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 here - that is at least 11 per cent 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 Islands' Archipelago with similar status and protection.
This expedition has huge appeal to pelagic enthusiasts, penguin fanatics and those interested in island endemics. Though 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 more than 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
Day 1: Monday 13 November
Passengers from around the globe gathered in Invercargill, New Zealand’s southern-most city. We spent the night at the Kelvin Hotel and gathered for dinner to meet with our expedition leader Rodney who warmly welcomed us all and provided information for the day ahead, and the adventure we were about to set out on.
Day 2: Tuesday 14 November
Having assembled at the Kelvin Hotel in Invercargill the previous evening, many people met up for breakfast and at 09:30 joined Chris Collins from the Expedition Team for the short walk to the Invercargill Regional Museum. Here we were met by one of the curators who had arranged for us to view a short film about the Subantarctic Islands. After this, we were free to wander around and view the various galleries, before returning to the lecture theatre for a short film about Henry, the museum’s famous Tuatara. The film explained that Henry was believed to be at least 111 years old and after many years of failure, the museum had succeeded in getting him to breed.
We were then invited to go to see the Tuatara display where we could not only see the museum’s most famous resident but the curator fetched a different individual so we were able to not only see one of these creatures up close but were also able to gently feel its skin.
After lunch and a couple of hours of free time, the bus for our transfer to Bluff arrived and we were soon on our way to the port. It was only a short ride and after clearing security, we were soon at our home for the next two and a half weeks, the Spirit of Enderby. Rodney Russ, our Expedition Leader and the owner of Heritage Expeditions, and other members of the Expedition Team were there to meet us and everyone was soon aboard and settling into their cabins.
We then had a couple of briefings and the practical safety drill before the first of many excellent dinners prepared by our chefs Matt and Connor.
By 21:00 the pilot was aboard, the crew released the lines and we sailed away. Although the sun was quickly setting out to the west, many stayed out on deck to enjoy the view as we left the harbour and began our adventure.
Day 3: Wednesday 15 November
It was a pleasant and smooth night aboard the Spirit of Enderby and shortly after breakfast had concluded, everyone joined Rodney in the lecture theatre for the Zodiac briefing and an introduction to The Snares.
By 09:00 these had concluded and a little later, five Zodiacs were in the water and we set off to explore. It was only a short distance to the coast of the island and we soon found our first Snares Crested Penguins. This species only breeds on The Snares and it was a new bird for just about everyone and the first of several speciality penguins we could expect to see on our expedition.
Following the coastline round, we found the first of the two endemic landbirds with some nice looks at the Snares Fernbird. Passing through a short natural tunnel in the rock, we entered a sheltered bay where there were several Snares Tomtits flitting around. Unlike its counterpart on the mainland, the tomtits here were all black and are now widely considered to be an endemic species.
Cruising around, we were able to explore numerous inlets and bays and with the forest almost coming down to the shore, it was a fascinating morning. The penguins were certainly reasonably numerous and there were further sightings of the fernbird and tomtit.
Continuing onward, we reached a point known as the ‘Penguin Slide’ and we watched from the Zodiacs as hundreds of penguins made their way up and down an extremely steep slope between their burrows and the sea. The angle was really extreme and it was amazing that the birds could climb up and down just using their clawed feet for grip.
All too soon, it was time to head back to the ship and after lunch, there were two briefings with Rodney first giving an introduction to the Auckland Islands with this followed, a little later, by a quarantine briefing. After this had concluded, everyone was invited to bring their gear to the bar library and lecture room for inspection.
Outside, there were an excellent selection of seabirds with the species seen including Antipodean Wandering Albatross, White-capped Albatross, Campbell Albatross, Sooty Shearwater, Fulmar, Antarctic, Fairy and Broad-billed Prions, Cape Petrel and White-chinned Petrel.
Photo credit: C. Collins
Day 4: Thursday 16 November
Enderby Island – Auckland Islands
During the night, the Spirit of Enderby continued southwards towards the Auckland Islands and shortly before dawn, the anchor was dropped offshore from Enderby Island. After breakfast, Rodney invited everyone to join him in the lecture theatre to outline the plans for the day, however, with the weather rapidly deteriorating he took the decision to delay our departure until 11:00am. As a result, Lisle gave us an excellent lecture about the seabirds we could encounter on the expedition, showing a fantastic range of his photos and providing us with tips on how to identify all the likely species.
Not long after Lisle had finished speaking, two Zodiacs were launched and everyone was soon shuttled to our landing site on Sandy Bay where there were several dozen New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea-Lions lounging on the shore.
Although the weather had improved somewhat since breakfast, it was still not particularly pleasant with light rain and a strong wind. Nevertheless, everyone joined the walk across the island which initially went through some Rata forest and mixed scrub before the boardwalk crossed a more open area where there were thousands of Ross Lilies. Many of these bright yellow flowers were in full bloom and made a colourful carpet as we walked towards the cliffs on the far side of the island.
There were numerous New Zealand Pipits as we continued onwards and several Southern Royal Albatross were seen sitting on their nests, although most of these were somewhat distant from the boardwalk.
Arriving at the cliffs on the opposite side, Rodney reminded us that there were two options – he would lead a long walk which would follow the coast around the island for several miles, whilst Chris and Lisle would offer a shorter option.
For the keen birders, one of the major target on the island was the Subantarctic Snipe and Rodney had warned us that finding this species could be a challenge, however, his group had barely gone much more than a few hundred metres when a lone individual was spotted skulking in the vegetation. This was remarkably confiding and not only did all the ‘long walkers’ get to see it but it stayed long enough to allow those with Chris and Lisle to also come over and see it. Suddenly the trickiest speciality on the island was not as difficult as we had expected!!!!
The long walkers continued onwards and over the course of the next few hours had some great wildlife encounters as well as seeing a good percentage of the island. Highlights including some nice looks at the Auckland Island Flightless Teal, a pair of New Zealand Falcons, some great views of Red-crowned Parakeets and the somewhat bizarre sighting of a Yellow-eyed Penguin several feet up a tree in the Rata Forest!!!
Those who took the shorter option also had a great time with at least two more Subantarctic Snipe being seen exceptionally well, a New Zealand Falcon that sat in a dead branch for more than 20 minutes at point blank range and a male teal that swam around a small pond a matter of metres from its admirers.
In the late afternoon, the two groups converged at the far end of the beach where everyone was able to watch an extremely obliging Yellow-eyed Penguin. By now the weather was utterly different to the early morning and instead of drizzle and an annoying wind, we had blue skies and only a gentle breeze. It had definitely been a good call delaying our departure and the overwhelming consensus was that we had all had a spectacular day irrespective of the walk we had chosen.
After another delicious dinner, there was an unexpected announcement from Rodney to advise everyone that a Southern Right Whale had been spotted off the port side of the ship. Many people headed outside to see this rarely seen species and whilst it was a little distant, the lack of a dorsal fin and the smooth back were clearly visible.
Photo credit: R. Bester
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 5: Friday 17 November
Carnley Harbour – Auckland Islands
At 02:00 the Spirit of Enderby left Enderby Island and four hours later we cruised into Carnley Harbour at the southern end of the Auckland Islands archipelago. This spectacular location is the remains of an ancient caldera and provides a sheltered anchorage for shipping. We continued westwards to Tagua Bay and after breakfast and a briefing from Rodney, the Zodiacs soon had everyone ashore for a walk through the forest towards the World War II station and lookout.
After a scramble off the beach, initially the path was relatively flat and the botanists were very pleased to find several Spider Orchids. Although some of these were in flower, they were highly cryptic and being only a centimetre or so above the ground, were not easy to see.
After climbing up a couple of hundred feet or so, we came to the remains of the buildings where the coastwatchers had lived during the Second World War. Rodney explained that individuals were posted here for a year and the team’s role was to watch for enemy shipping as there was a fear that Carnley Harbour might be used to gather a fleet for a possible invasion of New Zealand or Australia. In the event, however, only one ship had been spotted and this was a passing Allied vessel.
Continuing onwards, we reached the lookout where the Coast Watchers had spent the daylight hours and Joseph, our DOC representative, explained that the Department of Conservation maintained this small hut as a historical reminder of what had happened here.
The views were certainly impressive and as we returned to the shore, some were lucky enough to see a Yellow-crowned Parakeet. Whilst it disappeared comparatively quickly, several Tomtits, Tuis and Bellbirds were also found.
By 11:30 the last Zodiac had left the beach and as lunch concluded, we exited Carnley Harbour and began our journey towards Macquarie Island. The sea began to quickly build and as the afternoon progressed the swell steadily swung around making the movement rather unpleasant with both pitching and rolling. This did not, however, deter the birders from looking for seabirds and over the course of the afternoon an excellent selection of species were seen with the highlight arguably being the impressive number of White-headed Petrels. As well as these, other sightings included Antipodean Wandering Albatross, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters.
Given the tricky conditions, the chefs had organised a simpler dinner and after this and the nightly bird log, many people retired to bed given the ongoing conditions.
Photo credit: R. Bester
Day 6: Saturday 18 November
At Sea to Macquarie Island
It was a bumpy night as we continued southwards towards Macquarie Island and many people had a somewhat interrupted night but despite this, there was a good attendance at breakfast. Although the seas moderated fractionally during the morning, it was too rough for lectures so it was a leisurely morning with an opportunity to catch up on lost sleep, download photos, read or relax.
Those who looked for birds from the bridge found it was rather slow but despite this a decent range of species were seen including White-capped, Southern Royal, Light-mantled Sooty and Campbell Albatrosses, White-headed Petrel and a lone Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. For some, however, the highlight was a Blue Petrel, a species which is not always seen in New Zealand waters on this expedition.
By late morning, the seas had moderated somewhat and during lunch, we left New Zealand waters and entered Australian waters. As a result, many of the birders were back on the Bridge in the afternoon looking for new birds for their Australian lists. Nothing different was seen but Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Albatross and White-headed Petrels were new Aussie birds for many.
By the time dinner was called, the seas were continuing to improve and after another great meal prepared by Matt and Connor (despite the inclement conditions for much of the day) many retired to bed in the hope of a better sleep than the previous night.
Day 7: Sunday 19 November
Sandy Bay – Macquarie Island
After the lumpiness of the previous night, the sea was much improved and by the time breakfast was announced, the sea was reasonably benign. Shortly after this had finished we arrived at Buckles Bay where we said farewell to the AAD staff who had travelled with us from Bluff.
Two Zodiacs were launched to take them and their gear ashore to the Australian base and with calm conditions in the bay, this was a straightforward operation. Once the Zodiacs were secured, Rodney asked the Captain to set a course for Sandy Bay and during the transit, he gave us an introduction to Macquarie Island and what we could expect on our landing at Sandy Bay.
By the time the briefing had concluded, we had arrived and everyone was soon ashore, landing at what is surely one of the most amazing places in the world. There were literally thousands of Royal and King Penguins and many people spent the rest of the morning wandering around the beach watching these amazing birds. As long as we moved slowly, the penguins seemed to be extremely tolerant of our presence and there were some fantastic photographic opportunities.
As well as the beach area, we were also able to follow a short boardwalk which climbed to a colony of Royal Penguins. As on the beach, there were Brown Skuas watching the penguins and occasionally they would dive in and attempt to grab an egg.
Back on the beach, as well as the penguins there were good numbers of Southern Elephant Seals and whilst there were some large males, the beach was dominated by dozens of ‘weaners’ who had only recently been abandoned by their mothers. Most of these were extremely rotund and were quietly dozing on the beach although occasionally they would wake up and look at us with their huge black watery eyes.
Whilst most of the larger males also spent their time asleep, occasionally a fight would break out between some of them and they would rear up and thump into each other. November is, however, not the time for serious fighting between the seals and these arguments would soon subside and the animals would then go back to sleep.
After an incredible morning ashore, many reluctantly returned to the ship for lunch but the option was there to go back to Sandy Bay in the afternoon and the vast majority of the group did this enjoying more of the wildlife spectacle.
It truly had been a momentous day, however, there was one final wildlife highlight after dinner when a large male Orca (Killer Whale) was seen swimming along the port side of the ship. Although it disappeared fairly quickly, many people were able to get outside in time to see this apex predator.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 8: Monday 20 November
Lusitania Bay and Buckles Bay – Macquarie Island
For many, the day began with an announcement from Rodney at 06:20 to advise everyone that we were approaching the King Penguin colony at Lusitania Bay and many of those were not already on the Bridge got up to see the spectacle.
This colony is the largest on Macquarie Island and according to the island Ranger staff, it had been a bad breeding season with ‘only’ 30,000 chicks compared with a more typical total of twice this number. Despite this, there were tens of thousands of penguins and as the Captain took the ship along the coast offshore from the colony it was a highly memorable experience with good numbers of birds in the water as well.
By the time breakfast had finished, we were back at Buckles Bay and after a briefing from Rodney, we were all soon ashore. There were four groups each of which was accompanied by staff from the station and whilst the routes each group took was slightly different, all largely visited the same areas. These included the ‘switch back’ board walk which climbed up the side of the hill where we were able to get a great view and also photograph the giant petrels as they flew by. Another stop was the carcass of a recently deceased male elephant seal on the beach where dozens of giant petrels and skuas had gathered to feed.
