Tips of the Continents

Cross-posted on my geology blog Georneys.

For some reason, humans like to travel to extreme or notable points on the globe: the north pole, the south pole, the southernmost point of this, the northernmost point of that, the westernmost point of this, the easternmost point of that, the highest point of that, the lowest point of that, continental divides, the equator, the arctic circle, the prime meridian, and many others.

I’m not sure why these extreme or notable points– which often don’t look like much when you visit them or which can be crazy tourist traps– are such significant travel goals for humans. Perhaps humans like having a place to seek, a destination that drives them onward rather than just a place to wander across. I suppose that this is one reason I like traveling for geology. Geology gives me specific places I need to reach: a roadcut, a stratigraphic boundary, a fossil-hunting ground, a mineral spring, a fault, an erratic boulder, a sculpture carved into a rock, a rock arch, a glacial striation, a sand dune, and so on.

On the other hand, I sometimes wish there were more time for wandering on busy, fully-scheduled geology trips. Much of my travel has, wonderfully, been funded by my geology research and geology class field trips. This is one reason I decided to become a geologist– I am often paid to travel, and I find this wonderful. However, after my PhD, I plan to take a little time off and do some wandering with no formal geology obligations. I’m sure I’ll wander across some wonderful places and some amazing geology anyway.

Maybe in my wanderings I’ll visit a few more so-called extreme points on the globe. So far, I haven’t been to too many extreme points. I guess I’ve made some progress on visiting the southermost points of continents. I’ve been to the southernmost point of Africa and the southernmost point of Asia. Well, sort of. One of the problems with many extreme places (well, the ones that are easier to reach, perhaps not Mt. Everest and the poles) is that they attract tourists. Sometimes, locals might exaggerate or even make-up the “extreme” characteristics of their home place in order to attract more tourists.

Cape Agulhas, South Africa seems to be the geographical southernmost tip of Africa. Sentosa Island, on the other hand, seems dubious in its claim to be the southernmost point of continental Asia. I think perhaps Sentosa made up this claim to attract tourists. First of all, Sentosa is an island and not really part of continental Asia. Excluding islands, I think the southernmost tip of Asia should be located in Malaysia. Second of all, Sentosa is not the southernmost Asian island. Including islands, I think the southernmost tip of Asia should  be located in Indonesia. However, Sentosa is a beautiful– if touristy– place, so I recommend visiting anyway. You can even take a picture next to Sentosa’s dubious, slightly Engrish sign proclaiming “Southernmost Point of Asia Continent” if you want.

Perhaps I’ll try to visit the southernmost points of some other continents in my post-PhD wanderings– just five to go. Or maybe six.

Jackie (my fiance) and I at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, South Africa, March 2009.
Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, South Africa, March 2009.
Rocks hanging out at the southernmost tip of Africa, March 2009.
Southernmost point of Singapore, but probably not of Asia, Sentosa, August 2007.
Beautiful Sentosa beach, August 2007.
Beautiful Sentosa bridge, August 2007.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. I’ve been to the southern most point of Bruny Island (off the coast of Tasmania, but it doesn’t extend as far south as Tasmania itself), and it’s pretty cool looking across the ocean at Antarctica.

    I’ve also been to West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point in the US. (East Quoddy Head is mostly north but a little east of West Quoddy Head, across the bay, but it doesn’t count because it’s in Canada.) Looking east, there is nothing but water until you reach Grand Manon Island, also in Canada, a few miles away. Still it is a pretty cool place. Come to think of it, both West Quoddy Head and Cape Bruny (the southern point) have lighthouses of historical significance. Also, Bruny has penguins.

  2. Eh, just go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Completely fascinating geology and constant gorgeousness. (I’m a New Yorker, by the way, not a representative of Wyoming tourism or anything….)

  3. I’m a much less extreme person than you are, so I’d like to find the least extreme point in the United States. The point that is equidistant from the northernmost, southernmost, easternmost, and westernmost points.

  4. I visited the Cape of Good Hope a few weeks ago, but couldn’t work up enough desire to drive all the way to Cape Agulhas. I see now that there is some disagreement as to where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans actually meet. The meeting point of the warm Indian Ocean current and the cool Atlantic Ocean current actually fluctuates from Cape Agulhas to Cape Point throughout the year. Still, it’s not surprising that both points claim to be the meeting points of the two oceans. People like rigid definitions of things (see the definition of the word “planet”), and I suppose that the true facts of the matter would be harder to fit on a souvenir magnet. :)

  5. you forgot visiting where Moses died and Jesus was baptised…and other historic claims of places to gather “tourists”. Unless you are Franklin Pierce, in which case no one really cares about where you were born.

  6. I’ve been to sentosa island in Singapore, not sure if it is the same place. I rode over to the island on a tram that was suspended from the top of a building. I also remember there was a dolphin show and a huge mermaid lion the “merlion”.

  7. I confess to a fetish for this sort of thing….

    Anyone going north on a main road thru Wisconsin will come across waysides on 45 deg. north latitude. Also the tip of Old Mission Penninsula north of Travers City, MI. is on that line.
    I always wanted to visit the point just west of Wausau where 45 N crosses 90 W — totally useless, except it’s 1/2 way betweeen the Equator and the Pole and 1/4 of the way around from Greenwich.
    I also met some sailors last month who rammed their boat into the icepack at 80 N–just so they could say that they could’ve walked to the Pole…

  8. Another good/stupid place to visit is 4 corners. Things to do: 1) Stand in all 4 states at once. 2)Stand in each pair of states, including diagonals. 3) Stand in each state in turn (i.e. walk around the intersection, both clockwise and counterclockwise.) 4)Stand in 3 states while not touching the 4th, for each set of 3 states. 5) Discover the marker is in the wrong place and the actual intersection of the 4 states is several hundred feet away. Hours of fun for the whole family.

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