Lonely Planet Writer

Have scientists found evidence of Zealandia, the eighth continent of the world?

Anybody who was taught the famous preschool song There Are Seven Continents In The World might have to update their lyrics. A group of scientists say they have found evidence that there is in fact an eighth continent, which they are calling Zealandia.

Is there an eighth continent beneath New Zealand.
Is there an eighth continent beneath New Zealand? Image by David Passerat de la Chapelle/500px

The “hidden continent” is almost entirely submerged under water apart from the North and South Islands of New Zealand, New Caledonia, and other islands dotted across that part of the Pacific Ocean. Zealandia is vast at 4.9 million square kilometres (around the size of India) but it would still be considered small by continental standards.

The research was conducted by eleven well-known scientists and geologists who said it was no longer correct to consider the area part of Australasia. “The … area of continental crust is large and separate enough to be considered not just as a continental fragment or a microcontinent, but as an actual continent – Zealandia,” they wrote.“This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realisation; as recently as ten years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper.”

Zealandia, new Continent #zelandija #zealandia #novkontinent #newcontinent

A post shared by Velebit Saša (@sasavelebit) on Feb 15, 2017 at 4:32pm PST

The idea of Zealandia has been around since 1995 but was only used to describe the region, rather than a specific continent up until now. There are four criteria for a continent: land that pokes up from the ocean floor, diversity of rocks, a less dense crust than the ocean floor around, and lastly “well-defined limits around a large enough area”. According to the new research, Zealandia fits the bill for all four. You can read their full paper here.

The aquamarine Lake Tekapo located on the South Island in New Zealand.
The aquamarine Lake Tekapo located on the South Island in New Zealand. Image by Getty Images

The new continent may now have some travellers readjusting how much of their continental bucket list they’ve actually visited. Anybody who claims to have been to all seven continents without having gone further than Australia may now have to make the trip to New Zealand or New Caledonia to tick that final eighth continental box.

Get the top travel news stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday by signing up to our newsletter.