Did you know Antarctica is surrounded on all sides by Sub-Antarctic islands? Most of them are mere specks in the Southern Ocean – not even shown on most world maps. You may ask – considering they are so small compared to Antarctica itself - why would you want to visit them?
- HISTORY. Many of the islands were used by the early explorers as staging points for their assault on Antarctica or just a base for commercial activity such as whaling, sealing and fishing. This means that they contain some amazing historical buildings and relics.
- PLANTLIFE. Most Sub-Antarctic islands are far enough north of Antarctica proper that the climate allows for all number of plants to thrive: many of them unique to their host island.
- WILDLIFE. Most Sub-Antarctic islands are surrounded by the Southern Ocean in the middle of nowhere. And the Southern Ocean teems with fish and other marine life. This bounty attracts penguins and mammals such as seals to these sections of the ocean and although they have large feeding grounds – they still need to return to land, making these small islands probably the most concentrated wildlife sites in the world.
- PROXIMITY. Many of these islands are in the Antipodes and are reachable by cruises from Australia and New Zealand.
Highlights of the Sub-Antarctic Islands
Macquarie Island is one of the most incredible, and least visited, regions of Australia.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Macquarie Island is an Australian territory located approximately halfway between Australia and New Zealand in the Southern Pacific Ocean. This unique island is located on a similar latitude to South Georgia, and just like South Georgia, Macquarie Island is home to an astonishing range of wildlife. The uber-cool royal penguin is endemic, as is the Macquarie Island shag. King penguins, southern rockhoppers, and gentoo penguins all breed here in huge numbers - king penguins number in the hundreds of thousands. Seal species include the southern elephant seal (approx. 80,000), subantarctic fur seals, Antarctic fur seals, and New Zealand fur seals. Migratory whales such as orcas and southern right whales are known to frequent the surrounding waters. Put simply, Macquarie Island is incredible.
Located approximately 200km south of New Zealand's South Island, the Snares are a wildlife lovers dream. The Snares are home to an incredible array of wildlife - including arguably the highest density of birdlife anywhere in the world, with around 5 million birds calling the place home. If penguins are your thing - let's face it, who doesn't love penguins? - the Snares crested penguin is endemic to this small group of uninhabited islands. Highlights of the Snares include multiple species of petrels, terns, albatross, New Zealand sea lions, fur seals, megaherbs and much more.
Named after its hazardous reputation for entangling the odd passing ship, the Snares are part of the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands - a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another UNESCO listed uninhabited New Zealand Sub-Antarctic island chain, Campbell Island is a critical breeding ground for many species of bird - exemplified by its status as the most important breeding ground for the southern royal albatross (one of the largest bird species in the world). The elusive wandering albatross and light-mantled sooty albatross also breed on Campbell Island, as do many other bird species, including petrels, gulls, terns, and many, many more.
Breeding species of penguins include the photogenic yellow-eyed penguin, rockhopper penguin, and erect-crested penguin. Sea lions and southern elephant seals can be found on the shorelines and southern right whales are known to frequent the bays.
The Auckland Islands are home to over 200 native species of plants, the greatest flora diversity of any of the Sub-Antarctic islands. In summertime, the Auckland Islands are awash with colour as the endemic plant species and megaherb communities flower. New Zealand sea lions, several albatross species, yellow-eyed penguins, and rockhopper penguins all reside on the Auckland Islands.