When it comes to tourist attractions, you can never rely on just a name. If you’ve decided to gamble everything on a place with an intriguing title, you might well be rewarded. But you’re just as likely to find yourself standing on a remote clump of tussocky scrubland, wishing you were elsewhere.
That’s not to say there aren’t some names you can rely on. The Great Wall of China, for example, is fairly dependable in this regard. It is, after all, a really great wall, and few would vouch for it being anywhere other than in China. If only all tourist attractions bore such soberly descriptive handles.
Some names tell you very little. For example, it’s perhaps a good thing the Taj Mahal is so iconic, as its name gives little away to the untrained western ear. And despite living in England for 36 years I still couldn’t tell you exactly what to expect from Wooky Hole.
But the real problem for travellers is with those names that sound as though they’re very descriptive indeed but are actually either exaggerated or just out-and-out deceptive. This is a particular problem with those attractions that haven’t quite made it into the grand canons of tourism — those little-known local curiosities that tempt tourists into risky afternoon excursions.
I came across such a place several years ago when I was on holiday in Turkey. Having had my fill of sand and sea, I’d asked around to see what else there was to do, and one name kept cropping up. Rabbit Island.
On this particular package holiday, I’d brought neither a guidebook, nor a smartphone, so there was no opportunity to research this mysterious place. But it all sounded so promising. I’d owned rabbits as pets, many in fact, and I’d been very attached to them. So an island full of the things seemed just the ticket.
Upon my arrival at Gümüslük beach, I was greeted by the sight of 12 desperate-looking waiters standing outside 12 completely empty restaurants, each one pleading for me to be their first customer of the day. With admirable resolve, I turned deaf ears to their pleas, for I had rabbits to see. Food would have to wait.
The actual island was just a short wade from the beach, so I took off my shoes and socks, hitched up my jeans and strode purposefully out into the Aegean. But what I hadn’t realised is the submerged path out to the Rabbit Island was lined with thousand of little stones — stones that were as dangerously slippery as they were painfully sharp.
Progress was slow. In fact, I was reduced to a sort of undignified, geriatric conga, inching my way forward step by torturous step, trying to keep my balance as the midday sun bore into the back of my neck. Things weren’t helped by the fact that I’d brought a bag — a bag I was reduced to holding just above my head. The whole crossing took about half an hour — 30 of the least enjoyable minutes I’ve ever spent, and I arrived exhausted, and not a little cross.
I hardly need to tell you there were no rabbits on the island. But there were other things. There was plenty of ancient rubble. There were lots of untamed shrubs and weeds. There was even a little lizard. But rabbits, there were none.
On the way back, after losing my footing and dropping my bag into the sea, I vowed to never again go anywhere with a wacky name — not unless at least 10 of my oldest and most trusted friends could swear to me on oath that it had something truly wonderful going for it.
So, if you’re ever on a lazy holiday, and you find yourself tempted by Eagle Falls, Badger Brook, Parrot Point or Unicorn Mountain, take a deep breath, lie back on your lounger, sip your cocktail and forget about it.
Oh, and by the way, Greenland is not as grassy as you’ve been led to believe. And as for the Isle of Wight…
Published in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller