Macquarie Island lies in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica, at 54° 30' S, 158° 57' E. Politically a part of Tasmania, Australia, since 1900, it became a Tasmanian State Reserve in 1978, and a World Heritage Site in 1997. It was a part of Esperance Municipality until 1993 when the municipality was merged with other municipalities to Huon Valley. The island is home to the entire royal penguin population during their annual nesting season. Ecologically, the island is part of the Antipodes Subantarctic Islands tundra ecoregion.
Since 1948 the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) has maintained a permanent base, the Macquarie Island Station, on the isthmus at the northern end of the island at the foot of Wireless Hill. The population of the base, the island's only human inhabitants, usually varies from 20 to 40 people over the year.
The island is about 34 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide, with an area of 128 km2. Near Macquarie Island are two small groups of minor islands, the Judge and Clerk Islets (54°21′S 159°01′E), 14 kilometres to the north, 0.2 km2 in area, and the Bishop and Clerk Islets (55°03′S 158°46′E), 34 kilometres to the south, 0.6 km2 in area. The island is in two main pieces of plateau of around 150-200 metres elevation to the north and south, joined by a narrow isthmus close to sea level. The high points include Mount Elder on the north-east coastal ridge at 385 metres, and Mounts Hamilton and Fletcher in the south at 410 metres.
Macquarie Island is an exposed portion of the Macquarie Ridge and is located where the Australian plate meets the Pacific plate. The island lies close to the edge of the submerged microcontinent of Zealandia, but is not regarded as part of it as the Macquarie Ridge is oceanic rather than continental crust. It is the only place in the Pacific Ocean where rocks from the mantle are actively exposed at sea level. It also is the only oceanic environment with an exposed ophiolite sequence. Due to these unique geological exposures it was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997.
The Bishop and Clerk Islets are part of the Australian state of Tasmania and mark the southernmost point of Australia (including islands). In the 19th century the phantom Emerald Island supposedly lay to the south of Macquarie Island.
A number of seal species are present including the Southern Elephant seal and the New Zealand Fur seal. Most of the bird life is represented on the island by four species of penguin: king, royal, gentoo and rockhopper penguins. Other birds include petrels, skua, albatross and ducks. Introduced animals, such as feral cats, rabbits, mice and rats have contributed to the decline of native animals however eradication and control measures have been implemented that have gradually reduced the number of feral animals.
The large penguin rookeries are an incredible sight. The king penguins congregate in their hundreds of thousands on the beaches, standing shoulder to shoulder only reluctantly moving to make way for the huge elephant seals sliding and jerking in their impressive way to and from the sea. Just in land from the beach the royal penguins roost in congregations that can almost overload the senses with an unforgettable smell and noise. Skuas, predatory birds, opportunistically try and pick off the chicks and weak. Other skuas and petrels can be found picking and tearing at the carcasses of dead seals.
The huge elephant seals, some weighing in at 1,000 kg or more, wallow together on the beach in their dozens. Male juveniles will play fight, that is, they will rear back on their tails and then crash together in what is more of a head slap than a head butt. This is all in preparation for when they are adults and will have to fight each other for right to mate with a harem of females. Adult males have an average weight of 2,000 kg and can weigh up to 4,000 kg. They can also be up to 4 metres in length.
Macquarie Island's climate is moderated by the sea, and all months have an average temperature above freezing although snow is common between June and October and may even occur in Macquarie Island's "summer".
Average daily maximum temperatures range from 4.9 °C in July to 8.8 °C in January. Precipitation occurs fairly evenly throughout the year and averages 967.9 mm annually. Macquarie Island is one of the cloudiest places on Earth with an average of only 856 hours of sunshine per year, similar to that in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands.
It may be possible to land on Macca by helicopter if your ship has a helicopter. Otherwise the only transportation to the island is by sea.
A number of companies offer trips to Macquarie Island. Usually it is a stop-over on the way to Antarctica for vessels departing from Australia or New Zealand. A strong constitution for travellers is recommended as sea sickness may be an issue for some - the Southern Ocean can have some of the roughest seas in the world. It usually takes 3 to 4 days make the crossing from either Bluff in NZ or Hobart in Tasmania. There are no port facilities at Macca so visitors will be put ashore on small boats like Naiads or Zodiacs. Expect to get your feet wet. Weather conditions may sometimes make landings frustratingly impossible though.
There are several walking tracks around the island. To limit environmental degradation some raised board walks have been introduced. Visitors are escorted by a Tasmanian park ranger. Zodiac inflatable boats are used to put visitors ashore at accessible locations for excursions. All landings are monitored by the Tasmanian park rangers.
The research station's mess building will occasionally provide snacks to visitors like muffins, sandwiches, friands, pizza, tea and coffee.
The research station has a bar in the mess building. A bizarre, yet strangely tasty, distilled concoction made from old cans of fruit will be, on the rare occasions it is even available, offered to visitors in the bar.
It is unlikely you would be able to stay on the island during a visit as you would be expected to sleep on the vessel you arrived on. Most visits last 1 to 2 days.
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