Listen to the names: Snares, Bounty, Antipodes, Auckland, Campbell, Macquarie and Chatham Islands. They are music to the ears of ‘Birders'. Apart from the Chathams, these islands are probably more isolated now than they were when they were discovered in the late 1700s and early 1800s and were regularly visited by sealers, whalers and government steamers searching for castaway sailors. It is relatively simple to get to the Chatham Islands but opportunities to visit the others are rare. This expedition, one of a number operated each year by Heritage Expeditions, is the only one to include all of these islands.
The islands occupy the tempestuous latitudes of the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties but they are also known as the Albatross Latitudes and with good reason. Ten of the world's albatross species breed in the region; five of them nowhere else but here! In fact this zone where the air is never still, hosts the most diverse collection of seabirds in the world. More than 40 species breed down here - that is at least 11 percent of the entire world's seabird population.
With the exception of the Chathams, the islands are all designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and are afforded the highest conservation status and protection by the Australian and New Zealand governments, so passage to their shores is not granted lightly. There are also islands that we visit within the Chatham Archipelago with similar status and protection.
This expedition has huge appeal to pelagic enthusiasts, penguin fanatics and those interested in island endemics. You don't have to be a keen birder though to enjoy this voyage. People interested in islands and island ecology, botany, geology and an increasing number of photographers have enjoyed this trip immensely, as have those interested in the history of southern ocean discovery and exploration.
This is one of our ‘signature expeditions' which has operated annually for over 20 years, so you will benefit from the knowledge and expertise gained over that time.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), 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.
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 recently updated combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room (March 2018). 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.
Classification: Russian register KM ice class
Year built: 1984
Accommodation: 50 berths expedition
Main engines: power 2x1560 bhp (2x 1147 Kw)
Maximum speed: 12 knots (2 engines),
Cruising speed: 10 knots(one engine)
Bunker capacity: 320 tons
Birding Down Under:
21 December 2012-8 January 2013
Day 1. Invercargill/Bluff
We all arrived safely from our varied points of origin and gathered for an enjoyable buffet dinner at the Kelvin Hotel to meet our fellow travellers and have an introduction to the trip from Expedition Leader, Rodney. We all agreed it was a bonus that the world didn't end on this day, as the Mayan calendar had suggested and some around the world believed might happen.
Day 2. At Sea
We were free to wander around Invercargill this morning, with the 'official option' being a visit to the fine Southland Museum where, among other things, we got to touch the legendary Tuatara and learn of its remarkable natural history. After lunch we boarded the bus for the short drive to the harbour in Bluff, where we embarked the Spirit of Enderby, our home for the next 17 days. After time to settle into our cabins and explore the ship we had an introductory briefing and departed about 4pm to head out into the Southern Ocean. The meaning of 'harbour' was graphically apparent as we headed from the flat water of Bluff into the howling winds and rolling seas of Foveaux Strait, which separates the South Island from Stewart Island. Birding in the late afternoon was non-stop action before breaking for dinner and a well-earned sleep. Our first albatross (a White-capped aka Auckland Shy) was spotted as we left the harbour. After that birds were constantly in view, with at least five species of albatross (including our first Royals and Wandering), and many thousands of Sooty Shearwaters and Fairy Prions, along with good numbers of Cook's Petrels, a few giant petrels and Mottled Petrels, and the dapper little Pintado (or Cape) Petrels.
46o35'S 168o20'E (Bluff) ending 8pm at 47o18'S 168o17'E; sea-surface temperature (SST) 15oC. Variably cloudy, sunny, 20-25 knot NW wind and cross swells.
Day 3. The Snares
After leaving the lee of Stewart Island in the early hours we got to experience the notorious 'Southern Ocean Roll' which continued through the day and made for a challenging Zodiac cruise at The Snares, where we arrived in early morning. On our second attempt the Zodiacs were loaded and we were privileged to enjoy an up-close experience with the remarkable flora and fauna of our first island outpost.
The highlight was simply being among masses of the endemic Snares Crested Penguins, with groups standing around on the rocks and amid the lush kelp as well as swimming all around and right up to our Zodiacs. The otherworldly forest, growing on burrow-riddled soil (homes to millions of shearwaters and petrels) held the endemic all-black tomtit and the somewhat elusive fernbird. Watching numerous Southern Buller's Albatross, families of Antarctic Terns, scavenging skuas, lounging Fur Seals and a few Hooker's Sea Lions was also a great experience. Remarkably we also encountered three vagrant seabirds - a Little Penguin, a stunning Chatham Albatross, and a Great Cormorant (aka Black Shag) that seemed to think it was a penguin. Back out to sea and heading south, most people took the chance to relax, while the birders were rewarded with increasing numbers of Mottled Petrels and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, among numerous other species.
48o00'S 166o40'E (Snares) ending 8pm at 48o58'S 166o44'E; SST 14-11oC. Mostly cloudy morning, becoming variably cloudy, sunny p.m., 20-30 knot NW wind and cross swells.
Day 4. Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
A grey misty dawn found us rounding the low bluffs of Enderby Island in the north of the Auckland group. After breakfast, a briefing and a slide show on the history (natural and 'unnatural') of the Auckland Islands we prepared for what would be a memorable day ashore. Enderby Island, for which the Spirit of Enderby is aptly named, is a great example of an island that is reverting to its natural state thanks to the eradication of non-native mammals. Hence the birds are remarkably confiding, from ubiquitous pipits at one's feet and flightless Auckland Island Flightless Teal to brilliant Red-crowned Parakeets and handsome Double-banded Dotterels running around at very close range. Added to the mix are the spectacular, eye-level courtship flights by Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, groups of Auckland Shags harvesting the lush grass for their nests and cryptic Subantarctic Snipe scurrying underfoot. A scattering of Yellow-eyed Penguins and the spectacle of a colony of Hooker's Sea Lions on the beach (with boisterous sub-adult males scattered around the island) all added to the wildlife encounters and photo opportunities for the day. Then there were the wonderful carpets of flowering megaherbs, nesting Southern Royal Albatrosses, a brief but vivid fly-by from a New Zealand Falcon, the prehistoric looking Rata forest and a vagrant Australian Shelduck. Having a full day to explore the island was indeed a treat, and our individual memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of this Christmas Eve will be indelibly etched in our memories. A small contingent, entertained by lively guitar music provided by Tracey, stayed up to see in Christmas Day - and what a day it would be.
50o30'S 166o16'E (Enderby); SST 11oC. Overcast and misty, brightening slightly before some afternoon rain; winds generally light and overall mild.
Day 5. Auckland Islands – Carnley Harbour
The yacht Oceanopolis being sailed by a Frenchman in a solo around the world race which we found on our arrival off Enderby had pulled away in the early hours of the morning. We hoped he made it back into the race. Overnight we moved south to Carnley Harbor, where a low cloud ceiling and strong north-east winds (gusting to 50+ knots and whipping the water into a swirling white frenzy) limited our choices for landings. We ship-cruised up the north arm of the harbour in the early morning and heard a fascinating talk from Rodney about the history of wrecks on the Auckland Islands, after which there was an option to go ashore at Tagua Bay. One group climbed through the stunted forest to the old coastwatchers' hut and lookout, while another tried birding around the beach. The howling gale made looking for bush birds a wee bit challenging, but being inside the forest with its lichens and gnarled understory was an incredible experience. Some great Zodiac work got us safely back to the ship in the wind-whipped waters, after which we enjoyed a leisurely and very fine Christmas meal, prepared by our chefs Lindsay and Bobbie. Battening down the hatches we headed out from the sheltered waters and attempted to move on towards Macquarie Island. The north-west wind continued to howl and rage, and the seas were spectacular, with waves crashing over the bow as we plunged into mountainous seas. The albatross were dwarfed by the white-capped swells and we agreed were certainly experiencing the legendary Southern Ocean. Many stayed safely in their cabins but for those who braved the conditions, the birding was great, with numerous White-headed Petrels, some nice Grey-backed Storm-Petrels, and plenty of great albatross (mainly the local-breeding Gibson's Wanderers) riding out the storm and gliding around the ship. After a few hours of making very little headway and a memorably rocking dinner, the Captain and Rodney made the very sensible decision to turn back and wait out the storm in the lee of the Auckland Islands. A steady night's sleep was perhaps the best Christmas present any of us could have wished for!
50o48'S 166o04'E (Carnley Harbor), turning back 8pm at 50o58'S 165o20'E; SST 11oC. Overcast and misty, 45-60 knot NW wind and mountainous cross swells (to 8-10m) upon a confused sea.
