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, 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: Tuesday 22nd December
From all corners of the globe we arrived – from Britain, Canada, Japan, from all over Australia including a contingent of seven members of the Australian Antarctic Division bound for the scientific base at Macquarie Island; a group from China and even a couple from South Sudan! We gathered at the Kelvin Hotel, settled in, and did any last-minute shopping: gumboots for ‘wet’ landings were high on the list for many. For me: decent coffee. In the evening we gathered to meet each other and some of the staff from our ship the Spirit of Enderby and enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner while Rodney Russ the owner of the company, Expedition Leader and passionate conservationist, briefed us about tomorrow. The ship medic Dr Lesley encouraged everybody to get seasickness patches and apply them in the morning so they had time to work before we went to sea the following afternoon. After all, this is the Great Southern Ocean we were to encounter! Then it was time for jetlagged people to get some welcome sleep, despite the fact that the sun does not set here until well after 9pm!
Day 2: Wednesday 23rd December
Breakfast buffet in the hotel, then promptly at 9am the staff were there to check in our luggage for transport to the ship. Most of us walked a few blocks to the Southland Museum which has a big permanent exhibition all about the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand and their history. But first we were taken to a little movie theatre to watch a slide show all about it and then to meet Henry, the 110 year old Tuatara and some of his friends and relations. Lindsay the museum director has spent 40 years working out how to successfully breed Tuatara. Henry himself was guilty of domestic violence towards his girlfriends until a skin cancer in his private parts was found and cured! The programme has involved learning about UV light, the ‘3rd eye’ pineal gland and its role in melatonin production which might even have implications for Cot Death research.
Next we wandered around the Subantarctic Islands exhibition soaking it all up and all too soon it was time to take the bus back to the hotel for lunch. Then it was time to board the bus again (with a rollcall to make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind) for the half hour ride south past wide windy marshland and estuary to the little port of Bluff, nestled at the foot of a sheltering hill. Customs formalities were simple. We all handed our passports forward, the customs officer inspected them, wrote down our names and we were free to depart. We drove past huge piles of logs and woodchip ready for export and there was our ship waiting, with a welcome committee of staff ready to greet us at the top of the gangway, tick us off the list and show us to our cabins. They are basic (this is a 30 year old Russian research vessel) but comfortable. We settled in, retrieved the odd piece of luggage in the wrong cabin and explored our temporary home. Tea and coffee and delicious little scones made by Andy, one of our two chefs was set out for us in the bar/library. Then it was time to make our way down to the Lecture room, way down on the lowest level for yet another rollcall and to be introduced to the rest of the staff. Jessie was our ‘hotel manager’ or ‘cruise director’, the go-to person for any cabin problems. Lecturers were: Alex, who specializes in plants; Tui who loves albatrosses and penguins and who has spent years in these islands taking beautiful photographs and writing books about them; and Katya who trained in atmospheric chemistry and geology and has lots of experience in Antarctica. Our chefs were Conn and Andy and our Lesley was our Medical Advisor.
Then it was time for the compulsory safety briefing – life jackets, muster stations, and so on. Soon we were pulling away from the wharf and heading down the little harbour and out to sea. The ship came to life, lifting and swaying in the swell. Bird spotting started and we saw gulls, Sooty Shearwaters and our first albatrosses. Foveaux Straight is renowned for its weather, but today it only offered a stiff westerly and a moderate sea. As we passed Stewart Island the ship’s horn sounded the emergency signal and we all got into our warm clothes and struggled into the ungainly orange life jackets from our cabins and found our way to the correct muster station. After yet another roll call we squeezed into the enclosed orange lifeboats. It’s pretty claustrophobic in there, but I guess if it came to the real thing we wouldn’t be complaining!
It was now dinner time for most, although some were already a bit queasy and retiring to their cabins as we hit the real ocean and the ship really started to roll. Rodney warns us repeatedly to be careful, always “one hand for the ship”.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 3: Thursday 24 December (Christmas Eve)
The Snares Islands
We arrived early in the morning but too late to see the famous flight of the Titi (Sooty Petrels) as they leave for their day’s foraging at sea. After an early breakfast we had a briefing when we were told that although it was raining lightly on and off, conditions were good enough to go Zodiac cruising. We are not allowed to land on these pristine islands but would still see plenty from the water. We went through the whole landing routine for practice nevertheless. Lifejackets on and tightened, washing boots carefully and dipping them in Virkon to kill any microbiota stowaways, turn our tags to show we are leaving the ship and transfer to Zodiacs as they swish up and down in the swell. It’s quite a challenge for our first time and we soon learn that timing is everything!
Once inshore though, the sea was pretty flat and we pottered along the coastline
listening to Tuis and Bellbirds sing among the trees, which are not really trees at all, but rather two unrelated types of tree daisy – deep green Brachyglottis stewartiae with bright yellow flowers and an Olearia lyalli with silvery green leaves, with an understory of ferns. But the real attraction was…penguins! The local variety is the endemic Snares Crested Penguin and there were plenty about along the rocky shoreline in clusters above the line of swirling strands of kelp. There were seals too, mostly New Zealand Fur Seals, lounging about looking replete. We explored some echoing caves and cruised up a little inlet to see the research huts nestled into a fairly sheltered spot. Some of our guides have spent time there working out the numbers and interdependence of various species.
Back aboard lunch was served as we headed off to sea again towards the Auckland Islands directly south. The wind was northwest, which made for a twisty combination of pitching and rolling, testing our stomachs again! On deck and from the bridge we watched for more birds. There were Skuas, Giant Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, tiny Storm Petrels and Prions, Bullers, Shy, Wandering and Royal Albatrosses. The ‘Twitchers’ were in heaven! Down below, people bumped around heading for bed. And trying to stay in it!
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 4: Friday 25 December (Christmas Day)
Enderby Island, Auckland Islands
We had arrived! Curious faces peered from the decks to see Ross Harbour and the main Auckland Island with its hilltops obscured by cloud; but we were off Sandy Bay on Enderby Island, which is relatively low and sheltered. The beach, dotted with breeding Sea Lions and a few small huts at its southern end, curved before us. At the briefing after breakfast we were told where we may and may not go, in order to not frighten the shy Yellow-eyed Penguins or annoy aggressive Sea Lion bulls. We carefully checked and vacuumed all shore gear so that no foreign material would contaminate this special place. Then it was line up for boot washing and off to the shore, onto the wave platform at one end of the beach to keep clear of the Sea Lions. We immediately found this was not possible as one had decided that our gathering place in front of the huts was his patch. We admired a handsome plant with large leaves – oh dear it is a giant nettle! Where are the docks to ease the sting? It is not until later that Alex showed us a miniature native dock right underfoot…. Once everybody was ashore, life jackets were stacked in bins and hiking boots put on. We crossed ‘penguin alley’ between two streams and started up the boardwalk which bisects the island up to the west coast cliffs. At first the walkway is enclosed by scrub of flowering Hebes and Dracophyllum, then it leads into tussock country interspersed with our first sighting of Megaherbs! Bulbinella is well named with its saffron yellow globular flowers. Later we came to Anisotome with huge mauve cauliflower shaped flowers. Meanwhile there were lots of little treasures such as cushion plants, flourishing Antarctic bidibid and tiny colourful gentians. At the top of the boardwalk we gathered and looked over the cliff to see penguins flying underwater amongst the waves crashing into the coast far below while a Light-mantled Albatross nested in a crevice on the top.
