Few people would know where these subtropical islands are. That is one of their many attractions, visitors are rare. They lie 1000km north-east of New Zealand about half way to Tonga and well off the main shipping routes.
Possibly as early as the 10th century, but certainly by the 14th century, Polynesians knew about these islands and had settled them, as well as using them as a staging post for voyages to New Zealand. However when Europeans discovered them in 1788 they had been abandoned and were uninhabited.
There are four islands within the Kermadec group and all are the summits of huge undersea volcanoes situated along the western edge of the Kermadec Trench, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. They have a unique assemblage of subtropical and temperate plant, bird and marine species, testimony to the process of evolution arising from climate and isolation.
Raoul Island was settled by the Bell family in 1878 and they finally left in 1914. Other settlers came and went, but permanent settlement was discouraged after 1939. The New Zealand government has maintained a weather station on the island since 1938. The introduced plants and animals left behind by the settlers have had a significant impact on the island's ecosystem, but now an ambitious conservation program is attempting to restore Raoul Island to its original splendor. The goats, cats and rats have been removed and many introduced plants controlled. Bird numbers and diversity are increasing and endemic plants are recovering, a testimony to what can be achieved with a vision and hard work.
An extensive Marine Reserve protects the unique marine ecosystem that surrounds these islands. With virtually no disturbance (certainly no fishing and only a handful of divers each year) the diving and snorkelling can only be described as amazing and unique. As with the terrestrial species there is both subtropical and temperate species to be encountered.
This is not an annual expedition. It is off the beaten track, even for us, but it is so rare to have the opportunity to explore such unique marine and terrestrial ecosystems that we are constantly drawn back. We hope you will join us on what will be our 6th Kermadec Island expedition.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation with meals and all expedition shore excursions.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
The Shokalskiy is the sister ship to the Spirit of Enderby, they were both built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and being fully ice strengthened they are perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 48 passengers and has been recently refurbished 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.
Day 1: 27 March 2016.
A full complement of fifty passengers and eight Heritage staff joined the twenty two Russian crew of the Spirit of Enderby to begin an odyssey to the Kermadec Islands. Tauranga is reckoned by mariners to be not only one of the busiest, but also one of the best harbours in New Zealand. Our departure was delayed slightly by the need to complete refueling and the availability of a pilot to guide us from the harbour. However the additional time allowed the important preliminaries of introductions and safety briefings.
Our expedition leader is Rodney Russ. Rodney has achieved legendary status in the world of expedition travel. He is the founder and owner of Heritage Expeditions. He has been in this field since 1982 and prior to that he worked in the Department of Wildlife which was the predecessor of the Department of Conservation.
Helen Ahern is the manager of the day to day activities on the ships. She has been associated with Heritage Expeditions for many years and is much valued for her unique combination of flair, industry and tact which she uses to address the myriad of tasks that present to her. Mike Holland, Helen’s partner, is an experienced wilderness travel guide and will provide technical support and Zodiac driving skills.
One of the prime aims of the trip is to see the abundant birdlife. Chris Collins is very well known and regarded as a bird watching guide. He has worked with Heritage for twelve years. We will be drawing extensively on his vast and deep knowledge to better understand the birdlife that will be on show.
We are lucky to have Julia Stace on board. She is one of the few people who has spent time working on Raoul, the principal island of the Kermadec group. Julia has a deep knowledge of the recent and distant past of the area and is also fluent in the understanding of the plant life we will see. Pat Alley is a New Zealand trained general surgeon who will attend to any medical needs.
Ralf Barthel and Connor Arcus are our hard working chefs. They are known for their ability to table outstanding food from a relatively small galley. Additionally there are two “sea riders” (a naval term for a non naval but very welcome assistant) – Anton van Helden, a cetacean expert who has worked in that capacity with Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum of New Zealand and Phil Hammond, an expert in birding.
Lifeboat drills were accomplished without difficulty and the company retired to the Globe Bar for an hour of conviviality. We then sat down to a superb first meal from our chefs. Simultaneously we slipped our moorings and headed North East across the darkening seas of the Bay of Plenty.
Day 2: 28 March 2016
A quiet ocean gave the majority an untroubled sleep. We awoke to a beautifully fine day. There is no wind, the sky is marked only by high cirrus cloud and as the day unfolds slight waves settle to become an oily calm sea.
It is always good to see how quickly a group of relative strangers can get to know each other and this morning’s breakfast was pleasantly noisy.
It is a day at sea. Three lectures are given and well received. Julia outlined the history of the Kermadecs focusing on the travails that some early settlers endured. She further commented on the active volcanic nature of the island which is prone to earthquakes and cyclones while all the time fresh water is at a premium because of the inability for the volcanic substrate to retain moisture.
Chris Collins then described with excellent slides the array of sea birds that we might expect to encounter. They are many and varied. And sometimes the differences between species is slight so we are going to require guidance and further education on this matter.
Finally Anton spoke of the unusual and distinctive nature of the geomorphology that has essentially created this wonderful reservoir of our natural world. He also described the background to the establishment of an exclusive economic zone which has recently been passed into law by the New Zealand Government.
In between lectures we all enjoyed the viewing from the numerous vantage points around the ship – the bow of the vessel, the bridge and the sixth level deck all proving popular with passengers.
A quiet drink in the bar was a fitting prelude to another great meal. It has been a very fine day – in every sense.
There will be a species list accompanying this trip log but we will include each day the three most notable sightings.
Notable Sightings: Red tailed tropic bird; Gould’s petrel; Sperm whale; flying squid.
Day 3: 29 March 2016
The quiet pink dawn heralded another day of travel across calm seas. Early in the day we sighted L’Esperance Rock in the far distance and gradually crept up to it through the morning. It is 5 ha in area and 70m high. The Captain kindly took a broad sweep around the island. Not too close, mind you, because this is an active volcanic area and the charts may not bear accurate relationship to the present sea floor.
L’Esperance Rock is a small, colourful, but desolate feature. There is little vegetation – only nine plant species have been recorded here including the two endemics, ice plant Disphyma australe subsp. stricticaule and Senecio esperensis. As it is the only population of this Senecio in the world is classified as Nationally Critical. L’Esperance is of historical interest too. In the First World War Von Luckner, the celebrated German raider captain having escaped from Motuhie Island in the Hauraki Gulf, commandeered a scow and made his way north. He found this little island and ransacked the castaways’ depot to sustain his crew before moving on. He was recaptured a few days later.
After lunch we had a zodiac briefing as a foretaste of a shakedown zodiac cruise at our next destination – Cheeseman and Curtis Islands.
There were three good lectures today. Chris Collins spoke on the land birds of Raoul Island, Julia Stace highlighted the important plants there and their history and finally Anton spoke on the cetaceans of the region.
The pronounced smell of sulphur, reminiscent of New Zealand’s Rotorua, greeted us as we set off on a figure of eight run around these two islands. The evening birdlife was busy and confirmed a number of Chris’s observations from yesterday. A wandering tattler on the intertidal zone of Curtis Is was an unexpected sighting.
All were gathered safely back on board to enjoy a pre-dinner drink and another good meal. Tomorrow we will awake to Raoul Island.
Notable species: wandering tattler; bottlenose dolphins; hammerhead shark.
Day 4: 30 March 2016
We anchored off Raoul at 0500 and at 0700 hours we completed quarantine inspection of all gear and clothing that will go ashore with us. We must be careful not to bring in any new organisms.
Shortly afterwards four Raoul DoC staff came on board (Emerson, Lan, Wolf & Ben) to discuss with Rodney the game plan for the next four days. The NZ Navy arrives tomorrow bringing staff to replace five of the old team, a lot of experts to check equipment and two women scientists from GNS to assess the volcanic activity in the crater. The Navy will bring stores to resupply the island for the next 6 months.
With delicious packed lunches we were ferried ashore and everyone clambered off at Fishing Rock between the big swells. We walked the 3kms to the hostel seeing into the crater in a couple of places and photographing kakariki, tui and spotless rakes along the way. The first arrivals were offered a glass of the famous Raoul Island freshly squeezed orange juice. Emerson welcomed us and after looking around the hostel, a bungalow which has seen numerous cyclones and felt many earthquakes yet remains intact, and lunch we wandered further down past the Met Station buildings, the woolshed area, once the site of the extensive Bell family gardens to the airstrip. A lone golden plover, not in breeding plumage, was seen on the airstrip. In 2014 the last of mature Norfolk pines were felled in this area and many young seedlings have germinated there since from seed in the soil.
On the return stroll to Fishing Rock some of us went down to the beach at Low Flat. We passed a new grave of one of the early settlers relocated because of coastal erosion damaging the original grave on the beach edge and had a detour into the citron grove, where we sampled the sour citrons, a citrus species once used for candied peel. This is a relic of cultivation from the Bell family who had a huge range of useful plants well established on Raoul by 1900.
Oneraki Beach is almost all rocks and very little sand since Cyclone Winston removed it a few weeks ago. There is always a lot of flotsam on the high tide line, mainly plastic, but we saw a glass fishing float that had got ashore intact despite its lack of rope cover. It must have been in the ocean for many years as they have long ago been replaced by plastic floats.
On the last zodiac to return to the Spirit of Enderby, by falling into the water, Anton Van Helden gave us a live demo of how quickly a life jacket inflates when it gets wet.
Notable species: 1 golden plover on the airstrip; tiny octopus in crevasse on Fishing Rock; white tern.
Day 5: 31 March 2016
We have nautical company. At 0700 this morning the frigate HMNZS Wellington dropped anchor 500 metres to our west. The Navy is here to replenish the Department of Conservation workforce and the morning saw their zodiacs ferrying supplies across to the loading point at Landing Rock.
We divide into two groups today. About a third of the company makes their way across the island to Denham Bay. The remainder settles for snorkeling and bird watching by Zodiac. In all three Zodiac cruises were done culminating in an excellent evening cruise to see the activity of birds at the end of their day.
Today it is slightly cooler than yesterday so the walkers manage their six hour hike with relative ease. The tracks are very well formed and maintained but in places they are steep. All are impressed by the regenerating forest – a testament to many years of eradication of the pests that dominated this island for so long. Weed eradication is now more of a priority and progress is clearly obvious. At Denham Beach a turtle was seen, the disintegrating wreck of a Japanese fishing boat is explored and the remnants of long past settlers examined.
Those staying with the ship have the thrill of snorkeling with Galapagos Sharks, bream, wrasse and maomao. The water is crystal clear and very warm at 25 degrees so enticing folk back to the Zodiacs in such conditions was not easy. Some just cruised by Zodiac. In the afternoon the process was repeated so that all who stayed with the ship had an excellent under and over water experience.
All the passengers are keen birders but Chris leads a particularly expert group who, on the evening Zodiac cruise, excitedly confirm Chris’s midday sighting of a Red Footed Booby. This is a first for the New Zealand region and is the most southerly sighting ever of this creature whose normal home is far to the north in Noumea and Tonga.
The celebrating birders really enlivened the bar before dinner. Photos were shared and plans laid to publicise this once in a lifetime experience. Another fantastic day.
Notable species: Galapagos Reef Sharks; Red Footed Booby; Lion Fish; crown of thorns starfish; turtle in waves near shoreline @ Denham Bay.
Day 6: 1 April 2016
Our trip continues to be blessed with the best of weather and at 0730 the Raoul Island conservation rangers are ferried across the calm seas under blue skies and come aboard to guide us for the day’s activities. All our activity on Raoul is governed by the rangers who with great willingness guide us to the most interesting parts of the island.
Today the conditions are so good that we can move our ship to Denham Bay on the south coast of the island. We are then taken by zodiac to the shore. It is a deep shelving beach with the odd thundering wave so our landings are occasionally damp. The day is so fine and the breezes so warm and gentle that no-one minds being dunked because we are dry almost instantly.
The rangers take groups of us to see the interesting features. These include the remnants of early settlements here. The odd teapot, kettle, and Halstead’s grindstone are found and a huge meat grinder – well rusted now but it must have seen a lot of use in its day. There is a large swamp, previously more of a lagoon, from which settlers drew their fresh water. Nonetheless even though now described as a swamp it has beauty with a sea of raupo against a backdrop of pohutukawa covered cliffs.
There is a rather sad mass grave, a memorial to when over 100 slaves en route to Peru were put ashore to die of an unspecified contagion. Another notable grave site, but not with the original headstone which has been swept away a long time ago in a storm, is that of Fleetwood, the 17 year old son of Captain Denham. Fleetwood died unexpectedly on Denham’s visit to the bay in 1854.
There is a remarkable heritage tree – a large shaddock more contemporarily known as a pomelo. It is in full fruit but not yet ripe. There are date palms, candlenut and gum trees near the DB hut. They are legacies of the past settlement here.
On the beach we find the rusting skeleton of a Japanese fishing boat wrecked here in 1986. Nature is slowly reclaiming her and those who have seen her before comment how diminished the wreck is. There are still brass and copper fittings that have endured and rumour says there is a valuable brass propeller beneath the sand which may attract fortune hunters one day.
We are back to the ship for a late lunch and then more snorkeling. This time we are at the eastern end of Denham Bay and the terrain underwater is different to yesterday. What is unchanged is the sea temperature, the abundant fish life and the crystal clarity of the water. Kahawai, King Fish and Galapagos Sharks are plentiful. Small shoals of the tiny but beautiful neon tetra are seen just below the surface of the water. A turtle is spotted and a Lion Fish makes a cameo appearance.
Tired but happy, we retire to the bar to compare notes of what has been seen today. All our experiences are slightly different but collectively they amount to much more than the individual stories. This is one of the best features of group expedition travel.
The chefs are again well above expectation and we retire fulfilled in every way.
Notable sightings: spotted black grouper; kingfish; turtle.
Day 7: 2 April 2016
Another bright clear day sees our programme underway at 0730 with a briefing. The walkers are destined for Boat Cove and Moumoukai the highest point on the Island. Some opt for more snorkeling and cruising and a few remain on board to rest and read.
Under the slightly skeptical gaze of a naval detachment the walkers nimbly negotiate the challenge of getting ashore at Landing Rock and prepare for the tramp to Boat Cove. We pass through glades of Nikau very reminiscent of the Karamea end of the Heaphy track in New Zealand. The trees are in fruit and the bright red berries are a striking contrast to the deep green foliage. As usual we are accompanied by DoC rangers. They are intelligent and personable young people only too happy to guide and inform their charges. One of them, Eleanor, who leaves the island with the Navy shortly, is having an exhibition in Christchurch in the Physic Room Gallery. She will show art work she has made on Raoul. Her working title is ‘They Say This Island Changes Shape’. It opens on April 29th.
Two and a half hours sees us at the Boat Cove hut perched high above the cove of the same name. One could not imagine a nicer location. Shaded by pohutukawa and natural land shelter it is almost calm. We spread ourselves about the well kept lawn to rest. The sea and coastal views are stunning and it is no wonder that this is a favourite location for conservation staff on their days off.
After a good lunch we set off back, brushing our boots to dislodge any vetch seeds we may have picked up. This weed was brought ashore by someone who landed at Boat Cove and is only found here, to date.
Most opt to climb Moumoukai (516m.) and return enraptured by the views of the island. We saw the webcam that photographs the crater every 30 mins for the GNS scientists back on the mainland so they can warn Raoul of an imminent eruption. The active crater is obvious and area around Green Lake devastated by the 2006 eruption is still bare of vegetation. Mark Kearney was killed in this eruption and his mother is on the island for a memorial ceremony this afternoon during which the route to Denham Bay will be renamed after her son.
The non-climbers reunite with the main group at the top of the zig-zag track to the beach. The Navy is busy using the foxway to return their bins to their ship so the track is off limits. But this allows time for a very nice presentation to Rodney from the DoC staff and their Programme Manager Paul Rennie, who is currently on Raoul overseeing the resupply.
In recognition of his contribution to the advocacy and better understanding of the Kermadecs the staff have carved a replica of Raoul Island from a piece of the old Norfolk pines that once stood at the eastern end of the airstrip. It is suitably inscribed and presented. Pleasingly the commander of HMNZS Wellington joins in the acclaim for Rodney. A very well justified tribute to a champion of conservation.
All are safely ferried back to the ship to hear of the exploits of the snorkelers and cruisers. A re-acquaintance with the red footed booby has been made – this time accompanied by a juvenile. Snorkeling has reproduced the excellent conditions of the past two outings.
So well satisfied we talk over the day in the bar and enjoy another fine repast from Ralf and Connor. Tonight is the conclusion of New Zealand daylight savings. All are grateful for the extra hour’s sleep this will afford. It has been a full on but wonderful four days in The Land of Dreams.
Notable Species: long tailed cuckoo (tail feather on Boat Cove track);
Black spotted grouper; turtle.
