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Subantarctic Islands > Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

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Heard Island and McDonald Islands are uninhabited, barren, sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, far due south of India and roughly 200 miles southeast of Kerguelen of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. The islands are administered by Australia and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Heard Island and McDonald Islands-CIA WFB Map.png


  • Heard Island - by far the largest
  • Shag Island - smaller island north of Heard
  • McDonald Islands - two small islands west of Heard


Heard Island is largely ice-covered, bleak and mountainous and is dominated by a large massif (Big Ben) and by an active volcano (Mawson Peak). The McDonald Islands are small, rocky and actively volcanic. The islands are populated by large numbers of seal and bird species, and have been designated a nature reserve. There are 4 types of penguins that are located on Heard Island

With the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory the islands are situated on the Kerguelen Plateau.

The islands are really really remote - they are located 4,099 km (2,547 mi) south west of Perth, in Western Australia, 3,845 km (2,389 mi) south west of Cape Leeuwin, in Western Australia, and 4,200 km (2,600 mi) south east of South Africa, as well as being 1,630 km (1,010 mi) north of Antarctica.

Captain John Heard, sighted Heard Island on 25 November 1853, on a journey from Boston to Melbourne. Captain William McDonald of the Samarang found McDonald Islands on 4 January 1854.

Between 1855 to 1880 American sealers inhabited the island, living in appalling conditions. The island housed 200 people at one stage. By 1880 the sealers had eliminated the seal population and then moved on. 100,000 barrels of elephant-seal oil had been produced at this time.

The islands have been part of Australia since 1947. The archipelago became a World Heritage Site in 1997.

Amateur radio DXpeditions to the island took place in January 1997 and in January 1983.

Get in[edit]

Heard island

Visiting these islands will require careful planning and preparation as there are no permanent human inhabitants. Access will require either mounting or joining an expedition. Because of the islands' status as a nature reserve, permission to land from the Australian Antarctic Division will be necessary; landings can only be made on the McDonald Islands for "compelling scientific reasons" and travel to Heard Island is banned.


There is no economic activity on Heard or the McDonald Islands.


There are two structures on the island, a ruined sealers hut near Oil Barrel Point, and an apple hut of unknown condition at the northern end of Atlas Cove.

Stay safe[edit]

  • If you are indeed fortunate enough to be in this part of the Indian Ocean, and in proximity of these islands, the usual standards of being prepared for extreme weather conditions at short notice, and even more so, a very long way from anything that might resemble assistance in the event of trouble or issues requiring rescue.

Go next[edit]

  • Port-aux-Francais (northwest) - closest port on French islands in Southern Indian Ocean
  • Antarctica (south)
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