A popular spot was the Gentoo Penguin colony where we had some great photo opportunities of the adult birds and their chicks. Whilst many of the youngsters were several weeks old, there were others which were a lot younger; indeed there was the odd pair which still had eggs.
The four groups also all went to the north end of Hasselborough Beach where there were several Eastern Rockhopper Penguins. Although these spent some of the time hidden amongst the boulders, from time to time they would emerge and everyone was able to see their fourth species of penguin for the island. Other highlights included the endemic Macquarie Cormorants, some of which showed exceptionally well.
As well as enjoy the wildlife, we were invited to meet up with some of the AAD staff in their mess hall and enjoy a hot drink, scones and jam. This was a good opportunity to learn more about life on a working base and some also took the chance to buy souvenirs and send postcards. These, however, would arrive long after we had all disembarked the Spirit of Enderby as the next boat which would take out the mail was only due in March 2018!
By 14:00 we were all back at the landing site and all too soon our time on Macquarie Island was over. We had, however, been extraordinarily lucky with the weather and had seen some fantastic wildlife.
After a late lunch, many took the opportunity to relax and download photos and those who persevered on the bridge saw relatively little with Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Antarctic Prions being amongst the species seen.
Photo credit: C. Todd
Day 9: Tuesday 21 November
At Sea to Campbell Island
It was a smooth night on the ship as we headed north-eastwards towards Campbell Island and with a full day at sea and moderate conditions, several presentations were organised. The first of these was by Chris Todd who introduced us to the flora of the Subantarctic Islands. Chris showed photos of many of the plants that occurred along our journey and discussed their distribution.
Later in the morning, it was the turn of Rodney who gave us an introduction to Campbell Island. Rodney spoke about the history (including the exploration of the island), geology and wildlife of the island and also the huge project to eradicate pests.
After lunch, a short video about the pest clearance on Macquarie Island was shown. Until relatively recently, there had been a whole host of introduced predators and pests on the island including cats, rabbits, rats, mice and Wekas and these had been systematically removed over a number of years to the point where the island was now free of these introduced species. It was anticipated that this would lead to a significant increase in the number of breeding seabirds over the coming years and species such as the Grey Petrel had already recolonised the island after seemingly being absent for many years.
The final presentation of the day was by Chris Collins who spoke about the cetaceans of the Southern Ocean. Chris explained that there was a wide range of species that could be seen along our route including baleen whales, beaked whales, dolphins etc.
Whilst many people went to all or some of the lectures, others spent their time on the bridge or outer decks looking for wildlife and with benign conditions, only a gentle breeze and a following sea, conditions were positively pleasant. Whilst the seabirding was a bit slow at times, a good range of species were found including Southern Royal, Campbell, Grey-headed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, good numbers of White-headed and Mottled Petrels as well as several Subantarctic Shearwaters.
Day 10: Wednesday 22 November
Perseverance Harbour – Campbell Island
By late the previous evening, Campbell Island was in sight and in the early hours we entered Perseverance Harbour and spent the rest of the night at anchor. After breakfast, Rodney invited everyone to join him in the lecture theatre where he outlined the plans for the day; he explained that ordinarily there were two options, a long walk which would last all day, or a Zodiac cruise in the morning followed by an excursion in the afternoon which would walk along a boardwalk to Col Lyall but due to the low cloud and poor visibility he had concluded that it would be inadvisable to offer the long walk.
As a result, five Zodiacs were in the water shortly after the briefing concluded and we set off to explore the coastline of Perseverance Harbour. Our principle goal was to find the Campbell Island Flightless Teal and almost as soon as the first boat reached the shore, there was a radio message to alert everyone that a pair of these endemic ducks had been found.
We had some good views of these as they fed around the seaweed covered rocks of the shore and were also able to get some reasonable looks at the island’s other endemic, the Campbell Island Cormorant, before continuing onwards around the bay. It soon became apparent that it would be a spectacular cruise for teal as over the course of the next couple of hours a total of twenty individuals were found, smashing the record for the number previously seen on Zodiac cruises here.
During a brief landing, many people went to see what is often known as the ‘loneliest tree in the world’ as it is the only large tree for several hundred miles. For the keen birders, however, news that a Campbell Island Snipe had been located caused considerable excitement and many hurried through the tussock grass to the spot where the bird had been sighted. Whilst a reasonable number saw the bird, it soon disappeared between the tussocks by which time it was time to return to the Zodiacs and continue our journey around the bay.
After lunch back on the ship, there were two options with some joining Rodney for more snipe searching whilst everyone else joined the rest of the expedition team on a walk along the Col Lyall boardwalk. This boardwalk was an impressive bit of engineering as it went for over 4kms initially through the Dracophyllum woodland before entering a more scrubby habitat and then eventually emerging onto more open tussock as well as crossing numerous areas of boggy ground and small creeks.
Our goal was to reach the area where the Southern Royal Albatrosses bred and despite encountering a somewhat belligerent sea lion along the track, everyone safely reached the zone where the albatrosses could be found and we had some fantastic views of these huge birds. Although we had seen plenty of them at sea, it was only when we were up close that it was possible to appreciate the huge size of these monster birds.
A little later the ‘snipe hunters’ joined everyone else on the boardwalk and we learnt that they had found about half a dozen birds so everyone was satisfied irrespective of their goals.
By 18:00 everyone was heading back to the ship and at 18:30 Rodney called a meeting to inform everyone that one of the crew had been taken ill and we were going to divert to Auckland Island so a helicopter could be sent to collect him. Whilst it was a very unfortunate end to a spectacular day, everyone understood the situation and a little while later, we began our journey northwards.
Photo credit: C. Collins
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Day 11: Thursday 23rd November
With our crew member safely stable we arrived at Auckland Island this morning, the helicopters arrived to airlift him and afterwards we continued our journey eastwards towards our next destination. Along the way Lisle and Chris gave a Prion identification masterclass on the bow, separating the many Antarctic, Slender-billed, Fairy and Fulmar Prions, and scoring a bonus Salvin’s Prion as reward for determination. Other creatures seen included Gibson’s Albatross, our first hint of our destination – Antipodean Albatross – and lots of other seabirds of the usual description.
Day 12: Friday 24th November
A day at sea is never a day wasted; today we spent the majority of the light hours on deck watching for seabirds and cetaceans and although we weren’t rewarded with any major surprises, we did have superb views of a range of birds including several prion species, including some nice Slender-billed, lots of albatross of many varieties including 5 types of ‘Great’ albatross, and lots of White-headed, Mottled and Soft-plumaged Petrels. The highlight came in the form of our first good Antipodean Albatross. This rare and extremely range-restricted species only breeds on the Antipodes, our next destination, and as such it was a major target for both the birders, and the nature photographers on board. Besides the deck watching Chris Todd gave an informative lecture on the flora of these islands, and Lisle gave an in-depth exploration of all things photographic to prepare everyone for the up coming islands.
Day 13: Saturday 25th November
Antipodes and Bounty Islands
By the time that most onboard awoke this morning Anna’s voice was already in their ears telling them that it was time to wake if they wished to join our planned excursion for the morning. Overnight we had arrived off of the Antipodes and we were sat in Ring Dove Bay by sunrise. Ring Dove, being the old name for prions, is very apt here as we began to load the Zodiacs amid a constant procession of Fulmar Prions. Any who had missed this bird until this point needn’t have worried, as it is almost certainly guaranteed here, with good looks to boot.
Once in the water we all picked up speed and headed toward the coast of the island. Ahead of us we could see tantalising black and white dots, and out of nowhere several medium sized penguins burst from the water ahead of us… Erect-crested Penguins! Arriving at the rocky, wave-cut island we first of all made our way into a small channel. On one side were New Zealand Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, on the other side were lots of very regal, straight-spined Erect-crested Penguins. For some this was the final species in a quest to see all of the world’s penguins so it was cause for celebration indeed and warranted the achieved whoops, cheers, fist-pumps and giggles of excitement. If this wasn’t enough, there was a lone and very approachable Eastern Rockhopper Penguin amongst the lower penguins, giving excellent comparisons of the two species. Once the rockhopper is split from Northern and Southern, which will surely happen soon, the Antipodes will feature two very special penguins indeed.
Moving on from the penguins we surveyed the coast at length and with great scrutiny, hoping to find yet more birds endemic to this small group of islands. There are two endemic parakeets on the Antipodes, and the first rocky bay gave us our first parakeets in the form of several Reischek’s Parakeets high on the vegetated slopes. We were making great time, with two of our few targets under the belt in the first half an hour or so. Moving further along the rocky, jagged coast we checked every little bay and gully for parakeets, finding lots of Reischek’s for our troubles and a couple of frustratingly brief, high and flighty Antipodes Parakeets. Still, at least we had seen the bird. It was with extreme relief that Lisle called through that his boat had a “low and excellent Antipodes Parakeet” in front of them and that we may all wish to check out this bird… and what a show master it was. Low, in full view and allowing a respectfully close approach this was the dream encounter with this normally very difficult bird. Hundreds of photos were taken and all returned to the ship elated with their experience here.
Moving onwards with the day we spent around 10 hours at sea, trying our hardest to make up time lost to the evacuation by visiting the Antipodes and Bounties in the same day. The waters were surprisingly quiet in terms of diversity, but the quality was very high indeed. Constant companions included Antipodean Albatross, Fulmar Prion and a handful of Campbell and Black-browed Albatross but the highlight of this transit came in the form of a large-billed, brute-ish prion that featured a bi-coloured dark and blue bill, identifying it as the rarely encountered MacGillivray’s Prion. This meant that with the day priors Salvin’s Prion we had seen all of the world’s currently recognised prion species in a single trip, something that has more than likely never been achieved before.
Under cloudy, dark, grey skies we approached The Bounty Islands this evening. As such the light began to fade rapidly, meaning a Zodiac cruise wasn’t an option. The beauty of the Bounties though is that a Zodiac cruise isn’t required to enjoy the wealth of the islands. Before we had even reached these isolated rocks the endemic cormorant, Bounty Islands Shag, had approached the vessel multiple times for close neck-turned looks. This is the rarest shag in the world, living only on these wave-battered and storm-smashed islets and nowhere else on the planet. We also enjoyed good views of the tens of thousands of Salvin’s Albatross that call these islands home, as well as endless processions of porpoising Erect-crested Penguins. We also had good looks at more Fulmar Prion here, this subspecies showing a much thicker, stubbier bill than those at the Antipodes.
Photo credit: C. Collins
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: R. Bester
Day 14: Sunday 26th November
At Sea to Chatham Islands
Today is a big day in any birder’s calendar, for today we enter the waters surveyed and inhabited by two of the world’s rarest seabirds… the Chatham Island Petrel, and Taiko, or Magenta Petrel. Around a dozen or more birders met on the bow of the ship before dawn, setting up for the hoped for glimpse of either of these birds. The early morning passed rapidly, with calm and settled seas giving a wealth of distraction including a huge pod of Southern Right Whale Dolphins, one of the most sought after mammals in these waters. Some very close approaching Long-finned Pilot Whales were most welcome, but were overshadowed by a small pod of Southern Bottlenose Whales. A further small group of large beaked whales remained unidentified but were not Southern Bottlenose Whale, adding to their tantalising mystery. Many encounters with Mottled, White-headed and Soft-plumaged Petrels gave many of us repeated beat-skips in our hearts, hoping for the fabled Magenta. At around 10:00 Chris screamed “What’s this at 1 o’clock?!” And we all turned to be faced with the all-dark back of a large Pteredroma petrel. Lisle instantly shouted “TAIKO!” As all hell broke loose. Bodies flung themselves across the bow, cameras rattled away endlessly and even more than a few tears were shed. The bird gave simply unbeatable views, giving Lisle enough time to run to the PA system, announce the bird’s presence, and return and still have excellent views. Hanging around the ship for 5 minutes or more meant we were able to get undoubtedly the best ever photos of this species at sea. An incredible encounter if ever there was one.
An experience like this morning is exceptionally difficult to top and it is with little wonder that the remainder of the morning and afternoon were relatively uneventful. That is, if you don’t count the flocks of MacGillivray’s Prions as eventful. Something strange is going on this year and we recorded at least 30 of these globally rare birds, something we will have to look into further. By late evening we had arrived off of the south coast of main Chatham Island and found ourselves amongst literally thousands of White-faced Storm-Petrels, flock after flock passed as we scored our first Chatham and Northern Buller’s Albatrosses. We gave the island one pass before darkness fell and were rewarded with yet another Taiko giving excellent views. The light was low for this one, but to see it chased by a Cook’s Petrel was again very special.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 15: Monday 27th November
Waitangi – Chatham Islands
With the Chathams being 45 minutes ahead of ship time it was another early morning for the team today. We arose early after a peaceful sleep in the sheltered bay of Waitangi and boarded the Zodiacs after a hearty breakfast and collecting our packed lunches. Landing on the sandy beach we instantly had great views of Chatham Islands Oystercatcher before boarding buses and minibuses to travel to the Aoatotra Reserve further down the coast.
