Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha

Photo: Ron Van Oers © UNESCO

How far away do you need to go to feel safe, truly safe, during a pandemic? Some people just need to drive a few hours into the mountains. Others need a long trip to the countryside. It might take a remote island for you.

It doesn’t get much more remote than Saint Helena, Ascension & Tristan da Cunha. The British Overseas Territory lies in the South Atlantic Ocean. Its volcanic islands are thousands of miles from the nearest landmass. That’s Africa. They’re also hundreds of miles from each other. More than 2,000 miles separate the northernmost island, Ascension, from the southernmost island, Gough Island.

Gough Island is part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago. A Portuguese explorer, Gonçalo Álvares, first discovered the island in the early 16th century. It was originally named after him. Another mariner, this time a Brit named Charles Gough, arrived nearly 200 years later. When the British claimed the islands, this one was renamed after him. Aside from the navigators, sealers were the only ones to venture out this far for hundreds of years. But it’s now considered one of the most remote places in the world with a constant human presence.

Surprisingly, there are people on Gough Island. In 1956, the South African National Antarctic Programme was established to monitor cold fronts approaching South Africa. A handful of people, usually six, spend up to a year on the rugged, volcanic island. They aren’t completely alone. This is one of the few places that Tristan albatrosses and Atlantic petrels call home. Critically endangered Gough buntings, nearly flightless Gough moorhens, and 30,000 pairs of northern rockhopper penguins do, too. No wonder Gough Island is both an Important Bird Area and a Ramsar site. In addition to these birds, subantarctic fur seals breed along the steep coastline and southern right whales migrate around the island. Along with the Inaccessible Islands, Gough Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well.

Aside from the weather station personnel, few people usually see, much less step foot on, the island. Cruise ships, repositioning between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, are among the few vessels that venture way out here. You certainly aren’t boarding a cruise ship anytime soon. But the thought of hiking Edinburgh Peak, the island’s highest point, is quite intriguing. It might be far enough away for you to forget what’s going on in the rest of the world.


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