We split into two groups: one hunting the elusive Auckland Island Snipe, secretive and well camouflaged amongst the grass; another following Alex to admire more Light-mantled Albatross nesting on the cliffs. They are easily the most elegant of the albatrosses. Some of the group returned with Tui, taking their time to notice small things and really soak up this special place. Things such as Sooty Albatrosses courting, listening to their strange calls; a Sea Lion right on the cliff edge and seeing a New Zealand Falcon and parakeets as we walked up behind the beach. Others followed the edge of the island clockwise, mostly along the shoreline, enjoying more views and plant communities. Stilbocarpa became more common and under the shelter of Rata forest, huge leaves the size of restaurant serving dishes were seen. This forest is taller and more open and stunningly beautiful, the more so when a velvety Sea Lion stares at you with limpid eyes from a clearing of silky green moss.
Back out in the open, it is a wild windy coastline with bleached tree skeletons, a small tarn inhabited by a troll-like Bull Sea Lion; some fairly dense scrub to push through, the trail marked with white sticks; and at last the ship swinging in the distance. We were ready for it and slog along the beach, stopping to watch the scene of sex and violence (as Rodney dubs it), and coo at cute new born babies with their mothers and enormous clumsy fathers. Time to put life jackets on, change boots, and board the Zodiacs back to the ship for some rest, but not for long! It was Christmas Day! Everybody cleaned up, lots of us dressed up and then it was time to settle down to a sumptuous five course dinner of broccoli soup, turkey or ham with all the trimmings, tiny individual Christmas puddings, and bonbons if anyone could fit any more. The full moon shone down on us. What a way to spend Christmas!
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Day 5: Saturday 26 December (Boxing Day)
Musgrave Inlet, Auckland Islands
Who would get up early on Boxing Day? We would! The ship was easy overnight as we steamed down the sheltered eastern coast of Auckland Island, then really quiet from 4am when we anchored in Musgrave Inlet, one of the long narrow harbours formed between lava flows and further shaped by glaciation in the last ice age. We woke to see towering cliffs of columnar lava fringed by a boulder strewn shore line, and upstream a classic U-shaped valley, its head and the surrounding hills shrouded in wind cloud.
After an early breakfast we were off in Zodiacs, watching small colonies of Rockhopper Penguins. There used to be many more, but it is thought that a shift of their favourite feeding grounds in the Antarctic Convergence further south has led to a decline in breeding success. We also saw a few of the local endemic shags and watched albatrosses enjoying the up-draught against the cliffs, swooping back and forth sometimes tandem flying in pairs. Eventually we tore ourselves away and crossed the inlet to explore some wonderful sea-caves, going right inside, where Rodney told us a professionally trained singer had performed an amazing aria on a previous visit. Then we entered another cave which opened into a completely enclosed cove with great stalactites of moss and grasses clinging to the dripping roots of the overhanging trees above. Magic! Katya told us this environment was the result of wave action upon alternating layers of lava and ash from ancient eruptions.
Outside, vast kelp beds swirled and curled and choked our poor outboards, but once free of them, we zoomed into a freshening breeze to a small beach, guarded by an absolutely huge and bad-tempered bull Sea Lion. He had several gashes in his side, possibly acquired when he lost a battle or two and retreated here for a bit of peace and quiet. Maybe he was hoping that some ladies might find him there. He huffed and puffed as we quietly moved past him to find the trail up to Lake Hinemoa. It was marked but hadn’t been used for a couple of years so there was a bit of route-finding required. We wound our way happily through the wonderful ancient twisted Rata forest with its sparse understory of weeping Mapou and Dracophyllum and bright green moss. The atmosphere made us look out for elves and dwarves and small secretive critters. Rodney, who was up ahead leading the charge, reported pig rootings and cat basking-spots. There is a DOC plan to rid the island of these and rodents, but it will be expensive. Imagine wriggling through the dense upper scrub hunting down the last few! We climbed over a bit of terminal moraine then quite suddenly burst through to Lake Hinemoa. Urgent wind-driven waves lapped the narrow shore line and it was quite chilly so before long the line re-formed and we made our way back, sloshing, clambering and leaping the few streams, back to the landing spot where our Sea-Lion watched us from the forest edge. He really was impressive. The guides fetched the Zodiacs from their anchorage out in the increasingly choppy inlet, we washed the mud off our trousers and raced back to the ship and lunch. Chicken croquettes and salad!
As we tucked into lunch the anchor was lifted and we were underway along the south coast of Auckland Island, past the entrance to Carnley Harbour and Adams Island shrouded mysteriously in cloud. Once out at sea the rolling started. The wind was on the quarter and this made for uncomfortable travelling. The bird spotters were in heaven, counting off various species of albatross and petrel, not forgetting tiny prions fluttering in the wave troughs. The ship’s course was altered slightly at dinnertime to reduce the roll, but there were a few unfinished dinners all the same.
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 6: 27th December
After a rather roly-poly night, as Rodney would put it, and a somewhat later start to the day, most of us made breakfast and some of us went on deck to enjoy a bit of heavy weather, or to the bridge to watch the seabirds, wheeling and gliding with enormous grace over the heaving waves. Others stayed in their bunks reading and resting or sat editing and comparing photos in the bar/library area. Lectures were cancelled for the morning. By lunchtime however the weather was beginning to ease, the sun broke through as the front passed over and the wind changed to southwest which made the ride a lot more comfortable. Alex gave a fascinating rundown on the plants of the different islands and the reasons for varying biodiversity such as size and age of the island, climatic limitations, geological origin and so on. This was followed by another presentation from Tui, this time on photography. Topics included lens selection, trying different angles, lighting (soft light or dawn/dusk are often best), composition – keeping it simple – and remembering to ‘tell a story’ of some kind. Perhaps her most important point was taking as much time as possible and waiting for that magic moment when it all comes together. Later Rodney told us all about Macquarie Island so we could prepare for our visit the following day. He covered geology, history, plants and most importantly, the animals. The presentation also included shots of some of the areas we will not be able to see on our short visit. Dinnertime offered Lamb Backstraps or Chicken Supreme, followed by an amazing chocolate brownie with raspberry coulis… we were so spoilt! The sun now shone until 10:30pm, the sea was vast and quiet, the albatrosses soared above us and the horizon stretched the full circle around us.
Day 7: 28th December
The Spirit of Enderby was at anchor in Buckles Bay at the isthmus joining the two parts of Macquarie Island when we woke. The ANARE base gleamed in the morning light and the island lay gaunt but green, every detail of its steep slopes etched in the morning light. Excited faces hurried through breakfast, but first our seven visitors from the Australian Antarctic Division, who are replacing another seven going home, would disembark and head for their new quarters. We went through the quarantine process again, carefully checking and vacuuming all our gear to be sure not to bring anything alien to these shores. We were joined by four rangers from the base who briefed us on protocols whilst ashore. The ship steamed along the coast to Sandy Bay (which is in fact more gritty than sandy) and we were briefed as to the attractions and the boundaries for wandering.
Soon we were ashore and surrounded by gorgeous tall King and feisty Royal Penguins. The beach was littered with them, along with great heaps of torpid moulting weaner and sub-adult Sea Elephants, wallowing, scratching and doing a lot of snoring. Now and then they raised their heads and snorted or had a bit of a joust with a neighbour before inevitably collapsing back on top of each other, a friendly flipper over the rival. We picked our way amongst all of this wildlife and there was no way they had heard about the 5-metre rule! Nevertheless none of the creatures was at all bothered by these funny smelling, tall colourful penguins shuffling past them with clicking and whirring cameras (the record for the day was 3,500 photos!).
