora was like in the days before tourism took over? Set out on a 13-day paddling recon mission to Raivavae (Ri-VA-vi), one of five time-forgotten archipelagos in the Austral chain, 2,244 miles northeast of New Zealand in French Polynesia. On this, one of the first outfitted kayaking trips from the island, you'll hop from motu to motu (tiny uninhabited islands) in the outer reef in the mornings, set up camp for the night, and head to the lagoons on an underwater hunt to spear grouper for dinner. (Don't worry, other provisions will be provided if you come up empty-handed.) Keep an eye out for blue whales—the reef's horseshoe shape brings the deep-dwellers of the Pacific right up to the shoreline.
Outfitter: Explorers' Corner, 510-559-8099, www.explorerscorner.com
When to Go: July
Diving with Sharks
After three days spent exploring the ribbon of coral along the Great Barrier Reef, you'll keep heading east, some 110 nautical miles off the northern coast of Oz, to the Coral Sea, where the currents converge and the heavies of the Pacific come out to play. That's where Osprey Reef gives way to a 3,300-foot underwater shelf swarming with barracuda, tuna, manta rays, and scads of sharks—threshers, blacktips, whitetips, hammerheads, and leopards. Take it all in on four daily dives over six days. (If the deeps start to give you the creeps, try snorkeling.) Above water, watch and learn from Undersea Explorer's resident marine biologists, who measure and tag the reef sharks in an effort to secure protection for this remote and still-pristine marine environment.
Outfitter: Undersea Explorer,
011-61-74-099-5911, www.undersea.com.au When to Go: April-December