These are the islands in our dreams. The dots on our globe that we know nothing about. Each has its own bizarre story of isolation, adventure and discovery. Inspired by Judith Schalansky’s book Atlas of Remote Islands , we present to you now “10 of the World’s Most Remote but Inhabited Islands.”
10. Amsterdam Island, France
Population: Technically none, but usually 30 researchers can be found there.
Nearest populated region: Australia, 3,370 kilometers (2,094 miles) away.
The closest landmass to Amsterdam Island, a volcanic island with year-round temperatures averaging 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) and high winds, is Perth, Australia. Amsterdam Island is an inactive volcano that last erupted in 1792. Discovered by Sebastian del Cano in 1522 (while del Cano was part of explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet), it took until 1871 before an attempt was made to settle the island by an individual referenced only as Heurtin in the history books. A small group of settlers tried for seven months to grow crops and raise cattle before abandoning the idea and leaving their livestock behind.
Claimed by France in 1843, its only human population comes from researchers visiting the island and its original meteorological station that was set up in 1949. By 1998 the population of Amsterdam Island cattle had grown to over 2,000 from the original five animals. The cattle seriously damaged the ecosystem, and after a series of different strategies (including fencing them in on the northern side of the island) operations began in 2008 to kill off the animals.
9. St. Helena, UK
Nearest populated region: Angola, 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) away.
If getting away from the world is your thing, you will find it in Saint Helena, a volcanic island over 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) from the African coast. When it was discovered in 1502 by the Spanish it had no inhabitants. Today it is administered by Britain along with the islands Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. For hundreds of years, the island has been an important port of call for ships sailing between Europe and Asia.
The island is probably most famous for being the location of Napoleon’s imprisonment when he was exiled to St. Helena in 1815. He lived in Longwood for six years before dying of stomach cancer in 1821 at the age of 51. Napoleon wasn’t the only person sent packing to St. Helena to serve time as a captive, since from the time of its discovery its remote location made it an ideal destination to send exiles and prisoners. It may have held 6,000 prisoners from the Boer War in the early 1900s, but today St. Helena can boast that it is home to 400 different invertebrates that exist nowhere else on Earth.
Sources: St. Helena Tourism
8. Svalbard, Norway
Nearest populated region: Norway, 950 kilometers (600 miles) (950km) away.
Svalbard (formerly known as Spitsbergen) is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of continental Norway. It can claim the impressive title of being the northernmost year-round settlement on the planet, and along with that has been slowly making the push to offer itself as a tourist destination. Starting in the 17th and carrying through the 18th century, the islands were used as whaling bases. During the Second World War, the Nazis built a key weather station on Svalbard which Germany used to collect environmental data vital to their attacks on Allied convoys in the area.
Today, the islands are most famous for the Global Seed Vault, a structure that houses almost 1 million seed samples from all over the world. The Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity on the planet and acts as a backup to the 1,750 other global seed banks. After over 100 years of economic dependence on the coal industry that fueled its employment numbers, Svalbard is using the Global Seed Vault as an enticement for researchers to set up camp there to study its wildlife. Considering there are more polar bears than people there, it might not be a bad idea.
7. Diego Garcia, UK
Population: 4,239 (mainly British and American military personnel)
Nearest populated region: India, 1,796 kilometers (1,116 miles) away.
Diego Garcia is a coral atoll near the equator situated in the Indian Ocean. For centuries after its 16th-century discovery by the Portuguese, locals relied on the harvesting of the meat of the coconut, known as copra, as its main economic source. By the 1960s Diego Garcia was home to over 1,500 Chagossians, people who lived on the island since the 1700s and had come from French African colonies. They brought with them a unique speaking tongue called Chagossian Creole, a French-based language that incorporates various African and Asian languages.
In 1968 the British forcibly evicted all of the Chagossians so the island could serve as a United States military base which was agreed upon by the two countries in 1966. A 45-year legal dispute was finally settled in 2016 with the British courts denying the rights of the Chagossians to return, with the British courts at least conceding the situation with the Chagossians could have been handled better. Ironically, the US military base on Diego Garcia is named Camp Justice, and several air operations during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 and the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003 were launched from there.
6. Île de la Possession, France
Nearest populated region: Madagascar, 2,370 kilometers (1,472 miles) away.
The Crozet Islands are part of a French-owned archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, of which Île de la Possession (Possession Island) is the largest. Since 1938, the 20 islands that make up the archipelago have been classified as a National Park, with abundant sea elephants and royal penguins lazing around on black volcanic sand beaches. Being as remote as it has also landed Île de la Possession in the books as part of sea-faring folklore.
In September of 1887 a man walking on a beach in Fremantle, Australia, discovered a dead albatross with a rusty tin can wrapped around its neck. Pinned to the tin-can neckless was a note that read “13 shipwrecked refugees are on the Crozet islands, 4 August, 1887.” In 48 days the bird had flown 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles). The note started a search with a French boat called La Meurthe from Madagascar looking for the survivors. The Meurthe scoured the islands and found a letter on the uninhabited Pig Island. The letter stated that 13 shipwrecked men from the ship Tamaris, having exhausted their provisions, left the smaller island on September 13 to head to Possession Island in a man-made boat. No trace was ever found of them on Possession, with the presumption made they drowned en route.
8. Laurie Islands, Antarctica
Nearest populated region: The Falkland Islands 1,280 kilometers (795 miles) away.
