'Mysterious Islands' Host Kellee Edwards on Exploring the Most Remote Places on Earth

Ingela Ratledge
Preview Tito Herrera/Travel Channel

Don’t let the picture postcard fool you: Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands, hosted by Kellee Edwards, won’t unlock the riddle of how to get the most out of your next beach vacation or mix up the perfect mai tai.

Rather, two new half-hour specials airing back-to-back explore a pair of little-known destinations that have been harboring some — how shall we say — less-than-sunny secrets on their shores. “Remote islands are compelling [precisely] because they’re not easily accessible,” says Edwards, a trained pilot, scuba diver and founder of adventure blog Kellee Set Go! “They tend to be resistant to outside influence, and we wanted to seek out places that have unusual stories.”

Mission accomplished. First stop on the itinerary: Sapelo Island, an 11-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Georgia reachable only by boat or aircraft. Its inhabitants, the Geechee people, are the direct descendants of West African slaves who were brought to the U.S. during the 1700s. “When I first arrived on Sapelo, I felt like I had taken a step back in time,” Edwards says. “Modern conveniences are nonexistent. They truly live off the land and sea.”

The fact that Sapelo remains so insular and untouched is especially curious considering that its neighbors, like Hilton Head, South Carolina, and St. Simons, Georgia, have long been built up into tourist attractions. Any attempts to do the same on Sapelo have been thwarted, and according to local legend, the orchestrators have typically met an untimely fate. What gives? “A common theory is that the island is protected by ancestral spirits,” Edwards says. “I’m seeking to understand if that’s possible.”

Next up, Edwards’s curiosity leads her 10,000 miles away from Sapelo to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. “There’s a place there called Tana Toraja where the lines between life and death are blurred,” says Edwards. After a Torajan dies, the surviving relatives embalm the body and keep it in the home with them for months or even years. “They believe the person is not truly dead yet, but ‘sick,’” Edwards adds. “Being able to physically see and interact with them helps with the grieving process.” Eventually, the body is laid to rest with a lavish funeral. Edwards was invited to witness one such ceremony. “To call it elaborate would be an understatement,” she says. “It’s like nothing I could have imagined.”

With her voyages now complete, Edwards appreciates the parallels between Sapelo and Sulawesi. “I found that community and the preservation of the culture and practices they’ve had for centuries are extremely important,” she says. “One [island] is in the U.S. and the other is on the other side of the globe, but they’re both a world away.”

Mysterious Islands, Premieres, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 11/10c, Travel Channel