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 Australia's Sub-Antarctic jewel.
Macquarie Island is about 1500km SSE of Tasmania (Australia) and around 1200km N of Antarctica. The Australian Antarctic Division research station is located at the north end of the island. The island is 5km wide at its widest point and 34km long. The island's total area is about 128 square km.
Cold, wet and windy. The average winter temperature is about 3 degrees C and the average summer temperature is 7 degrees 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.
It may be possible to land on Macca by helicopter if your ship has a helicopter. Otherwise the only transportation to the island is by sea.
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 travelers is recommended as sea sickness for some is a distinct possibility - 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 impossible. If weather permits, expedition ships such as the Spirit of Enderby will usually visit the Base at Buckles Bay and also Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay is home to great numbers of King Penguins, Royal Penguins and elephant seals. If conditions allow, Zodiac cruising may also take place at Lusitania Bay. No landings are permitted here, one of the reasons being that the beach is usually completely covered by King Penguins.
There are several walking tracks around the island. To limit environmental degradation some raised boardwalks have been introduced. Visitors are escorted by a Tasmanian park ranger. Zodiac inflatable boats are used to put visitors ashore at accessible locations for excursions. All landings are monitored by the Tasmanian park rangers. Vehicles are not used on the island.
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 unforgetable 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 1000kg 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 2000kg and can weigh up to 4000kg. They can also be up to 4 metres in length. If you visit over the summer months, there may be a number of young seals on the beach. With their blubbery fat rolls, curious nature and giant, reflective eyes, they charm all of those who are lucky enough to visit.
Check out the seals, go to the weather station, go on bush tracks
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.
"Galapagos of the Southern Ocean' is a comprehensive book on Macquarie Island and the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands written by Rodney Russ.
The research station's mess building will occasionally provide snacks to visitors like muffins, sandwiches, friands, pizza, tea and coffee.
The research station has a bar in the mess building. A bizzare, 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.
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.
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 Islands of the Southern Ocean.