This is without doubt one of the most inspirational and informative journeys or expeditions into the Southern Ocean ecosystem that one can make anywhere in the world. Long recognised for their rich biodiversity, the Subantarctic Islands lying to the south of New Zealand are UNESCO World Heritage sites. This places them in a select group of only 180 natural sites that have been designated as ‘the most important and significant natural habitats' on the planet. They are also afforded the highest conservation status and protection by the Australian and New Zealand governments and access to these islands is by permit only. On this expedition we offer you the unique chance to explore, photograph and understand these wonderful places in the company of some of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides.
As a young biologist, Heritage Expeditions founder Rodney Russ first visited these islands in 1972 with the New Zealand Wildlife Service. He organised New Zealand's first commercial expedition there in 1989 and it was only natural that his family should travel with him, what wasn't predicted was that they would join him in the business and be as passionate about the conservation of this region as he is. Now, many years and over 100 expeditions later, Rodney's sons Aaron and Nathan continue their father's enthusiasm and legacy for this region with Heritage Expeditions. As the original concessionaire we enjoy good relationships with the conservation departments and some of the access permits we hold are unique to these expeditions.
The name we have given to this voyage ‘Galapagos of the Southern Ocean' reflects the astounding natural biodiversity and the importance of these islands as a wildlife refuge. (The book Galapagos of the Antarctic written by Rodney Russ and Aleks Terauds and published by Heritage Expeditions describes all of these islands in great detail.) The islands all lie in the cool temperate zone with a unique climate and are home to a vast array of wildlife including albatross, penguins, petrels, prions, shearwaters and marine mammals like sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals. The flora is equally fascinating; the majority of it being like the birds and endemic to these islands.
This renowned expedition includes four of the Subantarctic Islands, The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell. Each one is different, and each one is unique - just like this expedition.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), all on board ship accommodation 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
3 – 15 December 2015
We left the harbour of mainland New Zealand from the Port of Otago, Dunedin at 10 am. We settled in fairly quickly. There was a 2-3 cm swell running, not perhaps the fiercest introduction to the Southern Ocean, but it did prove that oceans can behave, at least for a time. We had a leisurely cruise down the harbour in bright sunshine out to the heads with the Royal Albatross colony to our right (starboard for those diehard nautical fanatics who have to obfuscate the simplest terms). There were a few New Zealand Fur Seals wallowing in suitably slobbery fashion and the pod of dolphins we had booked to serenade our passage was late, but eventually turned up to see us on our way. We then nosed into the Pacific to start our run towards The Snares, hoping to find a bit of shelter to park the ship for a while.
The first lecture deep down on Level 2 went over how best to enter and leave a Zodiac. The dining room floor stayed fairly level for our first lunch – it is always good to have a well behaved dining room to start with, little did we know! We also had a practical introduction on how much fun we could all expect in a lifeboat. The last talk of the day was an introduction to The Snares islands and why such a growly piece of coastline gets so very few visitors.
The sea conditions were a little rough towards nightfall and the decision was made to head direct for the Auckland Islands with The Snares being impossible to approach, we thus remained hopeful for the way home. The ship was a bit twitchy overnight.
Photo credit: G.Bodo
The night was a wee bit bumpy with a fairly vulgar note in the wind and come dawn it was still a wee bit breezy. There was a good turn out at the first breakfast. The simple joy of a day at sea was embraced and there were some great bird sightings throughout the day. We rocked our way south into a south/south-westerly swell and night found us making relatively steady progress with a predawn arrival into blessedly calmer waters. The total distance travelled horizontally (135 miles) was supplemented by around 200 miles simply going up and down and sideways alas, but that sums up sea travel fairly well.
Our third day at sea dawned pretty calmly as promised in the quiet waters off Enderby Island. Basalt column cliffs dominated the left side of the. It was relatively calm as we tucked into an early breakfast, with the dining room behaving almost as well as the one at home. After breakfast Rodney gave a lecture on the history of Enderby including the sad failure of the Port Ross township of Hardwick. Although it survived a couple of meagre years it was clearly doomed by lunchtime on day one. The Auckland Islands proved a very popular spot for shipwrecks. They even hosted two shipwrecks at the same time at one stage. One group of survivors manufactured shoe lasts and smelted metal manufacturing tools to build a ship for their own rescue. In the meantime the other group failed to even get a shelter together. We all got ashore mid morning and ambled up to the far side across the boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk some continued on to explore Derry Castle Reef before returning to the DOC huts, while others enjoyed the good weather and views around the start zone. We then idled off shore enjoying the calm till sleep claimed us.
