In the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, 19,541 kilometres away, lies the farthest point on land from the University of Sydney. Just 400 metres long and half as wide, Ilhéu da Vila sits just off Santa Maria Island, the southernmost point of Portugal’s Azores archipelago.
If you want to get away from it all and leave the University far behind, a visit to Ilhéu da Vila will let you trade ibises and rats for the pufferfish, dolphins, and seabirds that inhabit the island and its surrounds (though sadly for any goat lovers, a resident herd of 13 goats was culled in 1993 to protect the local bird population).
Although Ilhéu da Vila is uninhabited, nearby Santa Maria is a much larger island of five thousand residents. It is known for its beaches, sunny weather, and varied geography, which includes dramatic cliffs, forests, and the ‘red desert of the Azores’, an arid clay area unique to Portugal. Santa Maria’s airport, built by American forces during the Second World War, was once a significant stop on trans-Atlantic flight routes.
The main town of Vila do Porto boasts a population one-third the size of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ 9,000 students, and dates to the 1400s. As Wikipedia dourly notes, despite a lack of earthquakes “the community was always marked by isolation, inaccessibility and weak defensive position”.
The result was a constant stream of raids by pirates and foreign powers alike, and a historic fort to repel would-be attackers still sits overlooking the harbour today. The island’s history made it wary of strangers, and locals notably accosted Columbus on his way home in 1493.
Perhaps some of this guardedness remains, as a greeting and request for comment from Honi Soit to the local council went unanswered.
For those truly desperate to get as far away as possible, the exact USyd antipode sits amongst the underwater Seewarte Seamounts to the island’s southwest, at 33°53’09.4″N 28°48’40.3″W — 20,015km from the Quadrangle. Getting there would require hiring one of the numerous vessels docked at Vila do Porto’s marina, but there is little to do at the antipode itself other than admire the endless ocean and the fact that Eastern Avenue lies thousands of kilometres beneath your feet. Deadlines, assignments, and the long arm of the University by-laws can’t touch you here.
A one-way ticket to Ilhéu da Vila (via six stopovers) in the winter break will set you back about $980 — get booking.