Desolation Island

The world’s most peculiar and peculiarly named islands

Cartography is a thankless business. For centuries, map-makers and explorers have probed the most distant corners of the earth in search of new lands and unfamiliar horizons. Often, it fell to them to ‘name’ these places; be they adopting indigenous nomenclature or bringing something with them from the old country (York becoming New York, and so on). As travel fanatics, we’ve long held a fascination with the more ‘out there’ corners of this world (and very ‘out there’ ways to experience it, like Get Lost).

What’s most interesting, with these edges of the world, is how you can sense the mood of the map-maker, the name-caller; their qualms or questions. When you have one hundred tiny, uninhabited islands to name, creativity can fail you. But sometimes, the names get very strange indeed.

So here it is. A list of our favourite unusually named islands and islets and archipelagos in the world.

 

#1 – Desolation Island

Or, properly speaking, the Kerguelen Islands. This moody collection of sub-Antarctic rocks is one of the most isolated places on earth, some 3,300km from Madagascar (its closest neighbour). First documented in 1772, the islands do appear on an earlier map completed in 1754. The climate, as you’d imagine, is not particularly hospitable. Oceanic, cold, and windswept; an island tundra. Over the years, they’ve appeared in any number of peculiar stories and fables; from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket to Jules Verne.

#2 – Sable Island, Nova Scotia

Sable brings to mind images of soft furs and sensual fabrics. But the place itself – wrapped around with thick fogs and unpredictable, shivering seas – is also known by another eerie name, ‘The graveyard of the Atlantic’. Barren and windswept, the island is home to countless shipwrecks and a colony of wild horses. An eerie and ethereal place, it’s not exactly at the top of our 2022 bucket list. But for the daring, it has some magnetic charm.

#3 – Christmas Island

Unsurprisingly, this particular island was discovered on Christmas Day in 1643. It’s home to some fourteen species of crab who are the true masters of this place (a hair-raising total of 140 million crabs). People also live here, of course (almost 2,000 of them). Unlike Sable or Desolation, this is a tropical and jungle-covered place. An ‘almost paradise’, if you don’t mind the crabs.

Island
island

#4 – Cat Island, Japan

Technically, the island is called Tashirojima. But really, really, this is Cat Island. That’s because the island has a huge population of stray cats. They were introduced during Japan’s Edo Period to help maintain the mouse population (an ever-present threat to the island’s silk worm economy). In 1602, all cats on the island were ‘freed by decree’, and they’ve had the run of the place ever since. Cute.

#5 – Disappointment Islands

Now you can really tell the cartographer’s frustration with this uninhabitable patch in the Auckland Islands archipelago. Barren and rocky, the only creatures who don’t mind it are the local population of white-capped albatrosses (there are about 65,000 pairs of them, all told). It was lost and rediscovered only in 1966.

# 6 – Useless Inlet, Australia

While not exactly an island, it’s a good and entertaining name; and therefore shouldn’t be ignored. When French explorers Nicolas Baudin and Louis de Freycinet first arrived here, they were angry that the local sandbars prevented them from mooring their ship. And so Useless Inlet found its name. A sign of frustration, and a warning for other captains sailing the seas.

Island
island

#7 – Island of Tears

Located in Minsk, Belarus, this small island has a deeply tragic history. Commemorating Soviet soldiers from Belarus who died in the long war with Afghanistan during the 1970s, the island has many striking and mournful memorials and statues that evoke the sadness of those who died and the grief of those who were left behind.

#8 – Cape Disappointment

This barren promontory is a headland of the Pacific Northwest, just west of Baker Bay. With 2,552 hours of fog a year – some 106 days all told – it is one of the foggiest places in the U.S. Named in 1788 by British fur trader John Meares, he had mistaken this place to be a bay where he could moor his ship. No luck for John. And his frustration is palpable.

#9 – Misery Island

During a long, unhappy winter in the 1620s, shipbuilder Robert Moulton was stranded on this luckless island. In its name, the island carries Moulton’s mood into the modern day. Later, during the 1900s, there was a private club and casino here. Fires and other disasters saw many of the locals lose interest and move away. It remains uninhabited. Perhaps misery doesn’t love company after all.

 

Island
Island

#10 – Lonely Island, Russia

And finally, there’s little Lonely Island (also known as Uyedineniya Island in Russian). Located in the rough, cold Kara Sea, it also carries the unfortunate name of Solitude Island. And if you wanted to get some true alone time, this is probably the place. Icy and unwelcoming, some tundra vegetation grows in the summer across its 18.5km length. Ice floes and pack ice swarm during summer and winter. It’s not for the feint of heart.

To the ends of the earth

If you’d like us to plan your own ultimate wilderness escape, then have a glance at our Get Lost service. It’s daring, adventurous, and rugged, but you won’t necessarily have to go all the way to Disappointment Island.

Find out more