Bouvetøya, world’s most remote island

This speck of land between South Africa and Antarctica is, shockingly, part of Norway

Bouvetøya

Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute/ Public domain
The first landing on Bouvet Island, made by the Norvegia-ekspedisjon, occurred on Dec. 1, 1927, some 188 years after it was first sighted.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Bouvet Island (Bouvetøya) is an uninhabited 19-square-mile sub-antarctic island. It’s the world’s most remote island, about 1,600 miles south of the coast of South Africa and 1,100 miles north of Antarctica. Named for French explorer and navigator Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet, who is credited with first sighting it in 1739, it remained in nautical limbo for many years. The next recorded sighting was in 1808.

Bouvetøya

Image: Posten Norge

Between 1926 and 1945, Norwegian whaling pioneer Lars Christensen (1884-1965) sent nine expeditions to Antarctica. Four of them are called the “Norvegica expeditions” since they were voyages of the Norvegica expedition vessel dedicated to charting unknown territories and conducting scientific exploration. The findings of the Norvegica expeditions helped ensure that Norway now has sovereign territories in the southern hemisphere. On the first Norvegica expedition in 1927-28, Bouvet Island was rediscovered. In 1928, the second Norvegica expedition aimed to set up a meteorological station on the island but failed to find a suitable site. In 1929, the third Norvegica expedition returned to the island and took the first-known aerial photos of it. This persistent presence led to Bouvet Island becoming a Norwegian-dependent territory in 1930.

In 1934, the British Navy’s HMS Milford visited Bouvet Island and made philatelic history. With the permission of the Norwegian Consul General in Cape Town, a temporary Norwegian post office set up on board issued Norwegian stamps overprinted BOUVET ØYA. The Cape Town postal authorities accepted letters with these stamps, although Posten Norge later refused to honor them.

Bouvetøya

Image: ARRL

Norwegian expeditions have researched the island from the 1970s. In 1977, an unstaffed automatic weather station was established, and for two months in 1978-1979, a manned station was in operation. In 1996, the Norwegian Polar Institute set up a research station in a shipping container, but it was blown away by a winter storm; in 2014, it was replaced by a permanent building. In 1989, the 250th anniversary of the initial discovery of the island, a group of Norwegian amateur radio operators mounted and manned a DX-pedition (DX is the radio telegraphic shorthand for distance.) to Bouvet Island that enabled radio amateurs around the world to contact a new global location. A comprehensive, well-illustrated report on that DX-pedition was published in the October 1990 issue of QST, the monthly magazine of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the membership association of U.S. radio amateur enthusiasts.

Bouvetøya

Image: Posten Norge

The human presence on Bouvet Island is a matter of historical record. The far greater animal presence is less known. Seabirds have apparently always had breeding colonies there, and penguins and seals are native to the island. In February 2018, Posten Norge issued two postage stamps commemorating that presence, one featuring an Antarctic Fur Seal, the other featuring a Chinstrap Penguin.

Bouvet Island can be forbidding; the average annual temperature is -1°C (31.4°F); a glacier covers two-thirds of its land that is often shrouded in mists, although NASA has managed to photograph it from a satellite. Getting there is expensive. There is no suitable landing for ships, so ship-to-land transport is now done by helicopter. Thus, in addition to being the world’s most remote island, Bouvet Island most likely will remain the world’s least visited one.

Further reading:
• “Lifehavens: Bouvet Island for a difficult to attack haven,” Probaway-Life Hacks blog item, April, 2008: probaway.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/lifehavens-bouvet-island-for-the-extreem-of-difficult-to-access
Norwegian Interests and Policy in the Antarctic, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs white paper, 2014-2015: www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/cef2a67e958849689aa7e89341159f29/en-gb/pdfs/stm201420150032000engpdfs.pdf
• “An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end,” A Blast from the Past blog item, Feb. 13, 2011: mikedashhistory.com/2011/02/13/an-abandoned-lifeboat-at-worlds-end

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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