SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS OF NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA
This is without doubt one of the most inspirational and informative journeys or expeditions into the Southern Ocean ecosystem that one can make anywhere in the world. Long recognised for their rich biodiversity, the Subantarctic Islands lying to the south of New Zealand are UNESCO World Heritage sites. This places them in a select group of only 180 natural sites that have been designated as ‘the most important and significant natural habitats’ on the planet. They are also afforded the highest conservation status and protection by the Australian and New Zealand governments and access to these islands is by permit only. On this expedition we offer you the unique chance to explore, photograph and understand these wonderful places in the company of some of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides.
As a young biologist, Heritage Expeditions founder Rodney Russ first visited these islands in 1972 with the New Zealand Wildlife Service. He organised New Zealand’s first commercial expedition there in 1989, and many years and over 100 expeditions later, he is still as passionate about the islands as he was in 1972. It was only natural that his family should travel with him, what wasn’t predictable was that they would join him in the business and be as passionate about the conservation of this region as he is. As the original concessionaire we enjoy good relationships with the conservation departments and some of the access permits we hold are unique to these expeditions.
The name we have given to this voyage ‘Galapagos of the Southern Ocean’ reflects the astounding natural biodiversity and the importance of these islands as a wildlife refuge. (The book ‘Galapagos of the Antarctic’ written by Rodney Russ and Aleks Terauds and published by Heritage Expeditions describes all of these islands in great detail.) The islands all lie in the cool temperate zone with a unique climate and are home to a vast array of wildlife including albatross, penguins, petrels, prions, shearwaters and marine mammals like sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals. The flora is equally fascinating; the majority of it being like the birds and endemic to these islands.
This expedition includes four of the Subantarctic Islands, The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell. Each one is different and each one is unique, just like this expedition.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions, excluding optional kayaking programme.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Kayaking Supplement $975 pp
(All prices are per person in USD)
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Day 1: 23rd December
This evening we gathered at the Kelvin Hotel for our first meal together and to meet with our Expedition Leader, we were briefed on plans for the next day and the expedition we were about to set out on.
Day 2: 24th December
Position 0800 hrs: 46º37.8’S 168º21.2’E Bluff
Weather: SSW wind 16 knots, air temperature 14ºC
Sea conditions: 2 metre swell, sea temperature 13ºC
Nature highlights: Southern Royal, Auckland White-capped and Salvin’s Albatross; Cape, Mottled, Cook’s & diving petrels; Sooty Shearwater, Spotted and Bronze (Stewart Island) Shags, Red-billed and Kelp Gulls, White-fronted tern, Little Blue & Fiordland Crested Penguins, Antarctic & Fairy Prions.
We met in the lobby of the Kelvin Hotel in Bluff at 0900, tell-tale signs betraying fellow passengers; rugged day packs; strong walking shoes; outdoor jackets and outsized camera bags.
“Hi, I’m Chris, one of your guides. Welcome to Heritage Expeditions! Please bring your bags over here. Max and I will label them and Alex will have them waiting in your cabins when you get on board. Once that’s done we’ll head down to the museum to look at the Subantarctic display, come back to the Kelvin for lunch, then at 1.30 we’ll take a coach to Bluff and the Spirit of Enderby.”
Once aboard we enjoyed tea and fresh scones in the bar-library, cleared Australian customs for Macquarie Island, settled into our cabins, then headed down to the lecture room for our first briefing at 4pm. Rodney Russ, our Expedition Leader and founder of Heritage Expeditions introduced the team,
….“ I bring you greetings from Captain Dmitri and the crew. This is Jessie Prebble our Cruise Director: She’ll be keeping the show on the road. Here are 2 of the most important people on the ship - our chefs Alain Hauswirth and Ed Roberts. This is Dave Chamley, ship’s doctor, and these are your guides, lecturers and Zodiac drivers; Lisle Gwynn, Steph Borrelle and Chris Todd. OK team, come on up and introduce yourselves…” “And now for the Zodiac briefing… safety around the ship… lifeboat drill…..”
We set sail for The Snares at 6pm, feeling the roll of the ocean as soon as we left port. After a superb dinner (choice of seared salmon or rack of lamb) served by cheerful Russian wait staff Natalia and Olga, we left the lee of bush-clad Ruapuke and Rakiura / Stewart Islands and experienced the full influence of the Southern Ocean swell.
We climbed up to the bridge and upper decks to enjoy the landscapes, seascapes and the see-sawing flight of seabirds long into the evening. Thus began our 13 day voyage to one of the most remote and wild places on earth.
Day 3: 25th December – Christmas Day
The Snares and at Sea
Position 0800 hrs: 48º01.8’S 166º37.7’E
Weather: SSW wind 12 knots, air temperature 14ºC
Sea conditions: 2 metre swell, sea temperature 13ºC
Nature highlights: Snares Crested Penguin, Snares Island Tomtit, Southern Buller’s Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Fulmar Prion, Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Antarctic Tern, New Zealand Fur Seal, New Zealand Sea Lion, Fern Bird.
The perfect Christmas present: fine weather for a Zodiac cruise at The Snares! We arrived here at 0730hrs. All five Zodiacs were craned off the back deck and driven to the gangway, where Russian sailors helped passengers into the Zodiacs, which rose and fell with the swell.
The granite buttresses of The Snares rose abruptly from indigo depths, strikingly blanketed by white lichen and fringed by tan-coloured bull kelp. Higher plants took hold some 20-30 metres further up, above the line of storm-driven waves. The island is covered in a mixture of forest (tree daisy Olearia lyalii with some Brachiglottis stewartii ), open tussock (Poa spp), shrublands on the seaward margins (the coastal hebe Veronica elliptica) and lichen-covered granite.
As we approached the island, endemic Snares Crested Penguins rafted past in big groups; their black and white bodies, bright orange beaks and yellow crests a study in contrast. They preened themselves in the water, porpoised, dived and torpedoed clean out of the sea onto the rocks, before hopping and walking up long, sloping rock-ramps to their nests high in the forest. They seemed very definite about leaving the sea, but eternally undecided about getting back in.
After following the shoreline some way, we motored into a cavernous tunnel, the seabed 5-10 metres down clearly visible through crystal clear water, before exiting into a perfectly calm cove surrounded by forest. Someone sang a verse of Silent Night in the tunnel to check out the acoustics and mark the season.
Buller’s Albatross nested high above us, their beautiful grey heads phasing into dark eye patches, with striking yellow bills. They were all around the island; at sea, soaring over clifftops, sitting on the water, nesting amongst tussocks and shrubs, or sitting on high rocky promontories.
Young sea lions followed the Zodiacs curiously, twisting and turning under water to get a better look at the boats. On the rocky foreshore a large male with furious red eyes defended 2 females against challenges from 2 other males, one from each side. Fern Birds and Black Tomtits fed down to the rocky sea margins. The abundance of wildlife action made it hard to decide what to look at or photograph next: a truly memorable Christmas Day.
Photo credit: C. Todd
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
What a Christmas present!
Kayaking on a flat sea surrounded by a raft of curious Snares Crested Penguins, with Hooker's Sea Lions ignoring us as they challenged each other on a wave platform, Mike and I could have been the only humans on the planet.
With the Spirit of Enderby and the cruising Zodiacs out of sight, we paddled quietly through the clear waters, marvelling as the wild inhabitants of The Snares went about their day. Penguins approached to about one metre on the surface, braver under water they came right up to our hull. Sea lions were more curious, frequently swimming right up to our paddles.
We had launched from a Zodiac alongside the Spirit of Enderby, and paddled along the coast of the island, stopping to drift past groups of penguins and posturing sea lions. The benign conditions allowed for exploration deep into a sea cave, with the waves gurgling over rocks in the darkness. Paddling quietly through a long archway which opened into a mirror-calm bay, we were joined by the Zodiacs as we went around to the famed Penguin Slide.
Sitting off to the side as penguins timed their leap ashore, we craned our necks as they made the long trudge up the smooth rock to their colonies high in the vegetation.
With the conditions so good, Rodney called over the radio to push back our pick-up time, and Mike and I paddled back south along the island before heading back to the ship. We pulled alongside a Zodiac to be transferred aboard, having paddled 5 kilometres of the most pristine coastline in New Zealand.
Photo credit: J. Kirk-Anderson
Day 4: 26th December – Boxing Day
Position 0800 hrs: 50º30.4’S 166º16.5’E
Weather: NW wind 20 knots, air temperature 13ºC
Sea conditions: 1 metre swell (inside harbour), sea temperature 15ºC
Nature highlights: New Zealand Sea Lion breeding colony, endemic Auckland Island Pipit, tomtit, Flightless Teal, snipe, shag and anded dotterel; Red-crowned and Yellow-crowned Parakeet; NZ Falcon, Yellow-eyed Penguin, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross synchronised-flying, nesting Southern Royal Albatross.
The ship stopped rolling at 0300hrs as we entered the sheltered waters Port Ross, known affectionately by early sailors as ‘Sarah’s Bosom’ and anchored off our landing point at Sandy Bay. Enderby Island is low-lying, rising gently from a sandy beach in the south to coastal cliffs along the exposed north coast. After launching the Zodiacs, we landed stern first in order to keep the bow pointing into the small surf. After swinging our legs over the side, we crossed the sea-lion strewn beach to Department of Conservation field huts. A few young male sea lions made half-hearted lunges at us to remind us who owned the beach. Once we had stowed the life-jackets and changed into walking shoes, we headed up a grassy bank above the beach, through low shrubs and onto the boardwalk under a canopy of an enchanting, low-growing, red-flowering rata (Metrosideros umbellata), Myrsine and Dracophyllum trees, the forest floor punctuated by mosses, ferns and the rhubarb-like megaherb Azorella polaris. As we climbed further towards the wind-exposed north coast, the vegetation quickly transitioned down to a dense carpet of cushion plants, gentians, and the megaherbs Bulbinella (yellow flowers and strap-like leaves) and Anisotome (huge mauve globes of florets).
Endemic Auckland Island Dotterels, pipits and tomtits fed on invertebrates (Astelia) close to the boardwalk, the dotterels seemingly oblivious to our presence. At the end of the boardwalk Auckland Island Shags flapped rapidly up and down the line of cliff-tops and a pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross soared past in a beautiful display of synchronised flying. Deep peat above the cliffs had been scoured by the wind, revealing old layers where trees had once grown.
Thirty-five people carried on around the island, clockwise and eastward above the cliffs, around the eastern coastline and back to Sandy Bay. They reported seeing endemic snipe amongst the tussocks, Red-crowned Parakeets feeding on grass seeds and Gentianella, Yellow-eyed Penguins nesting and sea lions hauled out around the shoreline, a colony of Auckland Islands Shags, Southern Royal Albatross nesting and flying over the tussocks, a pair of falcons chasing parakeets, and walking inside the ‘enchanted’ rata forest, the canopy twisted over by the prevailing winds and floor carpeted with Azorella, moss and ferns.
Photo credit: J Kirk-Anderson
The remainder of us remained at the cliffs for a time to look at the flowering plants and watch the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses before returning to the beach to watch sea-lions: huge testosterone-driven dominant males desperately defended their harems, erupting periodically into furious fights. Females with pups snapped at the fighting males or scrambled out of the way to prevent their pups being crushed. Females and pups lay together in small groups, pups bleating like lambs and being nursed attentively. At the top of the beach slightly older pups were being held in crèches while their mothers were at sea. We watched a sea lion give birth to a pup straight onto the sandy beach, skuas dashing in to snatch pieces of the placenta.
We enjoyed a magnificent buffet roast Christmas dinner, delayed until Boxing Day to ensure calm conditions at table.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 5: 27th December
Carnley Harbour, Auckland Island
Position 0800 hrs: 50º50.6’S 166º05.8’E
Weather: SW wind 20 knots, air temperature 11ºC
Sea conditions: 4 metre swell, sea temperature 14ºC
Nature highlights: Watching seabirds from the bridge leaving the Auckland Islands. Gibson's Wandering Albatross, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-Petrel.
We arrived at Carnley Harbour at 0630 in thick fog and high winds which made it unsuitable to anchor. As a result we headed back out to North Arm in the lee of the island.
Day 6: 28th December
At sea en route to Macquarie Island
Position 0800 hrs: 51º56.2’S 164º06.4’E
Weather: SW wind 24 knots, air temperature 11ºC
Sea conditions: 3 metre swell, sea temperature 12ºC
Nature highlights: Experiencing the power of the Southern Ocean
We spent the entire day punching directly into a SW swell, a day best spent reading or lying in bed.
Rodney asked us to spare thought for those in the sailing ship era who had sometimes taken weeks to beat their way down to Macquarie Island, only to have to stand off for days until it was calm enough to land a boat.
Photo credit: J Kirk-Anderson
Day 7: 29th December
Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island
Position 0800 hrs: 54º24.8’S 159º11.9’E
Weather: Westerly wind 20 knots, air temperature 9ºC
Sea conditions: 1 metre swell, sea temperature 11ºC
Nature highlights: Sandy Bay landings: King and Royal Penguins; elephant seal weaners and young adults; orca; skuas and giant petrels hunting penguin chicks; dramatic landscapes and seascapes.
Macquarie Island, an Australian territory 34 km long x 5 km wide, is apparently the exposed crest of the undersea Macquarie Ridge and the only place on earth where rocks from the earth’s mantle (6 km below the ocean floor) are being actively exposed above sea-level.
We arrived at 0900 and ferried 2 Australian Antarctic Division staff and Alex Fergus (NZ Department of Conservation botanist) by Zodiac to the Australian base at Buckles Bay. The Zodiacs returned with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service rangers accompanying us to our landings.
We landed stern-first at Sandy Bay between sets of big waves, scrambling onto the beach as fast as possible so the Zodiacs could get off before the next set arrived. The beach and rocky headland was alive with wriggling elephant seal weaners, wrestling and barking sub-adults and groups of elephant seals simply lying sardine-style on the beach. Groups of Royal Penguins marched or stood on the beach, backs to the wind. Royal Penguins with rakish gold crests porpoised back and forth on fishing trips to feed their young in colonies high above the beach. The colony we visited via a boardwalk was alive with little groups of creched chicks, adults marching to and fro to feed them, and desperate attempts to drive off marauding skuas and giant petrels, ever alert for an unguarded chick, which they would snatch and disembowel in minutes. As we departed for the ship from our second (afternoon) landing, a pod of orca swam by and out past the ship.
