The Visitor Access Zone provides for appropriate management of low impact, short-term, land-based visitor activities in the Reserve, and seeks to balance conservation goals with the desire to maximise the experience and enjoyment of visitors in the brief time they are likely be ashore.
As weather conditions usually differ dramatically around the island, and tourist ships are usually on tight itineraries, there are three areas within the Visitor Access Zone at widely distributed parts of the island (Atlas Cove in the north-west, Spit Bay in the south-east and Long Beach in the south) to improve the chances of visitors being able to get ashore.
The areas within the Visitor Access Zone provide relatively safe landing sites, albeit not in all conditions, and access to a range of attractions within approximately one hour’s walk of these landing sites.
Attractions within, or in visible close proximity to, these low-lying areas include heritage sites, extensively vegetated areas, wildlife colonies and a range of spectacular landscape features. Only low impact access, such as beach landings by vessels or helicopter landings at designated points, and low-impact activities (such as walking, photography and wildlife observation) are allowed in the Visitor Access Zone in accordance with the provisions of the management plan.
The Visitor Access Zone (VAZ) consists of the Atlas Cove VAZ, the Spit Bay VAZ and the Long Beach VAZ.
The Atlas Cove PDF VAZ, at the north-western end of Heard Island, comprises the low-lying shingle and sandy areas of The Nullarbor, and is bound to the west by Atlas Cove, to the north by the Azorella Peninsula Restricted Zone and Atlas Cove MUZ, to the east by Corinthian Bay and the base of the Baudissin Glacier moraine, and to the South by the vegetation at the foot of Mount Drygalski. The Atlas Cove VAZ also includes:
- an area of 50 m radius surrounding sealers’ huts and relics on the Azorella Peninsula lava flow adjacent to the north-eastern corner of The Nullarbor (53°01′08″S, 73°24′30″E);
- a coastal walking route extending to the flanks of Mount Aubert de la Rue on the western side of Atlas Cove (53°01′27″S, 73°22′50″E);
- a coastal walking route extending 500 m from Wharf Point north along the western shore of Azorella Peninsula (53°00′56″S, 73°23′14″E); and
- an unspecified walking route from the Atlas Cove Main Use Zone to an access area of 10 m radius around the memorial cross at 53°01′05″S, 73°23′29″E, approximately 65 m from the closest point on the north-western boundary of the Atlas Cove Main Use Zone. Such access to the memorial cross will only be allowed if it can be achieved without causing environmental damage, and must be via the most direct suitable route.
The Spit Bay PDF VAZ, at the south-eastern end of Heard Island, comprises an approximately triangular area with sides around two kilometres in length lying between Elephant Spit and the eastern-most part of the island proper, plus two narrow coastal strips of approximately one kilometre in length extending to the north-west and south-west from this triangular area. The north-west coastal strip ends where Stephenson Lagoon meets the sea (approx. 53°06′19″S, 73°43′04″E). The south-west coastal strip runs along Sealers Beach and ends at the coast adjacent to the north-eastern end of the unnamed lagoon to the north-east of Doppler Hill (53°08′00″S, 73°43′51″E). The eastern limit of the Zone, on Elephant Spit, is approximately 2 km from the centre of the Spit Bay MUZ at 73°46′17″E.
The Long Beach PDF VAZ, on the central southern coast of Heard Island, comprises a narrow coastal strip of beach extending from 50 m west of sealers’ hut ruins near Cape Labuan (53°11′40.5″S, 73°29′58.5″E), and extending approximately 2 km east to the end of Long Beach where the beach joins a set of low lava cliffs (53°11′11″S, 73°31′16″E).