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Heard and McDonald Islands*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Heard Island.jpg
Heard Island, from NASA World Wind
Type Natural
Criteria viii, ix
Reference 577
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1997  (21st Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The Heard Island and McDonald Islands[1] (abbreviated as HIMI[2]) are an Australian external territory and volcanic group of barren Antarctic islands, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica, approximately 4099 km southwest of Perth[3], 3845 km southwest of Cape Leeuwin, Australia, 4200 km southeast of South Africa, 3830 km southeast of Madagascar, 1630 km north of Antarctica, and 450 km southeast of Kerguelen[4].

They are in the Southern Ocean according to the Australian definition but not according to the International Hydrographic Organization definition.

Discovered in the mid-19th century, they have been territories of Australia since 1947 and contain the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory, one of which, Mawson Peak, is the highest Australian mountain.

The group's overall size is 372 square kilometres (144 sq mi) in area and it has 101.9 km of coastline. The islands are uninhabited.



Location of Heard and McDonald Islands
Map of Heard and McDonald Islands[5]

Heard Island, by far the largest of the group, is a 368-square-kilometre (142 sq mi) bleak and mountainous island located at 53°06′00″S 73°31′00″E / 53.1°S 73.5166667°E / -53.1; 73.5166667. Its mountains are covered in glaciers (the island is 80% covered with ice[6]) and dominated by Mawson Peak, a 2,745-metre (9,006 ft) high complex volcano which forms part of the Big Ben massif. A July 2000 satellite image from the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) Thermal Alert Team, University of Hawai'i [7] showed an active two kilometre long (and 50-90 metre wide) lava flow trending south-west from the summit of Big Ben.

Mawson Peak is the highest Australian mountain (higher than Mount Kosciuszko), and one of only 2 active volcanoes in Australian territory, the other being McDonald Island. A long thin spit named "Elephant Spit" extends from the east of the island. There is a small group of islets and rocks about 10 kilometres (6 mi) north of Heard Island, consisting of Shag Islet, Sail Rock, Morgan Island and Black Rock. They total approximately 1.1 square kilometres (0.4 sq mi) in area.

The McDonald Islands are located 44 kilometres (27 mi) to the west of Heard Island at 53°02′20″S 72°36′04″E / 53.03889°S 72.60111°E / -53.03889; 72.60111. The islands are small and rocky. In 1980 they consisted of McDonald Island (230 metres (750 ft) high), Flat Island (55 metres (180 ft) high) and Meyer Rock (170 metres (560 ft) high). They totalled approximately 2.5 square kilometres (1.0 sq mi) in area. Like Heard Island, they were surface exposures of the Kerguelen Plateau.

The volcano on McDonald Island, after being dormant for 75,000 years, erupted in 1992 and erupted several times since. A satellite image taken in 2004 showed recent volcanic activity had joined McDonald Island and Flat Island into one island and generally doubled the land size of the resultant island.[8] Its most recent eruption is thought to have been on 10 August 2005.[9]

Heard Island and the McDonald Islands have no ports or harbours; ships must anchor offshore. The coastline is 101.9 kilometres (63.3 mi), and a 12-nautical-mile (22 km) territorial sea and 200-nautical-mile (370 km) exclusive fishing zone are claimed.[6]

The antipode to the central Mawson Peak of Heard Island is located less than 70 kilometres (43 mi) West by south of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada.



The islands have an Antarctic climate, tempered by their maritime setting. The weather is marked by low seasonal and daily temperature ranges, persistent and generally low cloud cover, frequent precipitation and strong winds. Monthly average temperatures at Atlas Cove (at the northwestern end of Heard Island) range from 0.0 °C (32 °F) to 4.2 °C (39.6 °F), with an average daily range of 3.7 °C (38.7 °F) to 5.2 °C (41.4 °F) in summer and −0.8 °C (31 °F) to 0.3 °C (32.5 °F) in winter. The winds are predominantly westerly and persistently strong. At Atlas Cove, monthly average wind speeds range between around 26 to 33.5 km/h. Gusts in excess of 180 km/h have been recorded. Annual precipitation at sea level on Heard Island is in the order of 1.3 to 1.9 m; rain or snow falls on about 3 out of 4 days.[10]

