Expedition Log: Island Odyssey #1479


Island Odyssey

Voyage #1479

Voyage Dates: 2 - 14 April 2014
Day 1 Wednesday 2 April 2014

The Port of Tauranga put on a glorious day as we met for the first time and boarded the Spirit of Enderby. After orienting ourselves to the layout of the ship and clearing customs in the bar library we welcomed the pilot aboard for our departure. A strong outgoing tide sped us on our way past Mt Maunganui and out into the Bay of Plenty.
The coastal birdlife was quickly replaced by pelagic species as we made a minor detour in our course to pass close by Mayor Island. After our introduction to staff and a safety briefing we quickly completed the lifeboat drill so we could indulge in some of the best birding of the day. After spotting a New Zealand Storm Petrel we set out to attract more petrel species with fish oil and were able to see Little Penguins, Southern Royal Albatross, Cooks and Pycroft’s Petrels. After sundown chefs Nicky and Brad treated us to a fine dinner of roast beef and salmon and then we attended the reading of the first bird list of the voyage before retiring for an early night.

 Photo ©  M.Kelly

Day 2 Thursday 3 April 2014

There was an increase in wind and swell from the east and northeast as dawn broke. A low pressure system far to the east of us was the culprit. Birding from the bow became a wet affair with spray beginning to fly, but viewing from high up on the bridge produced sightings of Black-winged Petrel and a solitary Sperm Whale. The second engine was started before lunch to ensure our timely arrival at L’Esperence Rock early in the morning. A small fish oil slick helped with the afternoon bird watching and the first Red-tailed Tropicbird was sighted; a sure sign were making good progress north. By dusk we had seen several Antipodean Albatrosses as a farewell from southern waters.

 Photo © S.N.G.Howell

Day 3 Friday 4 April 2014

L’Esperence Rock appeared on the bow early in the morning and after breakfast we enjoyed a circumnavigation of this lonely outpost of the Kermadec island chain. The island supports scant vegetation and a disused helicopter landing pad with fuel dump. An increase in bird life was immediate as we drew abeam of the island with close sightings of White-bellied Storm Petrel and a rather lost White-faced Heron.
Leaving L’Esperence Rock in our wake, the Spirit of Enderby steamed north to the Curtis and Cheeseman islands. Proximity to the islands meant there was a larger volume of birds here with Kermadec, White-necked and Black-winged Petrels all being seen. The persistent easterly swell curtailed any attempt at anchoring to launch the Zodiacs so a dogleg course was set to MacCauley Island to lessen the rocking motion of the ship. A pleasant afternoon bird watching was punctuated by a Raoul Island quarantine briefing and a Zodiac safety briefing in the bar library. By late afternoon we were abeam McCauley Island and were able to see huge numbers of White-necked and Black-winged Petrels (both of which nest on the island), with a lone Providence Petrel also spotted. Those birders who stayed out until it was almost dark were finally rewarded with some close looks at the highly endangered Kermadec (White-faced) Storm Petrel.

 Photo © S.N.G.Howell

Day 4 Saturday 5 April 2014

At daybreak we were anchored off Raoul Island, the main island of the Kermadecs. Three Department of Conservation (DOC) staff that are resident on the island year round were retrieved by Zodiac and welcomed aboard the Spirit of Enderby. We were inducted in the comprehensive quarantine measures, which are designed to reinforce the hard work of DOC staff who spend much of their time on the island on weed control. With our gear vacuumed and our boots scrubbed we successfully landed on Fishing Rock despite a sizable easterly swell that was wrapping into the bay.
By 10am we were all ashore enjoying the antics of a significant number of Tui and Red-crowned Parakeets. These species have thrived since the eradication of rats from the island. DOC staff greeted us at the hostel which was built in the 1930’s as part of the Meteorological service outpost on the island. After a delicious morning snack of sausage rolls, the ‘Boat Cove group’ set out under Rodney’s guidance while the remainder of us enjoyed bird watching opportunities around the hostel and explored the surrounding area. Pukeko (Purple Swamphen), Spotless Crake and Long-tailed Cuckoo were all to be seen around the hostel, although the star of the show was the resident pet Song Thrush called Mong!
By 4pm everyone had assembled back at Fishing Rock for a Zodiac cruise of the adjacent Meyer Islands. Once we were under the protection of the west side of the islands the birding was spectacular with numerous Kermadec Petrels, Noddies, Masked Boobies and Greater Frigate Birds. Below the water there was a profusion of fish life that boded well for a snorkel the following day. The busy day was capped off with another fantastic meal from Brad and Nicky and after dinner many headed out onto the bow where several Galapagos Sharks were spotted in the lights.

