5 of the most remote and uninhabited islands in the world

Nick Watkins
Apr 13, 2020

Living in isolation is the norm for residents on the world’s most remote inhabited islands.

Over the last month people have had their routines disrupted by the COVID-19 coronavirus, as millions around the world are self-isolating and working remotely. While it’s a new experience for most of us, there are a few people around world who choose to live in near-isolation 24/7, hundreds if not thousands of miles away from the nearest civilisation.

Here, are some of the world’s most remote inhabited islands.

Foula, Shetland

The ocean and coast of Foula island in Shetland, Scotland

Population: 33

It might surprise you to learn that this remote inhabited island isn’t a far-flung location in the middle of the ocean somewhere. It is in fact situated in the Shetland archipelago of Scotland, and home to just 33 permanent residents, who prefer the quiet life to that on the mainland. Often referred to as the, ‘edge of the world’ Foula island is home to Kame, the second highest sea cliffs in Britain, with a staggering 1,200 ft drop. Despite being just two hours by boat from the mainland, guests cannot just do a day trip to the island by ferry, however there is plenty of accommodation on the island.

For a remote island, life here is fairly normal, locals primarily earn a living as farmers. There’s a post office, school and café with live music from the locals. Those visiting will see plenty of wildlife such as seals, puffins, sheep and ponies.

Palmerston Island, Cook Islands

Population: 35

Just 35 people call this tiny island home in the Pacific Ocean – all of whom are descendants from Englishman William Marsters, who arrived on the island in the 1860s with his two wives (and he would later marry again, this time a Polynesian woman) and have a total of 23 children. The island is around eight days sailing trip from Tahiti. Solar panels give the island its energy, which includes WiFi. If you’re thinking of visiting, guests are welcome on the island, but should email ahead of time to obtain the correct documentation, and be prepared you will be greeted by the chief of police upon arrival.

Locals here raise pigs and chickens for food and a ship delivers supplies of rice and lamb every few months. Residents are politically associated with New Zealand and are automatically granted citizenship, so they can move back and forth freely.

Pitcairn Island, South Pacific

Estimated population: 50

This group of four volcanic islands is home to the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers, British sailors who settled here in 1789. Visitors to the area find untouched subtropical environments thriving with wildlife and marine life – hardly surprising when it takes 32-hours by boat to arrive on the cluster of islands. Pitcairn, roughly the size of Central Park in New York, is over 3,000 miles away from the nearest continent, and most residents here live to the age of 90. So that’s one reason to live on one of the world’s most inhabited remote islands.

The terrain is mostly rocky with one sandy beach. The landscape is green and the waters are crystal clear – a picture postcard on the surface, but locals say life on the island is far from idyllic. Electricity and Internet are expensive for a community that survives largely on the generosity of tourists, who are few and far between. A supply ship arrives every quarter supplying food and clothing. There’s no hospital on the island so locals need to visit New Zealand and have to wait three months before being able to return to Pitcairn.

Tristan da Cunha, Saint Helena

Estimated population: 270

This tiny spec of land, one of a group of four volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, is regarded by many as the world’s most remote inhabited island. The locals say it’s so quiet here you can hear the grass grow. No one new is allowed to move into the area without the approval of every single resident, so if you are thinking of making the move you better be nice to everyone you meet. Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena. It’ll take over six days by boat to reach the coast of Brazil, and roughly the same to reach the South African coast. You can visit the island on one of the ten annual sailings from Cape Town and Namibia. Be aware that in order to clear your arrival on the island you’ll need a police certificate beforehand, which can take up to 40 days for approval.

As you might expect, residents here all know each other and residents don’t feel the need to lock their doors or even shut their windows. Every family owns several fields in which to grow fruit and vegetables and (controlled) livestock roams the fields. There’s an Internet café, post office and shops on the island. It all sounds pretty idyllic – except for the active volcano nestled right in the heart of the island, which last erupted in 1961 coming within metres of wiping out the village. Thankfully everyone survived so it remains one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands.

Takuu Atoll, Papua New Guinea

An aerial image of Takuu Atoll island and surrounding ocean
Image: NASA astronaut image of Takuu Atoll

Estimated population: 500

The Takuu group of islands is one of the most remote places in the world, as it sits 240 kilometres away from Papua New Guinea. It’s so remote only three boats will visit annually, and that’s on a good year. This remote inhabited island has a rich history spanning over 1,000 years, yet, while it was once a paradise lifestyle for the residents here, being able to survive off the grid and lead a peaceful life, however climate change is rapidly changing the lives of the islands inhabitants. Rising sea levels have caused tides to get fiercer damaging and submerging parts of the land, previously used to grow food. Islanders now rely on food-aid, which arrives, well, when it arrives.

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