Macquarie Island is home to a large variety of wildlife, including thousands of seals and millions of penguins, and has been designated a World Heritage site. It is a Tasmanian State Reserve and is managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. It is one of two Australia's Sub-Antarctic jewels.
Macquarie Island is about 1500km South South East of Tasmania (Australia) and around 1200km North of Antarctica. The Australian Antarctic Division research station is located at the northern end of the island. The island is 5km wide at its widest point and 34km long. The island's total area is about 128km².
Cold, wet and windy, the average winter temperature is about 3°C and the average summer temperature is 7°C. It is your classic, cold, bleak, windswept, sub-Antarctic island.
The island has a population of about 40 researchers and support staff during the summer. The population drops to about 20 during the winter.
All access to the island is managed by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife and permits are required before any landing on the island. Visitors have to be completely self-sufficient as fuel, water and food supplies are limited due to the remote location.
There is no airstrip on Macquarie Island but two concrete helipads exist on the isthmus. No fuel is available on the island. There is a non-directional radio beacon (NDB) approximately 500 m south of the helipads on 392Khz with morse ID VJM. Pilots need to avoid low flying near any of the penguin rookeries on the island to minimise disturbance to the animals, particularly during summer.
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. The usual landing location for visitors is at Landing Beach on the eastern side of the isthmus about 300m south of the station: there is a marked channel with entrance leads that carries about a meter of water at low tide. Caution needs to be taken at all beach landings on the island as there are numerous rock outcrops and a near continuous offshore kelp forest. Skippers need to also consider minimising the impact on wildlife of any landings.
There are several walking tracks around the island including an Overland Track that runs the full length of the island. Walkers need to be prepared for rapid changes in weather conditions at all times and carry a handheld VHF radio. To limit environmental degradation some raised board walks have been introduced at landing locations such as Sandy Bay and The Isthmus for visitors, who are escorted by a Tasmanian park ranger. Quaking bogs exist on the island, particularly on the west coast and have marked tracks but are not suitable for people heavier than 100kg due to the risk of breaking through the surface layer of vegetation. Zodiac inflatable boats are used to put visitors ashore at accessible locations for all excursions. Landings are normally monitored by the Tasmanian park rangers.
Vehicles are not used on the island except for the isthmus area around the station.
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 1,000kg 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 2,000kg and can weigh up to 4,000kg. They can also be up to 4m in length.
Australian Antarctic Territory stamps are available for sale at the research station. Postcards and letters can also be left at the station to be mailed and postmarked with the Macquarie Island postmark. Macquarie Island and Australian Antarctic Division memorabilia like T-shirts, fridge magnets & caps are also sometimes available for sale.
Passports can also be stamped with a Macquarie Island stamp.
The research station's mess building will occasionally provide snacks to visitors like muffins, sandwiches, pizza, tea and coffee. Due to the risk of introducing avian diseases to the local wildlife, the landing of poultry and poultry products is strictly controlled.
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. Beer home brewing facilities exist at the station and homebrew kits are available with the annual resupply. Most years there is a winter wine club with wines supplied by the expeditioners.
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. Staff and researchers have access to a network of field huts around the island at places of interest: Timber framed huts exist at Green Gorge, Bauer Bay and Hurd Point. Pre-fabricated fibreglass huts are located at Brother's Point and Waterfall Bay. These huts are suitable for occupancy up to a full summer season where required and there are a number of refuges and shelters the can be used in emergencies or for occasional overnight stays scattered around remoter parts of the island.
It would help if you were an employee of Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service or the Australian Antarctic Division and were posted to the island when a position came available. Nearly all the inhabitants are engaged in the scientific research undertaken on the island or tradespeople such as carpenters, cooks and electricians, to support the station.
There are hundreds of thousands of seals and millions of penguins and other sea birds that make their home on the island. Visitors are required to stay five metres from the wildlife. However penguins are inquisitive little guys and will waddle over to you to check you out. Visitors should also stay on designated trails.
See the article on the Subantarctic Islands.