The Subantarctic islands are those islands scattered across the Southern Ocean that lie between 45 and 60 degrees latitude south. They are cold but not polar deep freeze: modulated by the ocean, their midsummer temperature is about 5-10°C and their winters average 0 to -10°C. This means they support a thin tundra vegetation and are just about habitable, though they have no permanent residents. So it's not their coldness but their remoteness and lack of population, hence lack of transport and amenities, that renders them a challenge to the traveller. They're beyond the range of individual travel, so you need to join an expedition, cruise or similar organised party.
The exceptions are those islands close to mainland South America, the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego. They have towns, places to stay and eat, and regular transport. Many people visit them as part of an organised trip down into Antarctica but you can get yourself there independently. You'll need warm clothing but the general descriptions and advice for the Subantarctic islands doesn't apply to them. They're marked on the map for convenience but not considered further on this page.
- East to west these islands are:
- 1 The New Zealand Subantarctic Islands are in five groups: The Snares, Bounty Islands, Antipodes, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island.
- 2 Macquarie Island, part of Tasmania in Australia, is a wildlife reserve 20 miles long by 3 miles wide.
- 3 Heard Island and McDonald Islands are a territory of Australia, with that nation's only active volcanoes, last erupting in 2016.
- 4 Kerguelen (Îles Kerguelen) are a French territory. The main island La Grande Terre is 90 miles east-west by 70 miles north-south, with some 300 lesser isles in the archipelago.
- 5 The Crozet Islands (Îles Crozet) are a French archipelago, with the research station Alfred Faure on Île de la Possession.
- 6 The Prince Edward Islands are part of South Africa, some 1200 miles south east of the Cape, with Marion Island the larger and Prince Edward the smaller island.
- 7 Bouvet Island is Norwegian, ice-clad, and volcanic though with no recent eruptions.
- 8 The South Sandwich Islands are administered by Britain together with South Georgia. They're volcanic and stretch almost to the 60th parallel, so they're on the threshold of Antarctica and are the most difficult to access of all the Subantarctic islands.
- 9 South Georgia Island is an icy, mountainous British island, with the old whaling stations of Grytviken and South Leith.
- 10 The Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory where the 3,000-odd people are heavily outnumbered by sheep and penguins.
- 11 Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago at the tip of mainland South America. Its eastern section with the city of Río Grande and port of Ushuaia is in Argentina, and the larger, wilder western section is in Chile. Further north, other islands dot Chile's fjord coastline for hundreds of miles up into warmer latitudes.
Some of these islands might be quite hard to get to, but they are easier to reach than the Antarctic Islands.
The lack of development on these islands means that there are no roads or even any form of paths on most of them.
- Subantarctic scenery almost never contains forest and has a tundra-like appearance. There are usually a lot of rocky outcrops and grasslands; there may be ice caps at high elevations, but not low elevations. The main attraction of these islands is the Subantarctic wildlife, such as sea birds (including penguins), seals and whales.
- Volcanoes are active on Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, and along the chain of South Sandwich Islands. Their active history is only partially known, as it's only in the 21st century that satellite imaging has been able to pinpoint their belchings of steam and ash. Penguins are fond of volcanoes, as the geothermal warmth creates areas free of glaciers.
- Huge icebergs - meaning 19+ km long - are common but transient around Antarctica, but the largest may reach the Subantarctic islands and shipping lanes. They're therefore tracked by the US Ice Center; a good example is A68a, which in 2020 approached South Georgia. "A" means it calved in the quadrant between 0o and 90o West, the Bellingshausen and Weddell seas - in this case it was the Larsen ice shelf on the west coast of the Peninsula. B-icebergs are from the quadrant 90o to 180o West, and so on round. A68 means it was the 68th huge iceberg from Quadrant A, and when it began breaking into pieces that were huge in their own right, these were labelled A68b, c, d etc, with the mother-berg being A68a.
These little-explored islands are quiet places with little or no population, so hiking is really your only option.
Buy, eat, and drinkEdit
The environment is extreme, with latitudes called the roaring forties, filthy fifties and screaming sixties for good reason. Storms sweeping off Antarctica, unobstructed by any land, bring cold strong winds, rain or snow and rough seas to the region. This part of the world is the preserve of deep sea fishing ships (not boats), warships on fisheries patrols, oceanographic research ships, round-the-world yachts and the occasional icebreaker on its way to Antarctica. If you get into trouble, you must be prepared to rescue yourself, as emergency rescue services may be thousands of miles and several days away.