Photo credit: M.Cawthorne
The ship quietly relocated overnight and we awoke in the calm of Carnley Harbour, which more specifically is the collapsed caldera of what was once a fairly productive volcano, a few cones and plugs pointing to its somewhat smoky past. Having finished a peaceful breakfast, we made our way for a quick lecture from Rodney on the Auckland Islands group. Later we nosed around the historic sights such as where the Erlangen crew took out 200 tons of Rata wood, the site of the wreck of the Grafton and New Zealand’s number 2 Coast Watchers base. After 70 odd years of consistent neglect by the New Zealand government, the huts were looking slightly sorrier than the hull remnant of the Grafton. Apparently there was one sighting of an enemy vessel during the entire time of the Coast Watching project. Given that the German navy had abandoned wind powered vessels the previous century, it is hard to fathom why they would have bothered with a massive detour this far south. Perhaps they were feeling guilty and had a Rata replanting scheme in mind!
We had a pleasant clamber up to the view point with a restored watch hut not yet entirely covered in trees. It was noted that it had been fitted with a little log fire. A few Sea Lions were very keen to join us. It was interesting to see how far they had wandered up the hill and to be fair they did contribute quite well to track maintenance. After a quiet lunch we drifted out to find some more heavy duty wave action for the 350 odd nautical mile sprint down to the eastern outpost of the Australian Empire, aka Macquarie Island. The chefs and waiting staff again did a most superb job of putting food on plates and keeping it there until it was attacked by hungry expeditioners.
After some rough morning seas, the ocean calmed down a bit. ‘Millpond’ would be pushing it but it was certainly better than the morning. Evening found us gently rolling along with barely a rock to the ship. There was one brief whale sighting which looked ‘Baleenish’ but the encounter was too brief to be certain which one. A very brief bird recap for the day was held in the bar before dinner and relatively peaceful night.
Photo credit: R.Sagar
We found ourselves gently drawing near to Macquarie Island. This island sits right on the continental divide and hosts more earthquakes than anywhere else in Australia. After breakfast and an introductory lecture the landings started at 9.45am in Buckles Bay, just near the Australian Antarctic Division research station. An impressive symphony of snorts, farts, honks and squeaks from Elephant Seals accompanied us all the way up to the base where we were treated to freshly baked scones. The penguins were suitably curious about the boat loads of new arrivals. The Orcas were more focused on looking for fresh and tender baby Elephant Seals that had just begun to frolic in the surf. The large pots for cooking up Sea Lions and penguins looked suitably rusted and decrepit and were now ironically almost totally surrounded by penguins. We noted that Joseph Hatch (the blubber boiling man) claimed that there were more penguins left there at the end of his project than the start. We were back aboard the Spirit of Enderby eating lunch as we steamed to Lusitania Bay but alas found it immersed in murk and grey so headed back north for another restful night off Buckles Bay.
Australian waters were behaving very well with just a gentle rock and not a lot else to greet the morning greyness. Meantime, a good breakfast before we went ashore to Sandy Bay. The baby Elephant Seals didn’t seem to have heard about the 5m rule and several made close attempts to befriend passengers. The Royal and King Penguins were both fairly noisy but with a much smaller symphonic range than the blubbery snot and flatus machines on the beach. The Skuas/louts of the beach were ever watchful for exposed baby penguins but were equally happy savouring anything dead. The rain did eventually pass and one of the crew reported seeing the sun but it didn’t appear to want to dry anything and escaped before the last of us was retrieved back for lunch. We decided to return all the rangers back to their base and head off towards Campbell Island.
Photo credit: R.Sagar
After breakfast the lecture theatre the place to be with a full programme offered for the day. Offerings came from Rachel who discussed the making of a seabird from the evolutionary perspective. Chris then shone some light on marine weather, in part gleaned from his amazing yacht trip across the NW Passage. Martin talked about the Hookers Sea Lion and Elephant Seals and then Rodney gave an outline to Campbell Island to end the day. These presentations and watching out for wildlife consumed a relatively calm day for the Southern Ocean as we cruised north towards Perseverance Harbour, arriving around midnight for a peaceful sleep.