Along the beach was a stream used as the front entrance to the Royal Penguin colony up the hill a bit. A constant stream of them pattered back and forth along this highway with typical ‘penguin persistence’ undeterred for more than a few moments by any obstacle, large or small, animate or inanimate. Humans, though, must follow the boardwalk up the hill, appreciating the return of tall grasses now that the rabbits and rodents have been removed. We also admired clumps of handsome silvery Pleurophyllum which was just putting up its first flowers. At the top of the boardwalk the whole valley full of Royal Penguins is first smelled, then heard, then revealed.
It is a city of activity – coming and going from the sea, fighting over personal space, tending fledging chicks, gazing aghast when a chick is snatched by a Skua. You could watch for hours.
Back along the beach, the Kings dominate and at the far end of Sandy Bay a colony of about 7,000 of them clustered. Humans are not permitted to enter this area – there is no elbow room for penguins, let alone us! And then there is the wave platform, Royal territory. They stand in clusters on the rocks, play and wriggle off moulting feathers in the rock pools and swim amongst the swirling kelp, emerging from the tangled strands and squabbling with each other. There were cheers when a few Rockhopper Penguins were sighted amongst the crowd. All too soon it was lunchtime and as no food is allowed ashore, we returned to the ship to eat lasagne and salad. After lunch most of us returned to the beach for another helping of wonder as the clouds came in to obscure the sun as the afternoon progressed. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from this entrancing environment. Back aboard we cleaned up and enjoyed drinks at the bar before dinner. The rangers joined us for the meal and spent the night on board so they could accompany us ashore for a tour of the base the following morning. The cloud had come right down to sea level by dinner time, but we had enjoyed a stunning day at Sandy Bay.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 8: 29th December
Lusitania Bay and Macquarie Island Base
We woke early again to see Macquarie shrouded in cloud. Everything was grey and a cold wind was blowing with a threat of rain on its wings. Fortunately the planned Zodiac cruise to look at the huge penguin colony at Lusitania Bay went ahead, despite a rather splashy trip to the shore. The colony is huge and runs more than a kilometre along the shore, extending inland a couple of hundred metres in places. This entire area is solid penguins! Nearly all are Kings, but the ocean boils with Royals and a few Rockhoppers too. Somebody started humming ‘We’ll Never be Royals’ and we all laughed. Our Zodiacs bounced and swooped as close inshore as possible on the swell – we were not allowed inside the breaker zone – nor did we want to be, with all those expensive vulnerable cameras waving about! We didn’t want kelp up our plumbing either. A few weaner Sea Elephants jousted on the foreshore, while Petrels and Skuas swooped overhead on the lookout for the weak and the dead, but really it was all about the penguins, some 350,000 of them. The sight is simply astounding. They surrounded the rusty digesters set up a hundred years ago to turn them, en masse, into oil. How ironic! The weather became threatening so it was time to move on. Getting back on board was a bit of a challenge, but with a reassuring grab from a trusty crew member we all managed to scramble safely back aboard. We tucked into a late breakfast as we steamed back up the (almost invisible) coast to the base. This is a loose and rather motley collection of buildings scattered over a sandy isthmus between the main island and the smaller North Head. It looks vulnerable to storm, let alone Tsunami (being at the junction of two tectonic plates, there are frequent earthquakes). Later we were told that it is indeed vulnerable as waves swept over the lowest area in a big storm last winter.
We waited for the wind to become favourable before we washed our boots then loaded up the Zodiacs to make our way ashore. It was a wettish landing onto slippery boulders and we also had quite a swell to contend with. Once everyone was ashore we set off in groups of ten to tour the base. This covered the historic penguin and elephant seal oil operation (the subject of the first ever mass conservation protest); the Gentoo Penguin colony in the middle of what passes as ‘the main road’; the mess hall, warm and welcoming with Milo and freshly made scones; the western beach, rocky and wild in the cold fresh westerly; and a walk up a staircase to a lookout on the top of nearby Razorback Hill.
Cameras snapped Giant Petrels (including a white one), Skua and shags as we walked. At the bottom of the staircase a very large Sea Elephant blocked our way with his menacing jaws wide open. He was clearly not pleased with invaders on his patch and had no intention of moving off! We ducked under the bannisters one by one and sidled quickly through the tall poa tussocks down to the road. Phew!
The tussock – newly grown since a massive operation to rid the island of rats, mice, and rabbits – is full of Elephant Seals. One suddenly sees a pair of liquid eyes in a huge languid pussycat face peering out, or hears a loud bubbling burp escaping. Fortunately there were no further blockages as we made our way to the beach where Rodney was waiting to tip us back into Zodiacs, four by four, for the ride back to the ship, easy now on a flat sea in sunshine!
Lunch was served on our return at 4pm! There we met our new companions, seven from the base who would be returning with us to Bluff and ultimately to Australia.
Then it was time to depart for Campbell Island, back north east, so had been the farthest south we would go. We had a day at sea with the wind behind us to look forward to! In the evening we watched a documentary film about the pest eradication programme on Macquarie Island and after a late dinner, a re-cap on the day and a last glimpse of birds lit by the last golden light we watched the sun set at 10:40pm.
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Day 9: 30th December
What a lovely relaxing day we had! The sun shone and the sea was so gentle you wouldn’t believe this was the Great Southern Ocean – it was more like the tropics! Several people sported sunburn by the end of the day! We read and played cards, we listened to Tui talk about ‘Albatrosses and Penguins: their World, their Ways’ accompanied by more of her entrancing photos. Alex gave a talk on Campbell Island also with great pics and in the afternoon Rodney also gave a presentation with some of the same pics! The birdwatchers were a bit disappointed as there was not much about. Maybe the birds were taking a rest too in the unusually balmy weather!
As night drew in we heard that there was a front due over in the night, but it was hard to believe as everything looked so benign when we retired to our cabins.
Day 10: 31 December (New Years Eve)
At bedtime last night a jagged silhouette of an island could just be seen on the horizon and at 2am the engines changed their tune – we were at anchor in Perseverance Harbour. The morning brought an unwelcome sight with low clouds scudding across the harbour and these were accompanied by a stiff wind funnelling down the nearby valley. At the briefing after breakfast we were presented with two options: the ‘Long Walk’ across the island to Northwest Harbour then looping back – cold, wet, misery guaranteed, Albatrosses and Megaherbs in flower also promised; or Zodiac cruising and a shorter easier walk up the boardwalk to the Col Lyall Saddle. Twenty three people put their hands up for the hard stuff and were told they would regret it!
Decision made, it was downstairs to the vacuum cleaners with the words “we don’t want to bring anything Aussie here!” ringing in our ears (apart from some rather nice people of course!) Packed lunches were created, warm waterproof clothes donned and packed and the ‘Long Walkers’ were off in the Zodiacs to Tuckers Cove. After a quick look at the abandoned Coastwatcher/Metservice station the group headed up the hill. The mud was immediate. We squelched through very ordinary paddock grass, up through Dracophyllum, then through semi-open cushion bog where our first Megaherbs appeared. First it was the Bulbinella with its yellow-orange candles, then the purple cauliflower heads of Anisotome and the chocolatey purple buttons of Pleurophyllum hookeri. Someone noticed tiny orchids and we are on our knees with our cameras contorting ourselves to get ‘That Photo’. Later we stopped for a break on a landslide and noticing lumps of ‘sort of’ pumice from the volcanic action that created this island.