What an extraordinary place and what a privilege to be here! It made the previous 36 hours beating into sou’west swells to get here seem trivial and irrelevant. The ship remained anchored off Sandy Bay overnight.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Margaret and Vijay were surprised spectators when a group of Giant Petrel killed and ate a penguin beside their kayak, off Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island.
The couple had just been launched from a Zodiac and were heading towards the beach when the raw act of nature played out beside them. As Mike and I paddled over, the unfortunate penguin was quickly devoured by the group of large seabirds, who ignored us and our double kayaks.
Rafts of penguins formed around us, as if there was safety in numbers and our presence. They left us to head inshore as we continued paddling along the coast, staying outside the surf zone, which was dumping on the shingle beach.
Ashore, Royal and King Penguins formed ranks of white, broken by large grey elephant seals shuffling along the beach. Penguins swam in pools on the rock platforms at the north-eastern end of the bay, and stopped to watch us. Mindful of the swell rolling in, we were cautious in our approach to the shore, back-paddling away from the breakers.
As the time approached for the passengers ashore to return to the Spirit of Enderby, we took advantage of the tail wind and paddled quickly out to board her via a moored Zodiac.
Marvelling at our witness to nature's rawness, we prepared for lunch and our visit to the beach via Zodiac.
Day 8: 30 December
Lusitania Bay cruise-by (south-east coast of Macquarie Island) and Zodiac landings at Buckles Bay (site of Australian base). Afternoon at sea.
Position 0800 hrs: 54º42.1’S 158º32.5’E
Weather: SSW wind 12 knots, air temperature 9ºC
Sea conditions: 2 metre swell, sea temperature 13ºC
Nature highlights: Huge King Penguin colonies at South-east Reef and Lusitania Bay; a pod of orca patrolling the penguin colonies.
At 0630 the Spirt of Enderby cruised to Heard Point and South-east Reef at the southern end of Macquarie Island, site of an estimated 500,000-pair strong King Penguin colony. A pod of orca patrolled the beaches nearby, their massive dorsal fins breaking the surface every few minutes. We headed north to Lusitania Bay, once the scene of mass slaughter as penguins were thrown wholesale into giant pressure cookers (‘digesters’) and their fat rendered into barrels of oil. The digesters were rusting on the beach, surrounded entirely by breeding penguins.
After breakfast we dropped the rangers back to Buckles Bay, landing on the bouldery beach by Zodiac between sets of large waves and scrambling out while Rodney, Lisle and John stood in the water with dry-suits to hold the boats steady and push them off.
The sea’s gorgeous milky blue colour was reminiscent of a glacial lake, apparently caused by penguin guano washing into the sea from the massive colonies. On shore, rangers and scientists gave us a guided tour of the base and its surrounds. In the mess we were given tea and scones with jam and cream. Some of us had our passports stamped, bought souvenirs or sent postcards from the Macquarie Island post office, which will apparently reach their recipients some time in April. Once again the wildlife was spectacular: A Macquarie Island Shag colony; scores of huge elephant seals slumbering amongst the tussocks; a Gentoo Penguin colony, with gentoos fishing amongst the seaweed or feeding their young; white-morph Southern Giant Petrels; King Penguins resting on the beach. We picked up 6 more staff from the base to transport to New Zealand, as we departed swinging by in the Zodiacs for a quick look at the Rockhopper Penguin colony near the base.
We set sail for Campbell Island at 1430 hrs.
Photo credit: Lisle Gwynn
Day 9: 31st December - New Years Eve
At sea en route from Macquarie Island to Campbell Island
Position 0800 hrs: 53º33.4’S 164º12.9’E
Weather: Easterly wind 16 knots, air temperature 13ºC
Sea conditions: 2 metre swell, sea temperature 14ºC
Nature highlights: Quarantine procedures pre-landing at Campbell Island.
Sea Shop open
New Year’s Eve celebrations deferred until Perseverance Harbour and calm waters.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 10: 1st January 2017
Col Lyall, Campbell Island
Position 0800 hrs: 53º33.1’S 169º10.0’E (Anchored Perseverance Harbour)
Weather: Easterly wind 20 knots, air temperature 12ºC
Sea conditions: 1 metre swell, sea temperature 14ºC
Nature highlights: Southern Royal Albatrosses, megaherbs, ground orchids, Campbell Island Snipe and spectacular coastal landscapes of Col Lyall.
Social highlight: Celebration for New Years Day.
We anchored in Perseverance Harbour under the island’s highest point, Mt Honey. All around us hills rose high and steep from the rocky shoreline, up through Dracophyllum shrubland and tussock clad upper slopes to rocky crags and ridges. Showers of sleet blasted the tops and the high winds made an immediate landing out of the question. The crew had to reposition the ship periodically due the wind. Everyone was dying to get outside!
The wind dropped slightly over lunch, so dressed ‘warmly and waterproofly’ we took the Zodiacs over to the Col Lyall board-walk for the afternoon. Several snipe jumped out in front of us on the way up, including a mother with a small chick. Mauve Pleurophyllum were opening beside the boardwalk and the sharp-eyed spotted 4 species of ground orchid. As we neared the col we began to see Southern Royal Albatross flying above and then around us, their huge wings sweeping across the tussocks-covered slopes and soaring on updrafts. It’s hard to appreciate just how enormous they are until you have familiar objects on land to scale them against. Soon we came to an albatross sitting on its mounded nest among the tussocks. Then we saw dozens of birds, with groups of young adults ‘gamming’, a term for their courtship behaviour, with beak-clacking, wing-stretching, yodeling, head-shaking, neck-arching, co-grooming, and flying low over the tussocks together. One over-flew us so closely we could hear the wind whistling through its wings.
It was sleeting on the col, which somehow added to the splendid sense of wildness; overlooking the rugged cliffs of the west coast, South West Bay, Dent Island and the spectacular volcanic hills and outcrops.
Cold, wet and very happy, we returned to a hot shower and a special 6-course meal and supper to celebrate New Years Day.
Our kayaks slipped across the still waters of Perseverance Harbour, calmed after the previous day's strong winds, and we were able to drift along the shoreline of Lookout Bay scanning for birds. The Campbell Island Teal, which we were hoping to see, remained elusive, but we spotted Pipit and were soon joined by sea lions snorting along beside us.
Passing by the abandoned buildings of the MetService, we found the Zodiac cruisers in Tucker Cove with cameras pointed at a Teal standing on a rock at the water's edge. They quietly motored away and we enjoyed the sight of this bird, bought back from the brink of extinction after Rodney Russ discovered one in 1975.
Paddling to the head of Tucker Cove we were escorted by four sea lions, one ahead, one on each flank, and one following in our wake. One inquisitive sea lion took a liking to Mike’s paddle blade.
Heading around into Camp Cove our two double kayaks kept our escort, but they dropped back as we approached the shallows. On the left of the beach an elephant seal shuffled towards us, then turned around and headed back into the bush. Ahead was the “Loneliest Tree in the World”, a Sitka Spruce believed planted in 1907 and the only tree on the island. Wider than it is tall, it has suffered in the past from being the source of Christmas trees for the long-closed meteorological station.
Rounding Duris Point into Garden Cove we passed roaring elephant seals, who stopped their posturing to watch our progress. Soon after another teal was spotted, feeding among the kelp where its plumage was great camouflage.
Passing Venus Bay with the flanks of Mt Honey catching the sun, it was hard to believe we were deep in the Southern Ocean, kayaking at New Zealand's southern-most island. Ahead of us the mixed vegetation on Shoal Point shone in the sunlight, and waves gently broke over Terror Shoal.
Spotting the Zodiacs returning from their cruise towards the entrance to the harbour we turned towards the Spirit of Enderby, sitting below Beeman Hill. Once the Zodiacs had dropped their passengers off at the gangplank, Margaret, Vijay, Mike and I rafted alongside the moored Zodiac and climbed the rope ladder to the deck, where we quietly celebrated a fantastic paddle in an amazing place.
Photo credit: J Kirk-Anderson
Day 11: 2nd January
Northwest Bay and Col Lyall, Campbell Island
Position 0800 hrs: 53º33.0’S 169º09.4’E (Anchored Perseverance Harbour)
Weather: Southerly wind 2 knots, air temperature 8ºC
Sea conditions: 1 metre swell (in harbour), sea temperature 16ºC
Nature highlights: Landings and Zodiac cruises from Perseverance harbour, spectacular departure from Campbell Island via Bull Rock.
Our last day on land was calm and mainly sunny. We had a choice of a long walk; the board walk again, a Zodiac cruise or sea-kayaking around the harbour.
Rodney led the long walk over the range to Northwest Bay, supported by ‘Dr Dave’. Walkers climbed up through Dracophyllum shrubland. Antarctic Terns nesting in the tussocks chided and circled overhead. A large area near the saddle was completely covered in megaherbs at peak flowering; mauve Pleurophyllum and Anisotome, bright green Azorella and yellow Bulbinella. A few large sea elephants lounged at Northwest Bay. After lunch, dozens of Southern Royal Albatross began flying across the slopes of Mt Dumas. Many others were on the ground ‘gamming’. Dozens of snipe scuttled off, their population recovering in spectacular fashion since the eradication of rats in 2001. Prior to that their last refuge had been on tiny Jacquemart Island.
Lisle, Steph & Chris drove Zodiacs for the harbour cruise where we enjoyed close encounters with the flightless endemic Campbell Island Teal (possibly the rarest duck in the world with approximately 130 known individuals); wrestling sea elephants; nesting terns, Red-billed and Kelp gulls. We landed and walked to the ‘lonely’ Sitka Spruce tree at Camp Cove, and at Tucker Cove walked around the site of the former farmhouse (Shacklock stove standing testimony in the grass), where Chris gave us a quick history lesson. Out towards the heads we watched Light-mantled Sooty Albatross with their striking grey heads and white eyes nesting improbably amongst cliff face vegetation. Meanwhile the kayakers made a landing at Venus Cove for lunch before heading back to the ship.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Jessie led the ‘board-walkers’ back up to Col Lyall, with more great opportunities for macro-photography and albatross observation. There were some challenges negotiating space with resident male sea lions on the way back to the landing.
After a very successful day we weighed anchor at 1500 hrs and set sail for Bluff via Bull Rock and North Cape. As we rolled gently on long, heavy swells in bright afternoon sunshine, Campbell Island revealed itself at its spectacular best: under cliff after massive cliff waves were smashing and being atomised to white mist; above the cliffs face after tussocky face was covered in huge colonies of Campbell and Black-browed Albatross, a gentle valley was truncated abruptly be sea-cliffs, its river becoming a huge waterfall; the dramatically uplifted sandstone cliffs of Courrejolles Point fell sheer to the sea, at one point tunnelled right through by the waves. And all around the ship albatross and petrels wheeled and soared. A perfect finale to a highly successful expedition to the Galapagos of the South Pacific.
Day 12: 3rd January
En route to Bluff
Position 0800 hrs: 49º30.7’S 168º43.7’E
Weather: NE wind 16 knots, air temperature 10ºC
Sea conditions: 2 metre swell, sea temperature 15ºC
Nature highlights: Seabirds
Day 13: 4th January
Position 0800 hrs: 46º37.8’S 168º21.2’E Bluff
We arrived in Bluff at 0630, had breakfast and disembarked at 0830. There were fond farewells to new friends, each taking with us indelible memories of encounters with wildlife, wild places and a great adventure shared in the Subantarctic.
Day 1: Tuesday 22nd December
From all corners of the globe we arrived – from Britain, Canada, Japan, from all over Australia including a contingent of seven members of the Australian Antarctic Division bound for the scientific base at Macquarie Island; a group from China and even a couple from South Sudan! We gathered at the Kelvin Hotel, settled in, and did any last-minute shopping: gumboots for ‘wet’ landings were high on the list for many. For me: decent coffee. In the evening we gathered to meet each other and some of the staff from our ship the Spirit of Enderby and enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner while Rodney Russ the owner of the company, Expedition Leader and passionate conservationist, briefed us about tomorrow. The ship medic Dr Lesley encouraged everybody to get seasickness patches and apply them in the morning so they had time to work before we went to sea the following afternoon. After all, this is the Great Southern Ocean we were to encounter! Then it was time for jetlagged people to get some welcome sleep, despite the fact that the sun does not set here until well after 9pm!
Day 2: Wednesday 23rd December
Breakfast buffet in the hotel, then promptly at 9am the staff were there to check in our luggage for transport to the ship. Most of us walked a few blocks to the Southland Museum which has a big permanent exhibition all about the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand and their history. But first we were taken to a little movie theatre to watch a slide show all about it and then to meet Henry, the 110 year old Tuatara and some of his friends and relations. Lindsay the museum director has spent 40 years working out how to successfully breed Tuatara. Henry himself was guilty of domestic violence towards his girlfriends until a skin cancer in his private parts was found and cured! The programme has involved learning about UV light, the ‘3rd eye’ pineal gland and its role in melatonin production which might even have implications for Cot Death research.
Next we wandered around the Subantarctic Islands exhibition soaking it all up and all too soon it was time to take the bus back to the hotel for lunch. Then it was time to board the bus again (with a rollcall to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind) for the half hour ride south past wide windy marshland and estuary to the little port of Bluff, nestled at the foot of a sheltering hill. Customs formalities were simple. We all handed our passports forward, the customs officer inspected them, wrote down our names and we were free to depart. We drove past huge piles of logs and woodchip ready for export and there was our ship waiting, with a welcome committee of staff ready to greet us at the top of the gangway, tick us off the list and show us to our cabins. They are basic (this is a 30 year old Russian research vessel) but comfortable. We settled in, retrieved the odd piece of luggage in the wrong cabin and explored our temporary home. Tea and coffee and delicious little scones made by Andy, one of our two chefs was set out for us in the bar/library. Then it was time to make our way down to the Lecture room, way down on the lowest level for yet another rollcall and to be introduced to the rest of the staff. Jessie was our ‘hotel manager’ or ‘cruise director’, the go-to person for any cabin problems. Lecturers were: Alex, who specializes in plants; Tui who loves albatrosses and penguins and who has spent years in these islands taking beautiful photographs and writing books about them; and Katya who trained in atmospheric chemistry and geology and has lots of experience in Antarctica. Our chefs were Conn and Andy and our Lesley was our Medical Advisor.
