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I'm writing a story where a group of explorers discover a semi-tropical island just south of New Zealand.

I know for instance that oceanic currents and geography have lead to some areas of the world being way hotter regardless of is overall location. For an example, Australia's outback is situated at the a same point by latitude as temperate Argentina.

enter image description here

Or, for a more extreme example, the southern-most point of Florida is roughly equal to the middle of Saudi Arabia by latitude. enter image description here

So, with this in mind, how can I make a semi-tropical island just north of Antarctica seem at least probable?

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Unfortunately no. If it were possible New Zealand itself would be subtropical (which I assume you meant by "semi-tropical") but it is Oceanic (Cfb) a subtype of Temperate, and the real islands south of (mainland) New Zealand, Antipodes Islands for example, are subantarctic tundra.

New Zealand outlying islands map

At this latitude the currents are mainly eastbound, having lost nearly all the heat picked up in the journey south from the tropics. And any farther south would put your island in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current; an island in this region will be chilled by near-freezing waters:

Ocean current map

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Sorry, New Zealand (just) 'misses the mark' in terms of sub-tropical environments. As the maps in the previous post demonstrate the main islands simply lie to far south and have an oceanic climate that precludes other islands (even further south) from having sub-tropical environments. For example the Auckland Islands biome is technically sub-polar/oceanic. Which basically means cold and wet.

However if you consider changing your story-line slightly to include islands just north of New Zealand then the Kermadec Islands make a potentially brilliant template for your story. You should read up/research them.

They are sub-tropical, volcanic and although apparently colonized by Polynesian islanders centuries before Europeans discovered them had also been (mysteriously - if it helps the story) abandoned by them long before the Europeans turned up! You could shift the islands in your story slightly south of the Kermandecs and further to the east and meet your criteria (see the map above).

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