Photo © M.Kelly

Day 5 Sunday 6 April 2014

A 6.30am start meant we were all ashore by 8.15am ready for another glorious day on Raoul Island. Rodney and Dr Suzie lead a small group on the all day walk to Denham Bay on the southern side of the island. The steep climbs and dense bush gave them new respect for the difficult job of weed eradication on the island! The remaining group enjoyed another amble to the hostel where they enjoyed yet another superb morning tea supplied by the hostel staff. Small groups were taken on tours of the met hostel, airstrip, historic Norfolk Pines and orange grove. The daily meteorological balloon launch was observed with great interest as it was released in near calm conditions. By 1.30pm this group was back on the Spirit of Enderby and making preparation for a snorkeling trip to the Meyer Islands. Warm water and calm seas made for an enjoyable time in the water where Lionfish, Giant Wrasse, Galapagos Shark and a Green Turtle were spotted.
The Denham Bay group returned at 5pm to a well-deserved rest before the ship weighed anchor and set a course for Tonga. Our two glorious days at Raoul Island were capped off by a magnificent sunset as we steamed away.
Day 6 Monday 7 April 2014

A calm night enabled all hands to catch up on some sleep as the Spirit of Enderby headed northeast towards Tonga. During the morning a Raoul Island recap in the bar library enabled us to cover off on any outstanding questions and share our experiences of a magical few days in the Kermadec Islands.
By noon we had passed out of New Zealand waters as we skirted the edge of the Tonga trench with waters up to 11,000 metres deep in places. Flying fish species were in abundance around the ship with occasional sightings of flying squid. With the help of Steve we were able to identify some of these fascinating creatures. The afternoon was spent bird watching in glorious conditions. Chiefs Nicky and Brad treated us to ice creams on the foredeck – just the thing for a warm tropical afternoon.

 Photo © S.N.G.Howell

Day 7 Tuesday 8 April 2014

A small pod of Sperm Whales greeted the early risers this morning as the Spirit of Enderby continued to make good time towards Tonga. A morning of bird watching from the decks was punctuated by Steve’s excellent lecture on flying fish. We were impressed by the diversity within the species and in the unique taxonomy and naming he had developed! We look forward to the publishing of his book on the topic in June. The remainder of the morning was spent with eyes on the sky or shopping at the sea shop. Those out on deck after lunch were rewarded with sightings of Black-winged and Herald Petrels.
The afternoon was capped of with a lecture from Adam on the cetaceans specific to this part of the world. We came away from the lecture with a better idea of what to look for and with a new appetite for sightings. Late in the afternoon Eua and Tongatapu islands came into view on the horizon. Eua Island looked particularly spectacular in a tropical downpour with occasional lightning. We cleared Customs at 10.30pm off Tonga’s capital Nukualofa before heading to anchor off Ohonua village on the sheltered west side of Eua Island.
Day 8 Wednesday 9 April 2014

An early start at 5.15am saw us all ashore by 6.30am at the break of dawn for our first welcome in Tongan waters. We were greeted by the melodious music and dance of our enthusiastic hosts. The local school bus was commandeered for us along with a small fleet of Toyota four-wheel-drive vehicles, so we set off in fine style to sample of some of Eua’s natural treasures. Overnight rain meant we had to stick to well-formed forestry tracks as we traversed the western edge of the national park that covers a significant portion of this beautiful island.
Our first stop led us to a spectacular perching fig tree, which is estimated to be over 800 years old. Along the track we were able to see Wattled Honeyeater and Polynesian Triller. At our second stop the sighting of the Red Shining Parrot which was introduced here from Fiji was celebrated with fresh drinking coconuts generously provided by the locals. The final stop took us to a spectacular look out which perched on the eastern cliff edge of Eua with great views of this wild coast and soaring sea bird species.
By noon we were back in Ohonua village where we were able to shop for local crafts and enjoy the music and kava of the local guitar band. By 1pm we had said our farewells and ‘malos’ to our gracious guests and were back on board the ship for a most welcome late lunch. Later we steamed into the Piha Passage to drop off the two customs officials that we had picked up last night before setting course for Vavau in beautiful trade wind conditions.