Arriving at the reserve we were given a short talk about the work of the Taiko Trust by Bruce and Liz before being given the opportunity to help their work financially by buying merchandise. Some bought Chatham Albatross t-shirts, others dapper Taiko caps. Most of the group spent a few hours on a hike through the reserve, traversing the valley and making their way to the coast, having lunch by a beautiful and rugged cove. Dense dank fern stands, natural forest and open slopes made for a trek through time seeming like something more akin to Jurassic Park than the modern world. Along the way they found Chatham Island Warbler, Chatham Parakeet, (Chatham) Tui, (Chatham) New Zealand Fantail and lots of the huge Chatham Pigeon. In fact, all three groups scored a complete clean sweep of Chatham Island endemic birds, as well as a handful of Weka on the way back to the town of Waitangi. After a cold or hot drink and a stroll on the beach it was time to head back out to sea. This evening was dedicated to trying to hunt down a Chatham Petrel but something had changed. The wind had died, the sea had calmed and the birds had all but disappeared. The evening was relatively slow, in terms of activity, and we moved on without axillaris.
Day 16: Tuesday 28th November
Mangere and South East Islands and Pyramid Rock
Another busy day in the islands of New Zealand, it was all eyes on deck as we approached Mangere Island at around 06:00, and all bums in boats by 06:30 when Rodney gave the go ahead to launch Zodiacs for a cruise around the island. Before we had even left the vicinity of the ship we had an incredible photographic session with some ultra amiable Pacific (Northern Buller’s) Albatrosses, giving the best possible photos we could have hoped for. We began the cruise at the only patch of thick vegetation left on the island, the site of the original effort to save the Black Robin from extinction. Unfortunately for us the robin is a denizen of the thickest parts of the forest, and almost never at the forest edge, so the chances of seeing it are practically zero. However, there were plenty of goodies for us to focus our attentions on as we rounded the island. Chatham Warblers were plentiful, as were New Zealand Fantails and Tui. Further along we found Chatham Red-crowned Parakeets and then another parakeet landed in view – with an orange crown – Forbes’s! This is an ultra rare bird, and being able to Zodiac here is just as rare, so it was perhaps only about the third time it has been seen on these expeditions. The morning was well and truly made. As if this hadn’t been enough we managed a fantastic photographic session with a colony of Pitt Shags and some truly excellent views of a low and close Chatham Island Tomtit. Before it was all over though we were alerted by Rodney to a terrifically obliging pair of Shore Plovers on the edge of a wave platform. This is one of the rarest shorebirds in the world, but giving directions to the bird by using two more exceptionally rare waders, Chatham Oystercatchers, is an experience not to be forgotten. We eventually had up close and personal time with these birds, giving the most amazing photographic opportunities.
After an exceptionally pleasant trip around Mangere we set steam over lunch for South East Island and our final Zodiac cruise of the expedition. With all of the targets accounted for it really was just a matter of enjoying a slow and gentle drive around the island, getting close encounters with more New Zealand Fur Seals including some playful youngsters, yet more obliging Shore Plovers, a handful of Chatham Parakeets, another great Chatham Tomtit and some perpetually comical Little Blue Penguins. Before long though it was time to make our way back to the ship and start our journey back towards Dunedin. Our time in the Chathams wasn’t yet over though; no trip here is complete without a visit to the intimidating jut of rock known as Pyramid Rock. As we approached, the bird numbers increased exponentially until we started our rounds around the island, surrounded by Pacific Albatross and handfuls of Chatham Albatross. Despite good looks at a few individuals and some rafts, as well as the nesting birds on the island, the Chathams remained shy and wary.
Once we were a few miles off of the Pyramid, Chris and Lisle had a plan to change the minds of the shy Chatham Albatross. With a bucket full of fish guts and a box of fish frames, the heady mix of fish started to be thrown off the back of the ship and everybody assembled on the back deck to watch the show. It took a few minutes but once the birds got a whiff of the chum it was all go – a huge mix of Salvin’s, Chatham, Pacific, Northern and Southern Royal, Pacific and White-capped Albatrosses followed the ship giving arms-length views and some of the best available photographic opportunities of seabirds anywhere in the world.
Once the show was over we picked up a little speed and headed out to sea. A few of us gathered on the bow this evening to see the Chathams off over calm seas and were rewarded with dozens of Dusky Dolphins, a handful of Southern Right Whale Dolphins mixed in, and a brief but excellent pair of Strap-toothed Beaked Whales just before darkness.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 17/18: Wednesday 29th & Thursday 30th November
At Sea to Dunedin, crossing the Chatham Rise
With memories of some of the world’s wildest and most rugged islands fresh in our minds, the final two days of the expedition were a time for reflection and appreciation, diary writing and photo processing, watching birds and cetaceans from the deck and enjoying a relaxed social time with new friends and family. To stimulate minds even further, and give people an insight into what goes into making these islands what they are, and this expedition as successful as it is, a series of lectures and films gave an overview, including the Black Robin story, telling the tale of one of the rarest birds in the world, and Rodney gave a well-attended talk on the behind the scenes logistics that go into running these expeditions. To tantalise minds and imaginations even further, Chris Collins gave a highly detailed and tempting overview of the birds and beasts of the Russian Far East and all that we encounter on our journeys north through the east-Arctic wonderlands.
The weather remained calm throughout our passage and got calmer so as we travelled westwards toward the New Zealand mainland. Deck watching proved particularly fruitful with plenty of Cook’s Petrels seen and photographed, bountiful Grey-faced Petrels and a good suite of cetaceans including several good groups of Southern Bottlenose Whale, an obliging if brief Sei Whale and several groups of Mesoplodon beaked whales including a group positively identified as Gray’s Beaked Whale.
At the end of our final day at sea Rodney gave a briefing for departures and Chris Todd premiered a slideshow he had worked on throughout the voyage featuring photos from himself, Lisle and Chris Collins, as a visual narrative of the epic journey we had just undertaken. Before long though the sun had set on another day in the Southern Ocean and it was time for celebratory drinks and a spectacular final meal prepared by Matt and Connor, before setting to bed ready for the busy day to come.
Day 19: Friday 1st December
Early this morning we found ourselves at rest beside the wharf in Dunedin. After a final breakfast feast it was time to say goodbye to all of our new friends and comrades in adventure before departing.
Day 1: 16th November
Passengers arrived from around the globe in Invercargill, New Zealand’s southern-most city. We gathered at the Kelvin Hotel for our first meal together this evening. Our expedition leader Rodney warmly welcomed us all and provided scope for the day ahead and the adventure we were about to set out on.
Day 2: 17th November
Leaving the Port of Bluff
Assembling excitedly at an Invercargill hotel, this morning the passengers and a few staff of 2016’s Birding Down Under expedition explored the town of Invercargill which included the town museum where we saw an exhibit on the natural history of the subantarctic islands and even a special exhibit about New Zealand’s endemic dinosaur – the Tuatara, an ancient and barely-evolved ‘lizard’.
After lunch a coach transferred everybody to the Port of Bluff where we were greeted by the ship’s staff and some of the crew, before spending some time either exploring our new ‘home’ for the next 18 days, or chatting and eating fresh-baked scones in the bar/lounge area.
After a few formalities, including briefings about safety on-board the ship, Zodiac use and an introduction to each member of the ship’s expedition staff, as well as a lifeboat drill, we were soon steaming out of Bluff into the open sea beyond Stewart Island. With many keen birders on board the new birds started piling in and included our first albatrosses of the trip – White-capped mainly as well as a few Salvin’s Albatross – as well as Sooty Shearwaters, Fairy Prions, Common Diving-Petrel, White-chinned Petrels and a handful of Stewart Island (a.k.a. Foveaux) Shags, Spotted Shags and for a lucky few, some Fiordland Crested Penguins. Soon though the light began to fade and it was time to retire for the first spectacular dinner of the expedition – lamb or salmon, both were superb.
Day 3: 18th November
The Snares and at sea to the Auckland Islands
There’s no false start on this expedition – it really is all go from the start. We woke early today in anticipation of our first off-ship activity, a Zodiac cruise around North East Island, part of The Snares. Fortunately the weather had improved slightly overnight, though with a turn predicted imminently Rodney Russ, our expedition leader and Subantarctic legend, made the decision to pull the cruise forward, launching before breakfast rather than after, so as to give us the best opportunity to actually get out and bird the island. Sure enough, it worked, and after a slightly tricky and damp embarkation of the Zodiacs, interrupted by fly-by views of a stonking white-morph Southern Giant Petrel, we were soon powering toward our first island endemics of the expedition. First up came Snares Crested Penguin, with small flotillas greeting us just offshore, whilst a closer inspection of the shore gave us good looks at Snares Fernbird, Snares Tomtit and several large groups of Snares Crested Penguin. Occasional Subantarctic Skuas cruised overhead, whilst Antarctic and White-fronted Terns screeched from the shorelines, and a lucky few even found a Fiordland Crested Penguin amongst the throng. Mammals were also out in force and we found some really great Hooker’s (New Zealand) Sea Lions as well as many New Zealand Fur Seals.
With the weather deteriorating though it was soon time to head back to the ship in time for a rather hearty breakfast. The remainder of the day, through slightly bumpy weather, was spent either on deck, on the bridge, or in cabins downloading photos. Those who braved the elements, or retired to the comfort of the bridge, were rewarded with excellent seabirding. Albatross abounded with Campbell, White-capped, Salvin’s, Southern Royal and Gibson’s all being seen in good numbers, whilst the first Light-mantled Sooty Albatross of the trip was very welcome to all who saw it. Northern Giant Petrels made their first appearance this afternoon, as did Subantarctic Little Shearwater, along with plenty of Broad-billed Prions, many Black-bellied Storm Petrels and a handful of Grey-backed Storm Petrels. Perhaps the most appreciated bird of the day were several great passes by a handful of White-headed Petrels – a really impressive brute of a bird.
By day’s end dinner was well earnt and well deserved for all onboard, and we enjoyed another excellent meal heroically-prepared in less-than-optimal conditions by our superstar chefs, Ed and Connor.
Photo: Heritage Expeditions
Day 4: 19th November
Enderby Island is a special place. Not only does it lend its name to our vessel, and home to many of the staff and crew, the Spirit of Enderby, but it also holds a majestic beauty that few are ever able to appreciate.
Our landing went perfectly, despite a little bit of choppiness, and we were soon all on shore in search of our first Auckland Islands creatures. Of course, first of all we had to make our way through the gauntlet of over-enthusiastic Hooker’s Sea Lions that would come barking at you at great speed, and if you ignored them, simply backed off sheepishly. Next up were Auckland Islands Tomtits that flitted around us at our meeting point, and a small group of flipper-waving Yellow-eyed Penguins stood along the dunes above the beach. Auckland Islands Pipit was almost omnipresent as we began our walk across the island and once on the plateau (a very nice, gentle incline) we found many Auckland Islands Dotterel as well as a small group of displaying Southern Royal Albatross, and several nesting pairs. A lucky few saw Auckland Islands Snipe before we’d even made it to our splitting point, and when we arrived at our rendez-vous along the clifftops we were greeted by the display flight of several pairs of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross – truly mesmerising and a highly sought after experience by many birders.
Parting ways, many opted for the much longer circumnavigation of the island where they found some incredibly obliging Subantarctic (Auckland Island) Snipe, the main target for most, along with point-blank views of everything Enderby has to offer, whilst the remainder of the group backtracked along the boardwalk before walking along the southern shore, finding several Auckland Islands Teal, one of the world’s rarest ducks, as well as some outrageously obliging Yellow-eyed Penguins and fluffy Northern Giant Petrel chicks.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Photo: Heritage Expeditions
Day 5: 20th November
Auckland and Enderby Islands
Today was separated into three different parts. First of all, at daybreak we landed at Hardwicke, site of a former British whaling colony, settled in 1849, that failed to hunt any more than 1 whale in 2 years and 9 months. Our walk through history was incredibly interesting, especially with Rodney and Gus’s running commentary giving us more information than we could ever have hoped for about every aspect of history and life on these islands. Highlights here included a poignant cemetery of British settlers, a heart-wrencher for the Brits aboard, and a visit to the Victoria Tree which features some absolutely amazing carving by a party searching for shipwrecked souls in 1865.
The middle section of the day was filled with an absolutely necessary, but unfortunate medical evacuation of a passenger from Enderby Island. A solemn reminder that the ocean really is the boss here, and to take care at every turn. Fortunately, they returned to the New Zealand mainland (the quick way, on a Southern Lakes Helicopter) and are now recovering in comfort at home.
With the evacuation completed we made an evening visit to Port Ross where everybody walked up and along the coast through superb Rata forest and out onto the top of a hill which transformed our view of the Auckland Islands from sea-bound, to air-bound. In a total panorama we could see islands for miles as Rodney once again pointed out and named each island, and rock, giving us a history of each and every human and historical element in our view. A magnificent end to the day.