Then it was time for the compulsory safety briefing – life jackets, muster stations, and so on. Soon we were pulling away from the wharf and heading down the little harbour and out to sea. The ship came to life, lifting and swaying in the swell. Bird spotting started and we saw gulls, Sooty Shearwaters and our first albatrosses. Foveaux Straight is renowned for its weather, but today it only offered a stiff westerly and a moderate sea. As we passed Stewart Island the ship’s horn sounded the emergency signal and we all got into our warm clothes and struggled into the ungainly orange life jackets from our cabins and found our way to the correct muster station. After yet another roll call we squeezed into the enclosed orange lifeboats. It’s pretty claustrophobic in there, but I guess if it came to the real thing we wouldn’t be complaining!
It was now dinner time for most, although some were already a bit queasy and retiring to their cabins as we hit the real ocean and the ship really started to roll. Rodney warns us repeatedly to be careful, always “one hand for the ship”.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 3: Thursday 24 December (Christmas Eve)
The Snares Islands
We arrived early in the morning but too late to see the famous flight of the Titi (Sooty Petrels) as they leave for their day’s foraging at sea. After an early breakfast we had a briefing when we were told that although it was raining lightly on and off, conditions were good enough to go Zodiac cruising. We are not allowed to land on these pristine islands but would still see plenty from the water. We went through the whole landing routine for practice nevertheless. Lifejackets on and tightened, washing boots carefully and dipping them in Virkon to kill any microbiota stowaways, turn our tags to show we are leaving the ship and transfer to Zodiacs as they swish up and down in the swell. It’s quite a challenge for our first time and we soon learn that timing is everything!
Once inshore though, the sea was pretty flat and we pottered along the coastline
listening to Tuis and Bellbirds sing among the trees, which are not really trees at all, but rather two unrelated types of tree daisy – deep green Brachyglottis stewartiae with bright yellow flowers and an Olearia lyalli with silvery green leaves, with an understory of ferns. But the real attraction was…penguins! The local variety is the endemic Snares Crested Penguin and there were plenty about along the rocky shoreline in clusters above the line of swirling strands of kelp. There were seals too, mostly New Zealand Fur Seals, lounging about looking replete. We explored some echoing caves and cruised up a little inlet to see the research huts nestled into a fairly sheltered spot. Some of our guides have spent time there working out the numbers and interdependence of various species.
Back aboard lunch was served as we headed off to sea again towards the Auckland Islands directly south. The wind was northwest, which made for a twisty combination of pitching and rolling, testing our stomachs again! On deck and from the bridge we watched for more birds. There were Skuas, Giant Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, tiny Storm Petrels and Prions, Bullers, Shy, Wandering and Royal Albatrosses. The ‘Twitchers’ were in heaven! Down below, people bumped around heading for bed. And trying to stay in it!
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 4: Friday 25 December (Christmas Day)
Enderby Island, Auckland Islands
We had arrived! Curious faces peered from the decks to see Ross Harbour and the main Auckland Island with its hilltops obscured by cloud; but we were off Sandy Bay on Enderby Island, which is relatively low and sheltered. The beach, dotted with breeding Sea Lions and a few small huts at its southern end, curved before us. At the briefing after breakfast we were told where we may and may not go, in order to not frighten the shy Yellow-eyed Penguins or annoy aggressive Sea Lion bulls. We carefully checked and vacuumed all shore gear so that no foreign material would contaminate this special place. Then it was line up for boot washing and off to the shore, onto the wave platform at one end of the beach to keep clear of the Sea Lions. We immediately found this was not possible as one had decided that our gathering place in front of the huts was his patch. We admired a handsome plant with large leaves – oh dear it is a giant nettle! Where are the docks to ease the sting? It is not until later that Alex showed us a miniature native dock right underfoot…. Once everybody was ashore, life jackets were stacked in bins and hiking boots put on. We crossed ‘penguin alley’ between two streams and started up the boardwalk which bisects the island up to the west coast cliffs. At first the walkway is enclosed by scrub of flowering Hebes and Dracophyllum, then it leads into tussock country interspersed with our first sighting of Megaherbs! Bulbinella is well named with its saffron yellow globular flowers. Later we came to Anisotome with huge mauve cauliflower shaped flowers. Meanwhile there were lots of little treasures such as cushion plants, flourishing Antarctic bidibid and tiny colourful gentians. At the top of the boardwalk we gathered and looked over the cliff to see penguins flying underwater amongst the waves crashing into the coast far below while a Light-mantled Albatross nested in a crevice on the top.
We split into two groups: one hunting the elusive Auckland Island Snipe, secretive and well camouflaged amongst the grass; another following Alex to admire more Light-mantled Albatross nesting on the cliffs. They are easily the most elegant of the albatrosses. Some of the group returned with Tui, taking their time to notice small things and really soak up this special place. Things such as Sooty Albatrosses courting, listening to their strange calls; a Sea Lion right on the cliff edge and seeing a New Zealand Falcon and parakeets as we walked up behind the beach. Others followed the edge of the island clockwise, mostly along the shoreline, enjoying more views and plant communities. Stilbocarpa became more common and under the shelter of Rata forest, huge leaves the size of restaurant serving dishes were seen. This forest is taller and more open and stunningly beautiful, the more so when a velvety Sea Lion stares at you with limpid eyes from a clearing of silky green moss.
Back out in the open, it is a wild windy coastline with bleached tree skeletons, a small tarn inhabited by a troll-like Bull Sea Lion; some fairly dense scrub to push through, the trail marked with white sticks; and at last the ship swinging in the distance. We were ready for it and slog along the beach, stopping to watch the scene of sex and violence (as Rodney dubs it), and coo at cute new born babies with their mothers and enormous clumsy fathers. Time to put life jackets on, change boots, and board the Zodiacs back to the ship for some rest, but not for long! It was Christmas Day! Everybody cleaned up, lots of us dressed up and then it was time to settle down to a sumptuous five course dinner of broccoli soup, turkey or ham with all the trimmings, tiny individual Christmas puddings, and bonbons if anyone could fit any more. The full moon shone down on us. What a way to spend Christmas!
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Day 5: Saturday 26 December (Boxing Day)
Musgrave Inlet, Auckland Islands
Who would get up early on Boxing Day? We would! The ship was easy overnight as we steamed down the sheltered eastern coast of Auckland Island, then really quiet from 4am when we anchored in Musgrave Inlet, one of the long narrow harbours formed between lava flows and further shaped by glaciation in the last ice age. We woke to see towering cliffs of columnar lava fringed by a boulder strewn shore line, and upstream a classic U-shaped valley, its head and the surrounding hills shrouded in wind cloud.
After an early breakfast we were off in Zodiacs, watching small colonies of Rockhopper Penguins. There used to be many more, but it is thought that a shift of their favourite feeding grounds in the Antarctic Convergence further south has led to a decline in breeding success. We also saw a few of the local endemic shags and watched albatrosses enjoying the up-draught against the cliffs, swooping back and forth sometimes tandem flying in pairs. Eventually we tore ourselves away and crossed the inlet to explore some wonderful sea-caves, going right inside, where Rodney told us a professionally trained singer had performed an amazing aria on a previous visit. Then we entered another cave which opened into a completely enclosed cove with great stalactites of moss and grasses clinging to the dripping roots of the overhanging trees above. Magic! Katya told us this environment was the result of wave action upon alternating layers of lava and ash from ancient eruptions.
Outside, vast kelp beds swirled and curled and choked our poor outboards, but once free of them, we zoomed into a freshening breeze to a small beach, guarded by an absolutely huge and bad-tempered bull Sea Lion. He had several gashes in his side, possibly acquired when he lost a battle or two and retreated here for a bit of peace and quiet. Maybe he was hoping that some ladies might find him there. He huffed and puffed as we quietly moved past him to find the trail up to Lake Hinemoa. It was marked but hadn’t been used for a couple of years so there was a bit of route-finding required. We wound our way happily through the wonderful ancient twisted Rata forest with its sparse understory of weeping Mapou and Dracophyllum and bright green moss. The atmosphere made us look out for elves and dwarves and small secretive critters. Rodney, who was up ahead leading the charge, reported pig rootings and cat basking-spots. There is a DOC plan to rid the island of these and rodents, but it will be expensive. Imagine wriggling through the dense upper scrub hunting down the last few! We climbed over a bit of terminal moraine then quite suddenly burst through to Lake Hinemoa. Urgent wind-driven waves lapped the narrow shore line and it was quite chilly so before long the line re-formed and we made our way back, sloshing, clambering and leaping the few streams, back to the landing spot where our Sea-Lion watched us from the forest edge. He really was impressive. The guides fetched the Zodiacs from their anchorage out in the increasingly choppy inlet, we washed the mud off our trousers and raced back to the ship and lunch. Chicken croquettes and salad!
As we tucked into lunch the anchor was lifted and we were underway along the south coast of Auckland Island, past the entrance to Carnley Harbour and Adams Island shrouded mysteriously in cloud. Once out at sea the rolling started. The wind was on the quarter and this made for uncomfortable travelling. The bird spotters were in heaven, counting off various species of albatross and petrel, not forgetting tiny prions fluttering in the wave troughs. The ship’s course was altered slightly at dinnertime to reduce the roll, but there were a few unfinished dinners all the same.
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 6: 27th December
After a rather roly-poly night, as Rodney would put it, and a somewhat later start to the day, most of us made breakfast and some of us went on deck to enjoy a bit of heavy weather, or to the bridge to watch the seabirds, wheeling and gliding with enormous grace over the heaving waves. Others stayed in their bunks reading and resting or sat editing and comparing photos in the bar/library area. Lectures were cancelled for the morning. By lunchtime however the weather was beginning to ease, the sun broke through as the front passed over and the wind changed to southwest which made the ride a lot more comfortable. Alex gave a fascinating rundown on the plants of the different islands and the reasons for varying biodiversity such as size and age of the island, climatic limitations, geological origin and so on. This was followed by another presentation from Tui, this time on photography. Topics included lens selection, trying different angles, lighting (soft light or dawn/dusk are often best), composition – keeping it simple – and remembering to ‘tell a story’ of some kind. Perhaps her most important point was taking as much time as possible and waiting for that magic moment when it all comes together. Later Rodney told us all about Macquarie Island so we could prepare for our visit the following day. He covered geology, history, plants and most importantly, the animals. The presentation also included shots of some of the areas we will not be able to see on our short visit. Dinnertime offered Lamb Backstraps or Chicken Supreme, followed by an amazing chocolate brownie with raspberry coulis… we were so spoilt! The sun now shone until 10:30pm, the sea was vast and quiet, the albatrosses soared above us and the horizon stretched the full circle around us.
Day 7: 28th December
The Spirit of Enderby was at anchor in Buckles Bay at the isthmus joining the two parts of Macquarie Island when we woke. The ANARE base gleamed in the morning light and the island lay gaunt but green, every detail of its steep slopes etched in the morning light. Excited faces hurried through breakfast, but first our seven visitors from the Australian Antarctic Division, who are replacing another seven going home, would disembark and head for their new quarters. We went through the quarantine process again, carefully checking and vacuuming all our gear to be sure not to bring anything alien to these shores. We were joined by four rangers from the base who briefed us on protocols whilst ashore. The ship steamed along the coast to Sandy Bay (which is in fact more gritty than sandy) and we were briefed as to the attractions and the boundaries for wandering.
Soon we were ashore and surrounded by gorgeous tall King and feisty Royal Penguins. The beach was littered with them, along with great heaps of torpid moulting weaner and sub-adult Sea Elephants, wallowing, scratching and doing a lot of snoring. Now and then they raised their heads and snorted or had a bit of a joust with a neighbour before inevitably collapsing back on top of each other, a friendly flipper over the rival. We picked our way amongst all of this wildlife and there was no way they had heard about the 5-metre rule! Nevertheless none of the creatures was at all bothered by these funny smelling, tall colourful penguins shuffling past them with clicking and whirring cameras (the record for the day was 3,500 photos!).
Along the beach was a stream used as the front entrance to the Royal Penguin colony up the hill a bit. A constant stream of them pattered back and forth along this highway with typical ‘penguin persistence’ undeterred for more than a few moments by any obstacle, large or small, animate or inanimate. Humans, though, must follow the boardwalk up the hill, appreciating the return of tall grasses now that the rabbits and rodents have been removed. We also admired clumps of handsome silvery Pleurophyllum which was just putting up its first flowers. At the top of the boardwalk the whole valley full of Royal Penguins is first smelled, then heard, then revealed.
It is a city of activity – coming and going from the sea, fighting over personal space, tending fledging chicks, gazing aghast when a chick is snatched by a Skua. You could watch for hours.
Back along the beach, the Kings dominate and at the far end of Sandy Bay a colony of about 7,000 of them clustered. Humans are not permitted to enter this area – there is no elbow room for penguins, let alone us! And then there is the wave platform, Royal territory. They stand in clusters on the rocks, play and wriggle off moulting feathers in the rock pools and swim amongst the swirling kelp, emerging from the tangled strands and squabbling with each other. There were cheers when a few Rockhopper Penguins were sighted amongst the crowd. All too soon it was lunchtime and as no food is allowed ashore, we returned to the ship to eat lasagne and salad. After lunch most of us returned to the beach for another helping of wonder as the clouds came in to obscure the sun as the afternoon progressed. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from this entrancing environment. Back aboard we cleaned up and enjoyed drinks at the bar before dinner. The rangers joined us for the meal and spent the night on board so they could accompany us ashore for a tour of the base the following morning. The cloud had come right down to sea level by dinner time, but we had enjoyed a stunning day at Sandy Bay.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 8: 29th December
Lusitania Bay and Macquarie Island Base
We woke early again to see Macquarie shrouded in cloud. Everything was grey and a cold wind was blowing with a threat of rain on its wings. Fortunately the planned Zodiac cruise to look at the huge penguin colony at Lusitania Bay went ahead, despite a rather splashy trip to the shore. The colony is huge and runs more than a kilometre along the shore, extending inland a couple of hundred metres in places. This entire area is solid penguins! Nearly all are Kings, but the ocean boils with Royals and a few Rockhoppers too. Somebody started humming ‘We’ll Never be Royals’ and we all laughed. Our Zodiacs bounced and swooped as close inshore as possible on the swell – we were not allowed inside the breaker zone – nor did we want to be, with all those expensive vulnerable cameras waving about! We didn’t want kelp up our plumbing either. A few weaner Sea Elephants jousted on the foreshore, while Petrels and Skuas swooped overhead on the lookout for the weak and the dead, but really it was all about the penguins, some 350,000 of them. The sight is simply astounding. They surrounded the rusty digesters set up a hundred years ago to turn them, en masse, into oil. How ironic! The weather became threatening so it was time to move on. Getting back on board was a bit of a challenge, but with a reassuring grab from a trusty crew member we all managed to scramble safely back aboard. We tucked into a late breakfast as we steamed back up the (almost invisible) coast to the base. This is a loose and rather motley collection of buildings scattered over a sandy isthmus between the main island and the smaller North Head. It looks vulnerable to storm, let alone Tsunami (being at the junction of two tectonic plates, there are frequent earthquakes). Later we were told that it is indeed vulnerable as waves swept over the lowest area in a big storm last winter.