 Photo © M.Kelly

Day 9 Thursday 10 April 2014

Just before dawn we arrived in the waters off Vava’u and anchored at the southern end of the island chain. We launched the Zodiacs and made our way to the first destination for the day, rat free Maninita Island. Although only six years since the rat eradication programme began, there are already signs of a vigorous come back in the resident sea bird population and in the vegetation on this small island. Lyn, one of the current owners, welcomed us to the island and left us free to explore this bit of avian paradise. Species seen on this island included White and White-naped Terns, Black and Brown Noddies and Wattled Honeyeaters.
Once we had returned to the Spirit of Enderby she relocated to a new anchorage near Mounu Island where Lyn and her team allowed us free reign of their superb snorkeling reef. Back on board again we had time to freshen up as we made our way to Lape Island for a traditional Tongan feast. After a delicious meal of local delicacies we were taken on a tour of the village before returning to the Spirit of Enderby at dusk.

Photo © M.Kelly

Day 10 Friday 11 April 2014

During the night the ship steamed to the port of Neiafu where we enjoyed a quiet night at anchor. Overnight rain had freshened the air for birders who made an early start on Pangamotu Island where they spotted the endemic Tongan Whistler along with Long-tailed Cuckoo, Crimson-crowned Fruit Dove, Pacific Imperial Pigeon and Grey-tailed Tattler.
A smaller group headed into Neiafu, the administrative capital of the Vava’u group. There they were able to view the many churches and indulge in the local markets of this busy port town. By 11am all were back on board to report to Tongan customs officials. It was now time to farewell the beautiful islands of Vava’u and head northwest towards Niaufo’ou (Tin Can) Island at the extreme northern limit of the Tongan group. After a busy few days it was good to stroll the decks or catch up on some rest.

 Tongan Whistler. Photo © M.Kelly 

Day 11 Saturday 12 April 2014

The eastern coastline of Niaufo’ou came into view at dawn. This island is rarely visited due to its isolation and the steep cliffs around its coastline. We steamed around to the western landing area which is somewhat sheltered from the persistent easterly swell and landed on a steep slipway. Once ashore we were greeted by the government representative of the island and introduced to our guides for the day. Our transport consisted of an assortment of local vehicles in which we were loaded ‘island style’ and driven to our first stop immediately adjacent to an old lava field that had flowed during the 1946 eruption of the island. Many of the island residents were evacuated during this eruption and resettled on Eua Island further south. The lunar landscape of the lava flow was only now being colonized by plants which would in time return the area to rain forest.
The drive back down to the eastern side of the island gave us a glimpse of village life in this remote outpost as our convoy took a steep track over into the caldera of the island to the shores of the twin lakes that lie at the centre of Niaufo’ou. After a short boat ride to a low isthmus, the boat was then portaged to the larger of the two lakes were it performed admirably doing shuttles to the central island that is home to the rarely seen Tongan Megapode. After initially remaining elusive, the Megapodes eventually revealed themselves to the group, which meant everyone got a close up look. This was a significant milestone for many of the more dedicated birders in the group and the efforts of the locals to get us there were much appreciated. By 4pm the last group had arrived back at the vehicles and our convoy set off again back to the landing ramp. Back on board we enjoyed leisurely showers and a fine dinner compliments of Brad and Nicky. Overnight we enjoyed fine trade wind conditions as we made our way towards Levuka in Fiji.
Day 12 Sunday 13 April 2014

It was a beautiful day at sea as we ran south-west towards the Fijian islands. As we neared the Lau group of islands the bird life increased again and we had good views of Collared and Tahiti Petrels and several Tropical Shearwaters. The great birding was complimented with sightings of Risso’s Dolphins and a brief glimpse of a female Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and calf as they rode the bow wave of the ship. By late afternoon we were within sight of the first of the Lau group of islands and Taveuni in the north. A spectacular sunset welcomed us to Fiji.

Photo © M.Kelly

Day 13 Monday 14 April 2014

Dawn saw the Spirit of Enderby approaching the port of Levuka on Ovalau Island. Levuka was once the capital city of Fiji and still maintains an old world charm. The ship anchored at 7am and Customs officials came aboard to clear us into Fiji. Once this process was completed we sent a birding group ashore to sample some of the great birding opportunities on the island. The remainder of the group visited the town for some shopping and to soak up the ambience of the historic town. An enthusiastic bunch set off on a long-winded expedition to find Meghan’s waterfall and were rewarded with puddle and a drain!
After a refreshing lunch back on board the town group enjoyed some good snorkeling on the outer reef with some of the warmest water temperatures so far on the voyage. The birding group had a successful time seeing many of the possible Fiji endemics with the highlights including Barking Imperial Pigeon, Fiji Woodswallow, Golden Dove and Collared Lory.
We departed Levuka in twilight and set a course for Suva where the adventure for many of our group would come to an end. Brad and Nicky produced a memorable farewell dinner before the final ‘Bird Club’ meeting of the voyage 

Photo © S.N.G Howell

Category: Melanesia
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