Photo: Heritage Expeditions
Day 6: 21st November
Carnley Harbour & Tagua Bay
Given the truly undesirable weather that laid between us and Macquarie Island, we made the decision to spend another day in the Auckland Islands to allow the weather to alleviate somewhat. We spent the majority of the day within Carnley Harbour where hundreds of albatross met us at the entrance including White-capped, Gibson’s, Southern Royal and Light-mantled, along with thousands of wheeling and soaring Sooty Shearwaters and several Slender-billed Prions among many other seabirds.
With the only shelter we could find appearing at Tagua Bay we embarked upon a lengthy, pleasant leg stretch that took us through a series of different habitats before ascending a hill aside the harbour giving spectacular views across the Auckland Islands.
Day 7: 22nd November
At sea toward Macquarie Island
A full day at sea was welcomed by the keener seabirders of the group, allowing a chance to catch up with a few new pelagic wanderers, we entered Australian waters allowing potential country list ticks. A very nice selection of birds kept us entertained throughout the day including our first high tally of Antarctic Prion, several nice Grey-headed Albatross, four ‘species’ of White-backed Albatross including our first Snowy (or classic ‘Wandering Albatross’) and a couple of good Antipodean, and the most remarkable highlight of the day came from the sheer mass of White-headed Petrels we encountered with at least a couple always within sight. Soft-plumaged Petrel was also new for the voyage today.
Day 8: 23rd November
Macquarie Island is infamous for its remote and fierce nature. Once considered as a location for an Australian penal colony, it was deemed too inhospitable and brutal to be colonised. Unfortunately upon arrival at the island it became rapidly obvious that our morning landing that had been planned would have to be suspended, with the heavy weather system making a beach landing impossible. We did make the decision, however, to spend our time waiting to see if the weather would drop cruising up and down the east coast to and forth from the absolutely unbelievable Lusitania Bay, home to 500,000+ King Penguins. Sure enough, despite not being able to get any Zodiacs in the water, the penguins came out to meet us and we had superb views of King Penguin as they surrounded the ship in small groups. Along with the Kings we also had great encounters with the endemic Royal Penguin, a relatively recent split from Macaroni, as well as far fewer Eastern Rockhopper and Gentoo Penguins. Some of the island’s resident Grey-headed, Black-browed and Snowy Albatrosses also kept us company, and several pods of ‘type B’ Orca had the passengers thrilled.
Unfortunately, despite waiting all day, the weather did not want to calm in the slightest. At one point we managed to drop two scout boats but the reports came back negative and told of scary 5-metre swells dropping right onto the beach and powerful surges making any landing irresponsibly dangerous. Our landing at Macquarie was not to be, but such is life in the Southern Ocean. We are truly at the mercy of a formidable force. On the way out of Macquarie’s surroundings though we did manage to find some very obliging Blue Petrels, highly prized by most on board.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 9: 24th November
At sea toward Campbell Island
The day started with a Blue Petrel whizzing around the ship, and continued with a constant throng of seabird activity which included 9 species of albatross, 3 species of Pterodroma petrel, at least 3 species of prion, 3 species of Storm-Petrel and thousands upon thousands of individuals to look at and photograph. Throughout the day people watched or photographed from the bridge or the deck, and the photographers congregated around the stern of the ship where Peter had set up a fish oil drip, attracting a good variety of species within photographic range. Toward the end of the day we were treated to repeated, close passes by not only a fantastic Grey-headed Albatross but also several courting Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses in absolutely perfect light. What a way to end the day.
Day 10: 25th November
Campbell is a special place. Arriving under a perfect blue sky with blazing sunshine we saw the island in its true majesty. Shortly after breakfast two separate groups set out with different purposes. The first went out on a long and relatively tough hike across and around the island, taking all day to do so, whilst the others split their day into two with a lengthy Zodiac cruise in the morning and a more relaxed hike into the plateau in the afternoon. Both groups got fantastic views of the endemic and ultra-rare Campbell Island Teal as well as the secretive Campbell Snipe and the Zodiac cruisers had close up encounters with the beautiful Campbell Shag. The afternoon foray took us into the highlands where we sought out nesting Southern Royal Albatrosses, and we really struck gold. We spent the entire afternoon and early evening within just a few metres of many of these huge, regal and awesome creatures as they formed display groups, fed their chicks and generally went about their comical business, stamping their way through the grasslands with their huge feet. Several more Campbell Snipe were also found, and several boisterous Hooker’s Sea Lions provided some entertainment before we made a hasty retreat through a growing wind and rain to the comfort of the ship.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 11: 26th November
At sea toward the Antipodes Islands
Every day spent at sea in the Southern Ocean is an exciting day, whether that’s spent relaxing or birding, reading or just catching up on journals and photo editing. This was very much a quiet day after several intense days of excitement but those who ventured out onto the decks or up onto the bridge recorded some interesting seabirds that included an inquisitive Grey-headed Albatross, our first definite Antipodean Albatross, as well as Gibson’s, Snowy, Black-browed, Campbell, Light-mantled Sooty, Southern Royal, White-capped and Salvin’s Albatrosses. Lots of White-headed and Soft-plumaged Petrels posed a challenge for the photographers on board.
Day 12: 27th November
A.M. at sea, P.M. Antipodes Islands
Several of our expeditions reach Campbell Island and the other islands we’ve previously visited, but only Birding Down Under reaches the islands we visit from this day onwards. First up came the fabled Antipodes Islands, so named because if you draw a straight line through Earth from London (UK) it comes out, more or less, at this rocky outpost.
On our approach to the islands we were greeted by flocks upon flocks of Fulmar Prions, some really great looks at Antipodean Albatross with its distinctive plumage and small size, and a whole throng of other seabirds under perfect blue skies. Once at the islands we decided to Zodiac cruise at Ring Dove Bay, which was the only shelter from the persisting strong wind. Once off and cruising along the shore we instantly found our first group of the remarkably stunning and almost regal Erect-crested Penguin. Further along the coast we found an Eastern Rockhopper Penguin among another Erect-crested colony before our final two bird targets for the day stole our attention. Several Reischek’s Parakeets were seen exceptionally well as they fed just above the shore but the mad dash to a pair of Antipodes Parakeets meant we were soon enjoying great views of this tough and rare bird. As the weather started to take a turn we finished our coastal survey finding a couple of small Eastern Rockhopper Penguin groups as well as breeding Fulmar Prion and Cape Petrel, but the mammal highlight came in the form of several large Elephant Seals and lots of good looks at Subantarctic Fur Seal with their distinctive golden faces and chests.
All too soon, and under the banner of a double rainbow, we made our way back to the ship in time to set sail for our next far-flung destination.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 13: 28th November
A.M. Bounty Islands, P.M. at sea
The Bounties are one of the most remote and inaccessible island groups in the world, primarily due to their geology – they are merely sheer-sided cliff-face-clad rock stacks in the middle of the roaring Southern Ocean. Despite this, they are absolutely teeming with life and as we approached early this morning we found clouds of Fulmar Prion, flotillas of Erect-crested Penguin, and tens of thousands of Salvin’s Albatross which presented quite the impressive spectacle. The rarest and most sought after bird here though was the Bounty Islands Shag, considered to be the rarest shag in the world. Fortunately it didn’t take long for one to come out and circle the ship, and before long we were being treated to extremely close views of this handsome snake-necked seabird.
Moving away from the Bounties we spent the remainder of the day at sea toward the Chatham Islands, with the stand-out highlight for many being a large pod of bounding and porpoising Long-finned Pilot Whales, whilst others enjoyed an afternoon of photography at the bow or stern and others sought out a bounty of albatrosses, petrels and other seabirds.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 14: 29th November
Pyramid Rock, South East Island & off of Main Island
This grey and overcast morning began with the biggest of bangs. Almost the first bird seen by the early-rising birders was the holy grail of seabirding in the southern Pacific – the Chatham Island Taiko! Out of the early morning gloom, a single Taiko screamed past the ship at high speed before turning and making its way up the wake, staying just long enough for Lisle to make a call over the PA system alerting the sleeping birders to this special presence. We couldn’t believe we’d already scored a Taiko, our luck was truly in.
The remainder of the run into the Chatham Islands was quiet by comparison with the highlight being a pod of Dusky Dolphins, but once we reached the formidable and foreboding island known as ‘The Pyramid’ things really picked up again. A single stack of rock jutting out of the ocean among the Chatham Islands, The Pyramid is the sole breeding location of the beautiful Chatham Albatross. And, as expected, as we arrived off of the island we were soon surrounded by both Chatham Albatross and the equally stunning Northern Buller’s, or Pacific, Albatross. We spent the morning here photographing and enjoying the close up views before making the short journey to South East Island.
Once at South East we decided to bring lunch forward as the weather was shifting, and negotiated a skilful Zodiac embarkation to cruise the shore of the island. Some of the first birds seen were the endemic Chatham Island subspecies’ of Tui, Red-crowned Parakeet and New Zealand Pipit, but it was the small group of the wildly endangered Shore Plover that really stole the show. We had point blank views of these cute little waders whilst Pitt Island Shags fed around us. Further along the coast we located a small group of Chatham Island Oystercatchers before making our way back to the ship.
We had an evening date, after an early dinner, with another try for the Chatham Island Taiko. We cruised the waters off of a known Taiko colony with the hope that we’d find one, and find one we did – quite quickly in fact! Over the course of 45 minutes or so this presumed single individual appeared 4 different times a little distantly before giving a final close pass to all the birders assembled on deck. Unbelievably, in amongst the chaos, THREE Chatham Island Petrels were also seen by the lucky birders and photographers at the ship’s stern – what an unprecedented success!
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 15: 30th November
Main Island & off of South East Island
Making our way to the shore of the Main Island today we were escorted by a handful of Chatham Shags, appeasing those still desperate to tick the penultimate shag of the expedition. Once on land we made our way to the Awatotora Reserve. The group split into two here, with around 25 staying and birding the valley, where they found Little Blue Penguin, Chatham Warbler, Chatham Pigeon, Chatham Red-crowned Parakeet, Chatham Tui and the endemic race of New Zealand Fantail. The remainder of the group, around 20 people, made their way with an escort to the privately-owned Sweetwater Covenant, a private initiative that seeks to conserve the rare endemic petrels of the Chatham group. Here the group were among extremely few living people to be shown a Magenta Petrel, or Taiko, actually in its burrow by the researchers. In a superb twist of luck, the researchers also had a bachelor Chatham Island Petrel that they were able to show us, allowing all to see these mega rare tubenoses up close and personal – a phenomenal and once in a lifetime experience!
This evening the ship relocated to South East Island which holds the highest concentration of breeding Chatham Island Petrels anywhere, but unfortunately none were seen coming to the island in the near-darkness. However, yet another incredible experience was had by a lucky few who stayed up beyond darkness. Attracted to the ship’s lights, the decks became a sheltering ground for dozens of White-faced Storm Petrels, Common Diving Petrels and Fairy Prions, allowing incredible in-the-hand views as we released the birds from the deck. The ship’s lights were soon turned off and we all turned in after an unbelievable day.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 16: 1st December
Off of Mangere & Little Mangere and at sea toward mainland New Zealand
After a couple of very successful days in the Chathams we were greeted this morning by heavy swell and seas breaking against our target location of Little Mangere. Unfortunately this meant that Zodiacs couldn’t be launched and so we opted to slow the ship as we left the islands and to chum off of the back deck. This of course resulted in a cacophony of myriad seabirds, including absolutely point-blank views of several albatross species including the beautiful Chatham and Pacific (Northern Buller’s), and the enormous Northern Royal. The remainder of the day was spent steaming west on our journey back towards mainland New Zealand, birding along the way. Unsurprisingly we found plenty to look at including Grey-faced, Mottled, Soft-plumaged, Cook’s-type and White-chinned Petrels, lots of albatross and even a few Oceanic Sunfish. A beautiful sunset was enjoyed before dinner.
Photo: L. Gwynn
Day 17: 2nd December
At sea to Dunedin
The long journey back to New Zealand necessitates two full days at sea to cover the vast distance, but this of course gives plenty of time for some final sea watching as we enter the range of a few different species. Today we saw 5 species of Pteredroma in a morning, plenty of other seabirds, and on the mammal front we recorded Sei, Long-finned Pilot and Cuvier’s Beaked Whales. Highlights of the day for many were two new seabirds for the voyage, and lifers for most onboard: the cute Black-winged Petrel and the tricky and rare Pycroft’s Petrel, a highly sought after New Zealand endemic.
Day 18: 3rd December
At sea to Dunedin
The final day of an expedition is a unique moment; a mixture of overriding elation and joy, and sadness. Today was a day spent seeing final birds including more Pycroft’s Petrel, Cook’s Petrel and our first Buller’s Shearwater and Otago Shags, as well as cetaceans like Dusky Dolphin and Long-finned Pilot Whale, but there was also a lot of packing, sorting and re-capping to do. An end of expedition slideshow was masterfully put together and edited by Edin and we all shared a final few laughs and even a few tears over what had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our final dinner with friends new and old was filled with laughter, chatter, and of course fantastic food as always. It had been an incredible 18 days.
