What's the most remote spot on Earth?

By: Sarah Winkler

A man climbs among stumpy tree ferns above Hottentot Gulch, Tristan da Cunha Island. See more pictures of beaches.
Photo by James P. Blair/National Geographic/Getty Images

We live in a technologically advanced and interconnected world. Places that were once almost impossible to reach are now accessible by road systems, waterways and airplane rides. Despite the ease with which we can contact people on the other side of the globe -- whether it be through the click of a mouse or a letter in the post -- about 10 percent of the Earth is more than 48 hours away, by way of land travel, from the nearest city [source: O'Neill]. While in recent years it definitely has become easier to reach far away lands, there are many places in the world that remain inaccessible, uninhabited and secluded -- in other words, the most remote spots on Earth.

To determine whether a location qualifies as "remote," you should consider the inaccessibility of the place (how difficult it is to reach the spot) and its isolation (the distance from the nearest inhabited location). In terms of inaccessibility, the point farthest from sea is the Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility, which is located more than 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers) from any ocean and is located in northern China. The point farthest from land is Point Nemo, which is in the South Pacific, more than 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers) from any land mass [source: Murrell]. Neither of these locations are inhabited by humans.


What's the most remote inhabited location on Earth? A place called Tristan da Cunha. The approximately 270 residents of this archipelago see a mail ship only once a year [source: Weaver]. Tristan da Cunha is located at 37 South and 12 West, 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) from St. Helena and 1,739.8 miles (2,800 kilometers) from the nearest mainland, the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Tristan is circular in shape and is about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter with a total area of only about 30 square miles (78 square kilometers). The summer season falls between December and March. During the winter months, the central volcanic peak of Tristan, which rises to a height of 6,594 feet (2,010 meters), is covered in snow. Tristan da Cunha, the main island, is the only inhabited island in the chain. The other islands that make up the archipelago -- Nightingale, Stoltenhof, Gough, Middle and the appropriately named Inaccessible -- are not populated by humans.

But how did people come to inhabit this remote island chain? And how did they find out about it in the first place? Find out on the next page.





Tristan da Cunha: The World's Most Remote Inhabited Island

This satellite image shows Tristan da Cunha Island.
This satellite image shows Tristan da Cunha Island.
Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

Today, Tristan da Cunha is certainly off the beaten path and is considered the most remote inhabited island on the planet. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, the archipelago was on the preferred maritime route to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean. The islands of Tristan da Cunha were discovered by Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cunha during an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope in 1506. In 1643, the first recorded crew, the Dutch Heemstede, landed on Tristan to replenish supplies. In 1650 and 1669, the Dutch initiated efforts to explore the island as a base but soon abandoned the idea, perhaps because Tristan lacked a safe harbor.

Several Americans attempted to make use of Tristan in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1790, Captain John Patten of Philadelphia used the island as a sealing and whaling base. In 1810, Jonathan Lambert of Salem, Mass., attempted to establish a trading station there. During the War of 1812, American forces used Tristan as a base to defend against British attacks.


While today's Tristan is off the international political radar, it was at the center of the strategic military scene during the early 1800s. On Aug. 14, 1816, the British military took possession of the island to prevent the French from using Tristan to rescue the deposed emperor Napoleon who was imprisoned on St. Helena, about 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) away. The British also aimed to keep Americans from using Tristan as a base again.

Despite this initial political interest in Tristan, the British military soon lost interest in its strategic importance and began to gradually abandon the island in 1817. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, routes through the South Atlantic were no longer necessary for trans-Atlantic trade, and ships ceased to pass through Tristan. However, some of Tristan's original residents stayed on the island, and, in addition to a few shipwreck survivors, they continued to populate the island. Many of their descendants still live on this remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic.

Today, Tristan is classified as a United Kingdom Overseas Territory, and all of its residents are British citizens. The residents of Tristan da Cunha, who live in the settlement of Edinburgh, share just eight surnames [source: Weaver]. Tristan houses a school, hospital, post office, museum, cafe, pub, craft shop, village hall and swimming pool. The island is financially self-supporting, and residents earn most of their income from fishing and, oddly, the sale of postage stamps. An optician and dentist are sent from the United Kingdom once a year. While there's no airport on Tristan, cruise ships occasionally visit the island, and crawfish trawlers from Cape Town come to the island about six times per year [source: The Commonwealth].

For more information on travel and interesting spots around our planet, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Ekwall, John and Jan Tuner. "Tristan da Cunha: The Remotest Island in the World." Saint Helena.http://www.sthelena.se/tristan/tristan.htm
  • IBM. "Examine | Teleradiology: The Most Remote Place on Earth." Image: The Weekly Source for Technology Professionals.http://www.rt-image.com/Examine__Teleradiology_The_Most_Remote_Place_on_Earth_Teleradiology_comes_to_the/content=8804J05C485EA080409698764488B0441
  • Murrell, Paul. "Case Study: Point Nemo." Department of Statistics: University of Auckland, New Zealand.http://www.stat.auckland.ac.nz/~paul/ItDT/HTML/node14.html
  • O'Neill, Ian. "Where is the Most Remote Location on Earth?" Universe Today. April 20, 2009.http://www.universetoday.com/2009/04/20/where-is-the-most-remote-location-on-earth/
  • "Science Question of the Week: What is the most isolated place on Earth?" Goddard Space Flight Center: NASA.http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/scienceques2004/20050128.htm
  • Tristan Da Cunha.http://www.tristandc.com/
  • Tristan da Cunha. The Commonwealth.http://www.thecommonwealth.org/YearbookInternal/140416/148855/tristan_da_cunha/
  • Weaver, Barry. "Tristan Da Cunha." College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences: University of Oklahoma.http://ags.ou.edu/~bweaver/Ascension/tdc.htm