We waited for the wind to become favourable before we washed our boots then loaded up the Zodiacs to make our way ashore. It was a wettish landing onto slippery boulders and we also had quite a swell to contend with. Once everyone was ashore we set off in groups of ten to tour the base. This covered the historic penguin and elephant seal oil operation (the subject of the first ever mass conservation protest); the Gentoo Penguin colony in the middle of what passes as ‘the main road’; the mess hall, warm and welcoming with Milo and freshly made scones; the western beach, rocky and wild in the cold fresh westerly; and a walk up a staircase to a lookout on the top of nearby Razorback Hill.
Cameras snapped Giant Petrels (including a white one), Skua and shags as we walked. At the bottom of the staircase a very large Sea Elephant blocked our way with his menacing jaws wide open. He was clearly not pleased with invaders on his patch and had no intention of moving off! We ducked under the bannisters one by one and sidled quickly through the tall poa tussocks down to the road. Phew!
The tussock – newly grown since a massive operation to rid the island of rats, mice, and rabbits – is full of Elephant Seals. One suddenly sees a pair of liquid eyes in a huge languid pussycat face peering out, or hears a loud bubbling burp escaping. Fortunately there were no further blockages as we made our way to the beach where Rodney was waiting to tip us back into Zodiacs, four by four, for the ride back to the ship, easy now on a flat sea in sunshine!
Lunch was served on our return at 4pm! There we met our new companions, seven from the base who would be returning with us to Bluff and ultimately to Australia.
Then it was time to depart for Campbell Island, back north east, so had been the farthest south we would go. We had a day at sea with the wind behind us to look forward to! In the evening we watched a documentary film about the pest eradication programme on Macquarie Island and after a late dinner, a re-cap on the day and a last glimpse of birds lit by the last golden light we watched the sun set at 10:40pm.
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Day 9: 30th December
What a lovely relaxing day we had! The sun shone and the sea was so gentle you wouldn’t believe this was the Great Southern Ocean – it was more like the tropics! Several people sported sunburn by the end of the day! We read and played cards, we listened to Tui talk about ‘Albatrosses and Penguins: their World, their Ways’ accompanied by more of her entrancing photos. Alex gave a talk on Campbell Island also with great pics and in the afternoon Rodney also gave a presentation with some of the same pics! The birdwatchers were a bit disappointed as there was not much about. Maybe the birds were taking a rest too in the unusually balmy weather!
As night drew in we heard that there was a front due over in the night, but it was hard to believe as everything looked so benign when we retired to our cabins.
Day 10: 31 December (New Years Eve)
At bedtime last night a jagged silhouette of an island could just be seen on the horizon and at 2am the engines changed their tune – we were at anchor in Perseverance Harbour. The morning brought an unwelcome sight with low clouds scudding across the harbour and these were accompanied by a stiff wind funnelling down the nearby valley. At the briefing after breakfast we were presented with two options: the ‘Long Walk’ across the island to Northwest Harbour then looping back – cold, wet, misery guaranteed, Albatrosses and Megaherbs in flower also promised; or Zodiac cruising and a shorter easier walk up the boardwalk to the Col Lyall Saddle. Twenty three people put their hands up for the hard stuff and were told they would regret it!
Decision made, it was downstairs to the vacuum cleaners with the words “we don’t want to bring anything Aussie here!” ringing in our ears (apart from some rather nice people of course!) Packed lunches were created, warm waterproof clothes donned and packed and the ‘Long Walkers’ were off in the Zodiacs to Tuckers Cove. After a quick look at the abandoned Coastwatcher/Metservice station the group headed up the hill. The mud was immediate. We squelched through very ordinary paddock grass, up through Dracophyllum, then through semi-open cushion bog where our first Megaherbs appeared. First it was the Bulbinella with its yellow-orange candles, then the purple cauliflower heads of Anisotome and the chocolatey purple buttons of Pleurophyllum hookeri. Someone noticed tiny orchids and we are on our knees with our cameras contorting ourselves to get ‘That Photo’. Later we stopped for a break on a landslide and noticing lumps of ‘sort of’ pumice from the volcanic action that created this island.
Soon we were up in cloud, trying to stay together as we picked our way along the track. It was windy with light rain falling off and on, the kind that gets into every crevice of your clothing. But it was worth it when we got to the fellfields of flowers along the cliffs. Masses of Bulbinella, interspersed with great purple heads of Anistome and the extraordinary stalks of Pleurophyllum with their chocolatey button flowers assaulted our senses against an alternating background of cloud and spectacular limestone cliffs (a geology lesson in themselves) with the sea crashing far below. Besides all this, here and there we spotted Giant Petrel nests with great big fluffy chicks, or better still, a Royal Albatross sitting with truly royal dignity and patience on its circular platform nest. They really are huge! It is a breath-taking sight and we feel a real sense of privilege to be here! Next we descended slowly down the ridge, then rather rapidly down a very narrow slithery gully to the ‘beach’ of smooth white limestone rocks for lunch. During our break we were entertained by a rather angry Sea Lion who ranged up and down huffing at us in a threatening fashion and occasionally taking an experimental bite at Alex’s heavy waterproof bag that was being used as a shield. Fortunately for Alex he didn’t seem to like the taste!
Uphill we went again and contrary to the weather forecast, the rain had really settled in by now. We pushed our way through scrub to Northwest Hut where we peeked into the musty abandoned interior and took a group photo. Then we sloshed through mainly grassland onto the col with Mount Dumar, where there were lots of Royal Albatross nests. We watched them ‘gamming’ (hanging together chatting) and soaring close overhead in the wind. But it was cold and we were all wet, so we kept moving, sidling the ridge inland until suddenly we arrived at a large cave in some rocks where we could stop for a welcome respite from the weather and a very welcome chocolate biscuit! After a short breather it was down, down, down, through weird Dracophyllum ‘forest’ to the shore at last where we could inspect the site of the dwelling of the ‘Lady of the Heather’ and the ‘Loneliest Tree in the World’ (a very multi-stemmed but fairly healthy old Sitka Spruce). Rodney was waiting with the Zodiacs and we waded aboard managing to rinse SOME of the mud off, before motoring back to the ship. Back aboard it was a case of boot wash, leg wash, bum wash and aaaah! hot showers, dry clothes and a warm drink. That was quite a day!
The other group report a fascinating day also. At 9.30am the Zodiacs were loaded and off they went seeking the Campbell Island Flightless Teal Anas nesiotis .This tiny bird became extinct on the main island of the Campbell group from predation by Norway Rats and then was re-discovered by the one and only Rodney Russ in 1975 as an isolated population on Dent Island. Small in stature it may be, but the teal has plenty of personality. Several individuals and even a pair, the male with an iridescent green head and the female smaller with a brown head, were sighted during the morning, feeding, squabbling and being harassed by Antarctic terns in the kelp and rocks of the shorelines. From a scarce rarity 40 years ago, thanks to a successful breeding programme and re-introductions after the successful eradication of rats from the island, the teal has established a healthy breeding population once more on Campbell Island. The Zodiac cruise continued through the bays and coves of Perseverance Harbour, visiting the ‘Loneliest Tree in the World’. Standing above the heath and Dracophyllum scrub, this single spruce pine planted by sheep farmers in the 19th century now boasts World Heritage listing and enjoys regular summer visits from expeditions such as ours. Near the lonely tree is the site of the legend of ‘The Lady of the Heather’. This relates to the story of a woman marooned on the island in the 19th century. Part fact, part fiction, the site of the old hut now supports a healthy stand of flax. The Zodiacs also landed at another historical site where an old shepherd’s hut once stood. All that remains now is a cast iron coal range, two-thirds of a leather shoe and an occasional glass flask bottle amongst a few brick-ends scattered along the shoreline. We continued the cruise past Venus Cove, site of an 1874 French expedition to watch the transit of Venus. One of the party died whilst on the island and is buried at the top of a small promontory. There are several other old graves on the island, including that of Frederick Hasselborough who discovered the island in 1810. We also visited Garden Cove, a gentle slope down to the shoreline where shepherds once attempted to grow vegetables. Sea Lions kept us company throughout the morning, mainly young males undulating and poking their noses through the water or establishing their patch on the beach. There were plenty of kelp gulls along the shore, and one Zodiac was treated to the sight of a kelp gull repeatedly dropping a mussel onto the rocks to crack it open and feed on the tasty morsel inside.
After a well deserved picnic lunch back on board the Spirit of Enderby, there was time for a quick nap or a chat and a reinvigorating cuppa, before it was back into the Zodiacs for a much anticipated stroll up the Col Lyall boardwalk. A large bull Sea Lion initially blocked our passage as we made our way from the wharf area to the old Meteorological Station, now abandoned as observers have been replaced with automated technology. There were two types of walkers – those keen on stretching their legs and making a quick ascent to the top, and those happy to amble along at snails pace, stopping to regularly observe the minute. Once clear of the Dracophyllum scrub, the island vegetation opened into tussock grassland where we caught the first glimpses of the Royal Albatross, hunkered down against the biting wind driven mist and rain. Why they would choose to live in such an inhospitable climate remains a mystery! Rodney, playing tail-end-charlie to the group assured us all that we would be up close and personal to more accessible albatross as we got closer to the top, so the group started their slow ascent again, stopping to marvel at the huge Pleurophyllum criniferum plants that now dotted the landscape. Soon, they gave way to the first of the spectacular Pleurophyllum speciosum plants, with their leaves of corrugated cardboard and the first flowering specimen was subjected to a barrage of camera lenses as we all wanted to capture that beauty forever in our memories. The concentration of megaherbs increased in the protected gullies, replaced with the tussock grasses where the constant wind exposure would rip them to shreds.
The slower group then started to meet the first of the cold and bedraggled, but elated expeditioners returning from the summit of the boardwalk. Most of them expressed their awe at what lay ahead, encouraging those who perhaps had misgivings about their decision to venture into the rain, fog and wind. But out of the mist, a major enticement started to appear – a Royal Albatross clamped down against the weather on a nest right next to the track. Apparently unfazed by the invasion of strangers into its world, the beautiful bird passively sat incubating its egg whilst appearing to pose for the cameras. A couple of the keen photographers ventured 100m or so off the track into an area where general access is permitted and found another bird happily nestled in amongst the Bulbinella flowers, providing the perfect photographic setting. Despite the rain and the risk to camera equipment, these two made the most of every minute they could with these special creatures, in case they didn’t have the opportunity to return the following day in good weather. It was tough and wet equipment, saturated clothing and foggy lenses didn’t help. Then there was the fog and how to capture the surrounding and context of the lives of these birds when the background was invisible, only glimpsed occasionally when the weather allowed. Further up the boardwalk, many sat in absolute awe on a well placed seat protected from the westerly winds. The source of their awe was an expanse of megaherb garden, complete with the most spectacular flowers poking their heads up above the sea of massive green leaves. Most flowers were the pink and purple hues of the giant carrot, Anisotome latifolia, which was at the peak of its production. Occasional early flowers of the Emperor Daisy and button daisies intermingled with the fading yellow flowers of Bulbinella rossii; the buds of the daisies hinting at the spectacular riot of colour that was soon to explode on the slopes of Col Lyall. One Royal Albatross had chosen the perfect nesting site, overlooking this most beautiful of nature’s gardens.
For the hearty souls, the terminus of the boardwalk awaited, but required moving into the exposed lip of Northwest Bay, where the winds increased significantly and even standing was challenging. With no view due to the low cloud, most chose to stay in the protection of the megaherb garden, before making the journey back to the ship. The return journey provided an opportunity for ‘team botany’ to poke about in the vegetation, seeking the elusive blue flowers of Hebe bethamii, and ogling over the myriad of orchid species to be found beside the track. Frustratingly, the calls of the Campbell Island Snipe could be heard in the distance, but not a single bird was to be seen. All too soon, it was 6pm and time to make a quick return to the wharf where there were still more things to see. A Sea Lion rolling in the grass accidentally rolled over the edge into the water before picking itself up and indignantly glaring at the humans that must have been responsible for its misfortune was the highlight while waiting for Rodney’s water taxi service to take us back to the ship.
Then it was time for the festivities to begin! The bar filled with cheerful voices, an amazing number of party frocks and nice shirts – even a bow tie! The conviviality was carried downstairs to a slapup buffet dinner complete with three meats and all sorts of veges; champagne all round courtesy of Heritage Expeditions; Kiwi Pavlova for dessert; and back to the bar/library afterwards. Towards midnight those of us still at it repaired to the top deck where we enthusiastically counted in 2016 with the faint trace of sunset still on the westward horizon outlining the silhouette of the volcano that surrounded us. We hummed and stumbled through ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and finally, for a few die-hards still on deck later there was the really special New Year treat of a shimmering Aurora Australis. What a way to see in the New Year!
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 11: 1 January 2016 (New Year’s Day)
Rodney was up at sunrise (5am) to check the weather and wake those crazies who had signed up for another strenuous tramp, this time to nearby Mount Honey, the highest point on the island. It was capped in cloud but we hoped that it would clear by the time we got there. We pulled on half-dried clothes, snatched a light breakfast and rode the Zodiacs into Camp Cove at the head of the harbour. As usual a large Sea Lion came to check us out, but decided we are boring and swam off. We set off – again over pasture grass booby-trapped with Elephant Seal wallows at first – then climbed uphill between walls of Dracophyllum scrub. Ryan wanted to know why we weren’t heading straight to the hill. I didn’t know, but there was no choice but to follow the track through the dense stuff! We emerged onto rolling tops with cushion bog and tiny orchids and amazing white coral lichen, then started the ‘rollercoaster’ across the flanks of the mountain, each dip plunging us into tallish Dracophyllum. Alex pointed out that some of it exceeded 5m and therefore may be called a tree. We also encountered the occasional challenging mud-hole or peaty stream. Gradually we ascended and then turned uphill in earnest, following a surprisingly well defined track with slim plastic marker poles to the edge of the Dracophyllum into tussock country studded with Royal Albatross nests. The birds endured our attention with stately dignity as we clicked away; as Rodney says, they are not morning birds! Now it was every man for himself as we made our way up the ever-steepening mountain over squelchy slithery grass, mud, and then wide fields of Bulbinella increasingly peppered with beautiful Pleurophyllum and Anisotome and even a few Stilbocarpa. Alex found some of Jessie’s ‘Forget-me-nots’ and as she said, they are tiny, hardly bigger than a penny. Views to the south coast opened up – Monument Harbour and Six-foot Lake look very beautiful framed by the long wide slopes and valleys around. On and up, it was getting colder now and we were willing the cloud to lift, but it didn’t and we reached the top in cloud and mist. There were even a few flakes of snow! After a snack and a group photo it was time to go down again and of course this was a whole lot faster, but there were quite a few bum-slides along the way and Ryan was seen up to his knees in mud, fishing for a lost shoe. We were tired but happy when we met the boat to return to the ship. It was great to complete our last boot wash, take off our lifejackets, have a warming shower and tuck into some serious food.