Click here for the Species List.
25 November to 10 December 2014
25 November 2014
Christchurch to Chatham Islands; Waitangi & off ‘The Horns’
Around 20 degrees C. Part cloudy part sunny. Light winds (Beaufort force 1-2) from NW. Visibility good.
This morning, we headed to Christchurch Airport and were in for a surprise when we were driven right onto the tarmac next to the plane. The New Zealand Customs officials were there to meet us, check our passports and then we were free to board the plane. We were off towards the Chatham Islands, with a one and a half hour flight ahead of us. Time flew with us, and we had a quick group photo on the tarmac in front of the plane.
After landing we headed to the Hotel Chathams in the township of Waitangi, where we were met by Adam our Expedition Leader who invited us inside for lunch. The ship was at anchor in the bay and excitement was building. The keen birders decided lunch could wait and headed back to the beach where a couple of Chatham Island Oystercatchers had been spotted. After some good prolonged views, the birds took flight, but photos were already in the can, and lunch was calling. After lunch we had free time for a few hours to roam the local area, with some checking out the local museum, or just wandering the beach. We met up again later at the main wharf where the Zodiacs arrived to shuttle us to the ship.
At 1600 the operation began to get everyone aboard the Professor Khromov, also known as the Spirit of Enderby. The luggage arrived about an hour later and then there were a number of briefings in the lecture room. Adam introduced himself and the team of hotel manager Meghan, guides Rachael, Brent (B1) and Morten, chefs Cy and Connor, Doctor Lauren as well as the Department of Conservation (DOC) representative Brent (B2). Meghan introduced the ship and various household procedures, after which we were given the mandatory safety briefing as well as a full run down on Zodiac boarding, disembarking and safety.
In the meantime, the ship had sailed out of the bay and proceeded to south and then north several times along the shores off ‘The Horns’ in a search of the elusive and rare local petrels. By now there was very little wind so conditions were not the most promising for finding those species, but we enjoyed close views of some Northern Buller’s Albatross, Northern Giant Petrels and White-fronted Terns, as well as the first couple of New Zealand Fur Seals of the voyage.
Come 2030 we were all hungry and we enjoyed our first great dinner on board. After the meal, the concept of bird listing was introduced, and Brent (B1) summarized the sightings of the day.
26 November 2014
Chatham Islands, Awatotora Reserve, Pitt Strait & off ‘The Horns’
Around 20 degrees C. Overcast until 4 pm, then sunny. Rain until 10 am, then dry. Winds Beaufort 5-6 from NW, swell building to 3 metres. Visibility good after the rain.
After an 0600 breakfast, a briefing and a packed lunch making session, it was time for our first very wet and bumpy Zodiac ride. Everyone did very well on the gangway, and by 0900 we had boarded the bus to make our way to the Awatotora Reserve. Bruce and Jill introduced the area and conservation efforts, after which we dispersed. Some shopped for T-shirts, some strolled about on the road, while some went various distances down the path towards the coast, a few all the way. Apart from the wonders of a native forest full of local plants and trees, the attraction for most was the endemic bird species. The Pigeon and the Warbler were soon localized and most had good views also of the Tui, the Parakeet, the Fantail, the Silvereye and the Pipit. Along the way, we enjoyed our lunches and when the rain had stopped, it was a very pleasant morning altogether. At 1315 we boarded our buses again and headed across the island, this time all the way east to Owenga, to where the ship had repositioned to avoid the by now unworkable swell back on the west side. We had a stroll along the beach until it was once again time for a choppy and wet Zodiac ride back to the vessel.
Soon after returning to the ship, everyone was summoned to partake in the mandatory safety drill, which was executed smoothly. Adam announced the plans for the remaining part of the day, and soon afterwards Meghan opened the bar.
We cruised Pitt Strait during the early evening and saw several Cook’s Petrels and Grey-faced Petrels as well as a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins and thousands of prions in the distance. After an early dinner, we continued to make passes off ‘The Horns’, scanning the sea continuously. When the sun set on a clear horizon, some began to lose hope, while others refused to give up. About ten minutes later, there it was – Magenta Petrel! It came in from the west and made a brief but very distinct visit off the stern, before wheeling off into the distance. It seemed that everyone who was on deck got onto the bird, and spirits soared.
27 November 2014
Chatham Islands, South East Island, The Pyramid & Mangere Islands
Around 20 degrees C. Early morning and late afternoon: Blue skies and sunny, wind NW Beaufort 3. Late morning until afternoon part cloudy, winds NW Beaufort 5. Visibility good.
An 0600 wake-up call announced a much better day than the forecast had promised. At 0645 we were all in the Zodiacs for a 2-hour cruise along the shores of South East Island. Good conditions allowed us to enjoy great views of most things that could be expected: Shore Plovers, Chatham Island Oystercatchers, Red-crowned Parakeets, Pitt Island Shags, Chatham Island Pipits and one Tomtit. There were numerous New Zealand Fur Seals along the shores as well. It was with reluctance that we headed back to the ship for a 0845 breakfast.
The winds picked up to about force 5 as forecast by mid morning but the sun was still out, so we circumnavigated the spectacular Pyramid Rock in wonderful conditions. Adam chummed and the ship was beset by hundreds of albatrosses of various species, while the rock itself lay covered in more yet. A spectacle not easily forgotten! The ship headed north again on the east side of Pitt Island, past Rabbit Island during lunch, where a few Chatham Shags flew out to greet the vessel. Conditions around the Mangere Islands made a Zodiac cruise impossible, so we had a quick look at them from the ship, after which the course was set for the waters south of South East Island, the main breeding area of the Chatham Petrel.
It was a quiet afternoon, so many took the change to snooze. After our 1800 dinner, it was up and down, or rather east and west, back and forth south of the Pyramid, hoping for sightings of pterodromas, but we mostly saw prions, storm-petrels and albatrosses. After dark we held the regular bird-listing session then it was time for sleep. This evening we gained 45 minutes as we went back to New Zealand time.
28 November 2014
At sea towards the Bounty Islands
Around 15 degrees C. Mostly sunny, briefly clouded over in the morning with one rainsquall. Wind morning NW to SW Beaufort force 2-3, afternoon W force 5. Swell SW 3-5 metres. Visibility good.
Sunrise at 055 was beautiful, over a calmly rolling sea with hardly a breath of wind. Morning birding provided good views of White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Grey-faced and Mottled Petrels as well as our first White-headed Petrel. There were many storm-petrels and prions about, and the first wanderers of the voyage. A small pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales showed briefly.
At 1000 Rachael delivered a talk on seabird adaptations and physiological character traits, while at 1130 B1 delivered a lecture on identification at sea of many of the expected species of our voyage. The great lunch was cooked up for us once again by Cy and Connor was followed by the screening of ‘Beyond the Roaring 40’s’, a good introduction to the islands we will visit. More detail was unveiled in Adam’s late afternoon introduction to the Bounties and Antipodes, which was followed by B2’s description of the planned mouse eradication project for the Antipodes. The afternoon gave us many good birds, most notably many Soft-plumaged and some White-headed and Mottled Petrels, several Antipodean Wandering Albatrosses and much more. The first Light-mantled Sooty Albatross of our voyage made an appearance towards dinnertime.
During dinner, we learned that we would arrive at the Bounties around 0800 tomorrow. The seas did build during the day so our progress was slowed. Some were also somewhat stricken with motion sickness during the day. After Morten had read the daily bird list (26 tubenose species seen today) there was time to relax, chat, have a drink or simply catch up on some rest.
29 November 2014
Bounty Islands & at sea towards the Antipodes Islands
Around 12 degrees C. Mostly sunny in the morning, with scattered cloud and a few rainsqualls. Wind morning W Beaufort force 3, afternoon W force 5, now overcast. Swell confused, mostly SW and W 3 metres. Visibility good.
From sunrise until after breakfast, we steamed slowly closer and closer to the Bounties. A confused sea and old swell made it seem unlikely that we would be able to launch the Zodiacs for an inshore cruise, but the combined talents of Adam and the Captain allowed us to experience this very special and rare treat. From up close, we marvelled at the amount of life on these seemingly remote and barren rocks – but what is remote depends on your point of view, and what is not barren here is the sea. Countless Bounty Shags, Salvin’s Albatrosses, Erect-crested Penguins, Fulmar Prions, Cape Petrels, Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Terns and New Zealand Fur Seals have made this their home. We enjoyed excellent views of all these species, flying, swimming, standing, walking, crawling, nesting, preening, squabbling, etc. All too soon, it was time to return for a tricky disembarkation at the gangway as we set a course for the Antipodes.
After lunch Morten delivered a talk on marine mammals covering aspects of distribution, adaptations, social structure and identification markers as we sailed south. The birders on deck added numerous Black-bellied Storm-petrels to the list, as well as the first Wilson’s Storm Petrels and Black-browed and Campbell Albatrosses. The bar hour was well attended and we enjoyed a dinner of chicken, lamb curry or the vegetarian option, followed by Pavlova – sweet and interesting! It was a fairly quiet ship after the bird listing due to an early start tomorrow!
30 November 2014
Antipodes Islands & at sea towards Campbell Island
7-10 degrees C. Morning overcast with occasional showers, afternoon increasingly sunny. Wind SW Beaufort force 3 dropping to 2, late afternoon rising again to force 5. Swell SW 2-3 metres and rising. Visibility good.
It was only 0530 when Adam woke us up and by 0600 we were in the five Zodiacs at Ringdove Bay, on the southeast side of Antipodes Island, where we had shelter from the winds and most of the swell. Apart from the occasional brief shower, the entire duration of the outing was spent in balmy and sometimes even sunny conditions. We sat and cruised off the island, marvelling at the rock formations, the colours, the rich vegetation – be it tussock grass, ferns or giant kelp – and the prolific wildlife. We had enjoyable and prolonged views of everything that the island has to offer. Both species of Parakeet, three species of seal, two species of crested penguin, numerous Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses wheeling and courting, Antarctic Terns, Kelp Gulls, Brown Skuas, singing New Zealand Pipits and the local Fairy Prions, circling over the sea and near their nest sites. A highlight was entering into a cathedral-like cave that Gaudi would have found inspiring. Life was happening all around us, in all its manifestations. The planned two hours out turned into three, before we tore ourselves away. Once again we had been blessed with far better than usual conditions for a unique opportunity to experience yet another of these mythical island formations of the Subantarctic.
We were all more than ready for breakfast when we returned to the vessel which then set a SW course towards Campbell Island. About 10 knots of head wind was all we had, but under the grey sky strangely few birds showed in the morning. Most of us had a wee bit of rest.
After our burrito lunch, the skies began to clear, while the winds continued to drop even further. The sea was still up some three meters, but it was not unpleasant as the swell was right on our nose and rather old. Pterodromas were mainly represented by White-headed and Mottled Petrels. A few Antipodean Wanderers and Campbell Black-brows showed as well. At 1500 Adam ran us through the measures and procedures necessary for us to land bio-securely at the islands ahead. This briefing was followed by everyone carefully vacuuming their outer layers and backpacks, all of which were duly inspected by B2.
As the winds began picking up slightly in the late afternoon, a few new birds appeared. The first Grey-headed Albatross of the voyage was seen well, and B1 noted a Chatham Petrel flying by from the bridge. After dinner and reading of the bird list most were ready for an early night.
1 December 2014
At sea towards Campbell Island
Around 7 degrees C. Mostly overcast, part sunny especially morning, showers. Wind SW Beaufort force 3 increasing to 6 then afternoon dropping to force 4 W. Swell confused, mostly SW 2 meters increasing to 5 metres then dropping to 3 metres. Visibility good.
Our speed was slowed somewhat by the oncoming sea, as we continued on towards Campbell Island. The morning offered a lecture by B1 entitled ‘Extinctions and Re-discoveries’, which told a sad story of the mass extinction occurring at the hand of man, but with some good news thrown in as well. One bright note was the rediscovery and consequent conservation management efforts related to the Taiko, or Magenta Petrel and the Kakapo. A personal account of Brent’s and others’ rediscovery of the presumed extinct New Zealand Storm-petrel, not seen for 170 years, but found recently to exist and breed near Auckland and now ‘twitchable’ by almost anyone, was an entertaining part of the lecture. At 1130, the ship’s shop opened for a while, giving everyone an opportunity to stock up on clothing, literature, gifts and postcards.
Most attended lunch and then went down to the lecture room to listen to Adam’s introduction to Campbell Island, with an overview of its geology as well as human and natural history. At 1700 two documentaries were screened back to back, one about the successful and very ambitious rat-eradication project on the main Campbell Island, the other about the rediscovery and recovery of the Campbell Island Flightless Teal. Birding was slow today, but there were some good Campbell and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross as well as an early evening Southern Fulmar, perhaps the bird of the day.
2 December 2014
Campbell Island, Perseverance Harbour, Tucker Cove, Camp Cove, North West Bay & Cole-Lyle Saddle
6-8 degrees C. Mostly overcast, slivers of sun occasionally, frequent showers in the morning, dry all afternoon. Wind WSW Beaufort force 5 dropping to 2, evening increasing to 3-4. Visibility good.