The Ocean South
It rocks our World
As albatrosses sail
Put food to mouth
Before it's hurled
By one unholy gale
Streaks of white
Climb mountains made of sea
A roaring fire
A Christmas not for me
Day 6. At Sea
We awoke in the lee of the Auckland Islands and after breakfast lifted anchor and headed back out to sea. Conditions had abated somewhat but it was still a rather rocky day. Then again, the wind is what albatrosses like, and we enjoyed the constant presence of Gibson's [Wandering] and Southern Royal Albatross, along with numerous Auckland Shy (White-capped) Albatross and our first Grey-headed Albatross. The spectacular White-headed Petrel was also a regular feature, as were Antarctic Prions. Also seen during the day were Black-bellied and Grey-backed Storm-Petrels, a few Mottled Petrels, and our first cetacean – a Southern Bottlenose Whale.
50o47'S 166o15'E (Auckland Islands) ending (8pm) at 51o49'S 164o22'E; SST 11oC to 9oC. Variably cloudy and sunny, with 30-40 knot WNW to WSW wind and 5-6m swells.
Day 7. At Sea
Dawn found us in gentler seas and in Australian waters, continuing south-west to arrive off Macquarie Island by about 9pm. Birding through most of the day was relatively quiet over these deep ocean waters, although we had great opportunities to study Wandering and Royal Albatrosses and practice some seabird photography. Adam gave a lecture on the world's albatrosses in the morning, followed by shopping opportunities at the Sea Shop; and in the afternoon Rodney and Adam prepared us for our Macquarie Island visit, followed by vacuuming quarantine measures supervised by Igor our DOC representative. After dinner the island was just discernable through the fog, and the cloud ceiling lifted just enough to view the huge King Penguin colony at Lusitania Bay, as the winds whipped up the sea and hundreds of seabirds including our first Soft-plumaged Petrels and Black-browed Albatross flew around the ship.
52o57'S 162o06'E ending at 54o35'S 159o06'E (Macquarie); SST 9oC to 8oC. Overcast with spitting rain showers, 15-20 knot winds and 3m swells, with winds gusting to 40+ knots in the lee of Macquarie.
Day 8. Macquarie Island
We awoke off the Australian Base at Buckles Bay, Macquarie Island, and early risers managed to see all four penguin species around the ship, plus a breaching Orca! The eight Aussie personnel we had brought from Invercargill disembarked after breakfast, when we picked up three outbound personnel, three rangers (Richard, Paul and Lauren) and two rabbit and rat hunters (Kelly and Stephen) to accompany us south to Sandy Bay. Thanks to the efforts of people like Kelly and Stephen, the non-native rats, mice and rabbits were almost completely eradicated in 2011 and the vegetation and bird populations are already showing signs of recovery. However ongoing monitoring and diligence are still needed, but signs are good that Macquarie has become a success story in the annals of island restoration.
Words cannot really describe the experience of arriving at a beach packed with stately King Penguins and groups of hurrying Royal Penguins, complimented by the associated sounds and smells of the lounging and lunging Southern Elephant Seals. Skuas and giant petrels wheel overhead against the green, well-vegetated cliffs, while Antarctic Terns plunge-dive in the bays as Macquarie Shags swing by. Despite the low cloud ceiling and misty conditions, this was a very special day, and it seemed as if we were on another planet named the Planet of the Penguins; with the rest of the world so far removed as to be completely forgotten. The colony of Royal Penguins with chick creches, now accessible via a new and very sturdy boardwalk, and the mass of King Penguins with their 'wooly' youngsters were impressive for their sheer density – what perfect jigsaw puzzles they would make! And how many photos were taken?
With golden ears
And silver shawl
Bills pointed to the skies
They show no fears
And stand so tall
Emitting bugle cries
All ruling here
An island home
Remote and rarely seen
That few will roam
And fewer still have seen
After leaving Sandy Bay we lunched on the ship and moved north to Buckles Bay, where the whipping wind, rocky beach and driving rain made for a slightly tricky landing. The warmth of our Australian hosts more than compensated however, and a fascinating tour of the base also featured a few Redpolls (much appreciated by some of the birders) as well as delightful Gentoo Penguins, numerous Elephant Seals (making themselves quite at home in the buildings!), and some striking white-morph Southern Giant-Petrels. Hot drinks with scones and cream at the mess allowed us a window into life on the base, but all too soon it was time to head back to the ship, now with three new Australian personnel to transport back to the 'real world’. Luckily, sea conditions had improved and the Zodiacs were able to cruise by the Rockhopper Penguins at Garden Cove before we boarded for another fine hot dinner and a good sleep.
Day 9. At Sea
The rolling swells eased somewhat during our day at sea, heading ENE towards Campbell Island. Katya gave a lecture on the whales and dolphins of the region in the morning, and Rodney talked about the history of Campbell Island in the afternoon. Birding was steady, with a good variety of species logged by the day's end, including 10-11 albatross species, some nice White-headed Petrels, and our first Fulmar Prion (in Australian waters!). We crossed back into NZ waters at about 1pm.
53o55'S 162o11'E ending at 53o12'S 166o15'E; SST 6-10oC. Overcast and misting, becoming foggy in pm, 10-15 knot NW to W winds and 3-4m mixed swells.
Leathery liquid pewter
Heaving and sighing with swell
Foggy and leaden horizon
Foreboding what no-one can tell
Day 10. Campbell Island
A rainy dawn found us just off Campbell Island, with numerous albatrosses, Pintado Petrels, and giant petrels around the ship. Our first Campbell Shags flew out to greet us as we turned into Perseverance Harbour, with cloud-shrouded island tops on either side, and colonies of Hooker's Sea Lions and shags on opposite shores. After dropping anchor and eating breakfast we had a briefing and outline for the day. Some opted for 'the long walk' while others opted for Zodiac cruises around the bay and then climbed the boardwalk to Col Lyall. The 'long-walkers' set off first and had an amazing day, even if the first half was in driving rain. Besides spectacular views and megaherbs, they found a pair of Campbell Teal, two single Antipodes Albatross, and even the little-known endemic (but formally undescribed) Campbell Snipe, only discovered in 1997. Both groups enjoyed close-up and personal experiences with the nesting icon of Campbell, the Southern Royal Albatross. It really is quite a moving experience to be so close to these ocean giants.
All the Zodiac cruisers also had great views of the flightless Campbell Island Teal, with a record-breaking seven birds being seen – something unimaginable even three years ago. It is wonderful to witness the island fauna steadily recovering. As well as 'the world's loneliest tree', an Eastern Curlew was a little out of place, as were three Great Cormorants (aka Black Shags). We were absorbed by the feeding frenzies of gulls and Antarctic Terns, along with the handsome endemic shags, so the rain was little more than a vague background effect. After a chance to dry off and eat their picnic lunches at leisure on the ship, the 'short walkers' ferried back ashore to the boardwalk as the sun came out for a welcome warming.
Despite low clouds the afternoon remained dry, if breezy. The opportunity to see the majestic Southern Royal Albatross nesting and displaying up close will be forever etched in our minds. The unique flora of this island is also something very special. Lush slopes painted in verdant greens, varied purples, and golden yellows by carpets of flowering megaherbs, where confiding pipits made their homes will never be forgotten. Those staying late enjoyed some spectacular 'gamming' as groups of pre-breeding albatross gathered to display, and a few people even managed to glimpse the elusive Campbell Snipe. Overall an exhilarating day, followed by a fine dinner and a well-earned sleep.
52o39'S 169o09'E (offshore in am) to 52o34'S 169o14'E (Perseverance Harbour); SST 10oC. 'Undercast' and rainy through lunchtime, becoming mostly cloudy with sunny spells and a cool NW wind in the pm.
Day 11. At Sea
The day was spent at sea heading ENE towards the Antipodes. It was a day of albatross and sunshine, with a following sea making things very pleasant. We awoke to the classic 'Southern Ocean' spectacle of numerous albatross and White-chinned Petrels circling the ship, and by the day's end we had enjoyed some ten species of albatross, with countless chances to see that elusive 'honey eye' on the handsome Campbell Albatross. At times there were upwards of 20 Southern Royals and two Northern Royals around the ship, and in the late afternoon an optimistic skua tried his chances by harassing these ocean giants, but without success. Videos were shown that discussed the rat eradication from Campbell and the successful reintroduction of the teal there, followed by a talk from Steve entitled Seabirds of the World, Part 1 - What is a Seabird? In the afternoon Adam gave a fine lecture giving an over-view of penguins of the world. After dinner and the reading of the bird list a select band of hardy souls stayed awake to sing in the New Year as the seas rolled beneath us.
51o54'S 171o31'E to 50o47'S 175o18'E; SST 10-11oC. Variably cloudy and mostly sunny, with 15-25 knot NW winds.