Soon we were up in cloud, trying to stay together as we picked our way along the track. It was windy with light rain falling off and on, the kind that gets into every crevice of your clothing. But it was worth it when we got to the fellfields of flowers along the cliffs. Masses of Bulbinella, interspersed with great purple heads of Anistome and the extraordinary stalks of Pleurophyllum with their chocolatey button flowers assaulted our senses against an alternating background of cloud and spectacular limestone cliffs (a geology lesson in themselves) with the sea crashing far below. Besides all this, here and there we spotted Giant Petrel nests with great big fluffy chicks, or better still, a Royal Albatross sitting with truly royal dignity and patience on its circular platform nest. They really are huge! It is a breath-taking sight and we feel a real sense of privilege to be here! Next we descended slowly down the ridge, then rather rapidly down a very narrow slithery gully to the ‘beach’ of smooth white limestone rocks for lunch. During our break we were entertained by a rather angry Sea Lion who ranged up and down huffing at us in a threatening fashion and occasionally taking an experimental bite at Alex’s heavy waterproof bag that was being used as a shield. Fortunately for Alex he didn’t seem to like the taste!
Uphill we went again and contrary to the weather forecast, the rain had really settled in by now. We pushed our way through scrub to Northwest Hut where we peeked into the musty abandoned interior and took a group photo. Then we sloshed through mainly grassland onto the col with Mount Dumar, where there were lots of Royal Albatross nests. We watched them ‘gamming’ (hanging together chatting) and soaring close overhead in the wind. But it was cold and we were all wet, so we kept moving, sidling the ridge inland until suddenly we arrived at a large cave in some rocks where we could stop for a welcome respite from the weather and a very welcome chocolate biscuit! After a short breather it was down, down, down, through weird Dracophyllum ‘forest’ to the shore at last where we could inspect the site of the dwelling of the ‘Lady of the Heather’ and the ‘Loneliest Tree in the World’ (a very multi-stemmed but fairly healthy old Sitka Spruce). Rodney was waiting with the Zodiacs and we waded aboard managing to rinse SOME of the mud off, before motoring back to the ship. Back aboard it was a case of boot wash, leg wash, bum wash and aaaah! hot showers, dry clothes and a warm drink. That was quite a day!
The other group report a fascinating day also. At 9.30am the Zodiacs were loaded and off they went seeking the Campbell Island Flightless Teal Anas nesiotis .This tiny bird became extinct on the main island of the Campbell group from predation by Norway Rats and then was re-discovered by the one and only Rodney Russ in 1975 as an isolated population on Dent Island. Small in stature it may be, but the teal has plenty of personality. Several individuals and even a pair, the male with an iridescent green head and the female smaller with a brown head, were sighted during the morning, feeding, squabbling and being harassed by Antarctic terns in the kelp and rocks of the shorelines. From a scarce rarity 40 years ago, thanks to a successful breeding programme and re-introductions after the successful eradication of rats from the island, the teal has established a healthy breeding population once more on Campbell Island. The Zodiac cruise continued through the bays and coves of Perseverance Harbour, visiting the ‘Loneliest Tree in the World’. Standing above the heath and Dracophyllum scrub, this single spruce pine planted by sheep farmers in the 19th century now boasts World Heritage listing and enjoys regular summer visits from expeditions such as ours. Near the lonely tree is the site of the legend of ‘The Lady of the Heather’. This relates to the story of a woman marooned on the island in the 19th century. Part fact, part fiction, the site of the old hut now supports a healthy stand of flax. The Zodiacs also landed at another historical site where an old shepherd’s hut once stood. All that remains now is a cast iron coal range, two-thirds of a leather shoe and an occasional glass flask bottle amongst a few brick-ends scattered along the shoreline. We continued the cruise past Venus Cove, site of an 1874 French expedition to watch the transit of Venus. One of the party died whilst on the island and is buried at the top of a small promontory. There are several other old graves on the island, including that of Frederick Hasselborough who discovered the island in 1810. We also visited Garden Cove, a gentle slope down to the shoreline where shepherds once attempted to grow vegetables. Sea Lions kept us company throughout the morning, mainly young males undulating and poking their noses through the water or establishing their patch on the beach. There were plenty of kelp gulls along the shore, and one Zodiac was treated to the sight of a kelp gull repeatedly dropping a mussel onto the rocks to crack it open and feed on the tasty morsel inside.
After a well deserved picnic lunch back on board the Spirit of Enderby, there was time for a quick nap or a chat and a reinvigorating cuppa, before it was back into the Zodiacs for a much anticipated stroll up the Col Lyall boardwalk. A large bull Sea Lion initially blocked our passage as we made our way from the wharf area to the old Meteorological Station, now abandoned as observers have been replaced with automated technology. There were two types of walkers – those keen on stretching their legs and making a quick ascent to the top, and those happy to amble along at snails pace, stopping to regularly observe the minute. Once clear of the Dracophyllum scrub, the island vegetation opened into tussock grassland where we caught the first glimpses of the Royal Albatross, hunkered down against the biting wind driven mist and rain. Why they would choose to live in such an inhospitable climate remains a mystery! Rodney, playing tail-end-charlie to the group assured us all that we would be up close and personal to more accessible albatross as we got closer to the top, so the group started their slow ascent again, stopping to marvel at the huge Pleurophyllum criniferum plants that now dotted the landscape. Soon, they gave way to the first of the spectacular Pleurophyllum speciosum plants, with their leaves of corrugated cardboard and the first flowering specimen was subjected to a barrage of camera lenses as we all wanted to capture that beauty forever in our memories. The concentration of megaherbs increased in the protected gullies, replaced with the tussock grasses where the constant wind exposure would rip them to shreds.
The slower group then started to meet the first of the cold and bedraggled, but elated expeditioners returning from the summit of the boardwalk. Most of them expressed their awe at what lay ahead, encouraging those who perhaps had misgivings about their decision to venture into the rain, fog and wind. But out of the mist, a major enticement started to appear – a Royal Albatross clamped down against the weather on a nest right next to the track. Apparently unfazed by the invasion of strangers into its world, the beautiful bird passively sat incubating its egg whilst appearing to pose for the cameras. A couple of the keen photographers ventured 100m or so off the track into an area where general access is permitted and found another bird happily nestled in amongst the Bulbinella flowers, providing the perfect photographic setting. Despite the rain and the risk to camera equipment, these two made the most of every minute they could with these special creatures, in case they didn’t have the opportunity to return the following day in good weather. It was tough and wet equipment, saturated clothing and foggy lenses didn’t help. Then there was the fog and how to capture the surrounding and context of the lives of these birds when the background was invisible, only glimpsed occasionally when the weather allowed. Further up the boardwalk, many sat in absolute awe on a well placed seat protected from the westerly winds. The source of their awe was an expanse of megaherb garden, complete with the most spectacular flowers poking their heads up above the sea of massive green leaves. Most flowers were the pink and purple hues of the giant carrot, Anisotome latifolia, which was at the peak of its production. Occasional early flowers of the Emperor Daisy and button daisies intermingled with the fading yellow flowers of Bulbinella rossii; the buds of the daisies hinting at the spectacular riot of colour that was soon to explode on the slopes of Col Lyall. One Royal Albatross had chosen the perfect nesting site, overlooking this most beautiful of nature’s gardens.