In the early hours of the morning we arrived in the sheltered anchorage of Perseverance Harbour at Campbell Island. After wake-up, breakfast, briefing and packed lunch making, it was time to disembark the small but hardy group of 4 long hikers who were to spend all day walking to Northwest Bay and back. Shortly afterwards, everyone else embarked on a 3-hours plus Zodiac cruise of the inner harbour. We came back aboard for lunch, then in the afternoon set out for a dry landing at the abandoned meteorological station for a trek up the 3km board walk.
The day was magnificent for all. The weather was grey, misty, wet and windy in the morning. However by the afternoon, it was dry, the winds died down and the skies opened a little every now and then. It was as good as any day gets here.
The various groups ended up with a variety of experiences, and the sum total was quite impressive. Great encounters were had with all the best birds this part of the island can offer – the flightless Teal, the enigmatic but recolonising Snipe, Yellow-eyed Penguins, the magnificent Southern Royal Albatrosses, the endemic Shag, nesting gulls and terns and giant petrels. A rare vagrant was even spotted on the west coast, a Pacific Swift. Hooker’s Sea Lions cavorted in the water and on land, intimidating some but fascinating all. The mega-herbs impressed and so did the woods, the lichens and the mosses. In the time we were there, the tide rose from low and went back to low – the hours passed quickly and the day was thoroughly enjoyed.
During dinner, our anchor was lifted, and we headed back out after a wonderful day at Campbell Island – onwards to new adventures.
3 December 2014
At sea towards Macquarie Island
Around 7 degrees C. Overcast all day with much rain and shorter periods of dry. Wind NNW Beaufort force 4 to N 5 morning and early afternoon, late afternoon SW force 3 increasing in the evening to S force 8. Sea confused 1-2 metres, building evening from S. Visibility varying, impaired much of the day.
A much quieter night than expected/feared was followed by a 0830 breakfast. The day progressed with limited birding opportunities due to weather and visibility, but a number of albatrosses: Light-mantled Sooties, Campbells, White-cap’s and Southern Royals were seen through the day. Many Antarctic Prions were also around and some Mottled and White-headed Petrels as well as a few Soft-plumaged added spice. An old female Antipodean Albatross followed us for more than 12 hours. Considering our average speed of near 12 knots, and her wheeling around from front to back, left to right, she must have travelled well over 500 miles today!
Rachael spoke to us in the morning about the Eastern Rockhopper Penguin and its crisis, while Adam later introduced us to Macquarie Island and the plans we have for our activities there. After a chicken curry lunch and a little break, it was time to hear B1 give us tips on photography in his lecture ‘The World through a Lens’, while the late afternoon was set aside for once again vacuuming off any seeds that may have been clinging to bags and outer garments after our visit to Campbell Island. In the evening, a video about the rabbit eradication program on Macquarie was screened. During bar-hour, there was an opportunity to hand in passports and postcards, to have them stamped at Macquarie. A dinner of pork, fish or vegetarian was as usual much appreciated. Chefs Cy and Connor are still getting many compliments.
4 December 2014
Macquarie Island: Buckles Bay & Sandy Bay
5-8 degrees C. Sunny all day with only scattered cloud. Wind SW Beaufort force 3 to W 4. Visibility good.
After quite a rocky night, during which most of us only got little or highly interrupted sleep, we found that the gale had passed and the winds had died away by morning. On its tail we had sunny conditions and only mild winds. It was looking good for our visit to Macquarie Island, and even better when the resident pod of Orcas greeted us an hour before arrival. B1 and Morten took two boats ashore and soon the local rangers were on board. Adam and head-ranger Chris briefed us on the plans for a guided tour around the base on the isthmus at Buckles Bay and the necessity of a stern landing onto a boulder beach.
Once everyone was ashore we split into five groups and set off accompanied by base staff. Highlights of our tour included the razorback board walk with great views from the top, the weather balloon release, the Gentoo chicks already creching, the tussock grass recovering, even the earth’s crust. The west beach and its life-and-death scenes, such as the big round wet eyes of the Southern Elephant Seal weeners contrasted by the Southern Giant Petrels going into the eye-sockets of the deceased of the same species. In the mess hall, we had coffee and snacks and the opportunity to chat with the base staff or buy souvenirs.
A quick repositioning brought us to Sandy Bay and another view of the Orcas seemed to indicate good fortune once again. At 1600 ship’s time (1400 local time) we headed ashore for the true wildlife highlight of the voyage. We spent four hours on half-a-mile of beach, marvelling at the numbers and behaviours of the local residents. These were primarily King and Royal Penguins and Southern Elephant Seals, but there were also numerous Brown Skuas, Southern Giant Petrels and a few other birds. The sun kept shining on us with few interruptions, but by the end of the landing, the cold of the wind had crept through most people’s layers. A quick ride back in the Zodiacs brought us to the comfort of warm showers and warm tea, or dry clothes and dry martinis, as one’s taste would have it.
5 December 2014
Macquarie Island, Lusitania Bay & Sandy Bay
Around 3 degrees C morning, 10 afternoon. Morning partially overcast with sunny spells, afternoon mostly sunny with scattered cloud. Wind W Beaufort force 1-2 morning and N force 1-3 afternoon. Visibility good.
After a leisurely breakfast, we were at the huge King Penguin colony of Lusitania Bay. Perhaps some 100,000 pairs breed here, the census this year gave 50,000 chicks on the island, most of which were in this colony. We had easy conditions and enjoyed an hour long Zodiac cruise along the shores. A few Royal and Rockhopper Penguins, and the ubiquitous giant petrels completed the picture. Whether gazing at the masses on shore or enjoying the flocks of penguins cavorting around the boats, it was a spectacle to admire. The rusting boilers on the shore bore witness to a historically different approach to the animals here.
Later in the morning, we repositioned back north to Sandy Bay. An early lunch freed the entire afternoon for yet another amazing landing at Sandy Bay, giving everyone an opportunity to see what we felt we missed yesterday, or to take everything in today at a less frantic pace and with more peace of mind to spend time at each little scene happening. It was not easy to decide on which were the favourites: the darling Elephant Seal pups, the inquisitive Royal Penguins or the handsome but comical Kings. Many of us simply sat and watched, becoming so much part of the environment that penguins and seals alike idled up to us and made contact. If Adam had not called everyone together, we would not have made the last Zodiac.
An hour later when we dropped the rangers back at Buckles Bay, most didn’t notice as they were having drinks in the bar instead. A delicious fish/steak dinner with chocolate mousse to follow was served up while we were still at anchor, after which we took off for the Auckland Islands.
6 December 2014
At sea towards the Auckland Islands
Around 6 degrees C morning, 12 afternoon. Overcast. Wind SW Beaufort force 0-1 morning, gradually increasing to force 4-5 afternoon. Swell old SW and newer NE both 1 metre. Visibility good.
We enjoyed a leisurely day at sea. Calm as almost never, we enjoyed cruising along at good speed, with good sea-birding along the way. In the early part of the day, both Rockhopper and Royal Penguins were seen. White-headed Petrels were seen consistently throughout the day in good numbers, Mottled Petrels too, though in fewer numbers. Antarctic and Fulmar Prions were also with us, as were many Black-bellied Storm-petrels and some Grey-backed too. Over the course of the day, eight species of albatrosses were seen. Before lunch, some had a couple of brief views of small pods of Hourglass Dolphins, while one sighting of two distant Southern Bottlenose Whales and another of a speeding Minke Whale were the best cetaceans today. Gradually, the unusually calm conditions turned into something more normal for these latitudes, with the winds picking up from the SW.
B1 delivered a witty lecture in the morning entitled ‘Birding 101 – an introduction to tweety birds and the weird people that watch them’ and then Meghan opened up the ship shop for the last time. Lunch was buffet style and the pizzas were happily devoured. In the afternoon, Rachael talked about her special interest, Mottled Petrels. Later B2 introduced and screened two ‘Intrepid New Zealand’ documentaries about the shipwrecks of the Grafton and the Invercauld at the Auckland Islands.
After bar hour, dinner and bird-listing, the movie ‘The Big Year’ starring Steve Martin and Angelica Houston was screened in the lecture room. Today was all about learning what makes birders tick – or not.
7 December 2014
Auckland Islands, Carnley Harbour, Adam’s Island & North Arm
7 degrees C morning, 11 afternoon. Overcast with a few sunny spells. Wind SW Beaufort force 6 morning, gradually decreasing to force 3 afternoon and evening. Visibility good.
The winds were high in the morning, so early risers enjoyed good seabirds before the ship entered into Carnley Harbour, and there was a small pod of Dusky Dolphins seen briefly bow-riding too. In the calmer waters of the harbour, huge rafts and flocks of Sooty Shearwaters impressed as we sailed deep into the waterway, and there were also good numbers of Auckland Island Shags, Grey-backed Storm-petrels and even two New Zealand Falcons seen near the ship. At 0945 we began a one and a half hour Zodiac cruise that turned into two and a half hours because of the great weather and sighting conditions. Numerous Bellbirds were seen and heard and we had great views of half a dozen or so Auckland Island Flightless Teal, New Zealand Falcon, Yellow-eyed Penguins as well as more shags, shearwaters, gulls, skuas, albatrosses and Sealions.
Once everyone was back aboard, Meghan announced some household items to bear in mind, while Adam sketched the plans for the afternoon. Lunch was then heartily devoured – Cy and Connor had done it again. By 1415 we were up the north arm of Carnley Harbour, where we had a 2-hour landing at the site of the wreck of the Grafton. The afternoon was used (for all but a few in vain) to search for Yellow-crowned Parakeet, others simply enjoyed beach combing, Rata forest exploration, studies of mosses and lichens, or simply hanging out and relaxing.
At 1700 Adam gave an overview of the Auckland Islands and their geology as well as natural and human history, as we sailed out of Carnley Harbour and up the east coast of the main island. The weather was great, still overcast but with less wind and quite balmy temperatures. The birders on the bow picked up a number of Subantarctic Little Shearwaters as well as photogenic Grey-backed Storm-petrels. We had an early dinner (much praised lamb taking the prize tonight) and Adam warned us of an early start tomorrow. B1 completed the day with the listing of all of today’s wildlife sightings.
8 December 2014
Auckland Islands, Enderby Island & at sea towards the Snares
9 degrees C morning, 12 afternoon. Partly overcast with some sunny spells. Wind nil morning gradually picking up from NNE to Beaufort force 4-5 afternoon and evening. Rain evening. Visibility good.
We awoke to a beautiful morning, sunlit and still. After breakfast at 0600, Adam gave a thorough briefing on the options for the day. By 0800, after packed lunch making, we were in the Zodiacs, shuttling ashore at Sandy Bay where we were “welcomed” by Hooker’s Sea Lions and Yellow-eyed Penguins. We also felt the potential power of the surging swell on the beach. With the wind forecast to increase, plans for the day were modified, and instead of a circuit route, everyone was offered to go as far as Derry Castle Reef and then back, to be shuttled back to the ship by 1400.
We traversed the island on the boardwalk, enjoying the Rata forest and the scrubland above, Southern Royal Albatrosses dotted across the landscape at their nesting sites. After a walk into the flowering Bulbinella field to look for Auckland Island Snipe, and successfully seeing several, we headed further along the shore to see the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses on their nests. The group split up, and most walked as far as the reef, while others meandered to and fro and eventually back to Sandy Bay. Wildlife encountered included more penguins and Sea Lions, many Double Banded Plovers and Auckland Island Pipits. We enjoyed seeing lovely Gentians and Anisotome in flower and amazing scenery along the shores and on the flatter bits of land.
Adam extended the landing time to 1500 as the landing beach swell – having built steadily until about noon – suddenly dropped almost right out. Shortly after having everyone back on board, the decision was made to anchor up and head for the Snares – the forecast gale making it wise to gain some time for the crossing. Soon after we sailed, birders were seeing unidentified diving petrels, identified storm-petrels and fair numbers of Subantarctic Little Shearwaters. For now, it was still a mere force 4 from the NE and a swell of about one metre. An early dinner was consumed as everyone prepared for a potentially rocky night en route to the Snares.
9 December 2014
The Snares & at sea towards Bluff
10 degrees C morning, 13 noon and afternoon. Overcast with considerable rain. Wind NNW Beaufort force 7-8, by late afternoon veering to W and then S, decreasing gradually to force 4. Seas rising through the day to 6 metres plus, then dying out. Visibility reduced, clearing towards evening.
There were 30-35 knot winds on the bow when we awoke at 0700. This caused some pitching with sudden lurches, but wasn’t too uncomfortable. The ship came close into the lee of the south end of the Snares at 0830 and then cruised the east coast, where numerous white specks on the rocks were the best views most had of Snares Crested Penguin, although a few people were lucky to spot one or two between monster waves nearer to the ship. One or two Southern Buller’s Albatrosses were seen as well. The Cape Petrels were effortlessly soaring everywhere. By 0930 the Captain had set a safe NE course through the gale force winds and the 20-foot waves crashing onto the bow. There was no further programme for the morning except to hunker down and stay safe!