Day 8: April 3 2016
It was another beautiful day and after a Sunday lie in breakfast was served at 0830. We up anchored at 1000 and sailed around NZ’s northernmost islands of Napier, Nugent and the Herald Islands.
From the Spirit of Enderby we had magnificent views of the east and south coasts. There was no cloud cover on the tops either. Finally we headed south on our course back to Tauranga.
In the afternoon Anton gave us lecture on the sea life in the Kermadec Trench. It is 1500km long, 60 km wide and over 10,000m deep. The fish here have barely been sampled or described. To live in such depths fish need a chemical known as TMAO. This allows them to tolerate the pressure to depths of 8400m. Below this, live creatures called amphipods. All the world’s trench systems are isolated from each other.
In the afternoon the shop opened for sale of Kermadec merchandise.
Before Macauley there were as many as 40 bottlenose dolphins playing around the bow. At dusk we circumnavigated the island and its little outlier Haszard Is. Haszard is where the Kermadec storm petrel was found to breed in 2006.
After dinner Anton the magician amused us with his extraordinary card and other tricks.
2100 The bird club quantified their sightings with Chris in the bar/library as they have done every evening.
Notable sightings: False killer whale; dolphins, mothers and calves, which appear smaller than the bottlenoses we sighted and have less tooth rack scarring. They are possibly a new species. Kermadec white faced storm petrels x 6.
Day 9: April 4 2016
With birders on the bow and upper decks we continued out of sight of land towards Tauranga.
1030 Anton talked in the lecture room the Kermadec ridge and its underwater volcanoes. The Kermadec Arc is still poorly explored. Only in 1998 were undersea vents, or black smokers, first filmed. Now it is known that here are about 30 seamounts venting, each with their own communities of organisms getting energy from the volcanic activity by chemosynthesis. Stalked barnacles, mussels, shrimps, tubeworms, crabs and fish are typical organisms of these communities.
1500 Chris talked about the places to which Heritage goes in the Russian Far East and the wildlife they see there. We saw photos of ribbon seals, arctic foxes and brown bears, fantastic creatures. We heard about the contribution Heritage has made to the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper project, by taking experts to their breeding grounds, finding birds despite the vastness of the tundra and retrieving eggs, which were kept incubated as they passed from Russia to Slimbridge in the UK, before hatching. This means that there is a second population in existence should the last 100 pairs or so be wiped out on their migrations.
After dinner – as delicious as always - Sarah and Mark Wilcox ran a quiz. Everyone formed teams to find the answers to questions relating to what we had learnt in the course of our voyage about the Kermadecs, the work on Raoul and the flora and wildlife we’d seen. Everybody found that they had learned heaps over the last few days.
Notable species: long tailed skua; arctic skua; pigmy sperm whale.
Day 10: 5 April 2016
Today is our last full day at sea. It is a day of memories and reflections. Everyone comments that it seems an age since we departed Tauranga on the 27 March. In fact it is just over a week but our experiences have been so varied and our lives so busy that time has flown.
We had two excellent recapitulations of our days away this morning. Julia was scheduled to talk on weeds but she covered a much wider brief. She punctuated her talk about Raoul Island with fascinating video of times past and described in detail how the present state of the island has come about by dint of great camaraderie, hard work and organisation.
Anton then addressed the present state of New Zealand’s marine protection initiatives. While the recent situation with the Kermadecs is to be applauded it is clear that by international standards New Zealand could do much more. After his presentation the floor was open to a long discussion about the strategies necessary to achieve greater areas of marine protection while at the same time addressing the concerns of stakeholders. All agree this is “do-able” but not without hard work at all levels.
The early afternoon was taken up with the settling of accounts and other administration. We then gathered in the lecture room to hear from Rodney. After outlining the detail for tomorrow’s departure he thanked his staff to repeated acclaim from passengers.
We then watched a stunning series of slides and videos put together by Mike Holland to remember our trip to the Kermadecs. Best of all we get to have a copy.
So our journey ends. We are the same people. We have the same addresses, likes and dislikes. But in another sense we are not the same. Having travelled to such a magical part of the world we are, all agree, more knowledgeable and more sensitised to the conservation needs of the planet. Heritage Expeditions showed us the way. It’s up to all of us to spread their message as widely as we can.
