Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Martin-de-Viviès, on the sub-antarctic Islands of Saint-Paul et Amsterdam

These islands are remote and isolated, but by no means a freezing polar land. They lay on the middle of the Indian ocean, north of the also french Kerguelen Islands, at a latitude similar to Melbourne is Australia, or Bahia Blanca in Argentina.

They are St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands, part of the Overseas Territories of France. Rarely visited or mentioned, the islands are remarkable for their nature and location.

Both islands are of volcanic origin, though the last eruption dates back to 1792. The Islands have a mild oceanic climate and are partially covered with grass.

They are over 80 km far from each other, and the climat is mildly oceanic (above zero), with constant strong winds prevailing from the west. Amsterdam is by far the largest of the two islands.

As they are sub-antarctic territory - located north of the antarctic convergence line where the warm waters of the Indian Ocean separate from the colder Austral Ocean waters - there is no snowfall nor icecap on the islands.

Amsterdam Island

From sea, Mont Fernand is clearly visible, at 731 m

Coordinates: 37° 47′ S, 77° 34′ E
Dimensions:  - ca. 10 km x 7 km,
                    - max high 881 m

With and area of 55 km2, Amsterdam Island varies from steep cliffs on the west coast to a gentle slope in the north and a green downhill on the east side. A high plateau around 700 m is the main volcanic site, eoth a large crater and sone hill tops; other smaller craters are scattered around.

The main features are the craters, the green Phylica and grass cover, and the rugged southwest coast.

Falaise La Pearl, a 250 m high cliff on the southwest.

Rocky Entrecasteaux.

La Cathédrale, a wild crag at Entrecasteaux

Plateau des Tourbières, over 500 m high upland in Amsterdam. At far, Mont de La Dives, 881 m, the highest point.

The island's top plateau, les Tourbières, is surrounded by two hilltops and a volcanic crater.

Grande Marmite, the largest volcanic crater on top of the island (742 m)

Colerige ravine (ridge?) at 800m and Mont de la Dives

Only in Amsterdam Island can be found a shrub - almost a tree - called Phylica arborea, mainly on the east slope.

Phylica arborea is a native tree-like woody plant.

The Phylica tree became an emblematic mark of the territory, and is carefully kept and protected.

At present the "Grand Bois" (The Large Woods) is the only remnant of Phylica forest, a preserved natural area which has been fenced and bordered by cypresses for protection.

Le Grand Bois

The 'Grand Bois' is just a little green spot on the east slope.


The french base lies on the north coast of Amsterdam Island, spreading down a gentle slope, 100 m up from the sea.

The base was renamed after Paul Martin de Viviès who spent the winter of 1949 on the island, exploring, describing and mapping.

The Avenue, main street, slightly ascending to he central 'square'.

MDV is the only inhabitated place on the islands, a permanently occupied settlement since 1949, with rotating teams of 23 to 35 experts, techniciens and support personnel.

The yellow Albatross, a housing building

At Viviès, buildings are named after the local bird fauna - Stern, Albatross, Skua...

Le Skua, the community hall - restaurant, bar, resting lounge, games, video and conference rooms.

Saint-Yves hospital.

Spring at MDV.

A Phylica nursery is carefully kept near the Hospital.

Plantations must be protected from the winds; climat in Martin de Viviès is smoothly temperated (-10º to 20º C) but extremely windy.

Forming a slight ascending slope to the south, it is constituted of an ancestral and rash concrete, cut by deep rifts drawn by time and bad weather.

La Cabane Antonelli

Antonelli is a small crater on the northern section, with a small Phylica woods, where a panoramic cabin was built mainly as a depart point and shelter when teams go walking around the island.

The Phylica wood

This might well be the start of a tourist route...

View of Antonelli's small wood against the Indian Ocean, from the Cabin's balcony.

The research ship "Marion Dufresne II" visits the base every two months.

Her arrival is welcome as the only way in and out of the islands.

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Next: the island of St. Paul