The morning sun
Spills silver light
On softened southern seas
Our northward run
Begun last night
The Spirit takes with ease
Day 12. Antipodes Islands
It's not a bad start to the year when five of the first seven species you see are albatross! The first few hours as we approached the remote Antipodes Islands were packed with birds, from good numbers of the endemic Antipodes Albatross to the diminutive Subantarctic Little Shearwater, plus White-headed and Soft-plumaged Petrels. Surprisingly we saw a White-faced Storm-Petrel amongst plenty of prions (including Fairy, Fulmar, and Broad-billed), plus a briefly seen Sei Whale. The towering cliffs of the Antipodes were bathed in welcome sunlight as the braying choruses of penguins carried out to the ship. Pintado Petrels circled all around as we entered the lee of Ringdove Bay. A surprise was finding a yacht already there. The Tiama had just delivered some albatross researchers for the season and was heading back to the South Island.
After lunch we had some amazing Zodiac cruises at these rarely visited outposts of volcanic rock. The lush green, vegetated steep slopes and the amazing, kelp-fringed shores held hundreds of Erect-crested Penguins, smaller numbers of Rockhopper Penguins, and hundreds of New Zealand Fur Seals, among which were a few Subantarctic Fur Seals. There were pipits seemingly everywhere and the endemic Hochstetter's (Red-crowned) Parakeet was also quite conspicuous. It took considerable work combined with a little bit of luck and the sharp eyes of Katya however to find the less common Antipodes Parakeet. Antarctic Terns dived at skuas, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross wheeled overhead, smoky-blue Fulmar Prions flitted in and out of magical caves, and the cliffs, caves, waterfalls, kelp, and crystal-clear waters were mesmerising. After dinner back on the ship we headed on northwards, towards the Bounty Islands.
49o51'S 177o23'E to 49o35'S 178o51'E; SST 9-12oC. Variably cloudy and mostly sunny, with 15-25 knot NW winds.
Day 13. Bounty Islands
A misty but sunny dawn and a rolling swell found us just south of the Bounty Islands, a rugged group of exposed stacks. These islands are one of nature's untold spectacles, absolutely packed with nesting albatross, penguins and fur seals, along with Fulmar Prions and the handsome Bounty Islands Shag, perhaps the rarest (and certainly the most localised) shag in the world. The rough seas and dashing white surf added to the atmosphere as thousands of Salvin's Albatross wheeled on the updrafts or sat on the water. We also noted hundreds of Pintado Petrels and a few Southern Royal Albatross, while groups of shags flew out to circle the ship in greeting. Leaving the dizzying spectacle of the Bounty Islands behind, we headed on north, towards the Chatham Islands, the last island group on our itinerary.
The afternoon at sea was somewhat bumpy (including one memorable 45o roll as we crossed the 180o meridian in mid-afternoon!) but good numbers and an increasing diversity of birds kept the birders out on deck. New species added included Northern Buller's Albatross, Short-tailed Shearwater, and three species of gadfly petrel – Grey-faced, Black-winged and Pycroft's Petrels. Somehow the chefs kept to their work in trying seas and once again produced a wonderful meal, served as always by the redoubtable Natalia and Ala.
48o05'S 179o02'E to 46o13'S 179o20'W; SST 9-12oC. Variably cloudy and mostly sunny, with 20-25 knot NW winds and cross swells.
Day 14. At Sea
The waters we transited today are arguably the richest in the world for seabirds, and an impressive 25 species of tubenoses were recorded. Squadrons of weaving prions accompanied us for a while, allowing great comparisons of Broad-billed and Fairy prions (yes, they really do look different!), while 10 species of albatross including the stunningly handsome Chatham and Northern Buller's, plus both royals as almost constant accompaniment. The most familiar bird of the day however, was the plucky little White-faced Storm-Petrel, which could be seen almost all day long, skipping and splashing over the waves. Instead of heading straight to Pyramid Rock as originally planned due to a strong weather system we headed to the lee of the main island and anchored off Port Hutt for a pleasantly calm night as the storm passed by and the wind dropped.
45o19'S 178o10'W to 43o49'S 176o41'W at anchor; SST 12-16oC. Variably cloudy and sunny, with 25-35 knot NW winds and 6-8m confused cross swells, changing to 5-10 knot S winds by late afternoon.
Day 15. Chatham Islands – Waitangi
A gloomy and rainy dawn greeted us as we prepared for a day ashore on the main Chatham Island, which is 45 minutes' ahead in time from the rest of New Zealand. After two weeks of visiting remote and largely pristine islands, the pastoral landscape and human habitation of the Chathams came as a bit of a shock to the system. We landed at Port Hutt, where some Pitt Island Shags decorated a dilapidated fishing boat, and then headed by bus south through Waitangi, where a vehicle reshuffle allowed us to stretch and see the Chatham Oystercatcher before we pressed on to the Awatotara Valley. This private reserve, under the stewardship of Bruce and Liz Tuanui, gave us a taste of how the island looked before human habitation, and what can be done with some foresight and commitment to conservation. We split into groups to walk along the valley enabling us to see some native and re-vegetated forest habitats. The rain mostly held off, and all groups enjoyed good views of the endemic pigeon and warbler (or gerygone), as well as the Tui, fantail and pipit, along with roadside harriers and Wekas. Back in town there was time to relax, wander, do some shopping, and stop at the hotel for a drink and some fish and chips. By 5pm we were all back aboard and the ship headed south along the coast to waters off The Horns where a dedicated small band skipped dinner and maintained a petrel vigil. Their diligence paid off. A distant Magenta Petrel was followed by a closer Chatham Petrel. Then a second Magenta Petrel made a close circuit of the ship and, in the fading light, another Chatham Petrel whipped across the bows before a memorable sunset. Two of the world's rarest seabirds within an hour, and even photos of both! A euphoric bird list and recap of the day was followed by a welcome sleep.
43o49'S 176o41'W (at anchor) to 44o09'S 176o51'W; SST 15oC. Overcast and misty with morning rain, brightening and drier through the day; 15-25 knot fresh and cool S winds.
Day 16. Pyramid Rock
What a difference a day makes! Dawn found us in calmer seas south of The Pyramid. Here we were treated to the spectacular sight of tens of thousands of albatross circling around this striking islet, ostensibly home to all of the world’s population of the very handsome Chatham Albatross. The sun shone and blue skies made for glorious views of the islands. After circling The Pyramid while Adam chummed in scores of squabbling albatross, we headed over to South East Island, where we took a Zodiac cruise along the coastline. Despite a big swell we all had great views of the very local and unique Shore Plover, along with nesting White-fronted Terns, lounging fur seals, and the distinctive but as-yet-unnamed 'Chatham Skua' - a member of the Brown Skua complex but in some ways looking more like a South Polar Skua. Moving between the islands we all enjoyed the sun out on deck as Chatham Shags flew around the ship. After lunch we made a close pass of Mangere and Little Mangere islands, historic features in the story of the Black Robin, a conservation icon. By 2:30pm we started to head west and away from the Chathams, still in warm sunshine and low, rolling seas with a liberal scattering of White-faced Storm-Petrels and albatross in tow. Some mid-afternoon chumming by Adam offered us great views (and more photo opportunities) of six species of albatross, as well as Pintado Petrels, giant petrels, and even a few prions and storm-petrels. After dinner we were entranced by the very rare sight of a big group of Southern Right Whale Dolphins porpoising off the bow.
44o26'S 176o50'W to 44o26'S 177o40'W; SST 15oC. Sunny and partly cloudy, 5-10 knot S wind with mixed swells.
Day 17. At Sea
A relaxing day on board with gently rolling seas, saw many folk taking the opportunity to be outside and enjoy the sunshine. The opening act in cetacean entertainment for the day was a trio of the very rarely encountered Shepherd's Beaked Whales. The main act of three Orca appeared briefly in the late afternoon. We crossed back over the 180o meridian in the morning and birds were steady throughout the day, with numerous albatross (some recognizable individual Wanderings being with us all day), White-faced Storm-Petrels, and 'Cookilaria' petrels (mainly Cook's but with a few Pycroft's identified courtesy of digital images). Steve gave part 2 of his Seabirds of the World (penguins and albatrosses) lecture in the morning, and in the afternoon Katya gave a fascinating lecture on the human history and natural history of the Russian Far East. After dinner the movie The Big Year was shown in the lecture room.
44o40'S 179o43'W to 45o02'S 176o58'E; SST 15oC. A sunny morning, becoming mostly overcast in the pm; 15-20 knot N wind in am, becoming 5-10 knots in pm, with generally low and rolling seas.
