Macquarie Island, sub-Antarctic experience

Halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica you’ll find Macquarie Island, a Tasmanian island located in the southwestern Pacific ocean 1,300km south-east of Tasmania. Macquarie  Island is endearingly referred to as “Macca.”

A UNESCO world heritage site since 1997, this island is considered part of the Antipodes Sub-Antarctic Islands tundra eco-region.

Australia has operated a research station on the island’s northern shore for over 50 years.  The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) research base is home 20-40 residents a year who conduct scientific research on a variety of topics (biology, physics, meteorology, auroral physics…).

Macquarie Island is well-suited for the more adventurous and resilient travelers, due to its cold climate and strong winds.


Discovered in the early 1810s, Macquarie Island was claimed for the United Kingdom, and annexed to the New South Wales colony. For the next 100 years, the island was exploited for its populations of seals and penguins. Sealers hunted both species almost to extinction.

The island was transferred to Tasmania in 1890.

Natural environment

Macquarie Island is approximately 34km by 5km, with 128 square kilometers of landmass.  The island runs north-south, with two main plateaus of around 150-200 meters elevation joined by a narrow isthmus with a lower altitude. In the north, the peak of Mt Elder reaches 385 meters above sea level, and in the south, the peaks of Mt Hamilton and Mt Fletcher reach 410 meters. The island has a couple of glacial lakes.

The island is a volcanic land mass which rises from the water as a ridge (the Macquarie Ridge).  The seafloor ridge marks the dividing line between the Indo-Australian tectonic plate and the Pacific tectonic plate. Macquarie Island is the only place on earth where rocks from the Earth’s mantle have been pushed up to the surface and are exposed above sea-level.

The island does not have trees, but is heavily vegetated nonetheless, tussock grasses and other vegetation.

Macquarie Island is known for the following species: Antarctic fur seals, sub-Antarctic fur seals, New Zealand fur seals, southern elephant fur seals, royal penguins, Macquarie shags, king penguins, southern rockhopper penguins, gentoo penguins, sooty albatross, and wandering albatross.

Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)

Macquarie Island is not a destination for the faint-hearted. With temperatures in summer barely above freezing, the weather on Macquarie is mostly cold, wet, and windy. The island only has a few days of sunshine a year, and is covered by snow for much of the year.

However, Macquarie is a beautiful and popular destination among adventurous travelers.

Much of the island activities revolve around the wildlife. Rangers will show visitors the various penguin and seal species. Visitors will spend a lot of their time on the island walking around the landscape to discover the various flora, fauna, and animal life.


There is no tourist accommodation on the island. Travelers typically visit Macquarie Island as part of a passenger cruise, and anchor offshore.


Camping is prohibited on the island.

Getting There

Passenger cruises sometimes stop-over on Macquarie Island – for example, folks who travel from Hobart to Antarctica will likely spend a day or two on the island.

Contact Quark Expeditions, Aurora Expeditions, and Heritage Expeditions to learn about trips to Macquarie Island.

Related posts:

  1. Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Australia

Comments are closed.