Tuesday 26 August 2014

Macquarie Island: subantarctic tundra and a research station lost in the Pacific Ocean

Macquarie Island is an australian sub-antarctic territory in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica.

Discovered accidentally in 1810, it first became british posession and part of the New South Wales colony. Macquarie Island became a Tasmanian Reserve in 1978, and a World Heritage Site in 1997.

The small island is about 34 km long and  5 km wide, in two main pieces of plateau joined by a narrow isthmus close to sea level.

Tundra covers most of the island, there is also some exclusive grass vegetation on the coastal cliffs and sandy areas.

Mt. Fletcher, at 428 m, is the highest point.

View as arriving from north.

Coordinates: 54° 30′ S, 158° 57′ E
( ~ same as Ushuaia, or Grytviken )

Population: no native inhabitants; Macquarie Island Station is a permanent research base, home to about 40 over summer, with about 16 over winter.

'Macca' entrance gate.

The station, friendly known as Macca, opened in 1911 to establish radio contact from Antarctica to Hobart; from 1948, it was enlarged to allow for research under Australian administration.

It is built on a narrow isthmus at the northern end of the island, and consists of more than 30 separate buildings. The sleeping quarters, mess, surgery, stores and powerhouse buildings are located at the northern end of the isthmus.

Most of the scientific buildings, including geophysics, biology, upper atmosphere physics and meteorology, are housed on the isthmus. The station’s communications centre and garage are also in this vicinity.

The station's 'main square':
Cumpton's and Hasselborough houses in the foreground.

Accommodation buildings are located within the station compound at the northern end of the isthmus.

Cumpston's Cottage is a two storey timber house erected during the 1995-96 summer. It has four rooms, including the station governor's room and office as well as the doctor's rooms. It is the most modern building at the station.

Hasselborough House contains 11 rooms, laundry, drying room, toilets and showers. The windows that are fixed shut.

Winter snow at the isthmus, among cabins from Macca.

South of the Station.

The climate is mainly mild but windy and rainy, similar to the Faröe Islands in Europe; temperature has few oscillations from 0 (winter - May and June) to + 5 degrees (summer - December to January). Negative temperatures are uncommon. The sea, though, is often tempestuous and with violent swell.

Green Gorge and the Hut.

On the east coast, 15 km south of the station, Green Gorge is a large inlet that became a basin by the beach as the island rose, with a small lake and surrounded by mountains.

The Hut is a comfortable 1977 Canadian log cabin, improved with insulation and a veranda in 1995.

It is the favourite field hut for visitors and researchers as a sheltered place to enjoy an overnight break on a journey from one end of the island to the other.

Rough swell at Green Gorge.

Macquarie Island is right in the middle of a violent mass of weather and waves, a tiny speck of solid land directly in the path of fierce storms and some of the worst sea conditions anywhere on the planet.

Around the Island

Macquarie Island offers some fantastic landscapes in a number of spots - bays, caps, cliffs, hills, small lakes, waterfalls...

'Aurora Point', on the mid-western coast, about the other side across the island from Green Gorge.

'Caroline Cove', on the southwestern tip.

Tiobunga Lake, the water tank, on the inland plateau.

'Whisky Creek', a steep valley cutting through the eastern escarpment into the Waterfall Lake.

A garden park, Macquarie syle, on the plateau uplands.

Snow blowing from the top of Mt Elder
(~ 385 m).

Macquarie Island's Nature Reserve is now World Heritage Site, home to thousands of king penguins, royal penguins, elephant seals, fur seals, and several birds.

Azorella macquariensis (Macquarie Cushion) is endemic to Macquarie Island. The species is presently endangered from unknown causes, suffering a severe decline.