Day 18. At Sea
It was a good morning to rest and start preparing for re-entry into the 'real world’ today as the weather remained fine and the seas calm. Birdlife was dominated by good numbers of Sooty Shearwaters along with a few Hutton's Shearwaters, our last Wandering and Royal Albatrosses. Two tantalizingly brief sightings of whales also punctuated the day. Steve gave the third and final part of his Seabirds of the World presentation after lunch as the wind freshened and the ship started to roll again. We watched the Mottled Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters glide effortlessly on the breeze they are built for.
In the afternoon we had a recap of this remarkable voyage, followed by a briefing for our arrival in Dunedin tomorrow. Meghan put together a wonderful slide show of the trip and Rodney and other members of the Expedition Team reminded us of the places we had visited and the things we had seen on what was truly a remarkable expedition to a little-visited but magical corner of the planet. The group gathered in the bar for drinks as the skyline of the Otago hills on the 'mainland' appeared on the horizon, and then enjoyed a delicious last night dinner buffet prepared by Lindsay and Bobbie.
45o20'S 174o16'E to 45o42'S 170o50'E; SST 13-14oC. Variably cloudy, sunny, some rain and near-sleet showers; 10 knot SW winds, increasing to 25 knots in the pm.
Day 19. Dunedin
The pilot came aboard at 6am. As we cruised up the long harbour channel to Dunedin city, the birders were still adding a few new species to the trip list while others were absorbing the sights of the New Year in the real world. Despite the bright sunshine, a howling wind made it quite cold outside, making us wonder whether we had we brought the Subantarctic back with us. After custom formalities and a group photo it was time to disembark and begin our travel back to various homes around the world. Thanks to everyone for making this such a wonderful and memory-filled trip to some of the most special places on the planet. We had travelled some 2,718 nautical miles and visited seven remarkable island groups on our voyage through the great Southern Ocean.
Click here for Species List
Monday 31st October 2011: Invercargill
An excited group of voyagers met for a pre-expedition dinner together. We were joined at the Kelvin Hotel by Expedition Leader Rodney, Gemma, the Hotel Manager and Eric, the onboard Doctor. Rodney gave the first of many expedition briefings and outlined the programme for the following day.
Tuesday 1st November 2011: Invercargill/Bluff
After a hearty breakfast we gathered beside a tremendous pile of luggage in the Hotel Foyer for a security check before the full expedition gear for 50 people was whisked away. Adam Walleyn, the “bird man” on the Heritage Staff, walked with us to the Southland Museum where we enjoyed the ‘Roaring Forties’ display and also had a chance to stare down the prehistoric Tuatara.
Back at the Kelvin Hotel we enjoyed our last shoreside lunch for 18 days and then headed to Bluff to join our gear which had efficiently been transferred to our bespoke cabins aboard the expedition ship, the Spirit of Enderby.
After being shown to our cabins we took advantage of the calm water conditions by meeting for a full briefing of the lifeboat and safety drills and to meet biologist Katya, plus the remainder of the ship’s staff. Adam then gave an introduction to the Snares Islands and the use of the Zodiacs. We set sail with our afternoon free for birding and getting to know our fellow travellers, heading south with expectations high.
Our first day’s birding highlights were many and some of them unexpected. For example we saw two Fiordland Crested Penguins and also a Southern Fulmar. Prions were abundant and there was a long debate about which they were. The final consensus was that most (if not all) were Fairy Prions. Diving Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters also escorted the ship.
As Adam recapped the Bird Log in the bar before dinner, Rodney discussed the practice of taking Sooty Shearwater chicks as a “Traditional Food”. He gave the history of the practice and also raised questions of whether it was sustainable given the modern techniques which they employ to catch the chicks now.
After an eventful first day, everybody retired to bed soon after dinner in anticipation of waking on our first morning aboard ship.
Wednesday 2nd November 2011: Snares Island
We awoke to the sight of the Snares Islands where the Captain had positioned the ship in the most sheltered part of the Bay. We successfully negotiated our first boarding of the Zodiacs and cruised inshore following the coast to the north through a Sea Cave. Here we had first views of the Tomtit and the Fernbird. We slowly worked our way along the coast and into Boat Harbour. There were some very good displays from the local New Zealand Fur seals - one was keen to show us how fast he could swim. There were also good numbers of New Zealand Sea Lions. Several big adult males lolled on the shore while sub adult males were swimming and cavorting around the Zodiacs giving us some great photos. We got our first very good views of the Snares Crested Penguin in Boat Cove. There was a large group on the southern side of the harbour coming and going from the small colonies up under the forest. From Boat Cove we continued cruising to the north; to the area known as the Penguin Slide – a steep rock face that penguins use to climb up onto the Island. Exhilarated by our first wildlife encounters we returned to the ship and set a course to the Auckland Islands.
Expedition Leader Rodney gave two presentations during the course of the afternoon. The first was an introduction to the Auckland Islands. In this lecture he covered the history of the Islands from its discovery in 1806 until the present day. He divided the history into quite distinct periods:
The second presentation looked at the mitigation measures that we as a group would take to reduce the accidental introduction of alien species to the Islands. As a result of seeing a deep sea trawler during the day Rodney also discussed deep sea fishing in New Zealand’s EEC which promoted a lively debate amongst the group.
Thursday 3rd November 2011: Enderby Island
In the early hours of the morning we dropped anchor in Sandy Bay at Enderby Island. After breakfast we gathered in the lecture room where Rodney had drawn a large scale map showing our options for the day. We landed on a beach close to a small group of sub adult male Sea Lions. Some of our group were concerned the animals may try to bite us, but as Adam had predicted, they just looked upon us as a species not worthy of their attention. Just as we entered the bush we saw a Giant Petrel chick and adult. Through the bush and very close to the board walk there was a Yellow-eyed Penguin on a nest and we also saw a number of Southern Royal Albatross near the summit ridge including a chick.
At the western terminus of the boardwalk Rodney successfully led a Snipe hunt and further along the cliff top there were a number of Light Mantled Sooty Albatross. At this point we could choose whether we were going to walk around the Island or retrace our steps back along the boardwalk to Sandy Bay.
Soon after the groups separated, the first of a number of hail storms raced across the Island. At Derry Castle Reef one group saw a number of Island Teal but more surprisingly saw a flock of 16 Grey Teal. There were also at least three Spur Winged Plover and a couple of Godwits.
A number of people saw two Southern Right Whales breaching about 500 metres off the northern coast line. These whales breed here in Port Ross in August and September so it was interesting to see these still here while the rest would have headed to Antarctica. In the mid afternoon as the group was making its way along the north coast there was a violent snow storm which lasted for about one and a half hours. It was the first time that either Rodney or Adam had seen snow on the ground on Enderby Island. The front eventually passed over and the sun came out and the wind dropped. Some of the group returned to the Spirit of Enderby, while others remained on the island enjoying the activity on the beach.
In our review of the Bird log that evening it was noted that there had been sightings of some unexpected species in this area such as the Grey Teal, Spur-winged Plover and a white faced heron.
Friday 4th November 2011: Carnley Harbour
The crew lifted anchor in the early hours of the morning and headed down the east coast of the main Auckland Islands.
We anchored in the north arm of Camley Harbour near Epigwatt, the site where the Grafton was wrecked in 1864. Two zodiacs were launched and we spent about one and a half hours on the beach where we checked out the remains of a small part of the hull of the Grafton and the site of the survivors hut. The wind swung more to the South and it snowed again, frosting the beach and forest with icing sugar. Some of the group saw a Yellow-crowned Parakeet, heard Bellbirds singing melodically and watched a few Pipits along the beach.
The Zodiacs then returned to the ship and the Captain shifted the vessel up under the lee of Adams Island while we tucked into lunch. There was a very large numbers of Sooty Shearwaters feeding near our anchorage, most likely sheltering from the strong winds as we were. After our warming lunch we headed south, enjoying the few miles of calm waters to where we could see the whitecaps outside the entrance. At the harbour mouth we steamed out into the southern ocean and took on the storm. The ship handled it extremely well, punching into it with a little bit of sideways rock and roll. It was an exhilarating ride and gave us our sea legs. This was after-all part of the adventure! Adams Island slowly slipped over the horizon as we headed further south.
Saturday 5th November 2011: At Sea
We made good time overnight and the good thing about these winds Rodney assured us, was that they meant ideal conditions for landing at Macquarie Island.
Most people decided to ride out the day either on the bridge, bar/library or relaxing in their cabins, though some hardy birders observed the first Soft Plumage Petrel of the voyage. Over dinner anticipation was high over tomorrows landing on Macquarie Island.
Sunday 6th November 2011: Macquarie Island
The wind and sea conditions eased overnight as forecast and the Captain took the vessel around the north head and anchored in Hasselborough Bay where conditions were flat for landing.
