Want to visit all the continents? Here’s what you need to know

There is an 8th continent of Zealandia and visiting all the continents of the world is more complicated than one might think.

Have you always wanted to visit all the continents of the world? But how many are there? Most school children will say that there are 7 continents in the world (standard English textbook definition), the real answer is much more obscure. This is something reminiscent of the question – how many planets are there? There were nine planets until Pluto was wiped off the list – but even then scientists believe there may be an undiscovered ninth planet.

A continent is a large land mass, but what exactly constitutes a continent is determined by convention, not by strict criteria. There is no recognized organization that lists the continents. Antarctica is the most difficult to visit, but even the South Pole is accessible to tourists.


The Complications of Counting Continents

The most common answer to the number of continents is seven. The seven geographic regions are called Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.

  • Manual response: seven continents

But there are variations to this list. Some in the Spanish-speaking world consider North and South America (aka the Americas) to be one continent because they are geographically linked. Although they still maintain that Africa, Europe and Asia are separate continents even though they are related.

According to some calculations, Europe is not so much a continent as a massive peninsula of Asia (the resulting landmass being called “Eurasia”). Conversely, the Indian subcontinent can be considered a continent for similar reasons to Europe.


  • India: Often called a subcontinent

Some thought that Australia was a bit small and sometimes referred to as the “island-continent”.

How the islands are grouped

Generally, oceanic islands are grouped together with a neighboring continent so that the world can be neatly divided. This makes sense in many cases – like the UK (Europe), Greenland (North America), the western islands of Indonesia (Asia) and New Guniea (Australia). All of these islands were part of the same continental crust (but partially submerged) and were joined together during the last glacial maximum.

But that makes little sense for landmasses like Madagascar (clustered with Africa) – a continental fragment that broke away from Africa millions of years ago. And that makes no sense of the islands of Hawaii (grouped with North America) which have nothing to do with a continent or any continental crust.


Related: Destination South America: The Best Places to Visit for First-Timers

The seven standard continents of the world

Asia:

  • Cut: 44.6 million km2 or 17 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 29.8% of total landmass
  • Population: 4.6 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 60% of the total population

Africa:

  • Cut: 30 million km2 or 11.7 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 20.3% of total landmass
  • Population: 1.3 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 17% of the total population

North America:

  • Cut: 24 million km2 or 9 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 16.2% of total landmass
  • Population: 0.58 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 7.6% of total population


South America:

  • Cut: 17.8 million km2 or 6.9 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 11.9% of total landmass
  • Population: 0.42 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 5.6% of the total population

Antarctic:

  • Cut: 14 million km2 or 5.5 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 9.5% of total landmass
  • Population: 0.0 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 0% of total population

Europe:

  • Cut: 10 million km2 or 3.9 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 6.7% of total landmass
  • Population: 0.75 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 9.8% of total population

Oceania/Australia:

  • Cut: 8.5 million km2 or 3 million square miles
  • Percentage of global landmass: 5.7% of total landmass
  • Population: 0.042 billion
  • Percentage of world population: 0.54% of total population


All of these sites are easy to visit – with the exception of Antarctica. There are a number of (expensive) ways to visit Antarctica and there are even a number of accommodation options – from the most limited to the most luxurious.

Related: Australia is more than exotic animals and beaches

The emerging submerged continent of Zealandia

There are calls for submerged masses of continental crust to be considered continents. There are calls for a 94% submerged eighth continent to be recognized from Zealandia. The “eighth continent of Zealandia” issue

In geology, continents are defined as “one of the major landmasses of the Earth, comprising both dry lands and continental shelves”. This would make Zealandia the eighth continent. According to the BBC, the criteria used by scientists to include Zealandia are:

  • elevation above surrounding area
  • distinctive geology
  • a well-defined area
  • a thicker crust than the normal ocean floor

Zealandia has now been shown to be almost the size of Australia – only most of it is underwater. It is also about twice as old as geologists previously thought. While some call it a microcontinent, it is about 6 times larger than the second largest “microcontinent” of Madagascar. It is also larger than the Indian subcontinent.

  • 6x bigger: Than the next largest “Madagascar microcontinent”
  • Submerged: About 94% of Zealandia is submerged
  • Main landmasses: New Zealand and New Caledonia – Major Chunks Growing Above Water

So it seems that if one really wants to claim to have visited all the continents, one should not miss visiting New Zealand while in Australia.

Next: Antarctica Is Actually A Desert And Other Facts You Didn’t Know

The Antarctic Treaty

Antarctica: who claims what and what no one claims


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