It was a beautiful dawn and everyone agreed that the sun was definitely in the sky. The early party left for North West Bay on a fairly good path although a wee bit overgrown with a reasonable grunt up through tussock. We negotiated a path through the middle of a small landslip over to the far cliffs, avoiding the acidic fetid fish oil, the result of projectile vomit from the petrels on one side and the cliff edge on the other. Then it was time to stop for lunch on the beach, sitting around a trickle of a waterfall while a Leopard Seal lazed below along with a dozen Elephant Seals which were busy yawning, belching with the occasional lifted flipper. After lunch we drifted up to the North West Hut. The last visitor had apparently been over in March this year. Later we crossed up and over the central basin where we mostly managed to avoid the low flying albatross, that swooped by with a very audible ‘whoosh’. Groups were gadding and gamming around generally and one even deigned to flap a wing in the breeze. We then descended back through the Dracophyllum slalom course to the beach at Camp Cove where the most depressed/loneliest tree in the world (a Sitka Spruce) was shivering with a gleeful Connor, both waving in the wind. Connor had come by Zodiac to deliver us back to the Spirit of Enderby. The rest of the party ascended Col Lyall on the boardwalk to view the albatross who behaved beautifully in the increasing wind with a great deal of activity from 3.30pm onwards giving a behavioural bonanza. Martin ‘flushed out’ a Snipe. With wind rising from the north east, Rodney collected the last of the group from Tucker Cove and we enjoyed dinner and a calm night.
Photo credit: M.Bartlett
Sadly the day dawned misty and cloudy decimating the attempt at Mt Honey before it began. The Zodiac cruisers went from below Beeman Hill down to the base finding a good assortment of seals, teals, shags and a godwit. Some went ashore at Camp Cove for a close up view of the Sitka Spruce. They then visited at the homestead site inspecting the sole remnant, a stove. With worsening weather and dampening enthusiasm, there was a strong trend back to the ship for lunch. Lunch cued our departure as we patched up and were off for home via The Snares and hopefully a final Zodiac spin. There was lots more bird activity as we went north.
The ride was still a bit bumpy as we headed for The Snares. Rodney gave a summary of the evolution of Heritage Expeditions from the early days on the Acheron which carried just 12 passengers to the Spirit of Enderby carrying 50 passengers today. He then gave a hint of his next venture which is once again a 12 passenger vessel but totally different to his first ship. The name of this new vessel will be Strannik which is Russian for ‘pilgrim’. We look forward to hearing more about this new venture and craft. Later we had a sneak preview of film shot by some of the passengers and were impressed by Genevieve’s editing skills in what they said was raw footage. The images took us right back to the stark beauty of the islands we had visited. We were able to cruise in close to The Snares and could see dense clouds of Sooty Shearwaters, sedate Snares Crested Penguins passing and fairly good albatross numbers. A relatively quiet night followed as we headed back to Bluff for breakfast.
Photo credit: R.Sagar
Disembarked after breakfast and waved farewell to our new friends. The Southern Ocean had managed to live up to its tempestuous reputation but we had still achieved most of what we set out to do. Thanks to all for their participation and to Captain Dimitri and his crew. Good luck for 2016 and beyond.
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" What a fabulous trip, absolutely awesome Judd was a brilliant leader as were all expedition staff "
" Having kayaked around most of coastal New Zealand I was very excited at the opportunity to be able to join Heritage Expedition’s journey to the Sub Antarctic Islands with my kayak on board. Nine kayakers were able to leave the ship on a daily basis to explore the shore line of The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell Islands. For us, each Island had its own special treasure which we were able to experience up so close. The rugged rocky outcrops on the Snares seemed awash with wild life where the Snares Yellow Crested penguins encircled our crafts like a bunch of clowns that were competing for our attention. The Auckland Islands seemed to have everything from a coastline enriched with dazzling array of plant life to the curious sea lions and Yellow Eyed penguins that swam under our kayaks as if we were play things from another planet. Landing our kayaks on Macquarie Island was made difficult as most of the beaches were overrun by the sprawling penguin colonies. Dozens of these penguins swum alongside our kayaks as we paddled along just beyond the breakers. But for me, Campbell Island seemed to have it all. The huge cliffs that overhung the ocean around East Cape, the sea lion colonies we were able to paddle up to and shorelines that were covered in a variety of megaherbs that helped hide the Yellow Eyed penguins and bird life that were nesting along the shoreline. Plus there was quite a lot of European history that we were able to explore. To have been able to kayak within these Islands was a wilderness experience that few people will ever experience. I am just so thankful to have kayaked within the Islands of Sub Antarctic. "