We spent most of the day on the island and were guided by the ranger staff who work on eradication and conservation programmes. It was interesting to meet and talk to these hardy individuals who gave us a good insight into the local ecosystem. We climbed to the lookout on Razorback Hill and down the beach towards Gadgets Gully where there were a number of King Penguins on the beach and one Lone Royal Penguin. On the Isthmus and on beach there were a number of Elephant Seals, and also Gentoo Penguins with chicks. Close to the Base many folk also saw a couple of Rockhopper Penguins. There was no shortage of Redpolls flying around for those wanting to add them to their Australian list.
The Rangers joined us back on board the Spirit of Enderby and answered questions as we cruised back around North Head. Sadly sea conditions did not allow for a landing at Sandy Bay so we cruised down the coast to Lusitania Bay to view the very large King Penguin colony. It is estimated that there are up to one and a half million breeding birds there – that is a lot of Penguin!
Monday 7th November 2011: Macquarie Island
Next morning Adam gave an illustrated lecture on Macquarie Island which gave a good overview of the discovery and settlement of the Island and the sealing and oiling periods. In the afternoon we headed on towards Campbell Island.
Tuesday 8th November 2011: At Sea
The wind and sea swung more to the south west overnight and this morning saw us surfing along. There were not a lot of birds around as we were still in very deep water, though numbers increased later in the day as we came into the shallower water on the Campbell Plateau.
In the afternoon Rodney gave a lecture about the history of Campbell Island, including the human history from discovery in 1810 to the present day, as well as the wildlife we could expect to see. He told of the efforts to remove the introduced animals including sheep, cattle, cats and eventually the rats, which inspired the Australians to tackle the same issues on Macquarie Island.
Wednesday 9th November 2011: Campbell Island
Sea conditions improved considerably in the early morning as we approached Campbell Island and we dropped anchor at the head of Perseverance Harbour in calm conditions. We were offered two options for the day on the island. The first was an all day walk and the second option was a Zodiac cruise of the upper harbour then a walk to Col Lyall Ridge up the boardwalk.
The group on the all day walk spotted a pair of Campbell Island teal swimming around the wharf area, then a couple of nests of Northern Giant Petrel. The first Royal Albatross was spotted above the slip face at southern end of Homestead Ridge. A couple of Yellow Eyed Penguins were seen before we reached Capstan Cove. After lunch in the company of a tired old male Sea Lion, the group walked to the North West Bay Hut. On the walk back we were excited to discover a group of about four Light Mantled Sooty Albatross nesting on a rocky knob near the track. One of the memorable highlights however was simply lying down in the tussock observing the dynamics of the Albatross colony at close quarters.
The second group started with a Zodiac cruise into Tucker Cove, the site of the old farming homestead and also the coast watchers hut. From Tucker Cove we cruised into Camp Cove and saw the “loneliest tree” then crossed to Venus Cove where the French had observed the Transit of Venus in 1874. It was on the way to the wharf that we had ring-side seats in what was a very unevenly matched fight. A young Royal Albatross sitting on the water was attacked by a male Sea Lion from below and Giant Petrels from above. The Albatross really didn’t stand a chance - a tragic end to a young life.
At the top of the boardwalk we spent some time observing and photographing the activity at the Albatross colony. Over dinner the groups compared experiences as the ship departed for the Antipodes Island.
Thursday 10th November 2011: At Sea
Most people took advantage of the crisp clear morning and were up on deck straight after breakfast. Emma opened the sea shop and did a brisk trade with those wanting retail therapy as we cruised on through the Southern Ocean.
After lunch Adam gave a talk on ‘Tube Nose’s of the Southern Ocean’. This was an in-depth look at the albatross and petrel species that we have seen and may expect to see on this expedition. Adam was followed by Katya, who spoke about ‘Adaptions of Marine Mammals to Life in the Ocean’. Both Adam and Katya show great knowledge of their subjects and are passionate presenters.
Everybody went to bed with big expectations for tomorrow. For at least three members of the group it would be a day on which they would see their last penguin species.
Friday 11th November 2011: Antipodes Islands
Late in the morning the Antipodes Islands loomed like ghostly galleons out of the cloud and mist. Groups boarded the Zodiacs in choppy seas to explore the coastline. Everyone got to see the Erect Crested Penguin which was the bird high on everyone’s list and we also sighted a couple Rockhopper Penguins. One lucky group had good views of parakeets and others were treated to a close encounter with an immature Sub Antarctic Fur Seal who took a fancy to one of the Zodiacs.
Saturday 12th November 2011: Bounty Islands
At the Bounty Islands we saw large numbers of New Zealand Fur Seals. This seal population was almost wiped out during the sealing period in 1950’s where numbers got down to only 10. Fortunately disaster was averted and there are now thousands living here. Rodney explained that although this is a wonderful result, it is possible that they are impacting the distribution and numbers of both Salvin Albatross and the Erect Crested Penguins that also nest on the Islands. Some of the group were sickened to see the sad sight of a young seal with a piece of plastic stuck around its neck, showing evidence that rubbish spreads even to these remote parts of the world.
With everyone back on board by the afternoon, we took the opportunity to do some ‘chumming’ to see what birds we could attract. The first to appear in great numbers were Cape Pigeons and some Fulmar Prions, though these were quickly displaced by the much bigger and more aggressive Salvins Albatross. When the chum was finished we headed towards the Pyramid Rock in the Chatham Islands some 280 miles away, buoyed by the thought of the seabird rich areas we would transect tomorrow.
Sunday 13th November 2011: At Sea
During the night we had been crossing the Bounty trench which is over 5,000 metres deep in places and by late morning we were coming onto the Chatham Rise. Many of the group were up at sunrise with some not even coming down to breakfast, such was the anticipation of seeing birds such as the Magenta and Chatham Petrel. Viewing conditions were difficult however due to fog which came and went intermittently. Adam laid fish oil slick and then we doubled back on it to see some Storm and Grey Faced Petrels.
Rodney gave a lecture introducing ‘The Chatham Islands’. He talked about the history including the Moriori People, European discovery and settlement and then the later ‘invasion’ by the Maori people and the impact they had on the Moriori people. He also discussed the Islands unique natural history and highlighted the work being done to conserve the Black Robin, Taiko and Chatham Petrel. He stressed the importance of the local involvement in conservation projects as so much of the land there is privately owned.
Sightings of Chatham Island Albatross welcomed us to Pyramid Rock in the early evening as we came to anchor. There were many birds around after dark which had been attracted by the ships lights, even though we turned off as many as possible.
Monday 14th November 2011: South East and Mangere Islands
This morning we took a close look at Shags or Cormorants on a roost at Pitt Island. Here we saw a group of about 10 birds, young and adults, with at least one in breeding plumage. White-fronted Terns were also nesting on the cliffs and large numbers of New Zealand Fur seals basked on the rocks.
As we cruised towards the north we saw the first of many New Zealand Shore Plovers which positioned themselves perfectly to the delight of the photographers on board. Accompanying us in the water was a pod of Common Dolphins that played in the vicinity of the ship and Zodiacs all morning.
Next we headed north for Little Mangere Island some 22 miles away where there was some shelter from the wind and sea. Here we saw a pair of Oystercatchers on the wave platform and Adam spotted his first Forbes Parakeet, though others had seen some earlier in the day.
It seemed no time at all before we were steaming towards Waitangi. During the afternoon there was a shout on the PA system from Adam “Magenta Petrel ahead of the ship!” This created a mad scramble with cabin doors flying open and people running. Everyone got great views and excitement rippled around the ship. After the photographs had been taken, most people returned to their cabins, though a few determined souls awaited a repeat performance and they were rewarded with another two sightings. Everyone agreed it was an amazing day to see three Taiko (or one Taiko three times!) A truly remarkable day in birding!
Tuesday 15th November 2011: Chatham Islands
Today we had the opportunity to spend some time exploring ashore. It was a simple dry landing onto the Chatham Island Wharf – quite pedestrian after some of our wet landings on the other islands. We were taken by bus to the south coast property of Bruce and Liz Tuanui. On their land they have made a number of Reserves including the very large Tuku Reserve where the Taiko breeds. Bruce and Liz are also involved with the ‘Taiko Trust’, established to further conservation work on the Chatham Islands.
It was wonderful to see the native plants regenerating and there was a fantastic display of the Chatham Island Forget Me Not and Button Daisy. Birds seen here included the Pigeon, the Grey Warbler, Parakeet and Tui. One of the Tomtits liberated on the reserve a year ago was also heard, though not seen.
Back in town we had time to explore the craft shop, General Store, the Post Office and the most important local meeting place, the Pub. There were large flocks of Prions and a good assortment of Albatross species seen as we left the Chatham Islands behind us and headed towards Port Chalmers, the port of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island.