For the hearty souls, the terminus of the boardwalk awaited, but required moving into the exposed lip of Northwest Bay, where the winds increased significantly and even standing was challenging. With no view due to the low cloud, most chose to stay in the protection of the megaherb garden, before making the journey back to the ship. The return journey provided an opportunity for ‘team botany’ to poke about in the vegetation, seeking the elusive blue flowers of Hebe bethamii, and ogling over the myriad of orchid species to be found beside the track. Frustratingly, the calls of the Campbell Island Snipe could be heard in the distance, but not a single bird was to be seen. All too soon, it was 6pm and time to make a quick return to the wharf where there were still more things to see. A Sea Lion rolling in the grass accidentally rolled over the edge into the water before picking itself up and indignantly glaring at the humans that must have been responsible for its misfortune was the highlight while waiting for Rodney’s water taxi service to take us back to the ship.
Then it was time for the festivities to begin! The bar filled with cheerful voices, an amazing number of party frocks and nice shirts – even a bow tie! The conviviality was carried downstairs to a slapup buffet dinner complete with three meats and all sorts of veges; champagne all round courtesy of Heritage Expeditions; Kiwi Pavlova for dessert; and back to the bar/library afterwards. Towards midnight those of us still at it repaired to the top deck where we enthusiastically counted in 2016 with the faint trace of sunset still on the westward horizon outlining the silhouette of the volcano that surrounded us. We hummed and stumbled through ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and finally, for a few die-hards still on deck later there was the really special New Year treat of a shimmering Aurora Australis. What a way to see in the New Year!
Photo credit: K.Riedel
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Photo credit: A.Fergus
Day 11: 1 January 2016 (New Year’s Day)
Rodney was up at sunrise (5am) to check the weather and wake those crazies who had signed up for another strenuous tramp, this time to nearby Mount Honey, the highest point on the island. It was capped in cloud but we hoped that it would clear by the time we got there. We pulled on half-dried clothes, snatched a light breakfast and rode the Zodiacs into Camp Cove at the head of the harbour. As usual a large Sea Lion came to check us out, but decided we are boring and swam off. We set off – again over pasture grass booby-trapped with Elephant Seal wallows at first – then climbed uphill between walls of Dracophyllum scrub. Ryan wanted to know why we weren’t heading straight to the hill. I didn’t know, but there was no choice but to follow the track through the dense stuff! We emerged onto rolling tops with cushion bog and tiny orchids and amazing white coral lichen, then started the ‘rollercoaster’ across the flanks of the mountain, each dip plunging us into tallish Dracophyllum. Alex pointed out that some of it exceeded 5m and therefore may be called a tree. We also encountered the occasional challenging mud-hole or peaty stream. Gradually we ascended and then turned uphill in earnest, following a surprisingly well defined track with slim plastic marker poles to the edge of the Dracophyllum into tussock country studded with Royal Albatross nests. The birds endured our attention with stately dignity as we clicked away; as Rodney says, they are not morning birds! Now it was every man for himself as we made our way up the ever-steepening mountain over squelchy slithery grass, mud, and then wide fields of Bulbinella increasingly peppered with beautiful Pleurophyllum and Anisotome and even a few Stilbocarpa. Alex found some of Jessie’s ‘Forget-me-nots’ and as she said, they are tiny, hardly bigger than a penny. Views to the south coast opened up – Monument Harbour and Six-foot Lake look very beautiful framed by the long wide slopes and valleys around. On and up, it was getting colder now and we were willing the cloud to lift, but it didn’t and we reached the top in cloud and mist. There were even a few flakes of snow! After a snack and a group photo it was time to go down again and of course this was a whole lot faster, but there were quite a few bum-slides along the way and Ryan was seen up to his knees in mud, fishing for a lost shoe. We were tired but happy when we met the boat to return to the ship. It was great to complete our last boot wash, take off our lifejackets, have a warming shower and tuck into some serious food.
Those of us who didn’t join the hike or revisit the boardwalk on Col Lyall took a Zodiac cruise up to the mouth of Perseverance Harbour. The plan was to look for Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and teal, and we were rewarded with many sightings of both. Two teal were spotted still sporting bands from the re-introduction programme, a great confirmation the birds are doing very well on the island. Four Light-mantled Sooty Albatross were seen on their nests along the cliffs faces, a gorgeous sight amongst the giant purple Anisotome flowers and tussocks draping the volcanic rock. Several pairs were courting and calling, a wonderful display to see and hear. Yellow-eyed Penguins were peering through the vegetation cloaking the cliff faces and scrambling down to the waterline giving confirmation that these solitary little penguins are accomplished climbers! We cruised past two large Sea Lion colonies and were able to see the tiny pups born this year amongst the towering males and protective females. In the mouth of the harbour was the gruesome sight of a dead seal floating on the tide, being devoured by a large flock of Giant Petrels. The photographers were able to capture some excellent images of Giant Petrel behaviour and display as the birds fought over the carcass, establishing the day’s pecking order. The Zodiacs passed stunning displays of columnar basalts as they made their way back up the harbour to the ship. Shaped by the volcanic processes which created Campbell Island, the basalt columns give the cliff faces a sculpted look and really bring to life the dramatic history of the islands.
The anchor went up as lunch was served and afterwards everyone was on deck enjoying the glorious sunshine as we said goodbye to this last and most glorious island of the trip. Slowly the ship eased out of Perseverance Harbour, past Davis Head with its penguin and seal colonies, and along the rugged outer coast of Campbell Island. Hundreds of seabirds of all kinds escorted us from this our last port. As we reached the open sea the ship came alive with a gentle roll and we were on our way home. Our Macquarie friends were brimming with excitement as they had not seen loved ones for many months. As for the rest of us, who can say? It had been a wonderful journey and we each took with us some treasured memories and stories to share for the months and years to come.
Photo credit: A.Fergus
9 December 2012 - 21 December 2012
Click here for Species List
Sunday 9 December
On a balmy early December day in Hobart the members of our expedition party began to gather. In nearby streets and on the wharves of Hobart one could pick the occasional stranger or pair of strangers with a glint of high-sea excitement in their eyes. By 9:30pm we were no longer unknown to one another as 52 of us gathered together for a formal introduction and our first meal together. A few drinks and a few hours of friendly greetings later, everyone retired, buzzing with anticipation for our departure the following day.
Monday 10 December
Breakfast was a casual affair before checking out of the hotel and spending some hours enjoying the mash of history and chic that makes up downtown Hobart. By 8am the Spirit of Enderby was alongside Pier 3 at the Hobart Wharf and customs and Heritage Expedition staff members whirred into action to prepare the ship for a 4pm departure. At 12:30pm we boarded a bus with our bags of ‘expeditioning’ equipment. On arrival at Pier 3 the bus was boarded by customs agents who cleared us to embark the ship. It was a home-coming for some, a first time for others, as we boarded the Spirit of Enderby. After quickly finding our lodgings, we met again with the customs folk on board and officially exited Hobart. An hour later once the south-easterly wind pinning us to the wharf abated, we set off, passing the huge ‘Voyager of the Sea’ which loomed above us. We had watched her 3,500 passengers spend the day funnelling on and off the ship and did not envy them at all as we all looked forward to our small ship experience. We tested our emergency systems and lifeboats as we exited the river and harbour surrounding Hobart. The first reading of on board ornithologist Adam’s bird list followed dinner and we continued out into the Tasman.
Tuesday 11 December
We awoke to a sunny morning as an unpredictable westerly swell from South Africa had picked up overnight. After breakfast a pair of Orca was spotted off the bow of the ship. We lunched at 1pm and by this time we had travelled far enough to be lattitudinally on par with Bluff, our final destination in 10 days’ time. Adam gave us an introduction to the Albatross of the Southern Ocean and then returned to the Bridge, where with his support we spotted one Sei Whale and three Finn Whales. Later in the afternoon botany expert Alex gave an introductory lecture to the flora of the Subantarctic Islands, stage one in his grand plan to convert or at least sway those more animally oriented in the direction of green things. Following chefs Lindsay and Bobbie’s fantastic dinner, Adam updated us on the bird list. His top three for the day were (1) 2,000+ Broad Bill Prions (a significant sighting, the details of which would be passed onto the appropriate agencies); (2) Gould’s Petrel; (3) White-headed Petrel.