The group of 49 travellers gathered on the Tauranga wharf and boarded the Spirit of Enderby. Loading of gear and finishing preparations took a little longer than anticipated but we were soon on our way with a strong wind blowing. The tug assisted us with a push and we set out towards the open ocean, passing under Mount Maunganui. After a delicious lunch we were out on the open ocean and setting a northeast course for Esperance Rock. Strong winds created a gentle swell and tested out our sea legs. We gathered in the lecture hall for an introduction to the ship and staff and then spent the rest of the afternoon on deck in the beautiful sunshine. The ‘birders’ among us ticked off many species, including Campbell, Wandering, and Buller’s Albatross; Black and Grey-faced Petrel; Flesh-footed Shearwater and the Australasian Gannet. In the evening the bar opened and we gathered for the first of many excellent dinners prepared by Brad and Nicki. Most of us settled in for the night as the ship gently rolled its way northwards.
Our first full day at sea and in beautiful sunshine. A following wind allowed us to make great time towards the Kermadecs; many people were out on decks for much of the day reading a book, soaking up the sun and watching the wildlife. A group of three Cuvier’s Beaked Whale caused a bit of commotion as they passed southwards and a variety of Gadfly Petrels were observed in this deep, open water: Black-winged, Cook’s, Grey-faced, and White-necked. Campbell and Wandering Albatross followed the ship for much of the day while tiny Wilson’s Storm-petrels fluttered past on a few occasions. A couple of South Polar Skuas migrating north from their Antarctic breeding ground were a welcome sight but the avian surprise of the day was a White-faced Heron that appeared from out of nowhere early in the morning. He promptly landed on the ship’s mast and then spent the rest of the day hitching a ride north.
Indoors we had a full slate of lectures to keep us busy. Karen gave us an introduction to the many seabirds of the Kermadec Isles. This was followed up by a Wild South documentary on Macauley Island. In the afternoon, Aaron gave a briefing on zodiac use and then Pete gave us an introduction to the marine life of the Kermadecs, followed by a briefing for the divers. The day ended with a stunning sunset and everyone gathered in the bar for a drink and dinner. Land beckoned in the morning.
Many people were awake for the 6am sunrise and land was sighted just before breakfast – L’Esperance Rock. We circumnavigated this tiny volcanic speck and set a course northwards and were soon joined by a playful group of Bottlenose Dolphins which rode the bow for several minutes, allowing fantastic observations from the front deck. Bird sightings began to pick up as we saw many Black-winged, White-necked and Grey-faced Petrels and some large flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Adam spotted Providence and Gould’s Petrels, both rather unexpected here. Karen then gave an informative introduction to the Kermadecs down in the lecture hall and it was soon time for lunch.
Weather and birding conditions were excellent after lunch as we made our way to the flat-topped Curtis and its sister island, Cheeseman. Numerous schools of flying fish were spotted and even a few flying squid - to the disbelieving eyes of those who saw them! Birdlife increased appreciably as we neared the island and there were many Black-winged Petrels and a few Little Shearwaters. The first Tasman Boobies of the trip came out to greet us. We had high hopes of getting off the ship for an exploration but it was pretty obvious that conditions on the exposed south side would be prohibitive. Alas, conditions on the north side were also too rough so we had to content ourselves with fantastic views from the ship and seabirds milling all around. After a leisurely cruise past the two islands we continued on our way northwards and by sunset we had Macauley Island clearly in view. A recap in the bar was followed by dinner and we all set off to bed for a good night’s rest with a 6.15am wakeup call looming.