Wednesday 16th November 2011: At Sea
In the morning Adam talked about ‘Albatross’s of the World’. He noted that we had seen a good number of species on this voyage and recapped what we knew about them and their distribution. He also looked at those species that don’t occur in this part of the world.
After lunch Katya gave a lecture on ‘Antarctica vs Arctic – Regions of Contrast’, although she suggested another title for the lecture might be “Why Polar Bears Don’t Eat Penguins’. She explained the differences between these two similar but very different Polar Regions. Her enthusiasm inspired some of us to discuss a Northern Hemisphere expedition in the future.
During the afternoon the ship was visited by a Southern Bottlenose Whale and those who captured photos of this rare species were very pleased with the results. Shortly after the excitement of this encounter we saw a Black Winged Petrel.
Thursday 17th November 2011: At Sea
A beautiful dawn greeted us and most people spent time on deck in the sunshine enjoying the last full day of our expedition. During the morning Katya gave a presentation on the ‘Russian Far East’. Her knowledge and passion for the region was obvious. The keen sea birders among us became very excited at the prospect of seeing so many species of Auks in one area. Others were keen to see the unique plant species and Polar Bear “nursery” on Wrangle Island.
After lunch we watched a presentation Katya had put together using photos she and Eric had taken throughout the trip. It was excellent and brought back many happy memories. There were great photos of the people, the birds and the mammals we had seen. The group discussed the highlights of the voyage and many made plans for reunions where friendships would be renewed in the years to come. Afterwards we gathered on the back deck for a group photo followed by a sumptuous farewell dinner where the chefs Bruce and Jeremy excelled themselves. This final feast together was a fitting finale to a unique experience.
Friday 18th November 2011: Dunedin
We came to anchor in the early hours of the morning and sadly bid farewell to the wonderful staff, crew and fellow intrepid travellers. The voyage may be over, but the photographs and memories will pull us back to those many special moments exploring some of the most pristine islands on earth.
31st October 2010: Bluff and the Foveaux Strait
Forty nine passengers gathered for breakfast in Invercargill and checked in their luggage. After a tour of the Southland museum and lunch, we boarded our coach for the port of Bluff and by mid afternoon were finally onboard our home for the next month, the Spirit of Enderby. After completing customs we slipped the moorings and set sail. Our adventure had begun! Skies were clear and it was calm and warm as the pilot guided us out of Bluff harbour. We gathered in the lecture hall for an introduction and safety briefing and afterwards completed the practical part of the life boat drill once at sea. We entered into Foveaux Strait and the waters were remarkably calm, an excellent introduction to life at sea. The first seabirds were spotted – Sooty Shearwaters, Cape Petrels and White-capped Albatross. In these calm conditions it was even possible to see little Blue Penguins and Common Diving Petrels sitting on the water; a few observers even managed to see the localised Fiordland Crested Penguin. Adam gave an introduction to the Snares Islands and the bar opened for a drink. Stephen and Brad served up their first excellent dinner and most people opted for an early night as we steamed south.
1st November 2010 The Snares Islands and southbound
Unfortunately the weather deteriorated throughout the night. The notorious Southern Ocean lives up to its reputation. The morning was dark and wet and the Snares were covered in low cloud. Much to our delight the birds were still very active, and after an early breakfast and a Zodiac briefing, we attempted a Zodiac cruise. Nathan, our Expedition Leader, decided it too unsafe and so we cruised the shoreline in the ship instead and luckily had very good viewings of the Snares Crested Penguin at sea. Also seen were hundreds of diving and cape petrels, and many New Zealand Fur Seals.
We decided to cut our losses and head once again for the open ocean toward the Auckland Islands. On route we had excellent bird activity seeing Southern Royal, Salvins and Whitecapped Albatross, Mottled Petrels, Broad Billed Prions, and Black-bellied Storm Petrels. After meeting in the bar to discuss our observations, we were once again treated to an incredible meal by our chefs. I could get used to this life at sea! Then off to bed in anticipation of the Aucklands tomorrow.
Day 3 - Enderby Island, Auckland Islands
In the early hours of the morning we anchored off Enderby Island. Following a spectacular sunrise and calm conditions we sat for breakfast and thought of our great day ahead. Nathan gave us a briefing of the day’s activities, we packed lunch and headed ashore on two Zodiacs. Once ashore we could enjoy the relatively pleasant conditions that were on offer. The day would showcase plenty of sun and rather light winds…in other words..perfect.
Walking across to the western cliffs via nesting Southern Royal and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, we split into two groups - the smaller group returned to the bay with Tessa and spent much of the day exploring there. The larger group headed off on a fantastic walk around the island. Everybody came back with great experiences and memories. Hooker’s Sea Lion were lying all around in the grasses and along sections of the coast. Seemingly menacing, they were in fact harmless and everyone enjoyed interacting with them. There were birds all around. Of particular interest on Enderby are the healthy populations of Subantarctic Snipe and the flightless Auckland Teal. Almost everyone ended up seeing a snipe at some point scuttling through the tussock or megaherbs and most people also saw the teal along the shoreline or swimming on small ponds around the island. Other birds recorded include: Red-crowned Parakeet, Bellbird, Tui, the omnipresent Auckland Islands Pipit, Auckland Island Tomtit and, of course, the majestic Light Mantled Sooty Albatross - arguably the most beautiful of all the albatross. Along the coast were Antarctic and White-fronted Tern, Kelp and Red-billed Gull, and Brown Skua. The botanizing also proved interesting. The Bulbinella were in bright yellow blooms and there were good examples of Stilbocarpa, Anisotome, and Gentiana. A walk inside the rata forest here was one of the highlights and had a very different character to open coastal regions.
Eventually we all returned to the landing beach and after savouring a last few minutes ashore, hopped back into the Zodiacs and returned to the ship. The wind was still slight which made for a straightforward return to the ship and a very pleasant night at anchor in historic Port Ross.
Day 4 - Auckland Island
In the early hours the captain raised the anchors and we steamed down the east coast of Auckland Island toward Carnley Harbour. This place is rich in history of shipwrecks and strandings. We entered the heads, its steep cliff faces like enormous gates. The weather was calm but the forecast told us this was likely to change…for the worst. We steamed up the harbour in search of suitable anchorage, the weather deteriorating and eventually opted to explore some observation posts used in World War Two. The Zodiacs were lowered and we made our way across the dark water to a gentle rocky shore where we landed and were greeted by a New Zealand Falcon. What a spectacle! Once on shore we scaled the hills through thick rata forest and as we ascended the rain began. Our hike took us past disused huts, but we found that one had been restored. It was fabulous to see this far outpost and reminder of long ago. What a hard living the occupants must have had. Interestingly we saw two New Zealand Sea Lion females high in the rata, escaping the attention of the many males in the area - this is the beginning of their breeding season.
The wind had increased to over 40 knots and the rain now lashed the coast so we descended the muddy slopes and boarded the Zodiacs, seeking the safe warm dry ship we now called home. Once aboard we battened the hatches and stowed everything of value as we were in for a rough ride. Making our way out of Carnley Harbour we headed south west for Macquarie Island.
Day 5 - At Sea
A day for bed. We were in a storm in the notorious Southern Ocean. Wind gusts of over 40 knots were recorded and seas up to 8 metres were slowing the ship to only 3-4 knots. It was slow and rough going and all except the Russian crew - steering us toward Macquarie - stayed in bed. As Nathan told us…it is the safest place to be!
Day 6 - Macquarie Island
The seas had abated and it wasn’t long before we spotted Macquarie Island far in the distance. The first sightings of King and Royal Penguins were soon made, followed by Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. What a sight it was! Dean and Tess (who had spent 12 months on Macquarie Island researching fur seals) gave us an introduction to its flora and fauna. At Buckles Bay we dropped off 4 of our passengers who were going ashore on Macquarie for the summer, and picked up in exchange 3 of the Rangers and the station Doctor.
After a briefing we boarded the Zodiacs for an afternoon ashore at the incomparable Sandy Bay. The beach was flat calm making for a straightforward landing and the weather was pleasant ashore. We were immediately greeted by the hordes of King Penguins that throng the beach here. These large penguins have a lot of character and showed to full form today, investigating us closely and following us around, making a mockery of the 5-meter rule! Most of us eventually wandered over to the breeding colony where there were many older chicks still about. Indeed there were so many King Penguins that it was an overwhelming sensory experience and it took quite a while to settle down and sit with a single bird or group of birds. The smell and the sound of so many birds was just as impressive as the sight. Down the other end of the beach were Royal Penguins which could be seen sitting on eggs. This penguin is endemic to the island and can be seen nowhere else in the world. Skuas and Giant Petrels patrolled the colonies looking for scraps and Elephant Seals of all sizes from the largest of the males to this year’s pups were scattered along the beaches. It was hard to believe that these lazy looking blobs could be as energetic in the water as we had been told. Even a pod of Orca were spotted from the ship. On a more depressing note, 59 rabbits were counted up on the hillsides and the tussock grasses were heavily depleted. We will be the last tourists ever to see this island overrun with rabbits, assuming that the upcoming eradication goes to plan.
