I’m standing on a gravel airstrip on the north of Somerset Island, permanent population zero. During the summer months, tourists visit an amazing eco-lodge called Arctic Watch, watching thousands of Beluga whales, swimming in crystal waterfalls, and hiking in the tundra. As we waited for our charter return flight to arrive, with supplies and a new arrival of guests, the weather closed in. Keeping an eye out for polar bears, it got me thinking about other remote landing strips, and in particular airports. Pilots can land a plane on any dirt strip, but a commercial airport requires infrastructure, a yellowing bathroom, maybe a broken vending machine. Military airports need not apply. Here’s some of the world’s most remote, along with some of my own adventures discovering them.
Resolute Bay Airport, Nunavut
Airport Code: YRB
Since we’re in the North, lets start with the closest airport to my landing strip on Somerset Island, in this case, Resolute. It’s the second most northerly community in Canada, population around 240. The Inuktitut word for Resolute literally means “place without dawn.” Midnight sun in summer, Arctic night in winter, and the sun never rises either way. The airport receives regular flights from First Air as well as charter planes, and plans are afoot for the Canadian Military to expand the airport to make it a major Arctic centre for its operations. In the meantime, the community gratefully receives its supplies, and lifeline, from planes landing at its simple airport.
Perth International, Australia
Airport Code: PER
It’s the fourth busiest airport in Australia, serving the capital of Western Australia with a population of 1.75 million. So how does Perth International feature on this list of outposts? After all, it services 37 airlines flying to 77 destinations, and over a thousand flights a week! The answer is simple: Perth is arguably the most isolated city in the world, closer to Jakarta than it is to Sydney (there are arguments that Honolulu is more isolated, in which case, we should add Honolulu International HNL to this list). Sure, it’s far from everything, but it also boasts sensational beaches, Australia’s wine growing region, and a wonderful quality of life.
Bahir Dar Ethiopia
Airport Code: BJR
Admittedly, Bahir Dar is not one of the world’s most remote airports, but trust me, it’s the last place on earth you’d ever want to end up. OK, I’m being a bit harsh, but I did spend 8 hours there, and you probably did not. What happened was our Ethiopian Airways flight from Addis Ababa to Lalibela stopped off in Bahir Dar as per schedule. We took off again, flew ten minutes over Lake Tana, and the pilot announced engine troubles. Not a good thing to hear, so I was somewhat relieved when we landed safely back at Bahir Dar. Four sweltering hours later, during which time I counted every cracking tile in the airport wall, the replacement plane arrived. Problem is, it had broken down too. So we waited another four hours for the replacement replacement plane. We arrived 10 hours late, nerves frazzled, but thankfully, in one piece. And that’s all we can really ask for, right?
Kulusuk Airport, Greenland
Airport Code: KUS
Another isolated northern airport, this time on the east coast of Greenland. Since everyone knows Greenland is far icier than Iceland (which services the airport), it’s rather disturbing to note the airport doesn’t have de-icing equipment. The terminal does have a duty free shop, a small cafeteria, and considering there are only 3 to 5 flights a day, a reputation for being chaos in the arrivals/departure hall. Kulusuk is the gateway to Ammassalik, a remote region that does receive a fair share of tourists chasing Arctic adventures.
Atiu, Cook Islands
Airport Code: AIU
The Cook Islands are made up of 15 islands, covering a whopping 1.8 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean. Tourists might visit a couple inhabited islands, and the views of the turquoise lagoons are simple staggering. On Atiu, I got dirty in an ancient burial cave, joined in a local birthday party, and had a great time in a traditional bush pub, sharing homemade orange moonshine out of a coconut cup with a dozen locals. When it was time to fly back to Rarotonga, the friendliness of this tiny island (population 560) was literally on display at the airport. A sign above the waiting hut read: “Voluntary Security Check: Would passengers please hand in their AK47’s, bazookas, grenades, explosives, and nukes to the pilot on boarding the aircraft. Airport Management thanks you for your cooperation. “
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport, Russia
Airport Code: PKC
In the world of highly remote eco-adventures, the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka is making waves with its lunar landscape, snowcapped mountain peaks and volcanoes. Since there are no roads or rail connecting the region to the mainland, the airport is the lifeline for the region’s main town, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Seasonal flights are bringing tourists in from the USA, Japan, China and Moscow. The peninsula is also home to Russia’s largest submarine base, and while isolated, has a population of 180,000. Moscow is just a nine-hour flight away!
Mataveri International Airport, Easter Island, Chile
Airport Code: IPC
Widely regarded as the world’s most remote airport, Mataveri is 3759 kilometres away from the nearest airport, in Santiago, Chile. For all its isolation, the airport does do brisk traffic, thanks to tourists arriving from Santiago, Tahiti and Lima primarily to see the famed stone heads that mysteriously guard the island. Easter Island is perhaps the world’s most remote inhabited island, so stands to reason its airport makes the list. With an asphalt runway serving 737’s, the airport was also an abort site during the space shuttle program.
St Helena Airport, British Overseas Territory
Airport Code: TBA
When construction is complete, the South Atlantic island of St Helena will boast one of the world’s most remote civilian airports, more than 2000 kilometres from the nearest landmass. The island is actually the centre of three British Overseas Territories, which are easily accessible should you happen to own a superpowered submarine. Ascension Island is only 1,300 kilometres north, while Tristan da Cunha is 2,400 kilometres south. Some 4255 people live on St Helena, with all food, equipment and supplies arriving by boat, which is expected to be retired in 2016 when the airport is complete.
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.