Wednesday 12 December
Another late breakfast eased us into our day at sea. The first notable change from yesterday was the increasing roll on the ship, mostly noticeable as more grabbing for tumbling items at the breakfast table. Following breakfast we watched ‘The Edge of Nowhere’. A film about the recovery of Fur Seals on Macquarie Island, and the monitoring of their success during the breeding season. Adam followed this with an introduction to the marine mammals of Southern Ocean. He detailed the various groups, their life history and ancestry, their distinctive characteristics and our likelihood of encountering them. Lunch at 1pm was of the outstanding standard we had already come to expect. We had the great pleasure that afternoon of one of our fellow passengers, David Panton, sharing with us his photos of Macquarie Island taken 48 years earlier, when he summered over on the island from December 1964 until March 1965, as a University of Adelaide student. David matched his photos with tales of life on the island, detailing adventures and aspects of the natural history. Following on from dinner, Tim Fraser, our Department of Conservation representative, spotted four Fur Seals from the Bridge. Armed with information from Adam’s lecture and his growing identification skills, he claimed them to be Subantarctic Fur Seals. The day was capped off with the bird list reading by Adam, his top three species for the day were (1) Northern Royal Albatross; (2) Mottled Petrel; (3) Kerguelen Petrel.
Thursday 13 December
We awoke to find the ship escorted by a convoy of Antarctic Prions. Expedition Leader Nathan updated us on our progress informing us that with 150 nautical miles to run we were expecting to be at Macquarie by 10pm. Hotel Manager Meghan opened the sea-shop for a spell after breakfast, giving folk the opportunity to pick up Subantarctic mementoes for friends, family and for personal collections. At midday Nathan gave us a Zodiac briefing, instructing everyone in the safe use of the craft for landings, cruising and disembarkation. After lunch we heard a lecture from Samuel who introduced us to the penguins of the region. He covered the diversity, the ancestry, the anatomy and life history of this family of birds. Another great dinner came and went and then for those keen few who were still on the bow or the Bridge at 9:45pm, Macquarie Island slipped into view. First North Head was visible as a black shadow hung with cloud, but within 15 minutes the first few flickering lights of the peopled isthmus could be seen. The ship rounded North Head, past the isthmus and continued south to anchor off Sandy Bay for a quiet night in the lee of the island.
Friday 14 December
Before most of us arose the Russian crew had brought the ship back up to the isthmus. By 7:30am, in about 25 knots of westerly wind, we had collected four Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife staff members who were to act as our guides on Macquarie. We breakfasted with Anna, Narelle, Paul and Richard before returning south to Sandy Bay. Good numbers of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross suspended themselves in updrafts around the ship as we made our way south. At 8:20am Nathan gave us a briefing for the day ahead, and by 9:30am the first Zodiacs were ashore. At Sandy Bay we were relatively protected from the wind, and almost everyone got ashore without getting very wet, and once ashore, most had to halt and take a moment to absorb the biotic spectacle in front of them. Littering the beach were Elephant Seal weaners, marching groups of curious King Penguins, and flocks of Royal Penguins. To the south of Sandy Bay mature female Elephant Seals slumbered piled upon another. We crossed over the highway below the Royal Penguin colony and passed the moulting King Penguins who had established themselves mid-stream below the boardwalk, taking to the boardwalk ourselves. Only a dozen or so vertical metres above the boardwalk we watched the vegetation change from coastal tussocks into herbfield, with a broad plain of the megaherb Pleurophyllum hookeri, the Silver Leaved Daisy, stretching inland and beginning to flower. Starkly contrasting the low herbfield were the exclosure plots, 30-year-old squares of vegetation protected from the now extinct rabbit horde. These quadrants established with great foresight, will seed the island’s recovery, and provided us an image of what the island will be like in years to come. Further up the boardwalk a pair of skua casually minded their small chick which shuffled between daisies in a bid to evade our notice. We came to the end of the boardwalk, and were greeted by a mass of squawking, pebble-pilfering and regurgitation in a colony of thousands of Royal Penguins raising this season’s chicks. Here we could sit back and simply be enthralled by the performance, but we also had Paul from the Macquarie Island staff with us who was happy to share all he knew about island life and the colony in front of us. Back down on the beach most folk took the opportunity to sit down above the surf and wait for the wildlife to engage with them. It seldom took more than few minutes before a group of inquisitive King Penguins came to investigate just what we were and what we were up to. Similarly, the nursing instinct of the Elephant Seal weaners had them lumbering towards us on the beach. A squall passed over and the weather evolved continually from morning, over lunch, into early afternoon, when sunshine eventually took hold. North of the rocky outcrops and small rock stacks that provided us with some of the coastal protection we were enjoying was a small King Penguin colony, dotted with fat brown-downed chicks. The comings and goings of this highly entertaining colony spurred thousands of camera clicks from the revolving group of observers. But this was only a tiny colony, and by 3:30pm we were all back on the ship and heading south once again to the largest King Penguin colony at Lusitania Bay. The Zodiacs went out in two groups along the coastal edge of the colony where we all marvelled at the huge numbers of birds. This year alone the Lusitania Bay colony had produced 46,000 chicks, very welcome numbers given this was one of Joseph Hatch’s main bases for penguin slaughter. Rusting hulls of digestors mid-colony are now the only reminder of the penguin oil industry. Back on board the ship, we all agreed with Adam that the top three for the day were (1) King Penguin; (2) Royal Penguin; (3) Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Plant of the day, now that we were seeing them, was undoubtedly the Silver Leaved Daisy, Pleurophyllum hookeri, topping the mere 18 species we saw ashore.
Saturday 15 December
We had an early rise for a 6.30am breakfast and an uncertain day ahead. There had been a change in the weather overnight, made obvious by the increasing roll of the ship. Nathan, Adam and Samuel had been studying our landing site with binoculars from the wee hours of the morning and reported 1.5m swells crashing onto our landing rocks. During breakfast the team kept an eye on the north north-easterly swell intensifying in Buckles Bay and after Nathan, Adam, Alex and Samuel inspected the landing site by Zodiacs they reported that a safe landing was not possible. Plan B was to get the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife team on board and head south with them back to Sandy Bay. We hung off the beach for 30 minutes waiting for a window, but the growing swell and a report from the field team at Sandy Bay soon stymied these plans so we set out course to Campbell Island. We had all had a fantastic day at Sandy Bay and despite not being able to stay longer we still had plenty of memories of our time here. Everyone took the opportunity for a quiet day aboard the ship, dozing, reading or birding on the bow. Before dinner we had a recap of our time on the island, what we had seen and how lucky we had been the day before. Adam’s top three birds from our day at sea were (1) Grey-headed Albatross; (2) Soft-plumaged Petrel; (3) Brown Skua.