Those of us who didn’t join the hike or revisit the boardwalk on Col Lyall took a Zodiac cruise up to the mouth of Perseverance Harbour. The plan was to look for Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and teal, and we were rewarded with many sightings of both. Two teal were spotted still sporting bands from the re-introduction programme, a great confirmation the birds are doing very well on the island. Four Light-mantled Sooty Albatross were seen on their nests along the cliffs faces, a gorgeous sight amongst the giant purple Anisotome flowers and tussocks draping the volcanic rock. Several pairs were courting and calling, a wonderful display to see and hear. Yellow-eyed Penguins were peering through the vegetation cloaking the cliff faces and scrambling down to the waterline giving confirmation that these solitary little penguins are accomplished climbers! We cruised past two large Sea Lion colonies and were able to see the tiny pups born this year amongst the towering males and protective females. In the mouth of the harbour was the gruesome sight of a dead seal floating on the tide, being devoured by a large flock of Giant Petrels. The photographers were able to capture some excellent images of Giant Petrel behaviour and display as the birds fought over the carcass, establishing the day’s pecking order. The Zodiacs passed stunning displays of columnar basalts as they made their way back up the harbour to the ship. Shaped by the volcanic processes which created Campbell Island, the basalt columns give the cliff faces a sculpted look and really bring to life the dramatic history of the islands.
The anchor went up as lunch was served and afterwards everyone was on deck enjoying the glorious sunshine as we said goodbye to this last and most glorious island of the trip. Slowly the ship eased out of Perseverance Harbour, past Davis Head with its penguin and seal colonies, and along the rugged outer coast of Campbell Island. Hundreds of seabirds of all kinds escorted us from this our last port. As we reached the open sea the ship came alive with a gentle roll and we were on our way home. Our Macquarie friends were brimming with excitement as they had not seen loved ones for many months. As for the rest of us, who can say? It had been a wonderful journey and we each took with us some treasured memories and stories to share for the months and years to come.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Date: 22 December 2014 – 3 January 2015
Ship: Professor Khromov/Spirit of Enderby
Expedition Staff & Crew
Expedition Leader: Don McIntyre
Captain: Dmitry Zinchenko
Hotel Manager: Jessie Prebble and Jane Zhou (in training)
Chief Mate: Aleksei Zinchenko
2nd Mate: Sergei Ostapenko
3rd Mate: Valentin Drozdov
Radio Officer: Aleksander Goncharuk
Chief Engineer: Alexander Gridnev
Chief Electric Engineer: Valerii Raubo
Chief Stewardess: Natalia Bogdanova
Chefs: Connor Arcus and Frank Widmer
Guides/Lecturers: Alex Fergus, Mitch Bartlett and Mike Holland
Kayak Guide: Judd Hill
Day 1 – 22nd December 2014
Convergence on the southern-most city
From all over New Zealand, Australia and various other parts of the globe, our expedition’s contingent assembled in Invercargill, New Zealand’s southern-most city. By 1900, almost all of us, with the exception of a few late flights, gathered together on the 6th floor of the Kelvin Hotel for our first meal together. Our expedition leader Don warmly welcomed us all and provided scope for the day ahead and the almost two weeks that would follow, always with the returning focus of adventure.
Day 2 – 23rd December 2014
Invercargill and our departure
A leisurely breakfast was spread over a three-hour window at the Kelvin Hotel, allowing time for jet-lagged folks to start recovery as well as a little early exploration time around Invercargill. Luggage was checked and packed for the ship, and for the remainder of the morning most of us explored the Southland Museum. A very hands on explanation of the successful rearing of Tuatara at the Tuatararium was followed for most with a mix of wandering around the Subantarctic Garden, the wider Queen’s Park gardens, and time spent in the permanent exhibitions ‘Beyond the Roaring 40’s’ and ‘Whales, whaling, and the Antarctic’. It is worth noting that Invercargill turned on the nicest weather seen in 8 months for our departure day, surely a positive omen.
At midday a bus took the remainder of us who were at the museum back to the Kelvin Hotel for lunch and by 1330 our full complement was on the bus heading towards Bluff. At 1400 we received cheery approval from the Island Harbour port security, before finally boarding the Professor Khromov. After customs clearance and a few refreshments, we joined our expedition leader Don in the lecture room for an introduction to the staff, a Zodiac briefing, the emergency briefing, and the plan for the day ahead at the Snares. Just before 1600, with the pilot on board, we started heading out of Bluff Harbour, rounding Bluff Hill, and heading out into the notorious Foveaux Strait. Notoriety aside, today the sea could not have been calmer, giving us the rare opportunity to follow the western side of Stewart Island southward.
One of the highlights of Stewart Island‘s west coast was the opportunity to catch sight of Codfish Island, the home of the majority of one of New Zealand’s rarest birds, the Kakapo (current population ~ 126 birds). For those not in the know, this large green nocturnal parrot, with the face of an owl, a lek breeding system, and a painful reliance on seed masting, now only survives on this and a handful of other offshore islands.
At 1800 the sirens blared seven short rings followed by one long ring, repeated thrice, signalling the abandon ship drill. We all crammed into the two lifeboats to get a distasteful glimpse of the claustrophobic conditions necessary for survival. We refreshed in the bar, before being treated to the first of Connor and Frank’s fantastic meals.
Mitch’s bird of the day: White Capped Albatross
Lifeboat drill aboard Professor Khromov (note – 15 more people will be packed into this space).
Day 3 – 24th December 2014
Before 0600 we were in the lee of the Snares, while a north north-west wind was blowing a moderate 20-25 knots. The ship was moved from east of the South Promontory to South Bay and back again in order to assess the conditions for a Zodiac cruise. At 0745, after breakfast, we were briefed by Don in the lecture room about the plans for the day ahead and by 0830 we were boarding the Zodiacs for the first time.
From the ship we headed up the east coast of North East Island toward Mollymawk Bay, and then rounded into Ho Ho Bay, with its various arches and caves to explore. Snares Crested Penguins dotted the coastal edge, while New Zealand Fur Seals basked on rock platforms only a few metres above them. Beyond the seals, a fringe of vegetation dominated by white-flowering shore Hebe (Veronica elliptica) and Snares Punui (Stilbocarpa robusta) sat beneath a canopy of tree daisies (Brachyglottis stewartiae and Olearia lyalli). From Ho Ho Bay we rounded Station Point into Station Cove, where in the front of the Canterbury University research hut, a small group of sub-adult male (SAMs) New Zealand Sea Lions wrestled in the shallows. The occasional Snares Tomtit, a little flicker of black, darted in and out of the vegetation. The Snares Crested Penguins maintained constant activity, returning from sea in large porpoising flocks, squabbling and socialising amongst the kelp holdfasts, and generally entertaining us in whichever direction we chose to look for them. By this point, looking out to the ship, we could see the sea state beginning to decline. The tidal current had changed, and we now had wind-against-tide. We left the shelter of Station Cove and headed north out and around Seal Point and Skua Point, past Punui Bay, and up to the Penguin Slope. With the predominantly northerly wind it was not the nicest day at Penguin Slope, with the wind gusting in towards the rock faces. At this stage the Captain was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the sea state, so we headed south in the Zodiacs back towards the ship, spotting a number of nesting Buller’s Albatross along the coastal cliffs as we went. The swell was now reaching 1.3 metres and while we managed to unload one and a half Zodiacs, it was not long before the Captain called our disembarkation off. For those remaining in the Zodiacs, this meant an extended cruise along South Promontory (where at least one Zodiac managed good views of Tomtits and Fernbirds) past Broughton Island and into South Bay, where with a little more protection we managed to unload everyone onto the ship.
After lunch folks had time to hang wet clothes or watch the bird and mammal life around the ship (multiple Dusky and Hourglass Dolphins were spotted around the ship throughout the afternoon) before Alex took the microphone at 1530, and through a mass of images, guided folks through the flora of the Subantarctic, looking at the Snares, Auckland, Campbell and Macquarie Islands. In addition to exploring the weird and wonderful components of the flora he touched on the origins of many of the species and how the key factors isolation, land area, emergence time, geology and latitude, function together to drive Subantarctic ecosystems. By 1800 the swell had increased to 3m, and the function of short glasses in the bar-library was soon apparent. A quick debrief on our day at the Snares gave us a chance to celebrate our successful morning, for as Don was quick to note, conditions at the Snares regularly make a Zodiac cruise here impossible.
Mitch’s bird of the day: Buller’s Albatross
Alex’s plant of the day: Brachyglottis stewartiae, an endemic tree daisy with cones of bright yellow flowers.
Snares Crested Penguins cruise in the foreground while the Professor Khromov steams off the east coast of North East Island (The Snares).
Snares Crested Penguins.
Day 4 – 25th December 2014
Christmas on Enderby Island
During the night the swell abated as we moved closer to the Auckland Islands. By 0300 we were in the sheltered waters of Port Ross, just south of Enderby Island. Shortly after breakfast Don called us down to the lecture room for a briefing on the Christmas day options ahead. We packed our lunches for the day and by 0915 we were boarding Zodiacs and heading toward the wave-cut rock platform just west of Sandy Bay. A pair of Auckland Island Teal, a species now recovering on pest-free Enderby Island, fed obliviously in the rock pools as we crossed the beach, weaving between New Zealand Sea Lions, and headed to the small collection of research huts at the back of the beach. As a single group we crossed the grassy back dunes, while Yellow-eyed Penguins ambled between the beach and the forest edge. We broke through stunted shrubs and into the Rata forest as we began following the boardwalk which would take us to the northern cliffs. As we exited the forest, the vegetation again dwarfed to scrub level only, and was soon dotted with the large white bodies of nesting Southern Royal Albatross. As we came closer to the northern cliffs shrubby vegetation gave way to the bright yellow Ross’s Lily (Bulbinella rossii) and the giant carrot, Anisotome latifolia, with its bright pink and purple cauliflower sized flower heads held atop large, rigid, twisting and pointed pseudo-carrotty leaves.
As a group we completed a sweep across the megaherbs and low tussocks, searching for the Auckland Island Snipe, where with quiet hands held aloft indicating success, most of us managed a glimpse. We continued eastward to the peat escarpment that allowed good views of a few pairs of Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross nesting on the cliffs and here we split into two groups, those who wanted to continue a circumnavigation of the remainder of the coastline to the east and south, and those who preferred to take their time to retrace our current path and enjoy the Sea Lion action back on Sandy Bay.
The long-walkers continued eastward along the coastal margin toward the Derry Castle Reef, so named for the ship the Derry Castle which was wrecked here in 1887, at the cost of 15 lives. We lunched at the burial site, providing some rare Christmas company to those lost in the wreck. The reef itself had good numbers of Banded Dotterel, Yellow-eyed Penguins, Sea Lions, New Zealand Fur Seals, and perhaps a single Australian Sea Lion. We continued up from the reef along the coast, weaving between tussocks and Macquarie Island Cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris) above steep coastal cliffs. We dropped back down to the beach, spotting our first Elephant Seals, probably last year’s pups from Macquarie Island, before heading back up the cliffs towards an Auckland Island Shag colony. Heading inland for the first time, we stopped for an afternoon break under cover of the Rata forest toward the island’s North East Cape. Here, twisted boughs of Rata hung over the broad, plate-like leaves of Macquarie Island Cabbage, which blossomed amid jagged branches of Turpentine Scrub (Dracophyllum longifolium) which stabbed up toward the canopy. Bellbirds, Tomtits and Red-crowned Parakeets whirred around us, while a distant mewing from a newborn Sea Lion pup, hidden away in the forest, could just be heard.
From the forest we regained the coast and continued westward toward Teal Lake, and eventually a path winding through scrub that delivered us almost onto Sandy Bay.
Conditions were calm with 10 knots of wind on the east side of Enderby coming from the north. We paddled first to Butterfield Point to have a look at the passage between Enderby and Rose Islands, but the tidal stream was too much so we stayed in the lee of Enderby and followed the coast past Sandy Bay as far as Gargoyle Point on the eastern side. We started to get tide against wind and waves there so we turned and returned to the ship. Beautiful cliffs and caves between Butterfield Point and Sandy Bay. Yellow-eyed Penguins and New Zealand Sea Lions on shore and in the water. Sea Lions were very curious under the kayaks and even having a nibble at us to see what we were. Awesome first paddle.
8 Kayakers, 12.4km
Mitch’s birds of the day:
1. Light Mantled Sooty Albatross
2. Auckland Island Snipe
3. Northern Giant Petrel (chick)
Alex’s plant of the day: Gentianella cerina, one of the endemic brightly-coloured gentians currently in full flower along the coastal turfs.
Auckland Island Teal, now recovering on Enderby Island and regularly seen along the island’s coast.
Meadows of endemic Auckland Island Gentians (Gentianella cerina and G. concinna).
An Auckland Island Tomtit surveys the world from a perch atop a Ross’s Lily (Bulbinella rossii), one of the megaherb species on Enderby Island.
