Top 10 Islands in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific in 2020
This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.
There is something unreal about islands in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. Thrillingly remote with stretches of pristine beaches, dramatic landscapes, and an array of deeply luxurious hotels and resorts, this corner of the planet feels like a utopian edge-of-the-world destination, for both intrepid travelers and honeymooners alike.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.
Related: The World's Best Awards 2020
The majority of the winners hail from French Polynesia, a cluster of volcanic islands famous for deep-green lagoons, vibrant sea life, and tropical sun. Tahiti (No. 9), arguably the most famous island in the region, lives up to its hype, with one T+L reader remarking, “We spent a few nights in Tahiti but maximized them by hiring a private guide to tour half the island. We saw cultural landmarks, locals fishing, great views, and roadside restaurants... What I loved the most was that just about everything sold was made in Tahiti, or on a nearby island… I can’t wait to return.”
The popular Fiji made the list at No. 6. “Beautiful beaches, amazing people and culture,” one reader declared. “I would definitely suggest Fiji to other travelers and I would especially suggest it for a romantic trip!”
But all that’s not to say that a handful of Australian and New Zealand islands didn’t impress with their wildlife, culinary clout, and rugged beauty. Waiheke, New Zealand (No. 7), about 45 minutes from Auckland by ferry, captured hearts with its plentiful vineyards and restaurants, while Tasmania (No. 3) was a particular favorite for its wildlife sanctuaries and incredibly friendly locals.
The Great Barrier Reef (No.4), the world's largest coral reef system, has T+L readers raving, too. “Amazing islands,” one traveler gushed. “Tons of animals in the sea to swim with while snorkeling. Nice people everywhere, and just a really fun place to explore.” Remarked another, “My favorite stay ever. Beyond gorgeous.”
The No. 1 spot, the Cook Islands, actually consists of 15 islands, and is a paradise of talcum beaches and a year-round tropical climate. Read on to find out why it won the accolade, and for the full list of winners.
1. Cook Islands
“Most beautiful blue ocean you will ever see,” described one reader of the archipelagic paradise strung between New Zealand and Hawaii in the South Pacific Ocean. With its gin-clear lagoons and colorful coral, its position at the top of this competitive category isn’t entirely surprising. Rarotonga, the Cooks’ most populous island, attracts a family crowd with a bustle of activities and choice of top-tier spots to bed down in, like the eco-friendly Nautilus Resort. For travelers craving a more lo-fi getaway, look deeper into the archipelago to smaller islands such as Aitutaki, “the best-kept secret in the South Pacific!” as one visitor proclaimed. With a turquoise lagoon and a barrier reef teeming with life, Aitutaki is also surrounded by a cluster of tiny uninhabited islands, reachable by boat for idyllic and secluded day excursions.
2. Moorea, French Polynesia
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.05
3. Tasmania, Australia
4. Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia
5. Bora-Bora, French Polynesia
6. Fiji Islands
7. Waiheke Island, New Zealand
8. Huahine, French Polynesia
9. Tahiti, French Polynesia
10. Raiatea, French Polynesia
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.