Flora and fauna

The islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes several subantarctic islands. In this cold climate plant life is mainly limited to grasses, mosses and lichens. The main indigenous animals are insects along with large populations of ocean-going seabirds, seals and penguins. [11]


Neither island cluster had recorded visitors until the mid-1850s. Peter Kemp, a British sealer, is the first person thought to have seen the island. On 27 November 1833, he spotted it from the brig Magnet during a voyage from Kerguelen to the Antarctic and was believed to have entered the island on his 1833 chart.

An American sealer, Captain John Heard, on the ship Oriental, sighted the island on 25 November 1853, en route from Boston to Melbourne. He reported the discovery one month later and had the island named after him. Captain William McDonald aboard the Samarang discovered the nearby McDonald Islands six weeks later, on 4 January 1854.

No landing was made on the islands until March 1855, when sealers from the Corinthian, led by Captain Erasmus Darwin Rogers, went ashore at a place called Oil Barrel Point. In the sealing period from 1855-1880, a number of American sealers spent a year or more on the island, living in appalling conditions in dark smelly huts, also at Oil Barrel Point. At its peak the community consisted of 200 people. By 1880, most of the seal population had been wiped out and the sealers left the island. In all, more than 100,000 barrels of elephant seal oil was produced during this period.

There are a number of wrecks in the vicinity of the islands. There is also a discarded building left from John Heard's sealing station which is situated near Atlas Cove.

The islands have been a territory of Australia since 1947, when they were transferred from the U.K.[6] The archipelago became a World Heritage Site in 1997.

Administration and economy

The islands are a territory (Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands) of Australia administered from Hobart by the Australian Antarctic Division of the Australian Department of the Environment and Water Resources. They are populated by large numbers of seal and bird species. The islands are contained within a 65,000-square-kilometre (25,000 sq mi) marine reserve and are primarily visited for research. There is no permanent human habitation.[6]

From 1947 until 1955 there were camps of visiting scientists on Heard Island (at Atlas Cove in the northwest, which was in 1969 again occupied by American scientists and expanded in 1971 by French scientists) and in 1971 on McDonald Island (at Williams Bay). Later expeditions used a temporary base at Spit Bay in the northeast, such as in 1988, 1992–93 and 2004–2005.

With no population, there is no indigenous economic activity. The islands' only natural resource is fish; the Australian government allows limited fishing in the surrounding waters.[12] Despite the lack of population, the islands have been assigned the country code HM in ISO 3166-1 (ISO 3166-2:HM) and therefore the Internet top-level domain .hm. The timezone of the islands is UTC+5 [13].

See also


  • LeMasurier, W. E.; Thomson, J. W. (eds.) (1990). Volcanoes of the Antarctic Plate and Southern Oceans. American Geophysical Union. pp. 512 pp. ISBN 0-87590-172-7. 

Further reading

  • Scholes, Arthur. (1949) Fourteen men; story of the Australian Antarctic Expedition to Heard Island. Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire.
  • Smith, Jeremy. (1986) Specks in the Southern Ocean. Armidale: University of New England Press. ISBN 085834615X

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Islands of the Southern Ocean : Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Heard Island and McDonald Islands [1] 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.

  • 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

Get in

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".


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


Various caves and caverns provide a natural abundance of potential campsites, however due to the tempestuous winds and rainstorms that periodically cover the island it is advisable that any caves have their openings sheltered and supports placed inside. Fires are also difficult to start in the wet climate, and so should be made in shelter (eg. - in the caves). Be sure to ventilate the caves if you are building a fire in one. Old sealing huts also provide a degree of hospitality, although do not let the Australian Government know as these are technically heritage listed. Restore the huts to their original condition after use. There have been in excess of 12 private expeditions to the islands since the 1970's, many of which remain unreported due to the difficulty in obtaining permission from the Australian Government.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun


Heard Island and McDonald Islands


Heard Island and McDonald Islands

  1. Uninhabited islands of Australia.



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