What’s the Ross Dependency? All your questions answered

April 2


To keep this website running fast, the photos are very small. To get a better idea of what 1964 is really about, you need to see the magazine.

Would you like a FREE digital issue of 1964?

Where is the Ross Dependency?

Geographically speaking, the Ross Dependency is a sector of Antarctica. The Ross Dependency covers the area of the continent between 160° east and 150 west longitude, and the associated islands in between those degrees that are found below the 60° south latitude in the Ross Sea, including Ross Island, Coulman Island, Scott Island and Franklin Island.

What is the Ross Dependency?

It initially had to do with the fact that the British government, which had been an enthusiastic participant in the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration up to 1917, was, behind the scenes, hoping to make the place part of the British Empire. Fortunately, this did not entirely work out.

However, to bolster their influence, in July of 1923, an Order in Council of the British Government put the territory of the Ross Dependency within the jurisdiction of the New Zealand Government – which, as was pointed out by the New Zealand diplomat Malcolm Templeton, meant that: “almost casually, through an accident of geography, New Zealand was offered a slice of Antarctica larger than New Zealand itself.”

Who was Ross?

The Dependency named for the British Naval Officer James Clark Ross, who discovered the Ross Sea while commanding a journey south to reach the site of the magnetic South Pole.

What part of Antarctica does New Zealand own?

The land mass claimed as the Ross Dependency is formally controlled by the governor-general (but there is an administrative team on the ground – a governor of the Ross Dependency and other officers are annually appointed, with advice from cabinet). Aotearoa is responsible for administering the Ross Dependency – but it was never owned by New Zealand, and never will be.

Since the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which was signed in Washington DC by twelve nations including the both the United Kingdom and Aotearoa New Zealand, no country can claim ownership of any part of Antarctica.

Is the Ross Dependency part of NZ?

It’s not part of the nation of Aotearoa, but it is administered by our government and New Zealand law applies.

New Zealand’s permanent Antarctic research station, Scott Base, is located in the Ross Dependency. Scott Base was opened in 1957, and is home to about 200 staff during the summer, a number which drops to about 12 in winter.

Only 10 minutes by Jeep from Scott Base, the American McMurdo Station is in the Ross Dependency, and therefore under Kiwi administration. By law, if a baby were born at McMurdo Station (which hasn’t happened, but is technically possible), the child would be eligible for New Zealand citizenship.

There was for a while a post office at Scott Base, and there were official Ross Dependency postage stamps, but these were discontinued in 1987 when New Zealand pPst was rationalized. Christchurch now handles all the mail for the Ross Dependency.

Which country has claimed the largest part of the Antarctic continent?

Aotearoa is one special territorial authority out of the seven that administer parts of Antarctica (interestingly, the United States is not).

Countries with territorial claims in Antarctica are New Zealand, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, and the United Kingdom.

At 5,896,500 square kilometres, the Australian Antarctic Territory is the largest claim. New Zealand’s Ross Dependency is 450,000 square kilometres, which is, as Templeton pointed out, a lot bigger that the 268,000 square kilometres that Aotearoa New Zealand itself takes up.

A significant portion of Antarctica isn’t claimed at all, and the Marie Byrd Land mass, to the east of the Ross Ice Shelf, is the largest unclaimed land mass in the world.

Is New Zealand close to Antarctica?

The distance to Antarctica changes depending on where you leave from and where you land, but it’s about 3,920 kilometres by air from Christchurch to Antarctica proper.

The flight takes seven hours in a Hercules LC-130 or five hours in the beast that is a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster.

Is Tasmania or New Zealand closer to Antarctica?

It sort of depends how you measure it, but if you go by latitude, New Zealand is closer. Neither country is the closest to the frozen continent – that honour goes to Chile.

Is New Zealand part of Australia?

We’ve included this because it really is an FAQ about Aotearoa New Zealand, Antarctica and the Antarctic treaty system.

The answer is, um, no.

Aotearoa is not part of Australia and never was, though we do like to visit each other.


This article is even better in print.


1964: mountain culture / aotearoa is a reader-supported magazine that explores Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote places and the people who seek them out. Working with more than thirty artists, photographers, writers, woodworkers and welders, we advocate for and support Aotearoa’s creatives.

Subscribe here to get four delectable print issues of 1964 delivered to your doorstep every year. Or, if you’re into pixels, you can subscribe to a digital mag instead. We’re flexible that way.