Our hungry stomachs eventually vied for attention with the spectacle and by the evening every one was back on board and was delighted to eat a fantastic meal on a flat sea.
Day 7 - Buckles Bay
Conditions were still good in the morning. Although noticeably cooler than previous days, it was bright and the water was flat. We anchored in Buckles Bay and after breakfast were ready to head to shore. On land we split into three groups and had a walk around The Isthmus where the weather soon improved and the sun even poked out at times. The stretch of the legs was welcome too.
The walk provided an insight into the island’s history and allowed us close encounters with its amazing wildlife. Hiding amongst the tussock grass were numerous Southern Elephant Seals; a small colony of Gentoo Penguins was a highlight as were the numerous King Penguins dotted around the shoreline. Our walk was followed by a tour around the research station where coffee and scones awaited us.
Warmed up once more it was time to walk back down to the Zodiacs and head to the ship. En route we passed a small colony of Rockhopper Penguins and admired their climbing skills. We also picked up some Macquarie Island expeditioners who had finished their winter there. They were waved off from the Macquarie Station by a host of men wearing colourful frocks and a fine display of flared trousers. Once back onboard it was time for lunch and to head for the open ocean, toward Campbell Island.
Day 8 - En Route to Campbell Island
The seas today were moderate, with a breeze coming from the South West. This made our open ocean transit more bearable than the one we experienced to Macquarie. Today we learnt much about the places we had visited. Dean gave us a presentation on his and Tessa’s Fur Seal research during their time on Macquarie, and Jeremy, the outgoing Station Leader, gave us a talk on the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program. Both were extremely interesting. Tess opened the sea shop and much to our delight there were many quality wares available to act as retail therapy. Later in the day Adam provided an excellent lecture on the albatross species of the world and made it very clear that this expedition was the best on Earth to view the magnificent creatures. On deck there were ample opportunities to see a host of bird species as we swiftly made our way across the Campbell plateau. The birders recorded 7 species of albatross including large numbers of Southern Royal and Campbell Albatross and some interesting petrels including White-headed, Mottled, Soft-plumaged, Blue, and Grey. Another delicious meal served by the chefs and before we knew it the day had come to an end.
Day 9 - Campbell Island
Tess woke us up around 7 am. The sun had just risen behind fog and low cloud and we awoke to the beautiful and serene Perseverance Harbour, a haven of calm in the southern ocean. The sight of land and a level ship came as a relief to us sea-weary travelers.
The day started with breakfast followed by a Zodiac cruise of the Harbour. This cruise visited several coves and was accompanied by numerous birds including good views of the endemic Campbell Island Shag.
After Nathan gave us an introduction to the island, we set off in the Zodiacs for the short ride to the wharf at Beeman Base. Once ashore we had the whole day to spend on the boardwalk that runs up to the Col-Lyall Saddle. After passing through the derelict buildings of a New Zealand Meteorological Station, we carried on up through thick Dracophyllum scrub. Moving higher and accompanied by many curious, confiding Campbell Island Pipits, we moved out of the shrub zone and into the tussock zone. Here was what we had come to see: spectacular megaherbs of many species: Pleurophyllum, Bulbinella, Stilbocarpa, Anisotome. Of even more interest were the numerous behemoth Southern Royal Albatross. These had often been our traveling companions during our days at sea, but here on the tops of Campbell Island we could appreciate their true size and beauty at this, their stronghold breeding colony. The albatross sat amongst the tussock, patient and quiet. It was an incredible sight to see these magnificent creatures so close.
As the afternoon wore on, male birds engaged in some spectacular displays of behavior, the sound and sight of which is impressive.
Almost everybody made it right to the end of the boardwalk at the western cliffs where the views out over Dent Island and the southern ocean were unfortunately obscured by cloud, but even that was breathtaking. As the day wore on, people drifted back to the landing site and the ship, for another great dinner. Then it was off to sea once again - the expedition must push on.
Day 10 - At Sea, En Route to Antipodes
A tremendous morning of slight seas and clear skies. This really is the life! We had all day to learn about and enjoy the vast expanse of the beautiful southern ocean. After breakfast we were treated to a documentary on the pest eradication of Campbell Island, followed by a presentation on the New Zealand Sea Lion research led by our NZ Department of Conservation representative Louise Childers. After lunch Dean taught us all about the whales of the region and immediately after this had finished the whale sightings began! Incredible. Many people saw up to three whales from the ship and with only brief observations it was decided that these were most probably Minke and Fin whales. Hopefully in days to come we would see more. Adam also told us about the 17 penguin species of the world, many of which were all around us on this expedition, and several of which can only be found on the islands we visit. As for birding, it was a splendid day with great conditions for viewing and photographing. The albatross were particularly curious, often coming right over our heads on slow approaches. It was also a fine night for the bar and we all shared our many stories and observations of the day. Brad and Stephen then topped it all off with a delicious meal.
Day 11 - Antipodes
We awoke this morning to a ship that was not rocking. It was calm outside and there was no wind. A low, dense fog surrounded us and early morning birding proved to be fairly quiet. After a hearty breakfast we attended Nathan’s briefing for the Antipodes and there was much excitement as, with a successful sighting of the Erect Crested Penguin, some of us would be able to say they had seen all 17 penguin species. Up on deck we all gazed in awe as the Antipodes emerged from the fog. Five Zodiacs were promptly launched and we climbed aboard ready for a long cruise of the Antipodes coast in near perfect conditions!
It wasn’t long before we spotted the Erect Crested Penguins, but this was just one of the many unique sightings for the day. The Antipodean Parakeet is found only here and many were spotted in the tussock and - to our delight - even in flight; we also saw the more common but also endemic Reischek’s Parakeet. Fur seals littered the rocky shore and both NZ Fur Seals and Subantarctic Fur Seals were sighted. Many were in the brilliant blue water, frolicking lazily around our boats. The cliff faces were dramatic indeed, with beautiful basalt columns and lava flows easily visible on every shore. Vegetation was astounding and no bare patch of dirt could be seen anywhere. Antipodean Albatross soared across the skies with their smaller cousins, the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Even a colony of Black-browed Mollymawks was spotted high on a cliff face. Rockhopper Penguins also made an appearance.
It truly was a spectacular Zodiac cruise. We re-boarded the Spirit of Enderby, lifted the anchors and started our cruise for the Bounty Islands. Each day simply is better than the last!
Day 12 - Bounty Islands
Wow! That is the one word that truly sums up this magnificent series of rocks in the middle of nowhere. Only 80m at their highest point, they are jam-packed with wildlife, and so is the surrounding water which teems with all kinds of marine life. The day started early. Out on deck we could see a fog hovering over the islands, masking their true brilliance. A quick breakfast and we were in the Zodiacs where the seas were once again calm which made for excellent boating. Approaching these rocky outcrops it was plain to see that not a square metre of real estate was spare. NZ Fur Seals lived closest to the water’s edge and hundreds of females with pups, males and juveniles were about. Above them in altitude were Erect Crested Penguins in their thousands. They are entertaining little penguins and there was no shortage of humorous moments as they went about their very busy lives. Still above them were over 30,000 breeding pairs of Salvin’s Albatross. These are majestic animals at sea, but perched like this in the cliffs they were crowded in together along with the penguins and seals, endemic Bounty Shags and Fulmar Prions. Amazingly we also saw a Leopard Seal who appeared very fat, probably because it had been gorging itself on penguins. All too soon we had to go back to the ship, but that was fine because Adam had prepared buckets of chum to feed the albatross. It was as if all 30,000 pairs had come to feed, because the sky and water were covered with Salvin’s Albatross. This was a spectacular sight, truly amazing! The ship then set north for Pyramid Rock in the Chatham Island group. En route we had a brief sighting of a Sei Whale and calf, and also a spout far in the distance. The birding was sensational with no fewer than 10 species of albatross recorded on the day, along with numerous other species of tubenose. This was an exceptional day, and was perfectly completed with a scrumptious meal by our chefs.