Day 5 – 26th December 2014
Carnley Harbour and Tagua Bay
At 0615 we rounded the heads of Carnley Harbour and began steaming up the channel between Adam’s Island to our south, and main Auckland Island to our north. After breakfast we joined Don in the lecture room for a briefing on our day at Auckland Island. By 0845 we had the Zodiacs in the water and we were heading toward Tagua Bay, the site of the southerly Coastwatcher’s station on Auckland Island. From the rocky shore, with Tuis diving in amongst the twisting Rata, we scrambled up across peat embankments, and followed the path through the goblin forest toward the main base. The home of the southern Auckland Island coastwatchers for four years during war time is now much dilapidated, but we could get a feeling for the isolation of their position. We continued up the small peninsula that Tagua Bay almost separates from the main island, up through scrub that eventually opened up allowing views (limited today due to blustering rain) out east toward the Erlangen clearing. We made it to the Lookout Station of the coastwatchers that peered out of the forest toward Carnley Harbour. A few of the original artefacts of the Lookout Station remain intact, such as a can of Edmonds baking powder and a pack of playing cards, which give a little insight into the simplicity of life on the island. From the Station we could hear the conditions deteriorating on the little iron roof, and peering down toward the coast we could see our ship rolling with the wind. We headed back down toward the coast after hearing from the Captain that both anchors were dragging. We boarded the Zodiacs, and were all back on the ship by 1100 as winds gusting up to 45 knots whipped up the harbour around us.
After lunch we cruised down Carnley Harbour, and at 1430 we were once again out in the open ocean, being pushed along by a 30 knot northerly, in a three metre swell. The remainder of the day was spent quietly enduring the roll as we continued our 19 hour run between the remote island outposts of the Auckland Islands and Macquarie Island.
Mitch’s bird of the day: Sooty Shearwater
Alex’s plant of the day: Metrosideros umbellata, Southern Rata, with splays of red flowers, and offering a home to diving Tui, it was still impressive even in the gusting wind and driving rain.
Don explains the Coastwatchers base at Tagua Bay.
The Tagua Bay Lookout Station - high above Carnley Harbour.
A few artefacts of life remain in the Tagua Bay Lookout Station.
Day 6 – 27th December 2014
At sea en route to Macquarie Island
We awoke in New Zealand waters, and by the time a late breakfast had passed, we were in Australian waters, much to John’s delight. With 12-15 knots of south-easterly on the bow the conditions on the ship were mildly improved from the previous afternoon, and it was calm enough that at 1030 Mitch could share with us a presentation on all things penguin. Mitch explained the 18 species of penguin to us, focusing on the 13 that occur in the New Zealand region. Mitch focused on which characteristics we could use for distinguishing the similar species, their populations, where they breed, and some of their unique behavioural quirks.
After lunch Don briefed us about our potential activities on Macquarie Island and touched on some of the more unique aspects of the geology and wildlife of the island. Following on from Don, Mitch once again took up the microphone, this time for an introduction to Albatross. Again he focused on the different species occurring in the southern ocean, their population numbers, where they breed, and how we can tell some of the very similar species apart.
During the latter part of dinner, the rocks north of Macquarie Island came into view, and shortly afterwards we were in the lee of the isthmus. A rogue late-night Zodiac mission, kept as hush-hush as possible, saw Ivan and Andrea, the respective partners of Vivian and Chris, hurried from the island to the ship, much to the delight of all four of them.
Mitch’s bird of the day: Gentoo Penguin
Day 7 – 28th December 2014
Sandy Bay and the East Coast of Macquarie Island
After and early breakfast and quarantine check we ran two Zodiacs into Garden Cove to collect the five ranger staff joining us for our time on Macquarie Island. With the rangers aboard, we joined them and Don in the lecture room for a briefing on the day ahead at Sandy Bay. At 0930 we began boarding the Zodiacs and were relieved to find a relatively calm landing at Sandy Bay. We landed on the gravelly beach behind the spit, and were welcomed by marauding flocks of King and Royal Penguins, while littered all over the beach, across and on top of one another, were hundreds of slug-like cat-faced Elephant Seals of all different ages. Following another briefing from the rangers, were we free to explore. North of the spit, beyond a dense pile of Elephant Seals, we found the main King Penguin colony of Sandy Bay. The remaining King Penguin chicks from the previous season, cloaked in brown-down, begged at desperate parents, while most of the birds, eggs on feet, kept up a continual chatter in the largest part of the colony. Dropping south, back past the landing, the Royal Penguins could be seen coming ashore, and chattering amongst themselves on the beach, in front of piles of the largest Elephant Seals (still only juveniles relative to the 3-4 tonne adult males). From here we could cross the stream before Filch Creek, and follow the boardwalk, up and around the plateaus of the silvery megaherb Pleurophyllum hookeri, and on towards the Royal Penguin colony. Stretching up the slope, thousands of Royals vied for their nesting space, devoid of vegetation, due to the continual trampling. This was a great site for simply taking some time to sit back and absorb the white noise of wildlife.
With weather once again deteriorating, we called the morning short just a little earlier than planned, and started loading the Zodiacs at 1330. With increasing seas, and the Zodiacs punching into 30 knot gusts at the gangway, we managed to get all back on board. After lunch, the ship cruised past Lusitania Bay, the largest King Penguin colony on the island, and we could see midst the birds, the digestors, a not so ancient reminder of Joseph Hatch’s oil industry. At 1630 we joined six of the seven Macquarie Island staff on board in the lecture room. Representing the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) was station leader Ivan and Field Training Officer Ian. In addition we had Chris, who heads up the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (TPAWS) on the island, and ranger Mike, previously of the Macquarie pest-eradication team. The two remaining ship visitors, Jared and Kate, are both volunteer Albatross researchers, working jointly with AAAD and TPAWS. After introductions, everyone had the opportunity to bombard our guests with questions ranging from the role of tourism to who funds the wildlife research. By 1800 we were closing in on the isthmus, the site of the main AAD base on the island. The wind was still building, and we were now punching into 35-40 knots of north-westerly.
Conditions were 20 knots from the N-NW and around a metre of swell. It picked up to 30 knots by the end of the paddle. We headed from the ship across and into Sandy Bay hitting the coast at Finch Creek. We then headed north, past the King Penguin rookery and up the coast half way to the Nuggets. We then turned and ran down the coast with the wind to the Rockhopper Penguins and returned to the ship. There were heaps of Royal Penguins in the water around the kayaks and a few Elephant Seals close but they were not interested in us. 5 Kayakers, 9.9km
Mitch’s birds of the day:
1. White morph of the Northern Giant Petrel
2. Royal Penguin
3. Brown Skua
Alex’s plant of the day: Poa foliosa, a grass. It seems boring, but the recovery after the rabbit eradication, especially around the Royal Penguin colony, is too good not to rate a mention.
Itchy-nosed Elephant Seal.
A Royal Penguin regaining the beach.
The King Penguin colony at Sandy Bay.
Day 8 – 29th December 2014
The Isthmus, Macquarie Island
The isthmus was hidden under heavy clag at 0700, with visibility limited to 100m as we looked out from the ship towards Macquarie Island. The Captain had spent all night running the ship in a loop along the east coast, necessitated by the wind, swell and lack of any harbour. After breakfast we met up with Don and the Macquarie Island staff for a briefing in the lecture room, before boarding the Zodiacs. The swell coming into Buckles Bay was still too high for a landing, but we were able to begin unloading at Garden Cove. We managed to get a fourth load of our team ashore before the Captain deemed the gangway too dangerous, but luckily, with a little manoeuvring the final party was landed. In five groups we explored the different sections of the isthmus. Meanwhile Judd and his kayak gang explored the northern coasts.
The terrestrial teams first headed to the northern end of the beach on the island’s west coast to catch a glimpse of one of the small populations of Rockhopper Penguins, while also enjoying the young Elephant Seals tussling on the sea edge, practicing future battles for harem dominance. We headed south along the beach toward the patches of Gentoo Penguins, where chicks, often larger than their parents, stalked their mothers and fathers across the sand in demand of nourishment, the parent’s only apparent escape being the sea. Good numbers of Brown Skua, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, as well as King Penguins could also be seen along the beach. We crossed the isthmus again back to the east coast and followed a path littered with piles of slumbering Elephant Seals southwards toward the stairs leading up to the viewing platform. After a short steep climb complete views of the isthmus were ours to be had, north to the station, south to flanks of the plateau, where recovering vegetation painted the slopes in various shades of green. We headed back down toward the station, passed the digesters, and on into the ‘Olde Sealers Inn’ where the rumours about the quality of Macquarie Island scones held true. After a meteorological balloon release we were back on the beach and heading out towards the ship. We waved farewell to the staff on the beach where Vivian and Ivan, Andrea and Chris said their last goodbyes for now, and we were away.
By 1300 we had everyone back aboard the Spirit of Enderby where we quickly put away lunch before setting sail for Campbell Island, a mere day and half of open ocean away. In the late afternoon we joined Mitch in the lecture room for a presentation on ‘Petrels and other seabirds’, where he ran through the different species, their life histories, population numbers, and in the case of the Sooty Shearwater, the complicated issue of their indigenous harvest in and around southern New Zealand.
Conditions were 20-25 knots and swell up to 2 metres at anchorage. We paddled from the ship across to the coast just north of Garden Cove and paddled up to the northern tip of Macquarie Island. Winds were gusting over 30 knots up there so we turned and followed the rocky coastline south. Some rock stacks we could paddle between were exciting! We paddled to the Rockhopper Penguins south of Garden Cove the headed as far south as the Macquarie Island sign painted on the fuel tanks, then returned to Garden Cove and made a landing to visit the base. Conditions had worsened at the ship on return but it was still manageable getting kayakers back on the ship. A wild Subantarctic paddle!
7 Kayakers, 5.8km
Mitch’s bird of the day: Gentoo Penguin
Alex’s plant of the day: Colobanthus muscoides, the bright green cushions raised liked giant mushrooms all along the coast.
Juvenile male Elephant Seals practice battle on the west coast beaches of Macquarie Island’s isthmus.
A lone Elephant Seal maintains watch in front of one of the stations outlying buildings.
Gentoo Penguin feeding chick
Enjoying Macquarie Island hospitality
Day 9 – 30th December 2014
At sea en route to Campbell Island
We awoke to a slightly increased swell and enjoyed a late breakfast which set the pace for our day at sea en-route to Campbell Island. After breakfast we joined Don in the lecture room for ‘A year in Antarctica and other adventures’, and spent the next hour, jaws-agape, listening to Don’s many accomplishments in the field of unknown outcomes. From a yacht-building 23 year old in Adelaide, around Australia, to and around and through Antarctica, onto gyrocopters, chartless Bounty re-enactments, to treasure hunting and beyond, Don kept us in silent awe as he detailed 30 years of adventuring.
After lunch Jessie and Jane opened the Sea Shop so anyone after penguin-emblazoned socks, Subantarctic literature, or just a few postcards, had the opportunity to stock up. Later in the afternoon Alex had the opportunity to deliver to those who were interested a lecture intertwining the human and environmental history on Campbell Island over the last two hundred years since the island was discovered. He also touched on the current state of wildlife on the island and the bicentennial expedition he had been involved in. The bar opened as usual and a fine meal followed before everyone settled into the last few hours on the open ocean before the seclusion of a calm harbour.
Mitch’s bird of the day: Campbell Island Albatross
Day 10 – 31st December 2014
At 0130 the ship rounded the heads of Perseverance Harbour and anchored off Beeman Point at the western end of the harbour after a journey of 18 hours on the open southern ocean. An early breakfast was followed by a briefing outlining the day of adventures ahead. Everyone made a cut lunch then separated into three groups. The long walkers, heading over to North West Bay were the first to depart, followed by Judd’s kayak gang, and lastly the Zodiac cruisers who would go on in the afternoon to conquer the Col-Lyall Saddle.
The long-walkers departed from the Beeman Point wharf, and roughly followed the coast around Tucker Cove, and up onto Homestead Ridge, where most of the usually dry track had converted into a bubbling stream. We were escorted across the peat bog by a nervously calling group of Antarctic Terns, before we took a break, under what cover we could find from the Turpentine Scrub. Then we headed up the old slip, now widened, and spilling debris in a fan across low shrub and herbfield. As we climbed up the slip and gained Col Ridge our first Southern Royal Albatross came into view, nesting amongst the tussocks and megaherbs, with wings neatly folded across their backs to restrict any rain entering their nests. We sidled up onto the ridge proper before continuing on to our first high point of the day. Now in complete clag, with visibility dropping to about 40m, we stayed as a tight group as we began the descent along the western cliffs towards North West Bay. Half way down the clag thinned and the stunning white cliffs came into view, with the lowest portion of cloud-topped Dent Island visible. We wound about tussocks taller than ourselves and eased our way into the creek that would bring us onto the beach. With a few Sea Lions to roar a welcome and a group of Yellow-eyed Penguins half a dozen strong in tow, we arrived at North West Bay, formerly Capstan Cove, the site of a former whaling base. Generally we would lunch here, but after almost four of hours of rain, we opted for the hut above the coast instead, however, the swollen stream at Capstan Cove, now a dark-brown rampant river, presented our first challenge. With Alex, Mitch, Athol, George and Barry spread across the torrent, we slowly, hand-by-hand, ferried our team across the waters, and onto the Elephant Seal strewn beach. From here we hauled ourselves up a slippery peat face, before entering gnarled Turpentine forest and wandering across to the hut. For a moment, the weather threatened to clear, but it was not to be. We retraced our steps a little and followed the winding path up the 1984 fence-line and onto the northern flanks of Mt Dumas, before sidling towards Cave Rock for the obligatory photo and biscuit. The nicest weather of the day opened a view across Perseverance Harbour as we headed down to Camp Cove, the home of the ‘Lady of the Heather’ and the Sitka Spruce, and within 15 minutes Don had us heading back to the ship, to warm (or hard) drinks, showers and dry socks. An admirable effort was made by all, especially given the almost seven hours of rain endured.
All the while the remaining two groups of adventurers had been braving the same Subantarctic climatic foibles. Judd’s kayak crew headed off from the ship along the northern edge of Perseverance Harbour, first towards Davis Point, where they reported a very active and healthy group of Sea Lions that may have had more than a playful interest in kayaks. Having escaped, the team continued east, first beyond the heads of the harbour and out into the southern ocean, eventually reaching East Cape, the most easterly point on Campbell Island. From here they headed south, regained Perseverance Harbour, and this time followed the southern edge of the harbour. Due to a little kayak trouble the team landed and lunched under overhanging rock before returning to the ship.