Amazingly, Natalia, Lina, Connor and Cy had lunch for us at 1300, and in the afternoon Megan was in the bar/library to settle accounts. Over the course of the afternoon the winds began to die down and late in the afternoon we came into the lee of Stewart Island. The afternoon allowed for reasonable views of more Southern Buller’s as well as a couple of Fiordland Crested Penguins – the eighth penguin species of the voyage.
A disembarkation briefing was followed by a wonderful photographic expedition recap of our voyage put together by Rachael with images from most of the staff. During bar hour we had a celebratory toast to one of the best ever ‘Birding Down Under’ expeditions, the weather having been extremely kind to us almost right to the end and with almost every species possible seen over the course of our two weeks together. The farewell dinner was a wonderful buffet created once again by the galley team.
10 December 2014
We disembarked under a leaden but mercifully dry sky after breakfast and all the packing, boot washing, immigration procedures and farewells were concluded at 0900. Each group headed off in a different direction, looking for new adventures, but taking with them the treasured memories of this one shared on the remote islands of the untamed Southern Ocean.
We gathered at the Kelvin Hotel, Invercargill from around the globe, all in happy anticipation of our adventure on the Southern Ocean. At dinner we met our Expedition Leader Rodney Russ and his son Nathan who is responsible for the operation of their Russian owned and crewed vessel the Professor Khromov, better known to us as the Spirit of Enderby. Rodney outlined the programme for tomorrow and we retired to our rooms to prepare for boarding tomorrow.
Our luggage was collected and transferred to the ship, so we were free to explore Invercargill or visit the very interesting Southland Museum. There we saw the excellent Southern Ocean exhibit and the weird native Tuataras which can be linked to the dinosaurs. We reassembled at the hotel at 2pm for the transfer to Bluff where we boarded the ship and were shown to our cabins. After some time to unpack we gathered in the Lecture Room for a formal introduction to the Expedition Team and a ship briefing from Rodney and Cruise Director, Meghan. Light rain had started to fall after the Life Boat drill so most of us adjourned to the bar for a social drink before dinner. Adam convened the first meeting for what was to become a regular after dinner feature for the voyage – the reading of the bird list. Then it was time to retire for the night and dream of adventures to come.
Departing Bluff. Photo credit: ABreniere
The ship was rocking and rolling all night so sleep was difficult and there were many bleary eyes at the 6.45am breakfast. We had arrived off the Snares in the early hours and drifted off South Bay as Captain Dmitry and Rodney assessed whether we could take the planned Zodiac cruise. Winds were NW at about 20 knots but conditions were marginal due to a heavy swell. We went ahead with the Zodiac briefing and waited while conditions were assessed. At around 8.30 we were off in the 5 Zodiacs driven by Adam, Samuel, Meghan, Agnes and Rodney. We made our way between the main island and Broughton Island to Hoho Bay where we found ourselves in a very sheltered little inlet favoured by numerous Snares Crested Penguins. A few New Zealand Fur Seals dozed on the rocks and further up the hill lay the occasional Sea Lion. Fernbirds and Tomtits in the area were most obliging and many good images were captured by inquisitive lenses. Unfortunately our visit to this little oasis was cut short due to a predicted wind change to the SW, so we raced back to the ship and headed further South towards the Auckland Islands.
The afternoon was spent listening to an introduction to the Auckland Islands from Rodney and bird watching from the bridge and all decks. A small pod of Long Finned Pilot Whales was pointed out by Adam around 5pm. Then it was time for dinner with a choice of delicious New Zealand lamb or chicken for the main course, followed by the regular reading of the bird list in the bar.
Snares Crested Penguins. Photo credit: MKelly
A grey dawn greeted us as we sat off Port Ross, on Enderby Island. The ship had arrived there around 2am and dropped anchor in the sheltered harbour of ‘Sara’s Bosom’ so we had enjoyed a much needed restful sleep in the calm waters. Two Zodiacs were launched after our morning briefing, gear cleaning and lunch packing to shuttle the group ashore. We ran the gauntlet of inquisitive male Hookers Sea Lions on landing and assembled on the beach and set off to walk the boardwalk across the island. It was surprising and exciting to see a New Zealand Falcon in the landing area. Along the way the distinctive shapes of nesting Southern Royal Albatross could be seen and flying overhead were Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. A Yellow-eyed Penguin had very obligingly decided to make a home right next to the boardwalk and a researcher had set up camera equipment there to monitor the bird’s movements. Once we reached the Western Cliffs the group split up to look for Subantarctic Snipe. All groups were successful in this challenge, and then moved on to look at Light-mantled Sooty Albatross nesting on the cliffs. At this point Adam led the way for people wanting to walk to Derry Castle Reef with Rodney at the end of the group. During their long walk around the island they saw several more Snipe, Yellow-eyed Penguins (one even up a small Rata tree), Auckland Island Flightless Teal (which were nesting so fairly shy) and Banded Dotterel. In and around the Rata forests many Tui, Bellbirds, Pipits and Red Crowned Parakeets were seen. One of the more memorable scenes of the day was watching several Giant Petrels tearing into a New Zealand Fur Seal carcass on the rocks.
Samuel and Agnes led the remainder of the group back along the boardwalk towards Sandy Bay once more. Some of us decided to walk through the tussock towards the beach where the female Sea Lions would be hauled out prior to giving birth at Sandy Bay. Samuel accompanied us and found a nice sheltered spot in the tussock for our picnic lunch. Soon after setting out again we came across a Yellow-eyed Penguin just a few metres away from where we had been reclining. On our return it was a challenge to pass through the many male Sea Lions who seemed to like to congregate on the grass near the DOC huts above Sandy Bay. One in particular seemed to take a great liking to Agnes and appeared determined to have her in his harem. The last Zodiac shuttle left the beach at 7pm and all reported to have had a wonderful day on this unique island.
The reading of the bird list took place before a dinner of venison or pork, and most retired early after the exertions of the day.
Hookers Sealion and Spirit of Enderby on Enderby Island, Auckland Islands. Photo credit: ABreniere
Rain and low cloud accompanied our entry into Carnley Harbour, so Rodney postponed the morning briefing until he had had time to assess the best options for the day. It was clear that the climb to see the Shy Mollymawk Colony on South West Cape would certainly not be worth the effort in such claggy conditions, so that would not be on the agenda. He decided we would make a brief landing at Epigwatt where the Grafton was wrecked in 1864. All five men aboard survived this wreck and built a hut here where they lived for 18 months before sailing their modified dinghy to New Zealand. The remains of the ship and their hut can still be seen. A hardy few of our group ventured out in the inclement weather to take a stroll around the area and to look for Yellow-crowned Parakeets in the surrounding mossy and moist Rata forest.
It was a choppy ride south towards Macquarie Island, with many preferring the comfort of their bunks to the windy decks. Chefs Bruce and Dean and wait staff Natalia and Katya did a magnificent job of preparing and serving meals under extremely difficult circumstances.
Riding the ocean waves. Enroute to Macquarie Island. Photo credit: MKelly
We came to anchor at 2am off Buckles Bay, the site of the ANARE base. Rodney went ashore and returned with the Station Leader, Mark Gasson, Chief Ranger Chris and Ranger Kris. They remained on board as we cruised south to Sandy Bay where everyone was ferried ashore by Zodiac for free time to observe the King and Royal Penguins and Elephant Seals. It was sunny and a balmy 5 degrees when we arrived, but the wind chill factor made it seem colder, particularly when sleet showers swept by with some regularity. We were met on shore by Dana, Billy and Ange, 3 of the hunters who patrol the island with their dogs looking for rabbits, rats and mice. They were glad of our company and happy to share their experiences of living in such a remote and challenging place. The wildlife was prolific and the sounds and smells very memorable, particularly in the Royal Penguin colony at the end of the boardwalk. Fat young male Elephant Seals lay in a pile burping, grunting, scratching and wrestling for space while cute weaners lay all around the beach waiting for mothers who will no longer return. Fluffballs of grey feathers disguised emerging King Penguins while adults, some still moulting, trudged to and fro for no apparent reason. A pair of Brown Skuas nested just near the boardwalk to the Royal Penguin colony, nice and handy for a takeaway meal whenever they felt hungry, penguin eggshells around the nest testament to their preferred snack. We saw one lone Chinstrap Penguin wandering the beach, which seemed to take a great interest in us, perhaps in the hope that we might keep him company until he could find others of his kind. Two Macquarie Shags sat preening on the point as we departed. As one of the last Zodiacs made its way back to the ship for lunch a small pod of around 6 Orca was spotted, with one large male clearly visible above the waves. They were no doubt cruising the coast on the lookout for unsuspecting weaners. Most of the group returned to Sandy Bay after lunch for another walk amongst the prolific wildlife, which apart from the odd peck or grunt, seemed unaware of these long lens toting humans. It had been a wonderful day on this magnificent stretch of Macquarie coastline.
Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island. Photo credit: SBlanc
Snow had covered the island overnight, so we admired the glistening coastline as we made our way south to view the huge Royal Penguin colony on the Southern tip of the island. Conditions were too cold and blustery for a Zodiac cruise so we saw what we could from the ship and returned north to anchor off Buckles Bay. There we went ashore under sunny skies and were split into 5 groups to tour the ANARE Base (founded in 1947) and the surrounding area in the company of base staff. Just opposite the landing site and all along the approach road to the base, Gentoo Penguins were nesting with one or two chicks. It was wonderful to be able to see them so close. Very close to this site of new life stood a sombre reminder of the past in the form of rusting digesters which had been used by employees of Josef Hack to render penguins to oil when the Elephant Seal population had been decimated. The beach on the Western side of the small isthmus was a wild and windy place, littered with Elephant Seal weaners, kelp, rocks and the occasional pile of weathering bones. The colours of the sea here were nothing short of spectacular, ranging from deep aqua to a vivid blue. Elephant Seals lay everywhere, taking shelter in the work sheds around the base, although the station proper is afforded a little protection by a fence. This did not deter one huge male however who had managed to break down a section and make himself at home in a cosy spot between two of the buildings. Staff have thus far been unable to get him to budge, and can only wait until the monster decides to move on. Inside the station mess the ‘postmaster’ stamped our mail and our passports at a table next to the bar while we viewed the wall of photos showing staff from ages past. It was interesting to see one of our group as a young man (with long flowing locks) who had been the base doctor here in his younger days. All too soon it was time to transfer back to the ship, with Zodiacs pausing at a rocky outcrop on the ride back to see some Rockhopper Penguins. After a late lunch we said farewell to this wonderful island, departing on our journey to Campbell Island at 3pm.
Elephant Seal roadblock, Buckles Bay, Macquarie Island. Photo credit: ABreniere
As we sailed today we enjoyed lectures from Samuel on Penguins, Adam on Prions of the Southern Ocean and Agnes on Albatross. Later Rodney gave an introduction to Campbell Island. Birders spent much of the day on deck scanning the skies, recording a number of Blue Petrels, while others sorted their numerous Macquarie Island photos, caught up on their reading or dozed.
We came to anchor in Perseverance Harbour at around 3.30am. At 8.45am Rodney departed with a group of 15 to enjoy a day long walk which included skirting Col Peak to Windless Cove and returning to Camp Cove. Next Adam set off with a group to Garden Cove where they walked along the foot of Mt Honey on a hunt for the Campbell Island Snipe. The difficult walk was worth it and they returned triumphantly with photographs of this elusive species. The remainder of the group went for a Zodiac cruise stopping off firstly at Tucker Cove where we examined the only remaining relic of the original homestead, the redoubtable Shacklock stove. Our next landing was at Camp Cove, where the ‘loneliest tree in the world’ (according to the Guinness Book of Records) sits guarded by Hooker’s Sea Lions, one of which seemed very keen to board one of the Zodiacs, and then escorted us towards Garden Cove. Along the coastline we saw half a dozen Campbell Island Flightless Teal, numerous New Zealand Pipits and a couple of White-fronted Terns. On our way back to the ship we saw a young Southern Royal Albatross attempting to launch into the skies from the sea without much luck. He probably needs more time to work on his technique. Once back aboard it was time for some lunch before donning the wet weather gear again for our 1.30pm landing to walk the boardwalk on the Col Lyall Saddle between Col Peak and Mt Lyall.
Adam led the way up the boardwalk towards the Southern Royal Albatross which we could see nesting in large numbers. The boardwalk made walking much easier for the humans, and also for the wildlife. We encountered two Hookers Sea Lions very high up on the walkway who obviously make a habit of using this most convenient thoroughfare and are not so inclined to share it. After some persuasion the groups made it safely past these growling creatures. The Bulbinella rossii (commonly known as the Ross Lily) were in flower, dotting the landscape with yellow and very close to the walkway we saw the Blue Hebe in flower – the deep blue with a hint of mauve made a very pretty sight. There were Southern Royal Albatross dotted all over the hillside, and one even decided stroll right past the group and across the boardwalk. It then climbed to the top of a small ridge and after a few moments launched into the stiff breeze. It was truly magnificent to see this huge bird in close-up. One pair was observed mating and other birds were displaying and ‘sky calling’. More birds appeared as the afternoon wore on. The walk back down to the bay was less challenging due to the one remaining Sea Lion being in an easier spot to pass. Samuel and a few others had the privilege of being approached by a Campbell Flightless Teal while waiting for transfer back to the ship. It actually walked right up to him and nibbled at his fingers. A truly memorable moment with the world’s rarest duck!
