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Antarctic, barren, and icy, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are uninhabited islands in the South Pacific. Since many tourists don't think of visiting, it is mainly scientists who frequent these bleak blocks of ice. The region is administered by Australia, and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before you plan your trip, you should know a few things.
In the group of islands there is: Heard Island, which is the largest, Shag Island (located north of Heard), and the McDonalds Islands, which are two small Islands to the west of Heard. Heard Island is dominated by a large massif, the Big Ben and an active volcano, Mawson Peak.
To get to the Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, you do not need a visa per se. You do, however, require permission from the Australian Antarctic Division because the location is a registered nature reserve. Access thus requires joining an expedition team.
As you can imagine, you can get on the Heard Island and the McDonald Islands via boat. The trip is not made very often, so you need to plan far ahead of time. As for flying, the possibilities are close to null. A landing can be made on the Heard Island and the McDonald Islands only for compelling scientific reasons.
Regarding what tourists can do on the islands, the answer is: not much. Although, the islands host 4 species of penguins, along with a vast population of seals and some various bird species. If you want to observe these animals in their natural habitat, these islands are the perfect spot.
There is no economic activity on these islands, so hotels, restaurants, etc. are essentially out of the question. There are two structures present in the area: one is abandoned and the other’s condition is currently unknown. Don't plan on finding a place to sleep on the island, unless you like camping. Your best bet would be to stay on the ship with which you arrived.
If you decide that you want to visit the Heard Island and the McDonald Islands, safety should be your number one concern. First of all, you need to pack the right equipment and gear for the trip, and since the climate is cold and harsh. Layers are strongly recommended, but if you have the possibility of buying specially insulated clothing, that is even better.
The terrain is rough and you can injure yourself quite easily if unprepared. Note that there are, of course, no medical establishments on the island, so you'd need to be airlifted if something severe were to happen. It can take days for someone to reach you, which makes the situation even more serious.
Even though the Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are unforgiving, the islands' ecology reveals itself as quietly beautiful. The cold rockiness, active volcanoes, the sea . . . they all create a certain charm that you cannot find everywhere else in the world.
The Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are not for everyone. The place is unwelcoming, challenging, and every bone in your body will be chilled at least some of the time. However, for as rough as it can be, the nature is beautiful and you may even grow to appreciate it. Plus, we think the penguins are reason enough to visit.
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