Sunday 16 December
We had breakfast at 8:30am as the ship punched into the north north-westerly wind, which was blowing all the way from Westport on New Zealand’s West Coast to us, 1500km to the south. Following breakfast Nathan let us know the plan for the day, noting the increasing northerly and the 110 nautical miles we had left to run to Campbell Island. At 10:30am Alex gave a lecture on the environmental history of Campbell Island, predominantly from a botanical viewpoint, which was well attended. Afterwards we watched two films courtesy of the Department of Conservation. The first named ‘The Battle for Campbell Island’ detailed the 2001 rat eradication programme, while the second ‘The Impossible Dream: Campbell Island Teal story’, retold the story of the discovery and recovery of this species. After the typical gourmet lunch courtesy of Lindsay and Bobbie we sailed into the increasing northerly wind which could be heard whistling around the ship. Around 1pm we crossed an invisible barrier in the ocean, where the sea floor rose approximately 700m as we came over the edge of the Campbell Plateau. The most notable outward sign of this change was the variety of birdlife present around the ship. We began to see good numbers of species like the Campbell Albatross and the Southern Royal Albatross. The swell increased to 3-4m as we rolled on towards Campbell, but by 6pm it began to abate and we could soon see a shrouded triangle of rock appear north-west of the bow – Jacquemart Island. Dinner was followed by Adam’s bird list, his top three being: (1) Campbell Albatross; (2) Southern Royal Albatross; (3) Grey-back Storm-Petrel.
Monday 17 December
While most of us slumbered peacefully on a calm sea in the lee of Campbell Island our always quietly industrious Russian crew plotted our strategy to land at Perseverance Harbour. Around 1am the wind had dropped to 40-50 knot winds as the ship rounded the entrance of the harbour. By 5am we had anchored off Beeman Point and shortly afterwards Meghan’s breakfast announcement heralded the start of what would be a magnificent day. The island’s peaks and coves were hung with clag, but the balmy 12°C temperature gave some indication that cloud would eventually give way to sun.
After breakfast Nathan gave us a full briefing, both an introduction to the natural history of Campbell Island, and an outline of our options for the day. Alex led those who elected to walk the challenging North West Bay route and Meghan joined this team of eight. At 8:45am we boarded a Zodiac and were dropped on the old ramp by the wharf, where we clambered up around the old generator and balloon-release buildings of the Meteorological Station. From there we made our way towards Tucker Cove, where we picked up one of our finds for the day, a Far Eastern Curlew, later confirmed by Adam as the first report for this species from Campbell Island. We followed the coast before heading up through the Dracophyllum toward Homestead Ridge. Across the partially board-walked bog we made our way through a dwarfed heath herbfield, where the Beak Orchid Waireia stenopetala, had begun to flower. Following an old slip for a short steep stint, we attained the ridge that stretches south from Col Peak. Dotted along the ridge in and amongst megaherbs were the nests of Southern Royal Albatross, often on our trail. On the coastal cliffs, gardens of megaherbs contained all but one of the six megaherb species: Giant Button Daisies P. criniferum, Emperor Daisies P. speciosum, Silver Leaved Daisies P. hookeri, giant subantarctic carrots Anisotome latifolia, and Macquarie Island Cabbages Stilbocarpa polaris were all in various stages of flowering. Here also the clouds lifted and we could look west down on Dent Island and North West Bay. We were occasionally startled by Sea Lions amongst the head high tussocks, so we stayed in close contact as we navigated the tussock labyrinth down to Capstan Cove. Lunch on a sunny beach was made perfect by the presence of Yellow-eyed Penguins, scrapping Sea Lion bulls, and about a dozen dozing Elephant Seal weaners. Up through the Dracophyllum forest, which graded into scrub, we wound our way along the 1984 fence line. At the top we basked in the sun with Southern Royal Albatross soaring overhead. From here we sidled through mixed vegetation, past small gamming groups of albatross, over streams and peat scars until we reached Cave Rock, the emergency shelter of the Campbell Island Coastwatchers. It was only a short stroll downhill from here, through more Dracophyllum forest, to Camp Cove and the Sitka Spruce. As Samuel brought the Zodiac into the bay to collect us we reflected back on what could not have been a better day. At that moment Meghan fell waist deep into an Elephant Seal wallow, much to the amusement of the group and in their opinion making it now a perfect day!
While we completed our north-west circuit, the remainder of our group had their own adventures. Most of the group left the ship by Zodiac at 9:30am first landing at the site of the old homestead, now little more than an Orion Shacklock stove and a sward of pasture grass. After exploring the site, the team continued onto Camp Cove, watching Giant Petrel chicks among the tussock and a large bull Sea Lion waddling around Camp Stream. The group provided some much needed company to the loneliest tree in the world, and may also have provided some cheer to Camp Cove’s other lonely soul. In amongst the flax above Camp Cove is the remains of a sod-cottage, the forlorn home of the ‘Lady of the Heather’. Reputed to be the illegitimate daughter of Bonnie Prince Billy, the so called Lady of the Heather was abandoned on the island by a sealing gang, where she lived out her days, seen by passing ships, wandering in tartan across the rolling highland-like hills. Until the 1980s a heather plant clung to life beside the cottage, adding some sway to the tale. By 11:30am everyone was back on board the ship for a brief lunch, before returning ashore at 1pm to conquer the Col-Lyall boardwalk. Past the old meteorological hostel, the boardwalk wound up around Beeman Hill. A dead Sea Lioness had thoughtfully been removed from the boardwalk by the four researchers on the island, and two Snipe were seen by the lead group. Across the open cushion bog and into herbfield and scrub, the boardwalk continued up into Southern Royal Albatross nesting territory. Here two birds had nested almost right on the boardwalk this season. Everyone had the opportunity to explore the area further by stepping off the boardwalk in the zone around the old terminus. The final stretch of the boardwalk led through fantastic megaherb fields — blooming under brilliant low afternoon light — and up onto Col-Lyall ridge. Fighting buffeting winds, the group had the opportunity to look south into North West Bay, before slowly meandering back down the boardwalk to the wharf.
By 6:30pm everyone was back on board the ship for a great dinner courtesy of Lindsay and Bobbie and by 7:45pm we rounded the entrance of Perseverance Harbour and bid farewell to Campbell Island. The plant of the day, never easy to choose on Campbell, probably had to be the Ross Lily, Bulbinella rossii, it beat the 84 other species we saw by the intensity and abundance of flowering. A great year to have seen it!
Tuesday 18 December
After an unsettling night due to weather, we arrived at the Auckland Islands and Carnley Harbour. A late breakfast was followed by a quiet morning. By 11am land was in sight, and at 11:30am the ship was steered into the harbour entrance. We continued up the long channel that separates the main Auckland Island from Adam’s Island to the south. Past Musgrave Peninsula to starboard of the ship, where we would return in the afternoon, we continued up into the Western Arm of Carnley Harbour and we could spy crashing swell in the notorious Victoria Passage at the end of the harbour. After lunch Adam gave us an introduction to the Auckland Islands. He talked about the biological importance of the island group, for example Adam’s Island is the largest island in the world never to have had pests introduced. Adam also touched on the historical significance of the area. The Auckland Islands had been a staging post for many significant Antarctic expeditions, and in their own right had a very chequered history of disaster, disappointment and death. Nathan took over from Adam and briefed us on the afternoon’s landing. We landed in Tagua Bay, near a narrow isthmus that almost severs Musgrave Peninsula from the main island. Following a barely recognisable path we continued up to the site of the old Coastwatcher’s hut where Nathan provided an overview of the site. From here we continued up, passing a stunning patch of white and purple Spider Orchids Singularybas oblongus until we emerged above snow tussocks on an open hillock. Here to the north-west we could look into the North Arm of Carnley Harbour, home to the wreck of the Grafton, and the rata clearing that had fuelled the Erlangen’s eastward journey to South America. A short two minute walk led down to the old Coastwatch station, which looked out to the south-east of Carnley Harbour. Everyone slowly returned in batches down to the beach. By 6.30pm we were back on the ship and within the hour it was time to dine. For those of us still awake and in biotic-wonderment, the bird and plant list followed. I missed Adam’s top three species for the day, but the Spider Orchids won out on the floristic front, beating the 39 other species seen from the Tagua Bay site.
