The poles of inaccessibility are arguably the true last frontiers for explorers. But where and what are they?
I’ve long been fascinated with the most remote places on Earth and the epic journeys of discovery to reach them. I’ve spent countless long mornings lying in bed leafing through giant reference books on the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and even longer afternoons poring over immense maps detailing epic quests across untamed oceans.
It was the names of Amundsen, Livingstone and Magellan and their unfathomable tales of distant lands, high seas and adventure that first inspired me to travel. For modern explorers the poles of inaccessibility represent the outer limits of mankind’s grip on our planet.
What are the poles of inaccessibility?
Not to be confused with the North and South Poles, the poles of inaccessibility are the most hard to reach places on the planet. They are defined as being the geographic location furthest from a point of access, be it coastline, landfall or notable geographic feature. They are often featureless, hostile and always remote.
Typically, there will be no landmark, monument or spectacle to see when reached, hence they are usually only of interest to the explorers, adventurers and contrarians of the world.
Northern pole of inaccessibility
Oft referred to as the Arctic pole of inaccessibility, the northern pole is located at a point in the Arctic Ocean equidistant from the islands of Ellesmere, Komsomolets and Genriyetta. Modern satellite data has confirmed that distance to be 1,008 km (626mi).
Initially, it was thought to be located 214km (133mi) from the current position and several expeditions were made to cross it, first by Sir Hubert Wilkins who flew a plane over it in 1927 and then by a Soviet icebreaker in 1958. Sir Wally Herbert claimed to be the first to reach it by dogsled in 1968.
Most agree that the current northern pole of inaccessibility remains unconquered with the last unsuccessful attempt made in 2006.
Southern pole of inaccessibility
The southern pole of inaccessibility is the point in Antarctica furthest from the Southern Ocean. Due to the continuously shifting ice shelves that surround the continent the exact location of the southern pole of inaccessibility is still open to interpretation.
For years, the southern pole of inaccessibility was thought to be located at the site of the Soviet Union research station, Polyus Nedostupnosti, where a bust of Vladimir Lenin was placed facing towards Moscow in 1958. This historic southern pole of inaccessibility was reached in 2007 by a team of explorers who found the abandoned station and bust of Lenin.
Using different criteria, the Scott Polar Research Institute has identified the southern pole of inaccessibility in a different location (see map below). Moreover, the British Antarctic Survey has located it in two separate locations: one which reflects the furthest distance from the coastline proper; the other, the furthest distance from the outer edges of the ice shelves.
Oceanic pole of inaccessibility
The oceanic pole of inaccessibility is also known as “Point Nemo”, a reference to Captain Nemo, a character from Jules Verne’s 1869 book, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Point Nemo is the point in the Pacific Ocean that is farthest from land at 2,688km (1,670mi) from Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands.
The closest landmasses to the oceanic pole of inaccessibility are:
- Ducie Island to the north
- Motu Nui (part of Easter Island) to the northeast
- Maher Island in Antarctica to the south
- Chatham Island in the west
- Southern Chile in the east
Continental poles of inaccessibility
Like the Southern pole of inaccessibility, the Eurasian pole is located at a point on land farthest removed from the ocean. It can be found in northwestern China near the border with Kazakhstan 2,645km (1,644mi) from the sea and 320km (20mi) north of the city of Ürümqi.
A study in 2007 challenged this and put forward two other possible locations. The study argued that the original calculation didn’t take into account the Gulf of Ob in northern Siberia which penetrates 1,000km (600mi) into the landmass. These poles are still located in China in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. The distance to the sea at these locations is 2,510km and 2,514km respectively, about 120km closer than previously thought.
South Dakota in the USA hosts the North American pole of inaccessibility. Located just 11km (7mi) north of the town of Allen, the pole doesn’t hold much in the way of challenge for the modern day adventurer. It is 1,650km (1,024mi) from the nearest coastline.
The South American continental pole of inaccessibility is located in Brazil, 44km (27mi) from the nearest town of Arenápolis in the state of Mato Grosso. It is 1,512km (940mi) from the nearest coastline.
The African pole of inaccessibility is located 1,814km (1,127mi) from the nearest coastline. It is close to the tri-point border of Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The closest town is Obo in Central African Republic, 49km (31mi) away.
23.17°S 132.27°E or 23°2′S 132°10′E
There are two points that can mark the Australian pole of inaccessibility, both being 920km (570mi) from the nearest coastline. The nearest town is Papunya, 30km (19mi) to the southwest of both positions.
Although no official location has been identified, an estimation has placed the Atlantic pole of inaccessibility at the halfway point between Bermuda and Cape Verde.
Likewise, the Indian Ocean pole of inaccessibility is estimated to be just short of halfway between the Kerguelen Islands (rather aptly also known as the Desolation Islands) and the western coast of Australia.