Australian external territory and volcanic group of barren Antarctic islands
Antarctica > Islands of the Southern Ocean > Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and McDonald Islands are uninhabited, barren, Subantarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, far due south of India and roughly 400 km southeast of Kerguelen of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. The islands are administered by Australia and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although it's administered by Australia, the islands are approximately 4,000 kilometres southwest from Perth.

The islands contain Australia's highest peak, excluding Australia's Antarctic claim.


Map of Heard Island and McDonald Islands
  • 1 Heard Island – by far the largest
  • 2 Shag Islet – smaller island north of Heard
  • 3 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 4,099 km (2,547 mi) southwest of Perth, 3,845 km (2,389 mi) southwest of Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia, and 4,200 km (2,600 mi) southeast 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 and 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 expeditions to the island took place in January 1983 and January 1997.

Get in

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.

Buy, eat and drink


Exchange rates for Australian dollars

As of May 2024:

  • US$1 ≈ $1.5
  • €1 ≈ $1.6
  • UK£1 ≈ $1.9
  • CA$1 ≈ $1.1
  • NZ$1 ≈ $0.9
  • Japanese ¥100 ≈ $0.9

Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from

The official currency is the Australian dollar, although 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 but these are on Heard Island meaning sleeping here is illegal. Your expedition should sort this out.

Stay safe


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

This park travel guide to Heard Island and McDonald Islands is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.