What's the Most Remote Spot on Earth?

By: Sarah Winkler  | 

Sign at Tristan da Cunha
How does it feel to be 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) from the nearest mainland? David Forman/Photodisc/Getty Images

We live in a technologically advanced and interconnected world. Places that were once almost impossible to reach are now accessible by roads, waterways and airplanes. In fact, 90.7 percent of the global population from developed countries lives within an hour's travel of a major city. In low-income countries that number drops to 50.9 percent. We know both of those stats thanks to the Malaria Atlas Project, a massive collaborative undertaking that sought to quantify peoples' access to cities.

But what about the places that take hours, or even days, to reach? What about those far-away lands that remain inaccessible, uninhabited and secluded — in other words, the most remote spots on Earth?

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To determine whether a location qualifies as "remote," you should consider the inaccessibility of the place (how difficult it is to reach) 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 1,645 miles (2,648 kilometers) from any ocean and is located in northwestern 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 landmass [source: Murrell]. Neither of these locations are inhabited by humans.

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

What's the most remote inhabited location on Earth? A place called Tristan da Cunha. As of Feb. 17, 2022, there were 257 people, mostly British citizens, living on this archipelago, which sees a ship carrying mail, cargo and passengers about once a month [source: Tristinandc].

Tristan da Cunha is located at 37 degrees south latitude and 12 degrees west longitude, 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) from St. Helena and 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) from the nearest mainland, the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. It sits in the South Atlantic Ocean, between South America and Africa, west and slightly south of the Cape of Good Hope. Tristan is circular in shape and is about 6 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 6,760 feet (2,062 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?

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

family on Tristan da Cunha
This image from Oct. 16, 1961, shows the Green family outside their home on the island of Tristan da Cunha. Green is one of just nine surnames present on the remote inhabited island. Central Press/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.

As the island's website notes in its extensive history section, 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.

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Several Americans attempted to make use of Tristan in the 18th and 19th centuries, the website explains. In 1790, captain John Patten of Philadelphia used the island as a sealing and whaling base. In 1810, Jonathan Lambert of Salem, Massachusetts, 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 the overwhelming majority of its residents are British citizens. The residents of Tristan da Cunha, who live in the settlement of Edinburgh, share just nine surnames [source: tristandc]. Tristan houses a school, hospital, post office, museum, cafe, pub, craft shop, two churches, a village hall and a swimming pool. The island is financially self-supporting, and residents earn much of their income from fishing, some tourism and, perhaps unexpectedly, the sale of postage stamps.

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Originally Published: Aug 25, 2009

Lots More Information

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  • Ekwall, John and Jan Tuner. "Tristan da Cunha: The Remotest Island in the World." Saint Helena. (Feb. 24, 2022) http://www.sthelena.se/tristan/tristan.htm
  • Goddard Space Flight Center: NASA. "Science Question of the Week: What is the most isolated place on Earth?" (Feb. 24, 2022) https://web.archive.org/web/20090716130516/https://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/scienceques2004/20050128.htm
  • IBM. "Examine | Teleradiology: The Most Remote Place on Earth." Image: The Weekly Source for Technology Professionals. Dec. 3, 2007) (Feb. 24, 2022) http://www.rt-image.com/Examine__Teleradiology_The_Most_Remote_Place_on_Earth_Teleradiology_comes_to_the/content=8804J05C485EA080409698764488B0441
  • The Malaria Atlas Project. (Feb. 24, 2022) https://malariaatlas.org/
  • Murrell, Paul. "Case Study: Point Nemo." Department of Statistics: University of Auckland, New Zealand. (Feb. 24, 2022) 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. (Feb. 24, 2022) https://www.universetoday.com/29469/where-is-the-most-remote-location-on-earth/
  • Tristan da Cunha website. (Feb. 24, 2022) http://www.tristandc.com/
  • Tristan da Cunha. The Commonwealth. (Feb. 24, 2022) https://web.archive.org/web/20090416081716/http://www.thecommonwealth.org/YearbookInternal/140416/148855/tristan_da_cunha/
  • Weaver, Barry. "Tristan Da Cunha." College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences: University of Oklahoma. (Feb. 24, 2022) https://web.archive.org/web/20090903141401/http://ags.ou.edu/~bweaver/Ascension/tdc.htm
  • Van Dam, Andrew. "Using the best data possible, we set out to find the middle of nowhere." The Washington Post. Feb. 20, 2018 (Feb. 24, 2022)

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