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The Most Isolated Place on Earth

It’s a feeling we’re all familiar with. That need to get away from it all. To escape the dumpster fire of our virus-ravaged, politically-unstable world, and retreat to somewhere far, far away. 

For most of us, this means turning off our cell phones and heading for a remote Airbnb rental. Or pitching a tent out in the wilds a decent hike from the nearest road.

But what happens when that isn’t enough? When the modern world manages to intrude even in the loneliest corners of our home states or nations? 

Then perhaps it’s time to find somewhere even further afield. Somewhere so unimaginably distant that civilization becomes nothing more than a faded dream.

Perhaps it’s time to take a trip to the most-isolated place on Earth.

So, you’ve packed your bags, told your douchebag boss you’re never coming back, and are now ready to set off for a brand new life far from the maddening crowd. Couldn’t be easier, right?

Well, not so fast.

See, finding the most-isolated place on Earth isn’t like locating the highest mountain, or the brainiest YouTuber – stuff involving simple, objective measurements.

Isolation can mean different things to different people. And exactly where you’ll head on your journey depends entirely upon what you’re looking for.

To show you what we mean, let’s start by looking at one of the most-famous remote places. The place that comes up when you literally Google “what is the most-isolated place on Earth?”: Tristan Da Cunha.

An island chain in the South Atlantic, Tristan Da Cunha is so remote that it makes the proverbial arse end of nowhere look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

View on Tristan da Cunha
View on Tristan da Cunha.By Brian Gratwicke is licensed under CC-BY

The nearest airport is some 2,400km away on the island of St Helena, itself home to only 4,500 people.

To get to actual civilization from Tristan Da Cunha, you’d need to jump in a ship and head east across open seas for over 2,800km. But that’s only if they have space!

Boats only make the weeklong journey from the island to Cape Town in South Africa about a dozen times a year. Each time, berths are strictly limited.

All this makes getting to Tristan such a logistical nightmare that only between 10 and 20 tourists bother most years. If you’re looking to escape your fellow Americans or Europeans, this could be your eden. 

But not if you’re hoping to avoid other people entirely. If social isolation is your jam, you should probably look elsewhere.

Remote as it is, Tristan Da Cunha isn’t some uninhabited paradise. 

There are nearly 300 people living there, all clustered in the sole settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

Since this is where all the food and shelter is, it’s where you’ll also be staying. And, while you’re there, you may find things don’t feel so isolated.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas has a tight-knit community. A local pub. A community center. Even television. 

And while being surrounded by friendly locals and modern-ish amenities sounds great, it’s probably not what most of us are looking for when we Google “most-isolated place on Earth”.  

It’s a problem that bedevils other famously-remote islands.

Pitcairn Island is a tiny green dot in the vast blue nothingness of the Pacific, over 1,500km from its closest neighbor – Easter Island – and over 5,000km from civilization in the form of New Zealand. 

Even fewer people live here than on Tristan Da Cunha: a mere 50 or so. 

Like on Tristan, though, nearly all live in one place – the capital Adamstown – and everyone tends to know everyone else’s business. Again: fine if you want to form some super-close friendships. Less so if you’ve given up on the human race entirely.

Perhaps, then, we need to broaden our horizons. To include uninhabited islands in our search. 

If that’s the case, you’d be hard-pressed to find somewhere more suitable to escape to than Bouvet. 

A glacier-encrusted, cloud-wreathed lump of godforsaken rock, Bouvet Island has the distinction of being likely the most-remote island on the planet. 

The nearest piece of solid land is Antarctica – over 1,700km away. The closest humans, meanwhile, are our old buddies on Tristan Da Cunha. Successfully land on Bouvet, and you’ll be the only living soul for 2,250km. 

And a successful landing is far from guaranteed.

Since it’s surrounded by sharp cliffs, Bouvet Island is almost comically dangerous to approach. So much so that there’s only a single possible landing point, and it’s incredibly weather dependent.

Make it to shore, and you’ll then have to figure out how to stay alive on an island with no vegetation, miserable weather, and only seal colonies for company. 

Still, this isolation is at least the real deal. So remote is Bouvet that you could set a nuclear bomb off nearby and the wider world might not even notice. 

We know this because someone – widely-assumed to be either South Africa or Israel – did just that in 1979, in something known as the Vela Incident.

But, hey, why stop our search at remote islands? Why not just do away with the idea of land altogether? 

Located at coordinates 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, Point Nemo has nothing to mark its existence.

There’s no sign to be found here. No tourist shop selling “I Heart Point Nemo” t-shirts. Nothing but endless sea, stretching out effectively forever. 

This is because Point Nemo isn’t a physical place, but Earth’s Oceanic Point of Inaccessibility – a fancy way of saying it’s the spot in the ocean that’s farthest from land than any other.

Sail to this geographical oddity, and you’ll be about 2,688km from the nearest terra firma, Ducie Island – itself an uninhabited part of the already-remote Pitcairn Islands. 