Our final group of adventure types, led by Don, began the day with a Zodiac cruise around the upper reaches of Perseverance Harbour. From Tucker Cove, they headed around into Camp Cove, landing to examine Lord Ranfurly’s Sitka Spruce. A little confusion saw Connor briefly examine the heads of the harbour (a bonus for his group) before rejoining the group proper. From the loneliest tree in the world, the Zodiacs followed the coast around into Garden Cove, and eventually Venus Cove, the home of the French scientists in the 1870’s. Great wildlife was seen all along the coastal edge, including very high numbers of Black Backed Gull chicks. The Zodiac cruisers returned to the ship for lunch, before heading to the Beeman Point wharf and ascending the boardwalk. Beyond the old base, the boardwalk wound up around Beeman Hill, an old volcanic plug, with evident pillars of columnar basalt. Eventually the scrub opened into low cushion bog, with patches of the Giant Button Daisy (Pleurophyllum criniferum) emerging in the wetter sections. As the boardwalk began to rise again the Southern Royal Albatross nests began to accumulate around the path, in amongst the tussock and megaherbs. Unfortunately there was little chance to see the views out to Dent Island at the top of the saddle as the rain continued.
By 1830 we were all back on board in time for a recap at the bar, followed by a fantastic dinner. Many of us got together in the lecture room, to watch Don and Margie’s year in a box in Antarctica, before we moved to the Monkey Deck as the countdown to 2015 was upon us. A great, very long day, had been had by all. Happy New Year everyone!
Winds under 10 knots but rain all day were our conditions. We paddled from the ship’s anchorage to the northern shore of the harbour and followed it down past Davis Point and the Sea Lions as far as East Cape. There were some New Zealand Fur Seals along the rocks just after Erebus Point. We then headed to the southern side of the Perseverance Harbour and found an overhang to have lunch under, as it was still raining. We then followed the southern shoreline back to the ship passing some Elephant Seals, more New Zealand Sea Lions and heaps of waterfalls. On the northern side of the harbour there were a few Yellow-eyed Penguins and about six Campbell Island Teal. We then had time to do the walk up to the Southern Royal Albatross colony in the late afternoon. An awesome day!
6 Kayakers, 20.2km
Mitch’s bird of the day: Northern Giant Petrel
Alex’s plant of the day: Anisotome latifolia, one of the megaherbs, and also one of the giant carrots on the island, in full bloom along the western cliffs.
Mud, sweat, but no tears, as we march on towards North West Bay.
Anisotome latifolia, one of the giant megaherb carrots, flourishing along the western cliffs.
Sodden wanderers get a little respite from the rain at North West Bay hut.
A Campbell Island Teal at Camp Cove.
Day 11 – 1st January 2014
Just after 0600 Don woke Alex, who in a state of post New Year’s Eve confusion, presumed we were heading up the boardwalk, but he quickly learnt that due to the bluebird skies, the planned assault on Mt Honey had been resurrected. By 0710 an intrepid band of five was on the beach in Garden Cove to begin the hike up the ‘Rollercoaster’, an undulating path up and down peat bogs and through Turpentine scrub (Dracophyllum cockayneanum and D. scoparium). Within an hour we had made it to the saddle between Mt Honey and Mt Filhol and had our first views south to Jacquemart Island and the southern coast. Then we left our track and started an unmarked route straight up the western flank of Mt Honey. The number of Southern Royal Albatross soaring overhead and gamming in small groups grew as the northerly increased around the base of Mt Honey. Slowly we marched towards the rocky crown of the mountain and in a little more than two hours since we left the beach, we achieved the summit. The northerly had not abated at the top and soon the chill was setting in, but the view was outstanding, being completely clear in all directions. After a brief time exploring the summit area, we were heading back down peaty mountainside, repeatedly losing our footing, and disappearing amongst the megaherbs. Towards the saddle we stopped and watched a group of three juvenile Southern Royal Albatross gamming. All three, as well as the five of us, were taking great joy out of overt neck-swinging, clacking, wing-spreading, marching and keening display. Then it was back onto the ‘Rollercoaster’, and into thigh-high peat-mud, as we pushed ourselves back to the beach, just as Don rounded into Garden Cove with a Zodiac.
Meanwhile, the remainder of our expedition group had broken into the three factions. The kayakers had headed into the western end of Perseverance Harbour and were exploring the historical coves and bays from Tucker Cove, around to Garden Cove. Similarly the Zodiac team took their time to explore these areas, and observe the large number of Black-Backed Gull and Northern Giant Petrel chicks that were evident from the coastal edge. The remaining group headed up the boardwalk, enjoying the change in vegetation as the path led up and around Beeman Hill, across the open peat bog, and up onto the Col-Lyall Saddle, where today great views were to be had to the south and west over to Dent Island. Great profusions of megaherb flowers could be seen near the top of the boardwalk, and the refusal of two Sea Lions to budge from the boardwalk led to a quick detour into the scrub.
By 1215 we were all back aboard the ship for lunch in the calm sheltered waters of Perseverance Harbour. The anchor was lifted just after 1300 and we headed up the harbour. Over-exaggerated waves of farewell were aimed at the four Sea Lion researchers at Davis Point, which we could see busying themselves around the colony. Williwaws started to pick up around the ship and looking back west we could see heavy grey clouds descending onto the island. We exited the heads and were soon punching into 30 knot northerlies as we began our sea journey back to Bluff. By the time the bar was open the sea state was little changed, 3-4 m seas heaved the ship about as we continued into 30 knot northerlies. Conner and Frank put in a huge effort in order to get the usual fantastic dinner out, before most of us opted for an early night and the relative safety of a bunk.
Sunshine greeted us but the winds had picked up to 20 knots. We paddled to Lookout Bay and past the meteorological station into Tucker Cove. Then we headed into Camp Cove and had a stop to visit the ‘loneliest tree in the world’. We then followed the shoreline into Garden Cove, past Venus Bay and back to the ship. Some nice Sea Lion encounters and an Elephant Seal or two.
6 Kayakers, 8.6km
Total of 5 paddles for 56.9km on the expedition
Mitch’s bird of the day: Southern Royal Albatross
Alex’s plant of the day: Pleurophyllum speciosum, the Giant Emperor Daisy, with huge splays of bright pink, purple and white flowers, all over the higher parts of the island.
In the foreground a rare white morph of the Giant Emperor Daisy (Pleurophyllum speciosum) on the western flank of Mount Honey; meanwhile Megan, Ian, Chris and David continue their ascent, with Six Foot Lake and Jacquemart Island behind them.
Looking down on Perseverance Harbour, the Meteorological Service base can be seen on the edge of Beeman Hill, and unlike the day before, Dent Island (La Dent – The Tooth) can be seen in its full pointed molar-like glory just off North West Bay.
The successful summit team, Megan, David, Ian and Chris, with Dent Island in the background.
Three juvenile Southern Royal Albatross gamming, a form of socialising and practicing for courtship. Gamming includes one or more birds swinging their necks to the sun and then in all other directions, followed by clacking and wing spreading, marching and keening, all to the great satisfaction (evident here) of the gam-onlookers.
Day 12 – 2nd January 2014
At sea en route to Bluff
We awoke late after an interesting night of messy seas that peaked around 0300 with a few waves large enough to bolt a good number of us awake. A late breakfast and most of us settled into a dozy morning of naps and cups of tea. The Lecture Room became almost workable, and for the dozen or so willing, with chairs all pushed to the back wall for stability, the film Black Fish was shown. After lunch Mitch called the bird enthusiasts to the bar to catch up on the last few days of the bird list and Jessie called us all up to her office, a few cabins at a time, to settle our accounts. At 1700 we joined the entire team in the Lecture Room for an excellent slide show put together by Mike that recapped our expedition. Don outlined the disembarkation procedures for the following day, before we sat down for our final meal together.
Mitch’s bird of the day: Cape Petrel
Day 13 – 3rd January 2014
In the early hours of the morning we rounded Stewart Island, crossed Foveaux Strait and by 0645 we were nearing the pilot station. With the pilot on board, we joined together for an early breakfast as the expedition drew to an end. As Bluff began to wake up we said our farewells and began to look back on a magnificent 12 days on the southern ocean.
We wish many more wild adventures to all and thank everyone for their enthusiasm and camaraderie.
Click here for this voyage's species list
Written by Lecturer and Guide, Marcus Richards
Expeditioners arrived at the Kelvin Hotel, Invercargill and met for the first time over dinner. The programme for embarkation day was explained and we all adjourned to make final preparations to board the Spirit of Enderby.
Everyone boarded the ship at 1400 today in fine weather at Bluff. After a few formalities we sailed at 1600. Everyone was bristling with excitement and anticipation for the adventures to come as we took part in the lifeboat drill off Stewart Island. Drinks were held in the bar prior to dinner and everyone was in high spirits as we celebrated the end of a year and the promise of a new one. A fine New Year’s Eve buffet dinner was served by chefs Bruce Thomason and Michael Harris, which included a birthday celebration for one of our guests, Robert Ippolito. Today we enjoyed seeing our first Mollymawks of the voyage and sharp eyes kept a lookout for the larger albatrosses, without much success.
Today was made especially exciting when the Ship Doctor, John Moodie, reminded Expedition Leader Rodney Russ of the fact that we may be in the same spot as the Grafton at midnight the 3rd of January, exactly 150 years after she was shipwrecked in 1864 on the southern side of Auckland Island. Hopefully we will get to enjoy this significant occasion without sharing a similar fate!
Zodiac Cruising at The Snares Photo Credit: ABreniere
On the cusp of a new year we arrived off the Snares Islands. These majestic islands were a fitting start to our journey exploring the Subantarctic. We searched for the most sheltered side of the island group and settled on the eastern side of the main island. There we launched the Zodiacs for a cruise around some sheltered bays. We were delighted to see Snares Crested Penguins porpoising in water as well as hopping around on the granitic shore platforms. Snares Island Fernbird and Tomtit were spotted onshore amongst the beautiful Tree Daisy forest. The Antarctic Terns were especially entertaining as they displayed and interacted with juveniles. New Zealand Fur Seals lounged on rocks enjoying the sunny weather.
Dolphins were seen from the ship later that afternoon as we continued our voyage and Rodney gave a talk on the upcoming Auckland Islands, which is the next port of call.
We awoke to find ourselves in Port Ross, which is surrounded on all sides by stunning volcanic hills and islands. The decision was made to land on Enderby Island where we were greeted by numerous Hooker’s Sea Lions and multiple Yellow-eyed Penguins amongst the grassy hillocks above the shoreline. The weather was changeable but when the sun came out the vistas were astounding. We all traversed the island by boardwalk and got our first opportunity on the trip to get up close to a nesting Southern Royal Albatross just by the track. Some walked back by the same route to the beach while the majority went for a hike around the coast, going clockwise around the island until they reached the beach again. Auckland Island Snipe and Teal were seen by many of the people encircling the island. In summary, the birdlife was enchanting: Yellow-eyed Penguins, Pipits, Tomtits and Red-crowned Parakeets. The mega-herb fields and mystical Rata forest were also highlights of the walk. Seed heads were an amusing and frustrating problem on the island, as they readily stuck to clothing and equipment. Grouchy Sea Lions tried to bully some of the walkers, but fortunately these creatures were all bark and no bite. Scars on some of the older males told the story of many battles however that had been fought over female harems on the beach. Sadly Samuel and Katya noted the decrease in Sea Lion pup numbers compared with previous years. We dined that evening in the tranquil waters of Port Ross, which was affectionately known as ‘Sarah’s Bosom’ by early explorers of the region due to its sheltered waters in the Furious Fifties of the Southern Ocean. Photo Credit: ABreniere
We departed from Port Ross overnight and had entered Carnley Harbour by the early morning. Fortunately for us we enjoyed beautifully calm waters, so it was very different to the howling NW winds that wrecked the Grafton 150 years earlier to the day. We visited the wreck of the Grafton at Epigwatt, which consisted of a few remains of the ship’s timber on the pebbled beach. Snooping around in the bush adjacent to the wreck revealed the remains of the living quarters constructed by Captain Musgrave and his four crewmen for habitation for an eighteen-month period! Today the hut simply resembles a boulder pile that is being progressively overgrown by stinging nettles.
We Zodiac cruised around the North Arm of Carnley Harbour, passing a pointer sign from the castaway depot era of the late 19th and early 20th century. The hillsides rising up on the either side had distinct ridges of exposed walls of rock. We were seeing cross-sections of lava flows that progressively built up the shield volcano that was active in the late Miocene, centered on the middle of Carnley Harbour. Most of the islands in the region are volcanic in origin.
The site cleared by the crew of steamer Erlangen in 1939 for fuel was also visited. While some people stayed on the beach for the scenery and bird watching, the majority went into the regenerated Rata forest to look for old stumps of the ‘iron wood’ that tell of the impressive feat carried out by a desperate crew in their attempt to cross the Pacific and reach neutral waters in South America. Marcus was on the beach fossicking around for geologically interesting rock samples for his planned future research on the Subantarctic’s volcanic islands. One passenger, George Gornacz, gallantly stayed behind at this site to fill the role of Coastwatcher. That is, he got a bit sidetracked in the bush and didn’t realize that the Zodiacs were leaving. However he was promptly relieved of his duties once Agnes realized he was missing and sent Rodney back to pick him up!
Auckland Island Shags and eloquent Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses flew around the harbour almost continuously while we were there and provided a truly marvelous sight. We finished the Zodiac trip with a brief cruise around Figure Eight Island to see the small resident Sea Lion colony and sailed away from the Auckland Islands in early afternoon. Later in the day Marcus gave a lecture on the geology and biogeography of the Subantarctic Islands.
Today was a very pleasant day at sea as we crossed the Emerald Basin, heading for Australian waters. The calm seas made it a perfect day for whale watching and there were multiple sightings in the afternoon. Some small groups of Fin Whales were seen at a distance and three Strap-toothed Beaked Whales were seen in quick succession as well, much to the delight of those who were lucky enough to see them.
Lectures were given during the day by Samuel, Katya and Rodney on the topics of pelagic seabirds, cetaceans and Macquarie Island respectively.
We sighted an Orca in the morning as we arrived at Macquarie Island in calm weather conditions. After collecting the Australian rangers from the ANARE base we headed for Sandy Bay.
Sandy Bay contains King and Royal Penguin breeding colonies. To the delight of everyone, these birds were often fearless, coming up to us full of curiosity and sometimes just keen to get past us as they made for their preferred sites along the beach. Some King Penguins would approach the equipment we kept in a pile on the beach, having a cheeky peck to aid their investigations. The gigantic Southern Elephant Seals strewn across the beach were amusing to watch. They squabbled amongst themselves, lay side by side and on top of each other in large piles and also made loud comical noises as they blew through their nostrils. They also had the uncanny ability to scratch their heads with their flippers in a remarkably anthropomorphic manner. The youngest weaned juveniles were also incredibly cute, with expressive faces and big round eyes.
