Highcliff Island (its name a calque of the original Portuguese Ilha das altas falésias as recorded by João da Nova) is an extinct volcano in the southern Indian Ocean, approximately halfway between the Prince Edward Islands and Kerguelen. While it has been known and noted on nautical charts for centuries, Highcliff holds the unique distinction among remote islands of never having been explored.

This is primarily due to its geology; the ancient volcano caldara formed in such a way that the island takes the form of am irregular bowl with 1000-1500 feet of sheer rock cliffs surrounding it, sloping down nearly vertically to the sea. The high cliffs of its name, in other words. Several expeditions failed to penetrate its interior before the island’s owner, France, declared it to be a nature preserve (using the name île Highcliff and leaving the calque untranslated rather than substituting the French île des hautes falaises). Access was prohibited for fear of introducing invasive species, which had devestated the native insular fauna on many other isolated landmasses.

Nevertheless, illegal attempts continue to be made to access Highcliff, for one reason and one reason only: a message carved on the timbers of an icebound ship, indicating that the crew planned to make for Highcliff in the ship’s boats.

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