Macquarie Island field huts

Little red hut that looks like a smartie overlooking the water.
Waterfall Bay hut (Photo: D. Ross)

Many expeditioners at Macquarie Island travel into the field for work or recreational purposes. Most travel is by foot although inflatable rubber boats (IRBs) are used occasionally. Vehicle use on Macquarie Island is limited to the isthmus.

The size, construction and local environment vary from hut to hut, giving each its own unique character. The huts however have two things in common: they are warm and dry and are a very welcome sight for a weary traveller.

Of the field huts located on the island, Brothers Point, Green Gorge, Waterfall Bay are on the east coast, Bauer Bay is on the west coast and Hurd Point hut is the most distant from the station at 35 kilometres overland on the rugged southern tip of the island. The huts are strategically located around the island and accessed via a network of walking tracks – there are 96 km of marked tracks on the island.

Over the years the huts have supported scientific programs ranging from auroral physics and albatross research at Hurd Point to penguin studies at Brothers Point. The huts provide valuable accommodation for personnel working in the field and serve as popular retreats for anyone wishing to get ‘off station’ for a few days.

Walking is the primary means of transport, limiting the amount of equipment that can easily be moved around the island. During the station resupply, which typically occurs in March/April each year, helicopters fly essential equipment and supplies including food and LP gas to each hut. All rubbish generated at huts or in the field is removed during resupply and returned to the station on these flights. Expeditioners are briefed on techniques for managing human waste in the field.

Expeditioners need only carry personal safety and work equipment when they walk, reducing the chances of injury and strains from negotiating steep slopes with heavy packs.

Each hut is equipped with a gas stoves and heater for cooking and warmth. Water supply for the huts is either rainwater collected from the hut roofs or from nearby soaks. Water must be treated prior to drinking.

A RAPS unit (remote area power supply) provides power for each hut. The unit consists of a wind generators and solar panels that charge 12 volt batteries. This provides power for lights and radios. A small petrol generator provides back up 240 volts of power if required. Each hut is fitted with a car radio CD player, which provides reception of Australian and New Zealand AM radio stations under favourable atmospheric conditions.

Communications between huts and groups in the field is typically by VHF radio. The island is serviced by four radio repeaters that enable communications over the rugged landscape. Each person or group also carries a SPOT satellite-tracking device for safety. Nightly radio scheds take place between the field parties and the station. These scheds take place at set times daily and provide personnel in the field with up to date weather forecasts , general items of station news as well as providing a safety facility operations in the field. Each person carries a personal first aid kit - larger medical kits are located at some huts and the doctor is based on station to liaise with if required.

Access around the island is generally restricted to the track network. Access off track is limited to essential maintenance and approved scientific research. Off-track travel requires the use of a map, compass and GPS (Global Positioning System). Safe routes are identified for traversing the steep coastal escarpments that dominate the Macquarie Island landscape.

Macquarie Island has three types of Special Management Areas (SMAs). These areas have been established to provide protection for sensitive wildlife breeding. Access through these areas is subject to seasonal closures or with an appropriate permit from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.