Macquarie Island by yacht

By: Don McIntyre

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  • Trade-A-Boat

Ever think you’d want to visit Macquarie Island? With an ocean-capable yacht, you too could visit this island halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica.


Elephant seal on Macquarie Island beach
Elephant seal taking a break on Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island.

After 50 years on the water, I have built a lifetime of memories and absorbed some truly amazing places. One of the most amazing is a place I call "Jurassic Park" — Macquarie Island. If you are a sailor and can get yourself onto an ocean-capable yacht, it is a destination you may like to consider. It is an achievable sailing adventure that takes you to a magical place, yet for some strange reason it is not considered a cruising destination.


Macquarie Island

North of Macquarie Island.
The isthmus at the northern end of Macquarie Island has the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) station, occupied year round for more than 60 years. They would love to see you sail over the horizon!

Macquarie Island is 800nm south of Hobart, or just a 330-mile ocean passage if you island-hop through the pristine and nearly as amazing New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands. Over the past 17 years I have visited this place about 28 times and my spine tingles every time I land there.

Macquarie Island is one of the wonder spots of the world and it is on our doorstep, yet virtually no one ever sails there. Instead, people who want to visit Macquarie Island come by ship, paying on average about $16,000 for the privilege of a two-day visit.


Furious Fifties

Orca whales at Macquarie Island
Macquarie Island has a resident pod of about 11 orca whales. They think of young elephant seals as "meaty bites" when they head to sea for their first swim.

Macquarie Island (also known as Macca) is just 34km long, 5km wide and 410m high. It sits proudly in the Furious Fifties, at 158°55’ East Longitude and 54°30’ South Latitude, where the air and sea roll continuously around the world. It rains about 314 days a year, with 18-hour summer days and the "southern lights" often seen at night. It is a geological wonder and has World Heritage status because of this. Only a maximum of 12 ships are permitted to visit the island every year, but yachts do not count. You could set sail next summer!

The Australian Federal Government and the Tasmanian State Government which manages the island, just spent $30 million eradicating rabbits, the last of the introduced pests that previously included rats, cats and mice.


Update 16/11/2015: The Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project has received a Banksia Award, a highly prestigious Australian sustainability award . In 2014 the program was delcared a success, ridding the island of mice, ratse and rabbits.


So why would you want to visit Macquarie Island? If ever in your life you have wanted to experience the natural world in all its raw beauty, on your own terms, where you are the master of your own destiny and live the life of an explorer, this is the one to grab.

Don lying next to a seal
Don gets to know a local baby elephant seal.


Marine life animals of Macquarie Island

Southern giant petrel eating a penguin
Southern giant petrel making a meal of a king penguin.

You will have two-ton elephant seals snorting, burping and farting in your face! Weeners (baby elephant seals) crawling all over you, skuas trying to eat you, king penguins assessing you up close and personally, royal penguins laughing at you, giant petrels eating penguins in front of you and orcas occasionally keeping an eye on you. And that’s just for starters!

There are Gentoo and rockhopper penguins, brown Russian chicks, sooty albatross and giant wanderers too. The list goes on and on. They’re all waiting to greet you on the beaches of this wonderland of intense activity. You can try to avoid them, but they want to be with you.

If you set out from Australia you will have sailed 800 miles through one of the last great wilderness areas on earth, the great Southern Ocean, with its multitude of soaring seabirds, large and tiny. If you left from New Zealand you can simply island-hop across, stopping at the Auckland Islands and regardless of where you departed from, I would hop back to New Zealand via Campbell Island. I could write a whole column about what you would see in these spectacular New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands, but that will have to wait for another day.

Gentoo penguin
The best way to get this close to a Gentoo penguin is to sail there yourself via the Southern Ocean wilderness.


Visiting Macquarie Island by boat

Visitors to Macquarie Island
A very happy 2014 expedition team after two days of fun visiting Macquarie Island. Left to Right: Brad, Richard, Brent, Kit, John, Adrian, Ashley, Jane, me and Alexander. We all love this place!

This little sailing adventure is well within the possibilities of many ordinary ocean sailors – even Sydney Hobart racers! I really hope you consider it. If you need some personal advice you can get me at my website, but you will need a solid boat that’s prepared well with some experienced, responsible people onboard. You will also need permits from the Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service, which cost $330 per person. You will also need to adhere to some strict quarantine issues (including a de-ratting certificate for the boat) and understand responsible wildlife viewing guidelines.

If you are going via the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands and plan any landings at all you will need to get permits from the Department of Conservation and again, adhere to strict quarantine issues, including fresh antifouling or a bottom check by certified inspectors.

The Pacific islands, gentle breezes and warm, crystal-clear waters are the dream for many and rightly so. But for once in your life maybe you deserve to experience something so completely special and unique, anywhere in the world, that you will feel truly alive!

Not many will ever do this, but for those that try, the rewards will be great.

Penguins at Sandy Bay beach
You cannot lie on the beach at Sandy Bay without drawing a crowd of royal penguins.


More information


Map of Macquarie Island


See the full version of this story in Trade-A-Boat #451, April / May 2014. Why not subscribe today?



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