Day 13 - En Route to the Chatham Islands
Someone must have pleased the Sea Gods because the weather was once again perfect! Amama, the ship’s doctor said it was because she was wearing her lucky ‘good weather earrings’. Perhaps we might have to convince her to leave them here with us on the ship. The day started very early indeed with Adam excited about the possibility of sighting the rare Magenta Petrel (or Breakfast Petrel as he called it) as well as the Chatham Island Petrel, another rare species. Most of us were on deck by 7am looking towards the skies. Neither of these species were sighted, but many others were. These included several new species for the trip: Buller’s and Chatham Island Albatross, Cook’s and Grey-faced Petrel and White-faced Storm-petrel. At one stage we tried laying some fish oil in the water. It did not attract the mythical petrels, but it was impressive to see dozens of storm-petrels and white-chinned petrels appearing out of nowhere to feed on the slick. As we approached the Chatham rise, whale blows were also sighted, though we couldn’t confirm what species they came from. But it didn’t matter because just seeing them was great. Dean thought he saw a Sun Fish and Adam saw a small Basking Shark. These were indeed rich waters. Before long the Chatham Islands loomed over the horizon, with Pyramid Rock dead ahead. This structure is actually an ancient volcanic plug, but these days is home to the world’s only breeding population of Chatham Island Albatross – 4,500 pairs in all. After a circumnavigation of this geological structure we anchored off South East, an essential bird refuge. Into the Zodiacs and cruising the shores it wasn’t long before we spotted the Pitt Shag, the Shore Plover, hundreds of nesting White-fronted Terns, and to our surprise and delight the Little or Blue Penguin. Chatham Island Oystercatcher proved much harder to track down, although we did eventually find a pair. New Zealand Fur Seals were everywhere with pups and there was yet another Subantarctic Fur Seal. It was a superb afternoon with a beautiful sunset and a relaxing evening.
Day 14 - Chatham Islands
Today was a day of exploration for many of us who had never been to the Chatham group before. Because we were ahead of schedule, and because the weather was once again great, Nathan decided we should take this opportunity to circumnavigate the islands. First up was Star Keys. It was here that one of our only Chatham Island Shags flew in to investigate the ship. Then off the Forty Fours - which coincidentally lie on the 44 Latitude line – we found a major breeding colony for Northern Royal and Buller’s Albatross. Next, we saw the Sisters in the North where the largest breeding colony of the Northern Royal Albatross is situated. Adam once again got his hands dirty with the chum so we could all have exceptional close encounters with these giants of the skies. Very few people ever come to these islands so this made it all the more special. We all felt very privileged, and with memory cards once again full of incredible images, we set sail for Waitangi to anchor for the night in preparation for the day to come. As expected, the boys in the galley served up an exquisite meal with fine desserts and with our bellies full we lay to rest. Tomorrow we would be exploring the great Chatham Island and all its wonders by foot.
Day 15 - Chatham Island
We awoke this morning to the calm and pleasant harbour of Waitangi. On the shore many houses and fishing boats could be seen; this was a working township. Chatham Island accommodates around 480 permanent residents with the population declining annually. We enjoyed an early and hearty breakfast, and then it was into the Zodiacs for our final tour of the expedition. We disembarked on the wharf and awaited our transport to the Awototora Reserve. This reserve and others in the area have been covenanted by Bruce and Liz Tuanui and, operating under the Taiko Trust, they are bringing back the native vegetation and birdlife to the Chatham Islands, including the Magenta Petrel. The transport was the school bus and once aboard we headed off to this private sanctuary of endemic birdlife. We saw much cleared land on the way; it is no surprise that some species are in decline as their habitat is simply disappearing.
At the bush reserve we met our guides who detailed how over the past 15 years they have managed to help return this small valley to its former self, complete with bird life. It did not sound like an easy task. Most of us contributed to their cause by purchasing their beautiful merchandise. Every little bit helps.
Then it was off on our walk of the reserve. We split into two groups - some taking the long but brisk walk to the coast and back, while others ambled along more slowly in the hope of spying some of the reintroduced species. The landscape was stunning: a small creek flowed through the valley and the sound of birds could be heard all around. Indeed, this project seemed to be succeeding. The plant life was lush, the track was muddy and we had to cross small stretches of the creek - some of us found it harder than others, but we were all very happy with our experience. Most of the birders tracked down their quarry – the endemic Chatham Island Pigeon and the Chatham Island Gerygone. It was also great to see several Chatham Island Fantail and Tui, the latter another success story of the Taiko trust!
Then it was back on the bus to visit the bustling metropolis of Waitangi Bay. It was a Wednesday so the Post Office was closed, but the pub wasn’t so we all seemed to gravitate there and enjoyed a cold beverage or two and a chat with some of the more colourful locals. In our final ride in the Zodiacs we returned to the Spirit Of Enderby, washed our boots and returned our Life Jackets. The captain raised the anchor and steered for Dunedin, two days sailing from here. But of course the day was not complete without another fine meal and a spectacular sunset!
Day 16 – En Route to Dunedin
We awoke once again to a calm sea and sunny skies. Save the one storm we had on the way to Macquarie Island, the weather has been exceptional and we all felt very lucky that the southern ocean has been so kind to us. After breakfast many of us pottered around the ship out on deck looking for more seabirds, reading books or just enjoying the conditions. Others sat in the library organising the thousands of images they had taken during our expedition. Adam provided some much-needed identification hints for the Petrels of the Southern Ocean in the lecture theatre. It was a great insight into the many and varied life habits of the petrels which seem to occupy a wide range of niches in this region. On deck, two separate sightings of Gray’s Beaked Whales were recorded, a type of whale little-known and quite different to any other. These observations were quite special. After lunch, Dean showed us two short documentaries he made during his time on Macquarie Island, giving us an insider’s view of this incredible place. Later in the day Nathan answered many questions regarding our mighty ship, the Spirit of Enderby, and how she operates throughout the world. In the evening the bar was full as we all met to tell stories of the trip and share our experiences. Then it was off to dinner.
Day 17 - En Route to Dunedin
The last full day of the trip had arrived. A gentle breeze and light swell greeted us as we sailed closer to Dunedin. It was an extremely pleasurable day to be out on deck and a relaxing day too, as we all wound down the trip.
Before lunch Nathan gave a talk about Russia and showed some mouth-watering photos from the region. Judging by the reactions of people in the lecture hall, there is a good chance we will see some of you there in the near future!
In the afternoon we had an expedition recap. To summarise the innumerable highlights of the past 19 days would be an impossible task, but the photo slideshow certainly brought back many memories.
Birding was quite good in the calm conditions, although birds struggled to fly with the lack of wind, particularly in the afternoon when the sea became oily calm. We did record several new species for the trip – Hutton’s and Buller’s Shearwater and a very surprising observation of Gould’s Petrel. But the day will always be remembered for its whales: the morning showcased a cow and calf Fin Whale, the world’s second-largest animal, and this female was a particularly large individual. In the afternoon it was another cow and calf pair - this time Sei Whale. We also recorded a Minke Whale cruising along, but it was the Beaked Whales that stole the show. These mysterious squid-feeders of the deep ocean are rarely seen, but on this day we saw over 10 groups. Many of the observations were very good and hundreds of photos were taken. At one point there were 3 animals clear out of the water at the same time. Beaked Whales are notoriously hard to identify, even with good photos, but the vast majority of the 50 or so animals seen today were Gray’s Beaked Whale.
After gathering for a delicious farewell dinner it was time to finish packing and swap photos and email addresses.
Day 18 - Dunedin
We picked up the pilot early and sailed the final two miles into Dunedin harbour to come alongside in perfect conditions. After one final breakfast and the customs formalities it was time to board the bus. We had traveled 2630 nautical miles together and after 19 days it was time to return to our normal lives. Everyone went their separate ways and everyone will carry their own memories with them: King Penguins crowding around us at Sandy Bay; waves crashing over the bow in the southern ocean; the joy of seeing Southern Royal Albatross at Cambell; Minke whales breaching; all those Gray’s Beaked Whales; stepping back in time in the observers huts on Auckland Island; the Antipodes and Bountys; chumming and being chased by Hooker’s Sea Lion on Enderby Island. These are but a few of the memories that will live on with us as we move forward. This has been an epic journey and one that will never be forgotten. The sights, sounds and smells of the southern ocean - the Subantarctic Islands are experienced by few. You are among those lucky few. Remember that you now have a duty to advocate for the protection and conservation of these remarkable places.
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" Just home after a fabulous trip to the sub-antarctic islands of New Zealand. Hard to tell what is most memorable, but seeing a baby Southern Royal Albatross being fed a half-dozen whole squid just a few feet away from us was amazing. The birds were fantastic, headlined by the mythical Taiko, which buzzed the ship early one morning. Rodney and his super team did a great job keeping us safe and teaching us about the wonders of these magical destinations. "
" Everyone did his or her job so well, what a team. I admired Nathan and Adam enormously, watching them take a cart load of (mainly) oldies and keep them safe whilst showing them such special places, was a pleasure. "