Rodney’s group also reported a very successful day scrambling through the scrub and sliding down muddy patches. They found huge numbers of albatross at the top of the ridge. They had also seen teal on the coast and a nesting Campbell Island Snipe right next to the track. By 7.30pm everybody was back on board for dinner at 8pm.
Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island. Photo credit: ABreniere
When not out on deck we enjoyed some documentaries and lectures while making our way from Campbell Island to the Antipodes. Firstly there was a double feature on Pest Eradication on Campbell and then Macquarie Islands. Adam followed with an introduction to the cetaceans of the Southern Ocean. After lunch we saw a documentary detailing how the Campbell Island Flightless Teal was rescued and re-introduced to the island. Samuel ended the day’s presentations with a talk about Sir James Clark Ross, asking “was he the greatest Subantarctic explorer ever?” Dinner offered a choice of salmon or venison.
When we awoke we still had some way to go until our arrival off the Antipodes. Rodney gave an introduction to the Antipodes and Bounties at 10am and most spent the rest of the time on deck in light winds and calm seas. We came to anchor in Anchorage Bay in the Antipodes after our arrival at around midday. After lunch it was time to venture out under sunny skies in the Zodiacs for a closer look at these rocky outposts where we were lucky enough to see Erect-crested and Rockhopper Penguins and Antipodes and Reischek’s Parakeets. During the journey south from Anchorage Bay to Leeward Island and back we also saw numerous New Zealand Fur Seals, a few Elephant Seal weaners and a lone Subantarctic Fur Seal surveying us from the rocks. We spent a wonderful two hours exploring caves and inlets along the rocky coastline of these seldom visited islands. The ship stayed at anchor until after dinner at 7.30pm when we set out to cover the 70 miles to the Bounty Islands.
Antipodes Islands. Photo credit: ABreniere
We reached the Bounty Islands at around 6.30am. The swell was too large to Zodiac cruise these giant volcanic rocks which had been thrust up from the seabed in relatively recent geological times. The ship made three passes of the islands which we could see were teeming with birdlife. Many hundreds of Salvin’s Albatross flew over the decks or were grouped on the surface, and as Rodney had promised, the Bounty Islands Shags also flew out to investigate the ship. As we departed, Adam did some chumming which attracted a large amount of interest, particularly from the Salvins. At 10.30am Meghan and Agnes opened the Sea Shop in the Port side dining room and did a brisk trade. The rest of the day was spent on the decks in the bright sunshine. We continued to enjoy excellent sailing conditions and Rodney was very pleased with our progress towards the Chatham Islands.
Bounty Islands. Photo credit: MKelly
After a 7.30am breakfast, Rodney called us all to a briefing to discuss our activities in the Chathams. He announced that the privately funded Taiko Trust had offered to take people for a close up viewing of the Taiko (or Magenta Petrel) at their Sweetwater property in exchange for a NZD1,000 donation. Four people signed up for this rare and very special experience to see one of the world’s rarest seabirds with an estimated population of less than 150.
Adam did some chumming from the back deck and attracted hundreds of albatross including Salvins, Chatham Islands, Buller’s, Northern Royal, Southern Royal and Black-browed. Rodney gave a general introduction to the Chatham Islands as we cruised the calm seas.
We reached Pyramid Rock at around 1pm and the ship completed a circumnavigation of this distinctive Chatham Islands landmark showing bright patches of bright pink ‘Ice Plant’ flowers dotted around its steep sides. We were fortunate to be able to see it in all its glory in bright sunshine with the deep blue sky as a backdrop. New Zealand Fur Seals relaxed on the rocks at its base, possibly taking a break from checking out the numerous cray pots which were places at regular intervals. Meanwhile various bird species including Chatham Islands Albatross and terns surveyed us from high above. Rodney had checked the Chatham’s weather forecast and decided that since a strong Easterly front was coming we should take the opportunity today to take a Zodiac cruise along the lee of South East Island before wind and swell made it impossible.
We set off after a late lunch, and although conditions were not ideal, as Rodney said it was “now or never”. We managed to see numerous Pitt Island Shags sitting along rocky ledges and Shore Plovers darting amongst the rocks. Little Blue Penguins, Tuis, Tomtits, Buller’s Albatross and Pipits were also in evidence. Some caught fleeting glimpse of parrots, but the Black Robin was a little too difficult to locate from the shore. Zodiacs back aboard, we headed for Waitangi.
We slipped quietly into our anchorage off Waitangi at around 1.30am and received Megan’s 5.45am wake-up call for a 6am breakfast. After breakfast we attended a short briefing from Rodney, packed our lunches and were ferried ashore for a day on the main island. The group was delighted by the timely appearance of a Chathams Oyster Catcher which obligingly waited near the pier where we landed. School buses then transferred us to the Tuku Reserve, Bruce and Liz Tuanui’s property, where we walked a track through native bush to the sea and most got to see the Chatham Island Pigeon and Chatham Grey Warbler. Fantails and Weka were also seen, but as steady rain began to fall many cut their walk short and picnicked in the buses. Four of the group took the opportunity to be taken inside the predator proof fence at Springwater to see the Taiko or Magenta Petrel. They declared it a magnificent experience well worth the large donation to the programme.
We returned to the township and enjoyed some free time to explore. Probably due to the now heavy and persistent rain, most made a bee-line for the pub and had a few cultural exchanges with the locals, along with hot and cold drinks. Chefs Bruce and Dean were already in residence in the bar playing darts. Rodney announced that he had heard from the Captain that conditions in the bay were not good for retrieving everyone from Zodiacs so he had decided to move the ship to another anchorage further around the island. The trusty school buses having returned from their primary task of returning children home from school would transfer us by road to the new location. Unfortunately when the ship arrived at this new point it was discovered that conditions there were even worse, so the ship returned to the original anchorage. However the only safe way to board the Zodiacs was off the beach which meant we would all get very wet. We boarded the buses again and headed for the beach which by this time was a very wet and windswept place to be. Fortunately the very kind bus drivers allowed us to wait on board until Cally called us in groups of 8 to go down and meet Meghan on the shore where we donned our lifejackets. One of the Russian crew, Doctor Roger, Agnes and Meghan man-handled the craft on shore as Rodney and Samuel drove to and from the ship. It was a wild and wet ride and everyone got soaked but hot showers and drinks cheered us on our return.
Once everyone was back aboard, Rodney announced that there was no point in us staying in the Chathams as the weather was only going to deteriorate further, so we would set a course for Dunedin that night after dinner, cutting our time short by half a day. We had had excellent weather up until then but the ‘purple patch’ had now come to an end. Some keen birders stayed on the bridge or out on deck in the 40 knot winds as dinner was served at 7.30pm and were rewarded with sightings of the rare Taiko or Magenta Petrel and the Chatham Islands Petrel. It was a fitting end to an eventful day as we bade farewell to our last island at 10.30pm.
Chatham Islands forest. Photo credit: MKelly
The ship was rocking and rolling quite a lot all day so lectures were suspended. Bird species highlights included the Great Shearwater, Fluttering Shearwaters, Gould’s, Black-winged and Westland Petrels.
Another day of heavy swells meant many hunkered down in their cabins. Those who ventured onto the bridge or upper decks saw a large Sperm Whale early in the morning. Bird species of note included Hutton’s, Fluttering and Flesh-footed Shearwaters. In the late afternoon Rodney gave a presentation on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the work Heritage is doing to support its conservation in the Russian Far East.
Enroute to the mainland of New Zealand again. Photo credit: MKelly
It was our final day at sea on the long trek back to New Zealand’s South Island. During the morning Samuel gave a presentation on his winter at the French base in Antarctica. Some spent a last day enjoying the sunshine on deck while others began packing. Megan and Agnes finalised the ship accounts and at 5pm we all gathered in the Lecture Room for the last time for a briefing about our disembarkation and a recap of the expedition highlights. Rodney thanked everyone for entering into the spirit of the expedition and each team member said a few words. Adam then gave a short summary of the wildlife highlights and commented that we had counted a staggering 49 tubenoses (later revised to 48) which is a new record for this itinerary. He gave credit to the many sharp eyed birders in the group who put in long hours on the bridge and decks. Rodney then asked the two Enderby Trust recipients, Henry and Joshua to sum up their experience in a few words. Henry was unusually reticent but said he would be drawing the birds for years to come. The gathering ended with the showing of a beautiful slide show Meghan had put together from photos she, Agnes and Samuel had taken during the voyage. This presentation was available in the bar afterwards for everyone to copy onto their laptops, tablets and memory sticks to take home. Dinner was a buffet extravaganza as Bruce and Dean pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable last meal together. ‘Second stomachs’ were required to do the dessert selection justice. Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the dining rooms to continue packing or take a final few photographs of the beautiful sunset.
The pilot boarded at 5am and guided us into the inner harbour to the port of Dunedin where we came alongside at 7am. After Customs clearance we posed for an official group photo on the wharf and then boarded buses for transfer to the city or airport. We had spent a wonderful few weeks together, made and cemented many friendships and seen islands and wildlife many can only dream about. We may not meet again, but the memories and photos will linger on. Sail well my shipmates!
Spirit of Enderby. Photo credit: MKelly
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" This was my third incredible Heritage Expeditions voyage aboard the Spirit of Enderby, two of them completed in Jan-Feb 2014 (In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton) and March 2014 (New Zealand's Remote Islands) and my earlier Russia Far East Voyage Across The Top of World in August 2012.
I was very excited to read about the forthcoming special sailing to the Antipodes, the Bounties and the Chatham Islands Archipelago which included the remote and difficult to get to islands of Forty Fours. I booked that same day!
The New Zealand's Remote Islands voyage was lead by the tireless, the entirely enthusiastic and most professional Rodney Russ. As I have experienced previously, Rodney's supporting team rose admirably to the tasks of keeping the expeditioners well informed, well fed, and very, very happy with superb zodiac exploration of the up-close fauna and geology and thousands of photographic opportunities. Several clients were world class wild life photographers. Other clients had travelled great distances from other parts of the globe for the exceedingly rare opportunities to sight some of the world's rarest and endangered bird species. One of these species is the endemic Bounty Island Shag, another the Shore Plover which breed only on Rangatira Island. At the Antipodes, a lone King Penguin was observed enduring the catastrophic moult, along with thousands of Erect Crested Penguins, also in the process of the annual moult. Hundreds of New Zealand Fur seals co-habited with the penguins. There were also good sightings of the endemic Antipode parakeets and the Antipodes subspecies of Pipit. Several immature bachelor elephant seals slumbered in intimate heaps on the wave polished volcanic boulders of the tidal zone.
While The Bounty Islands lack soil and flora (nil on both accounts) the granite rocks support many thousands of birds and New Zealand Fur Seals. Sea conditions for deploying the zodiacs were marginal to say the least, due to 2-3 meter swells and tidal currents. However, with the help of expert sailing by the diligent Russian crew and the equally adept handling of the zodiacs, Rodney and his staff managed to get 14 of us safely into three zodiacs and we spent a magical hour exploring the tidal edges of the kelp encrusted granite rock, observing fur seal adults and creches of very young pups, erect crested penguins either side of the catastrophic moult, marched the penguin highways of eons, returning or fro fishing expeditions, haughty Salvin's albatross chicks sat upon their ancestral pedestalled nests, rafts of Bounty Island shags swam close to the almost stationary zodiacs while rafts of Erect Crested penguins dived or porpoised away from us.
The Heritage staff onboard included the athletic Rowley Taylor who first visited the Sub Antarctic Islands as a 22 year year old and would be celebrating the 60th anniversary of that first life changing trip. His enthusiasm for the outstanding beauty, ruggedness, remoteness and the huge array of species has not diminished in the least over the decades.
Rhys Richards has an on-going love affair of many decades with the Chatham Islands and imparted his vast historical knowledge and the understanding of current ongoing changes which the Islands and Islanders are experiencing.
Mike Bell, Secretary of the Taiko Trust and a very much a hand's-on, in-the-field conservationist humbly shared his passion for his work and the intimate knowledge of the wildlife of the Chathams and their outer islands.
Overall, it is a very rare opportunity to visit some of the least visited, the remotest and least known islands in the world, and to witness the huge array of pelagic species which inhabit these seemingly hostile, stunningly beautiful habitats and natural environments.
And who cannot be moved by the ever changing light, the multitudes of blue hues of the ocean's restless textures, the dances of the petrels on the wave crests and the simply breathtaking witnessing of the beauty and ease of many of the world's species of albatross skimming these latitudes for decades.
The visions remain long after the journey.