This remote island that lies 933 miles (1,502km) from the nearest port at Ushuaia, Argentina, is home to the world’s oldest continuously run Antarctic weather and research station. The Orcadas Weather station (officially named in 1951) was constructed in 1903 by explorer William Speirs Bruce while he lead the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (SNAE), and has documented the extreme temperature shifts on Laurie that can see jumps in winter months from -40 °C (-40 °F) up to 8 °C (46 °F).
Orcadas was set up during what is referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The station sits in the shadows of Mount Ramsay (164 meters, or 537 feet in height) which was named after Allan George Ramsay, the chief engineer of the SNAE. On the outward voyage from Scotland, Ramsay began to show symptoms of heart disease but made no mention of it for fear he would be left off the ship at the next port of call. It was his dream to see the ice of Antarctica, but upon landing in Laurie Island his condition worsened. Within a few months, Ramsay was dead from a heart attack. He was buried on the north side of Laurie Island in 1903.
4. Raoul Island, NZ
Nearest populated region: New Zealand, 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) away.
Sometimes called Sunday Island, Raoul Island is known for its frequent volcanic activity. In case cascading lava isn’t enough of a deterrent for brave souls who chose to explore the place, it packs an additional punch with earthquakes. Volcanoes understandably get all the attention on land, but humpback whales make it a stopover location during the months of September and October.
On the unfortunate side of the volcanic equation, in 2006, a team of three researchers was set up at a crater lake taking water temperatures when an eruption took place. The 40-second-long eruption emitted over 200 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air and lake. Two of the researchers were forced to turn back and ultimately evacuate the island along with several other members of their scientific expedition despite one of their colleagues last being seen heading to the exact epicenter of the devastation moments before the eruption. It is estimated upwards of six meters (20 feet) of ash fell on the location 33-year-old Mark Kearney was scheduled to go. A search and rescue team returned to Raoul Island once the area was deemed stable enough, but his body has never been found. In 2016 Kearney’s family, friends and co-workers dedicated a hiking trail, Kearney’s Crossing, in Mark’s memory.
3. Trindade Island, Brazil
Nearest populated region: Brazil, 1,170 kilometers (730 miles) away.
This barren, rocky Atlantic Ocean island was discovered by Portuguese navigator and nobleman Estêvão da Gama (junior, not senior) in 1502. In 1822, it fell under the rule of Brazil, and with the exception of a brief two-year British occupation in 1895 (when it was also temporarily called South Trindade) the island has been administered by the First Naval District of the Brazilian Navy. Trindade’s lone occupants over the last 100 years have been at the Brazilian Navy personnel along with oceanographic and meteorological scientists. Oh, and possibly aliens.
The island and Navy base became a national fixation on January 16th, 1958, when a civilian photographer named Almiro Baraúna snapped six mid-day pictures of what was reported to be a UFO off of Trindade’s coast. Baraúna was stationed on board a boat named Almirante Saldanha with a crew of 48 naval officers, all of whom witnessed a disc-like object approximately 37 meters (120 feet) in diameter with a green, phosphorescent haze surrounding it. It is also claimed the craft was zipping along at nearly 1000 kilometers (621 miles) per hour. It became a sensation in Brazil, with the government requesting an inquest into the story and the Brazilian Navy conducting numerous tests on Baraúna’s photos. Their conclusion? The photos were not doctored, and appear to show an alien object of some sort. Third-party investigators? A complete hoax.
2. Tristan da Cunha, UK
Nearest populated region: South Africa, 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) away.
Named after the Portuguese explorer who discovered the island in 1506, Tristan da Cunha is technically an active volcano and also the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. If you’re ever thinking about making the trip there, prepare yourself for the choppy 7-day boat ride it takes from the closest port, and make sure you pack a raincoat. You can expect to see at two weeks of rain every month, usually more. There is no airport, and the 70 families (all farmers) that call it home have to place their food orders with the only grocery store months in advance.
In 1961 the eruption of Queen Mary’s Peak forced the entire island population of 264 to evacuate. People took to the water in open boats and sailed to Nightingale Island where they were picked up by a ship and taken to Britain (via Cape Town). Two years later, most families returned to Tristan da Cunha’s only city, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas — after geologists had given the okay. Big city living wasn’t for them, so back they came to life with one road and diesel generators.
1. Pitcairn Island, UK
Nearest populated region: Tahiti, 2,120 kilometers (1,317 miles) away.
This remote island is most famous for being the home of Fletcher Christian and the rest of the Bounty mutineers. After a successful mutiny on board the HMS Bounty in 1789, Christian, eight other male shipmates and 18 Tahitians settled on Pitcairn Island. They burned the ship in what went on to be called Bounty Bay and set out to create a new civilization on the then-inhabited island. It would be 18 years (1808) before they would receive their first visitor, American sealing captain Mayhew Folger aboard the Topaz. It would be six more years (1814) before the British would arrive.
By this time there as only one man still alive, along with thirty other women and children. It was learned that the initial settlement was marked by serious tensions among the group; alcoholism, murder, disease and other ills took the lives of most mutineers and Tahitian men. The last remaining mutineer, John Adams, was granted amnesty for his part in the Bounty’s demise in 1814. The mutineers’ legacy is still seen today on the island with many residents still bearing their surnames; Christian, Adams, Quintal and Young.
Sources: Pitcairn’s History
This article and video were inspired by the book Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky. Judith commented that she grew up in East Germany and often stared with wonder at the remote islands on the globe. I did the very same thing and I want to thank Judith for her beautiful book. We highly recommend it.