Geography geeks: The joy of the antipode

By: Dave Gunner

February 8, 2017

Blue Marble Antipoden

By NASA und user:Rotkaeppchen68 (Abgeleitet aus File:Equirectangular-projection.jpg) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Antipodes Island

Erect-crestes Penguins in Zodiac Cruise at Antipodes Islands
supplied by Silversea Cruises via Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re reading this in the UK, did you know you’re also bobbing about in the icy cold seas of the Southern Ocean? Just off the south coast of New Zealand to be precise? Or if you’re flying between the UK and US has it occurred to you that you’re also tracking along the southern coast of Australia? Welcome to the fascinating world of the antipode. It’ll turn your world upside down.

If you’re as obsessed with travelling and flying as we are here at Virgin Atlantic, geography probably fascinates you. And relaxing onboard is the perfect time to ponder the world you’re traversing. Now you can travel almost anywhere quickly, easily and in comfort, it’s easy to think the earth has shrunk. But the true scale of our planet still has the power to amaze, and contemplating antipodes is just one small way it can do so.

What is an antipode?

This geographical term describes the opposite of where you are. The other side of the world. If you were to dig a hole down from your current location, right through the earth, where would you come out? The answer is nearly always in water. The map above shows antipodes for the whole world. Who’d have thought that Australia fitted so neatly into the Atlantic? Or that in so few places does land occur opposite land. There are only 29 antipode city pairs on our planet, and no flights currently connect any of those pairs. We fly to two cities on the list, Shanghai (opposite Buenos Aires) and Hong Kong (opposite  in Argentina). Of course, if you really wanted to get from one to the other you could. We suggest flying from Shanghai to London and onto Atlanta with Virgin Atlantic, and then catch a Delta flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires. Let us know if you decide to give it a go!

The origins of the word

The word antipodes derives from the Greek “with feet opposite (ours)”, from anti- “opposed” and pous “foot”. People in the northern hemisphere commonly use the word antipodean to refer to anyone or anything from Australia or New Zealand, but the term can equally be used the other way round too.

Why does it fascinate us?

At some point, most of us have wondered where the ‘other side of the world’ is. Antipode websites can quickly and easily answer that question, but in the meantime we’ve discovered a handful of intriguing antipodal quirks .

  • According to Ken Jennings – author of the New York Times bestseller Maphead – the Gulf of Tonkins is one such oddity, as described in a recent blog post for Conde Nast Traveler “It’s the northernmost extension of the South China Sea,” he says of the Gulf, explaining how if you were to ‘burrow through the earth’ from there, you’d end up off the coast of Chile. ”That’s right,” says Ken, “the Pacific is so vast that some parts of it are antipodal to itself!”
  • While most of the United States has its antipodes in the Southern Ocean, there are three tiny specks of the continental US – one in Montana and two in Colorado – that match dry land in the form of remote islands, as detailed in a post on Dale Sanderson’s always fascinating US Highways blog US Ends.
  • In a striking coincidence, part of the island of Taiwan – which was named Formosa (meaning beautiful) by 16th century Portuguese sailors – has an antipode of Formosa Province in northeastern Argentina.
  • Elsewhere, there are the Antipodes Islands in the Southern Ocean, a group of remote volcanic islands discovered in 1800 and named because of their closeness to the antipode of London (although in fact, they are much closer to the antipode of Cherbourg in France).
  • And in typical nerdcore fashion, performance artist and BuzzFeed president Ze Frank came up with the idea to create an Earth Sandwich by asking his fans to place slices of bread at a pair of antipodes – the oddball results can be seen at his website including a collaboration between ‘sandwichmakers’ in Madrid, Spain and Auckland, New Zealand.




Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

Categories: Our World