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“Earth’s Remotest Island” and its tiny port: Tristan da Cunha

PortandTerminal.com, January 3, 2019

EDINBURGH OF THE SEVEN SEAS, TRISTAN DA CUNHA – The Pacific Ocean has 200 islands, many of which you are probably already aware of. They include Tahiti, Bora Bora and Iwo Jima to name just a few. The Atlantic Ocean though has considerably fewer islands – just 63 in total, the largest of which is Greenland of course.

In this article, we’ll look at Tristan da Cunha in the southern Atlantic Ocean, a small island but one famous in its own right for being known as “Earth’s Remotest Island”.

Where is Tristan da Cunha?

Tristan da Cunha is located 1,750 miles (2816 km) away from South Africa, and 1,500 (2,414 km) miles away from the nearest landmass Saint Helena. This officially makes it the remotest group of islands in the world.

Tristan is part of a small group of 4 tiny islands. There’s Tristan da Cunha (the main island where Tristan’s citizens live), Inaccessible Island, Nightingale Island and Gough Island. With the exception of a weather station on Gough Island manned by just 6 people, only Tristan Island is populated and not by that many more people.

Not only is Tristan da Cunha incredibly remote, it’s also very small with an area of just 80 square miles which makes it the same size as Toledo, Ohio. The main settlement on the island is called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas located on the north coast.

Tristan is a British overseas territory and is governed primarily by Saint Helena, another remote island located over 1,450 miles away. The people of Tristan are left pretty much on their own to manage things as you can imagine with these distances at play.

How many people live on Tristan?

A picture of Tristan women and children published in 1910

The island’s population is just 275 and no new residents are allowed to settle on it so the population number isn’t increasing or decreasing by much. The only religion is Christianity, mainly Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.

It was settled by men from military garrisons and ships, who married native women from Saint Helena and the Cape Colony. The people are multi-racial, descended from European male founders and mixed-race (African, Asian and European) and African women founders.

Catholic Church on Tristan

English is the main language on the island. There is though a distinct local dialect with words derived from the many cultures of the island’s original settlers.

Because of its small population, marriages between relatives (e.g. second cousins) has inevitably occurred – resulting in some minor health issues including asthma and glaucoma. The islanders are comprised of 80 families, with just 7 surnames: Glass, Green, Hagan, Lavarello, Repetto, Rogers and Swain.

Cheers! The Albatros Bar on Tristan

Tristan has a pub, shop, cafe, dance hall, museum, catholic church and swimming pool. Amazon does not deliver to Tristan (we checked). There are though two expatriate doctors, two Tristanian nurses and school teachers with some 30 students of varying ages.

The tiny port at Tristan da Cunha

The tiny port on the island is located at Calshot Harbour near the main settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, and wasn’t opened until 1967 following a major volcanic eruption. Prior to that, small landing craft had to come onto the beach to offload their cargo.

Dredged to a depth of just 6.5 feet (2 metres), the small harbor is unable to accommodate any ocean-going vessels or yachts, which must anchor some distance off the coast. Local craft or tenders ferry passengers and cargo to and from the small harbor. The anchorage off the settlement is almost 90 feet deep.

Tristan’s main source of income is the island’s lobster factory, which sells its product to the United States and Japan via the South African company ‘Ovenstone’.

The main settlement on Tristan lies at 37 °S at the same latitude as Melbourne, Australia so snowfall and frost are not a concern. There is though lots of wind and rain which only allow for safe harbor traffic for 70 days a year or so.

If you want to visit

Aerial view of Tristan da Cunha with volcanic mountain in background and settlement in foreground.

If you want to visit then it will take some work to get there, but be well worthwhile.

Nature is the big attraction on Tristan. A volcano dominates the island, rising to more than 6,500 feet (2,000 metres). There are Yellow-nosed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins galore if that’s your thing. The fishing is great too which is our thing.

The island has no airport though. The only regular transportation is an old fishing trawler from Cape Town that makes the trip — it takes seven days, one-way — maybe eight times a year. 

While remote, Tristan isn’t totally disconnected so if you want to get to know more about it you can. They have television, radio and an online newspaper. There are also websites that were invaluable in producing this article.

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