Isolated places: Oceanic pole of inaccessibility (Point Nemo)

Think of the most isolated island that you can imagine – the farthest removed from anything that could be called civilization, an island that can barely support a population of shrubs. Now take the island away. This is the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, also known as “Point Nemo” after the captain in Jules Verne’s science fiction epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A patch of deep sea in the South Pacific Ocean, it has the distinction of being the furthest point from land on earth.

Feel free to laugh at me, but you'll never understand how terrifying this image is to me, even at this size.

How far is the furthest point from land on earth? About 2,688 km from each of the following points: Ducie Island, one of the Pitcairn chain, to the north, the Antarctic coast to the south, and Motu Nui, one of the Easter Island group, to the northeast. Point Nemo is equally distant from each point and may move slightly in the future due to erosion. The nature of this point is such that it could not have been really discovered until the advent of satellite imagery and sufficiently powerful software, and it was indeed only definitively discovered in 1992.

The idea of the open sea is somewhat scary to people who, like me, are not used to it already. But the idea of being over 1,600 miles from the nearest land, which itself might be totally desolate anyway, is especially terror-inducing. This fear is compounded by the fact that not even very much life exists in this part of the Pacific. Point Nemo is in a part of the ocean called the South Pacific Gyre, which is classified as an “oceanic desert” (not an oxymoron, though it sounds like one!) due to its lack of nutrients necessary to sustain life. So not only do humans almost completely avoid it, but ocean-faring animals as well.

Despite the fact that the oceanic pole of inaccessibility was not precisely known until the 1990s, people generally knew of this part of the Pacific as a desolate area long before. In fact, the bizarre science fiction/fantasy horror writer H. P. Lovecraft placed his ancient city of R’lyeh, home to the monstrous tentacled sleeping god Cthulhu, at a point on the ocean floor in the Gyre very close to the pole of inaccessibility. If you’ve ever read The Call of Cthulhu, you’re probably even less likely to want to travel to Point Nemo now.

"Don't listen to him. Come over to R'lyeh. I won't destroy your fragile human mind, I promise."
“Don’t listen to this silly human. Come over to R’lyeh. I won’t destroy your fragile mortal mind, I promise.”

How to get there

If you want to visit this point on Earth, forsaken by God and man and even marine mammal and fish, you’ll first have to travel to one of the closest points to it.  As a practical matter, this means taking a commercial flight or cruise to either Easter Island or Pitcairn.

After a stay on Rapa Nui or Pitcairn, you’ll have to either have brought or somehow procure your own boat for the 2,700 kilometer trip to Point Nemo, because there’s no sane person alive who would willingly take you there or even accompany you there unless they were well paid for it.  Let’s assume you take an ocean-faring sailboat because you’re adventurous.  At an average rate of 4 to 5 knots, you’d cover something like 220 kilometers per day, meaning you’d take at least 12 days to reach the point.  And then you’d have to sail the 2,700 km back, because there is absolutely nothing at Point Nemo.

Except perhaps for R’lyeh.

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