"The Landing", Pitcairn Island
“The Landing”, Pitcairn Island. By Makemake, is licensed under CC-BY

As for the nearest humans… well, Point Nemo is so far from anywhere that your closest companions would be the crew of the International Space Station, a mere 400km upwards.

There isn’t even much in the way of marine life. Point Nemo is in the South Pacific Gyre, a patch of sea so devoid of nutrients it’s been called “the deadest spot in the ocean”. 

In fact, so remote is Point Nemo that it’s where old satellites and space stations are directed to crash at the end of their lives. Stay floating there long enough, and you might just get to see a spectacular crash landing.

Not that Nemo is Earth’s only point of inaccessibility.

The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility is the point in Antarctica farthest from any coastline, a kind of land version of Point Nemo.

It’s also incredibly hard to reach. How hard? Well, so hard that it’s only been visited a handful of times in human history, and the one Soviet base established there operated for only 12 days.

Compare this to the actual South Pole, today the site of the year-round Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station – a place so (relatively) easy to visit that Lonely Planet even recommends it in their guidebook. 

By contrast, Antarctica’s Pole of Inaccessibility requires first flying to the Amundsen–Scott station then making a grueling 878km trek, all while braving average temperatures of minus 58C

But while Earth’s Poles of Inaccessibility are indeed remote, that superlative remoteness ironically makes them more attractive to visitors. 

Point Nemo, for example, is today part of the route of several long-distance boating races, including the Volvo Ocean Race. Extreme adventure tour companies, meanwhile, offer (admittedly hyper-expensive) treks to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility.

Even miserable Bouvet Island is on cruise ship itineraries – presumably for people who love seal watching almost as much as they hate being comfortable.

Perhaps, then, the most-isolated spot on Earth – in terms of avoiding other people – isn’t going to be a place people know, but somewhere so anonymous no-one would ever think to go there.

Somewhere like the spot found at coordinates 34.7°N, 85.7°E. 

A desolate corner of the Tibetan Plateau, this geographic point doesn’t even have a name. What it does have is a whole lot of human-less space around it. 

Back in 2009, researchers at the Global Environmental Monitoring Unit mapped the accessibility of the entire planet; factoring in nearest roads, difficulty of terrain, and time it’d take to reach each place.

They concluded that this anonymous point nestled amid the Tibetan mountains at an altitude of 5,200m was the hardest to reach of all, requiring 21 days travel from the nearest city – one day of solid driving, another 20 of hiking.

More to the point, there’s no reason for anyone to go there. If you want to recline in splendid isolation, alone except for the bone-snapping cold, safe in the knowledge that not even thrill-seekers will intrude upon the silence now surrounding you, this could be the place.

But then, it might not be the only one.

Even today, there remain uncountable spots on our planet where human beings have never set foot. And, more to the point, potentially never will.

That’s because these places aren’t the most-extreme anything. They’re simply hard to get to and – once you’ve got there – nothing to boast about. 

According to the BBC, there are hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of mountains that remain unclimbed – too remote and challenging for non-experts; but too small and unimpressive for seasoned climbers.

To this, we can probably add secluded corners of the Amazon that are simply too awkward to get to. Or parts of Saudi Arabia’s vast Empty Quarter that even the Bedouin find too time-consuming to get too.

There are probably even places closer to home than you’d ever imagine.

On January 26, 1950, a US military plane carrying 44 personnel crashed somewhere in Canada’s vast Yukon Territory. 

Despite a massive search and rescue effort – and despite spending over 70 years as one of the world’s best-known mysteries – no trace of the plane or the crew has ever been found. 

Think about that for a second. Somewhere, within the territory of a country as modern and as advanced as Canada, lies a spot so remote it can easily swallow over 40 human lives without leaving a trace. 

It may be hard, then, to say definitely what the most-isolated place on Earth really is. But one thing’s for sure. 

If you really do want to escape from it all, and spend the rest of your days untouched by the outside world, then there’s no shortage of places for you to vanish to.

(Ends).

Sources:

CNN, Remote Islands: https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/most-remote-islands/index.html 

Tristan Da Cunha website: https://www.tristandc.com/visitsorganise.php 

Atlas Obscura, southern pole of inaccessibility: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/southern-pole-of-inaccessibility 

NOAA, Point Nemo: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nemo.html 

Guardian, Point Nemo: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/shortcuts/2018/may/18/point-nemo-is-the-most-remote-oceanic-spot-yet-its-still-awash-with-plastic 

BBC, Unclimbed Mountains: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140703-the-last-mountains-to-climb 

Bouvet Island: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/bouvet-island 

North Sentinel Island: https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/sentinelese 

New Scientist, most-remote place on Earth: https://www.newscientist.com/gallery/small-world/ 

Lonely Planet, South Pole Station: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/south-pole/attractions/amundsen-scott-south-pole-station/a/poi-sig/363463/1333130 

1950 Canada military plane crash: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/31/canada-plane-crash-mystery-documentary 

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