All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
— Martin Buber, 1878 - 1965

Travel Guide: 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.


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


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

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.