We returned to ship for lunch and those keen for more headed back to the beach for the afternoon, which proved to be just as good. We met some hunters who search the island for signs of any pests that may have survived the eradication operation of the three previous years, including Leona from Marlborough with two specially trained rodent dogs.
The rangers spent the night on the ship and we were also joined for dinner on board by a group of ‘Macca’ staff who were on a survival training course in the area. No doubt they found our cuisine far more appealing than their survival rations!
The weather was mild for Macquarie Island once again today. We took a Zodiac cruise at Lusitania Bay, location of the island’s largest King Penguin colony of over 100,000 birds. The rusting, decrepit digesters amongst the penguins on the beach served as echo of an older time when penguins were killed and processed for their oil. Fortunately the island is now a World Heritage Site and the wildlife is doing much better. Multiple white morph Southern Giant Petrels were hanging around to the delight of the passengers. Before heading to the ANARE station for the remainder of the morning and early afternoon we had a quick briefing from Rodney and rangers Chris and Keith. Onshore the weather was sunny at times and generally pleasant for this part of the world. We saw many Elephant Seals and Gentoo Penguins on the beach and witnessed the daily launching of a weather balloon from the metrological station. Visiting the mess of the ANARE base we met and were able to talk to more staff members on the island and had some delicious scones courtesy of their chefs. Our return to the ship detoured past the Rockhopper Penguin colony, noting the presence of a seal amongst the birds.
A documentary on the Macquarie Island pest eradication from the past few years narrated by Keith (one of the rangers we had met) was screened onboard and copies of the DVD were distributed. At dinner we celebrated Bob Parda’s birthday. Our stay at Macquarie had been an eventful one, which all onboard agreed they had been privileged to experience.
It was a fairly uneventful day at sea with the vessel only rolling moderately at times. Many of us spent time on deck watching the seabirds which gracefully and continuously circled the ship as we voyaged through open waters. Lectures were given by Samuel, Doctor John Moodie, Katya and Rodney on the topics of penguins, shipwrecks, pinnipeds and Campbell Island, respectively.
Photo Credit: ABreniere
We awoke to find ourselves in the calm waters of Perseverance Harbour. After a briefing by Rodney we split into two groups, one to go for a full day walk to Northwest Bay and back with him and the other to go firstly exploring the coves in the upper harbor by Zodiac and then on a walk to the Southern Royal Albatross colony on the Col Lyall saddle. The highlights of the Zodiac cruise included the old farming homestead site at Tucker Cove, the world’s loneliest tree (a Sitka Spruce) at Camp Cove and a cruise past Venus Cove, where the French expedition of 1874 attempted to see the transit of Venus.
The Northwest Bay crew saw Teal and Snipe, whilst the other group saw a beautiful Teal in the harbour whilst in the Zodiacs. (We could tell it was a male by the distinct green of the feathers on his head). Everyone of course saw the abundant Campbell Island Pipit. Campbell Island Shags and Hooker’s Sea Lions were seen hanging about the shores of the harbour. Some of the young male Sea Lions approached the Zodiacs and people on the beaches, being very inquisitive and bold creatures.
After the Zodiac cruise the group went back to the Spirit of Enderby for lunch, then was landed at the Metservice and Department of Conservation (DOC) huts below Beeman Hill for the walk up the boardwalk to the Col Lyall Saddle. We were blown away by the beautiful fields of mega-herbs which were in full flower. The view over the sheer cliff on the western side of the island showed us the effects of the prevailing weather conditions that slam the west coast of Campbell Island. The weather was good enough for us to be able to clearly see Dent Island, the last refuge for the Teal when rats used to plague the main island. However at the top of the boardwalk the biggest attraction by far was the Southern Royal Albatross colony. Some of the birds were minding their nest and others displayed with one another, which is called ‘gamming’. It resembles a courtship display between a bird pair, however the albatrosses display in groups of multiple birds. They call, spread their large wings and clack their bills in an impressive show, which was a delight to witness.
Marcus got some practice driving a Zodiac whilst transporting everyone back to the ship at the end of the day, where we enjoyed another delicious dinner prepared by Mike and Bruce, and served by our wonderful waitresses Natalia and Zoya.
Early in the morning some enthusiastic expeditioners set off for the summit of Mount Honey with Agnes and Katya. The hike was a success from a botanical perspective, however not the best in terms of sightseeing due to overhanging cloud at the summit. The remainder of the group enjoyed a Zodiac ride with Samuel and another opportunity to climb Col Lyall Saddle with Marcus. Those who went on the Col Lyall boardwalk had an amusing encounter with a stubborn Sea Lion that flatly refused to move off ‘his’ track and did his best to delay our passing around him on a big half circle detour through shrubs and mega-herbs. We all returned to the ship for lunch.
We hauled anchor and departed Campbell Island in the early afternoon in windy and patchy cloud conditions. As we exited the harbour we saw the enormous Campbell Mollymawk colony at North Cape by Bull Rock. There the sky was full of seabirds as we set a course for Bluff, on the New Zealand mainland. The seas by then were distinctively rougher than we had previously encountered on the expedition. We had been extremely lucky to enjoy calmer waters during all our island visits on this voyage, the bad weather only catching up with us near the end of our adventures.
This was a day of tying up loose ends and trying to remain unscathed as the ship rolled violently at times. The rocking and rolling died down somewhat in the afternoon and two short documentaries on Campbell Island rat eradication and the captive rearing programme for the Campbell Island Teal were shown. We celebrated our last night together with bar festivities and a magnificent buffet spread put on by the chefs. Later in the evening Rodney gave a recap of our voyage and we enjoyed a photo presentation of the trip compiled by Katya which included many beautiful photos taken by the expedition team. This was made available to everyone who wanted a copy to take home. Samuel also compiled the last day of our bird list in the bar. We all retired to our rooms and started to back our bags, full of memories from our adventure and thinking ahead of what adventures lay ahead.
After an early breakfast and a meeting with New Zealand Customs, we disembarked at the port of Bluff. It was time to say our goodbyes and journey back to our homes in different parts of the world, returning to our individual lives, houses and occupations. We will not forget however the awe-inspiring expedition we had shared and the treasured memories we will carry with us for a long time.
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" I spent Christmas and New Year on the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean trip and it is the coolest thing I have ever done. The birding is incredible, the wildlife is stunning. We had pretty calm weather compared to other trips, and the crew on Professor Khromov made the whole trip an absolute dream expedition. I have recommended Heritage Expeditions, and this trip to everybody I know! For more pics see Instagram Tamzin.nz "
" Thanks Tamzin for your comments. We enjoyed having you aboard with us as we explored the Subantarctic and we look forward to seeing you again! "
" Hi Lorna and Heritage Expedition voyage 1567 Staff
Well, home now and settling back into some sort of routine. What an adventure.... I am not fibbing when I say the trip exceeded my expectations by a million miles. It was fabulous.
Rodney, you said the night of the dinner before we left that we might encounter some discomforts on the trip but they would all be forgotten and well worth it due to all the positives and the great time you will have. Mmmmmm I was thinking....what are we in for!!!
I just loved the challenge, the adventure, the flora, the fauna and the friendships. I was so lucky to have met such a lovely group of ladies. Even the wild weather was part of the experience.
Firstly thank you Lorna for all your help and advice prior to the trip. You were very patient with me (and to many others I heard). I must admit I was rather apprehensive before the trip wondering if I had done the right thing. I could have gone to many other places in the world for that amount of money...did I choose the right place....could I manage by myself....would I meet anyone nice...would I be by myself on the ship etc. etc. I know I certainly did make the right choice. Without your kindness and help, I may not have gone ahead with the trip and chickened out.
Jess....what a gem. Thank you Jess. Always smiling and helpfull and organised. I won't forget those early morning wake up calls..."good morning everyone....it's now 7.30....breakfast will be ready...." I'll employ you anytime Jess.
Thanks Connor our wonderful cook. You always had our delicious meals ready on time. Very caring...... Always friendly and polite. Your Mum would be proud of you.
To Tui thank you for your informative and interesting talks. Two of my highlights on the trip were seeing those two magnificent albatross close up with you on the Campbell Island board walk (I just loved being there in those wet/windy/misty cold conditions....it was like I was the only person on earth and I had time to reflect on who I was and what a wonderful and magical world it can be), and also being on Macquarie Island where the Royal penguins were swimming in the rock pool. You were filming them with your underwater camera. My favourite photo is of you doing so with two royals posing for my photo right in front of me...you in the background.
And Kartya (not sure of spelling...sorry). Your talks so very informative and interesting also. Thanks for your company on the bus on the way to Bluff. Hope you had a fabulous skating adventure.
Alex....boy, do you know your stuff. All those megaherbs. You just rattle the names off your tongue like you were speaking them since you were born. Very much your passion. I didn't think too much about the megaherbs/flora before I left.....just the wildlife to be honest......but you gave me a new insight into just how beautiful they all are. It was like being in the garden of Eden.
And of course, our leader Rodney. No nonsense, organised, informative...one always felt safe. Can still see that poor Sea Lion on Campbell Island, having a lovely roll on the grass and then rolling off the wall and into the water. So funny...hope he didn't hurt himself.
Just so many memories. Where to next???
Thank you all.
" Having kayaked around most of coastal New Zealand I was very excited at the opportunity to be able to join Heritage Expedition’s journey to the Sub Antarctic Islands with my kayak on board. Nine kayakers were able to leave the ship on a daily basis to explore the shore line of The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell Islands. For us, each Island had its own special treasure which we were able to experience up so close. The rugged rocky outcrops on the Snares seemed awash with wild life where the Snares Yellow Crested penguins encircled our crafts like a bunch of clowns that were competing for our attention. The Auckland Islands seemed to have everything from a coastline enriched with dazzling array of plant life to the curious sea lions and Yellow Eyed penguins that swam under our kayaks as if we were play things from another planet. Landing our kayaks on Macquarie Island was made difficult as most of the beaches were overrun by the sprawling penguin colonies. Dozens of these penguins swum alongside our kayaks as we paddled along just beyond the breakers. But for me, Campbell Island seemed to have it all. The huge cliffs that overhung the ocean around East Cape, the sea lion colonies we were able to paddle up to and shorelines that were covered in a variety of megaherbs that helped hide the Yellow Eyed penguins and bird life that were nesting along the shoreline. Plus there was quite a lot of European history that we were able to explore. To have been able to kayak within these Islands was a wilderness experience that few people will ever experience. I am just so thankful to have kayaked within the Islands of Sub Antarctic. "
" Simply wonderful people to all the Team' staff first, the extraordinary itinerary right to think running over the same route of Shakleton and Scott with the difference they sailed on tiny boats into this powerful sesas but honestly thrilling to try the acknowledged about them!!!
Tks heart on hand got me the acquaintance as per geography, the very appreciated added me into the photographers list and about a deeply life's experience of course!!!
" I expected that this trip would be one of the wildlife experiences of my life. I wasn't wrong. Sitting on the beach at Macquarie Island surrounded by seals and penguins was like being centre stage in an Attenborough documentary. I didn't expect however to be so blown away by the plant life we found on the NZ sub antarctic islands. It was staggeringly beautiful and I think we were very lucky to have the infectiously enthusiastic Alex to explain it all to us! Many thanks. "
" An memorable adventure enhanced by Heritage staff prepared to risk personal injury to ensure the safety of voyagers. "
" Good afternoon Nathan
When we disembarked the Spirit of Enderby on 21 December we moved
straight over to the Stewart Island ferry and did not say good bye to
our most of our fellow adventurers and Heritage staff.
Thank you for leading our sub-Antarctic adventure. Your knowledge of,
and passion for, the region ensured this was truly a memorable trip.
We trust this sees you well and preparing for your next adventure.
" Please pass on a big thank you from us to Nathan and the wonderful young team he has working with him. What a great experience it was. We hit some very rough weather and they were tremendous throughout. I would like to especially thank the kitchen staff who gave us fantastic meals. Under those conditions their effort can only be described as heroic. I wouldn't contemplate even going near a hot stove while being tossed around around like that. I honestly don't know how they did it. Could you please pass on our grateful thanks to Bobbie who cooked for the vegetarians. Usually we get just get given pasta, as the Hotel gave us on the first night, but the meals that Bobbie prepared were amazing, the best vegetarian we have ever eaten. I am very privileged that she gave me one of her recipes which is delicious.
Adam was a terrific bird man and always on the job. Please thank him for all that watching over the grey seas and best of all for all the IDs which his vast experience makes possible; the birds were so lovely.
" It was an awesome trip for John and me. We were very impressed with the expertise on board to help us with bird watching and to identify the megaherbs. Nathan's leadership kept us well informed and feeling safe. Also, we were very impressed with the efforts and dedication of Heritage Expeditions and the NZ Dept. of Conservation staff towards conservation in the Sub-Antarctic. We would certainly recommend you to others.
" Just wanted to let you know how fantastic our trip was and to thank you for all your assistance in our organising of the trip. We were able to catch up with our friend at Macquarie Island, she was very excited as we were also.
I can't praise the staff enough, Nathan was great and very caring towards all the passengers needs, he had a hard job some days. By the end of the trip it was very sad saying goodbye and I am sure a few solid friendships were made during the trip.
My husband who was always in two minds about doing the trip was completely won over by that first day on the beach at Macquarie Island with the ele seals and penguins. After that he has never stopped raving about it. He is not the type of person who would normally do that type of trip.The food was excellent and having the freedom of the ship made is all so very special.
I will certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the future. "
" Thanks so much for the trip. Being amongst all those clever, capable people in those fantastic places was completely delicious and I am still smiling from it. "
" The visits to the islands were very special and will not be forgotten easily. Just seeing some of the megaherbs in flower and bird colonies made for magical moments, now relived by hundreds of photos. The Russian crew were very friendly, polite, efficient and helpful when asked. The Expedition team were great and showed complete professionalism. "
" I very much enjoyed the cruise and many pleasant memories - not to mention several hundred photos! "
" I want to say thank you for all you did for us in the lead up to the Macquarie trip. I had the most wonderful time and life on the ship was great. The Russian crew were perfect with the two women in the dining rooms smiling all the way. "
" Thanks to everyone at Heritage for a truly wonderful expedition. The wildlife was wonderful, the company was great, and I don't know how you arranged such perfect weather. "