Our Antipodes

Hoeing up a bed for onion sets wears me out, but if I were capable of digging a hole through the earth to the other side of the globe and found a patch of soil, it would be on Ile Amsterdam, situated in one of the most desolate stretches of ocean in the world.

The island was named by one of those intrepid Dutch explorers of the 17th century, van Diemen, who in 1633 named it after his ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam, which was (incredibile dictu) named after a Dutch settlement on the east coast of North America at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Now under French administration, Ile Amsterdam is 21 square miles of rugged terrain in a Mediterranean climate: warm, dry and sunny. La Roche Godon, the only settlement on the island, is home to about 30 non-permanent inhabitants involved in biological, meteorological and geomagnetic studies. Doubtless out of sheer coincidence, both Jackson and Ile Amsterdam have a volcanic presence, but while the mountain on the island is potentially active, I have every assurance that despite a considerable amount of shifting, the cone beneath Jackson is very much extinct.

The island was once home to one of the few species of flightless ducks in the world, the Amsterdam wigeon, which was of course quickly exterminated once discovered, but still has the Amsterdam albatross as well as Amsterdam fur seals, which bask in thousands on the rocky coastline.