We awoke to overcast conditions and a brisk southeast breeze as hundreds of Kermadec Petrels flew overhead. After a quick exploratory trip to shore, the staff picked up Jess (the head ranger) at Fishing Rock. Not long after, a party was heading ashore in a sizeable swell for a rather exciting landing at Fishing Rock. Some boats were even accompanied by Bottlenose Dolphins. Everyone got onshore all right and made the 3km walk to the station. The devastation of the island due to a recent cyclone was very evident, but there was more than enough to keep the botanists and birders busy. The botanists recorded 54 of the native plants while the birders enjoyed the endemic Kermadec Island Parakeet and the Tui. We all reconvened at the station for a quick tour around the hostel and some scrumptious tea and scones. This was followed by further explorations around the base and then we were accompanied by Department of Conservation (DoC) staff on some pleasant walks in the vicinity. One group toured the Orange Grove walk which featured some of the island’s historic orange trees (sadly out of season, so not much fruit!), along with the Nikau palms, tree ferns and pohutakawa trees. A highlight was spotting a big, fluffy Black-winged Petrel chick in his burrow and a couple of elusive Spotless Crakes darting past, while the Pukekos were much more bold. Many of our party went down to Oneraki Beach and enjoyed a beautiful walk along the boulders; alas the hot springs were inaccessible due to the high tide. This walk also featured the open expanses of Low Flat, and the Maori post or whenua-po; and in the eroded cliffs we found evidence of early Polynesian settlement in the form of a Maori earth oven. The blackened rocks and earth in a bowl shape could be seen jutting out from the cliff face. Other evidence of Polynesians being here are some of the plants, including candlenut and ti. This lower horizon of occupation has been dated around the 14th century. Eventually it was time for us to wander back. As we walked, we looked inside Land Crab holes in the track banks and spotted the occasional crab, a species also recovering from the ravages of rats. We reconvened at Fishing Rock where tide pools held corals, anemones, lobster and various fish including Chestnut Blenny, Yellow-banded Perch and the endemic Caramel Drummer. While we waited for the zodiacs to return and pick us up a Green Turtle graced us with its presence.
Meanwhile, the diving group spent the day doing two dives at the Meyer Islets. This group had a fantastic introduction to diving this region with many curious Galapagos Sharks, some playful Black Grouper and a good range of other fish that included Toadstool Grouper and Long-finned Boarfish. After a choppy ride back, everyone was quite content with their diving experiences. Once all the walkers were also back onboard most people could be found in the bar enjoying a well-earned beer. A delicious dinner was followed by an early evening after a rather long day. We went to sleep at anchor in Denham Bay.
The day greeted us with reasonably calm conditions so a pre-breakfast dive was offered at Denham Bay. All the divers opted to go and they had a good look around underwater. A few Galapagos Sharks and as many as four Green Turtles highlighted the dive. Following breakfast, a snorkelling excursion was offered where participants enjoyed watching Lionfish, Galapagos Sharks and others.
We had remained at anchor overnight in Denham Bay, when a vicious wind kicked up and we dragged anchor. We tried steaming towards Fishing Rock but found conditions there even worse and so returned to the relative shelter of Denham Bay. Despite winds of 35-40 knots our anchor was still holding. Aaron and Adam headed ashore with the view of making a landing but conditions were just too difficult to get off the ship. Karen gave another lecture on the Kermadecs that put them in global perspective and we watched a documentary on the concept of marine reserves. Around lunch time we steamed around the east side of the island past Boat Cove and the Chanter and Meyer Islets. The seas thronged with birds racing around in the shrieking winds – Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Tasman Boobies (many following the ship!), and of course huge numbers of Black-winged and Kermadec Petrels. After passing Nugent and Napier Rocks - the most northerly outposts of New Zealand – we came back to anchor off Fishing Rock where conditions were significantly better than in the morning. It was still too rough to attempt an excursion, but we were at least able to land the Kermadec rangers and volunteers, and pick up Jenny who had been visiting with her daughter ashore for the past two days. In the evening, the underwater photographers shared some images with us. We remained at anchor for the night.
The wind continued to blow but the swell eased somewhat so we made a determined effort to get ashore. Conditions were very difficult at Fishing Rock, but everyone eventually got ashore - alas, Peter took an inadvertent swim in the process. Everyone had the full day to explore Raoul Island. The walkers headed to the station where Peter was given the honour of launching the Met balloon with Sian, one of the DoC rangers. Some people then headed off up to the summit of the island, getting fantastic views into the Raoul Island caldera with its three lakes: Blue, Green and Tui. The effects of the previous eruption in 2006 were still very much in evidence with trees in the blast zone lying around on Devastation Ridge. The recent cyclone meant that the DoC staff had to work very hard to get the track cleared for us to walk up to the summit, and this was very much appreciated by everyone. The botanists in the party were especially delighted to get up into the ‘cloud forest’ and investigate some of the unique flora found on the island - in particular the two endemic species of tree fern. The rest of the party walked along the northern terraces to Ravine 8, stopping to look at the old woolshed which is a relic from the farming days. There is a grave also situated here – it is that of a farm manager who died of tetanus in the early part of last century. Huge Norfolk Pines planted by the Bell family (early settlers) are a significant feature here. Out at the beach at Ravine 8 we found large branches of black coral which must have been wrenched up by the recent cyclone. One even still had its symbiotic snake star wrapped around it.
Meanwhile, the divers all got in two dives. Conditions were difficult for getting all the gear and divers loaded, but more than worth the effort for the two hours that they got to spend under the water off the Meyer Islets. Most divers considered these their two best dives of the trip. The area had many Galapagos Sharks and curious Spotted Black Groupers along with schools of Kermadec Kahawai, Blue Maomao, Kingfish and many others. It was a very content lot of divers who returned to the ship in the evening as the masses of Kermadec Petrels came in to their breeding island.
With everyone safely back aboard, we set a course for Tauranga, turned on two engines and set full speed ahead for New Zealand.
The ship rolled through the night as we made good speed southwards. Daybreak saw us well to the west of Esperance Rock where a pod of Risso’s Dolphins was seen by a lucky few before breakfast; otherwise it was a very quiet morning. Only the occasional Black-winged, Grey-faced and White-naped Petrels flew by, though a Red-tailed Tropicbird also flew a few laps around the ship. Indoors a documentary was aired on Islands of the Pacific and Marie opened up the sea shop. We picked up another stowaway, this time a welcome swallow that landed on board.
Mid-afternoon John spotted a blow which proved to be the first of about 20 or more Sperm Whales. While we watched these, the deepest diving of all the whales, a Sunfish was also spotted and shortly after, a couple more pods of Risso’s Dolphins were observed. Later, Richie gave a talk on his very impressive photography.
Conditions were beautiful for our final day at sea as we made good speed towards the New Zealand mainland. Birding on decks was relatively slow although both Gould’s and Providence Petrels were again recorded. We aired part of the Blue Planet series and Aaron gave a tantalising talk on other expedition destinations around the world. With such good progress being made, we altered course slightly to sail past the Alderman Islands. The New Zealand coastline came into view around lunch time.
Pete gave a great talk on diving ship wrecks around New Zealand and then everyone was out on deck to enjoy the spectacle of the Alderman Islands. As the sun set, many thousands of Grey-faced Petrels flew around the waters and the rugged rocks showed the last rays of sun for the day. We gathered for a final drink and Brad and Nicki outdid themselves with their farewell dinner. At 11pm our pilot boarded and we were soon alongside the wharf in Tauranga.
Rain greeted us this morning alongside the wharf. After breakfast, most people opted to head home though a group of 14 made an excursion to the Rotorua area and returned for one final dinner on board.
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" A fabulous, life-changing trip. Here's the wedge-tailed shearwater that landed on the deck. "
" Seeing the Kermadec storm petrel was my highlight – and believing in magic again.
" The most awesome thing was climbing up the cliff at Landing Rock on my hands and knees, hanging onto a rope.
" Standing on the ship’s front deck at dawn, listening to the birds on the Meyer Islands wake up was very cool.
" It’s really hard to find a highlight amongst a huge number, but for me was swimming with Galapagos sharks – I never thought I would be able to do that – and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
" Highlights for me were seeing a false killer whale, all the kakariki and the regeneration of the forest of Raoul – and not falling in the tide!
" I’ve got 12 new ticks on my New Zealand bird list!
" I’ve always been a traveller. I travel with little anticipation but a lot of research. The Kermadecs delivered much enjoyment – other people and learning from them, the physical aspect with the bush and understanding the geological basis for the activity we see. It’s been a great trip.
Martin, Christchurch "
" The Norfolk Island connection was important to me. As a child, I grew up knowing Roy Bell, so it was an amazing experience to see where he grew up and appreciate how difficult it must have been.
" Seeing and photographing the Kermadec storm petrel did it for me. It’s unique to the Kermies and the only place you can see it is here – that was the whole idea of this venture!
" The highlight for me was the bottlenose dolphins bow-riding, especially the huge pod we saw, with all the calves. It was fantastic! Just beautiful to see them in the sea doing their own thing in the wild.
Stefanie, Christchurch "
" Looking over the crater lakes from the top of the track was my highlight. It was fantastic just to see the views and that wild volcanic activity from above. "
" I recently participated in your Kermadec expedition and would like to congratulate the staff and crew of the Enderby for their professional and friendly approach to the trip. "