Wednesday 19 December
Meghan roused us all at 6:15am with promises of rain and 7°C. Within 15 minutes we were eating, and by 7:30am Nathan was introducing us to Enderby Island and briefing us for the day ahead. The team had two options ashore on beautiful Enderby Island – a long walk, almost a circumnavigation of the island’s coast, and a shorter walk, allowing more time for absorbing the wildlife. In small groups everyone boarded Zodiacs for a beach landing among a group of SAMs (Sub Adult Male Sea Lions) who were far too curious for comfort. Once ashore, all of us regrouped above the beach near the research team’s buildings and from here we set off. First we quickly crossed a small stream and grassy sward, keeping a good pace so as not to block the passage of Yellow-eyed Penguins from the forest to the sea.
We soon joined a trail leading into the gnarled Southern Rata Metrosideros umbellata forest which led up onto a boardwalk stretching right to the northern coast of the island. For the most part this boardwalk crosses a dwarf forest, punctuated with bog patches, Royal Albatross nests, and various orchid species. The scrub then grades into herbfield and a plain of Ross Lilys, endemic gentians and Giant Carrots. We dismounted the boardwalk and continued through the megaherbs to the coastal cliffs where half a dozen pairs of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross nest. This gave us a great opportunity to get shots of them on the nest, or keening out to sea. Here our group split and the circumnavigators began the rest of our journey, while the short-walkers remained to enjoy the megaherbs and the albatross, before eventually retracing their steps back to Sandy Bay, and the growing throng of Sea Lions on the beach. Those who opted for the long journey continued along the coast, around Ihupuku and Whakhao Bays and down toward Derry Castle Reef, where good numbers of Fur Seals, Dotterels and Yellow-eyed Penguins could be seen in the distance. Just before we reached the reef we spotted a pair of Red-crowned Parakeets grazing on gentian flowers, happily oblivious to the passing humans. Further along undulating coastal hills we passed Bones Bay and Three Cave Bay before reaching the eastern side of the island and the two main Auckland Island Shag colonies. Here the birders among us had good opportunities to snap this endemic species close-up. From North East Cape, the smaller of the two Shag colonies, we cut in a little towards the forested centre of the island, crossing prime Snipe territory among tussocks and sedges. We saw six Snipe that day, far more than are generally seen on one visit to Enderby. In the forest we simply stopped and stared. It would be difficult to find such a strange and beguiling forest anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. The understorey was dominated by Macquarie Island Cabbage, with long rhubarb-like stems extending upwards to support large open plates of leaves which caught the falling red stamens and leaves from the canopy of Southern Rata. Above the cabbage came the spiky subcanopy of Dracophyllum, clashing shapes and textures that were overtaken by the gnarled, twisted boughs of Southern Rata, stretching out and closing in the canopy. Down on the south coast we spotted multiple Teal in many tiny water bodies, before reaching the scrub-cut track that would lead us along the last part of the coast and back once again to Sandy Bay.
Crossing the back of the beach so not to upset the carnage on the beach, we met up with the remainder of the group and could now observe the action on the shore. Beach Masters paraded through their harems, ready to tackle invading neighbours or speculators from the sea. Opportunistic females took their chances to bound seaward and pups called lamb-like for their mothers. We were lucky enough to witness the furore of a beach-birth, the cries of the pup for its mum, and the airborne disintegration of the afterbirth among the claws of three dozen skuas. Hours could disappear watching this spectacle, but with rising tides we needed to get back to the ship. By 6:30pm we were eating, and by 9pm the ship’s compliment was silent, tired out from our huge day. Most had retired, trying to sneak in a few hours’ sleep before we hit the much bigger seas ahead. Top three birds for the day were possibly (1) Auckland Island/Subantarctic Snipe; (2) Auckland Island Teal; (3) Red-crowned Parakeet. Plant of the day tied between the two endemic gentians, and they only really beat the 78 other species we saw today because of their Parakeet association.
Thursday 20 December
We were woken at 7am by Nathan as we were nearing The Snares. Around the ship Bullers Albatross, Diving-Petrels and the occasional Snares Crested Penguin began to arrive. To our port side the western chain of The Snares appeared, Tahi through Rima, the Maori numbers one to five giving their names to the chain of five rocky islets. By 7:45am we were below North East Island, the main island of The Snares; to the east of the ship was Broughton Island and off the coast to the west was Alert Stack. The Captain put the ship into a holding pattern as we watched willywaws whip off the swell and enjoyed our breakfast in something like comfort as we were hidden somewhat from the northerly. Sadly, this was as close as we would get to the Snares as the seas were too choppy to venture closer in the Zodiacs. It was great to see the islands as close as we did however, and those who were searching for bird ticks, generally got the species they were after. At 9am we continued up the eastern coast of The Snares and set a course for Stewart Island, 60 nautical miles away. We spent the next 7 hours being shunted by the wind and waves, as 60 knot winds beat down from Puysegur Point, the far western corner of New Zealand’s South Island. Several times during the day we changed our course to make the passage more comfortable. Eventually we neared Stewart Island and the sea began to calm so we were able to enjoy a late lunch, created by our ever resourceful chefs in the galley. At 4.30pm sadly things were beginning to wrap up in earnest, as Meghan finalised shipboard accounts and passports were returned. At 6.15pm everyone got together for the last time in the lecture room and enjoyed a visual recap of our fantastic trip. Nathan briefed us all on disembarkation for the following day, and gave a very heartfelt thank you and farewell to staff and travellers alike. We all adjourned to the bar and by 8:15pm tucked into the bounty of an enormous buffet which Lindsay and Bobbie provided with a final flourish. The day was formally closed with the reading of Adam’s final bird list. His top three for the day were (1) Bullers Albatross; (2) Cooks Petrel; (3) Salvins Albatross. By dusk we were anchored below Bluff Hill as the light of Dog Island flashed to the east of us and the final party was over.
Friday 21 December
By 3:30am the Spirit of Enderby was tied up at the wharf in Bluff. Bunkering had begun early, and folk busied themselves packing before breakfast at 7am. By 8am New Zealand Customs and Quarantine were on board and we filed through one by one, officially clearing the vessel into New Zealand. By 8:30am the time had come to say our farewells, and after a group photo on the wharf, everyone disbanded. Some went on to Stewart Island for more adventures, others to Invercargill and the airport, perhaps to home, perhaps to another fantastic destination. It would be difficult to believe however that these new adventures could compete with what we had just experienced. It was wonderful to visit these far flung islands in the company of people who share a passion for the Subantarctic.
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" Hi Lorna and Heritage Expedition voyage 1567 Staff
Well, home now and settling back into some sort of routine. What an adventure.... I am not fibbing when I say the trip exceeded my expectations by a million miles. It was fabulous.
Rodney, you said the night of the dinner before we left that we might encounter some discomforts on the trip but they would all be forgotten and well worth it due to all the positives and the great time you will have. Mmmmmm I was thinking....what are we in for!!!
I just loved the challenge, the adventure, the flora, the fauna and the friendships. I was so lucky to have met such a lovely group of ladies. Even the wild weather was part of the experience.
Firstly thank you Lorna for all your help and advice prior to the trip. You were very patient with me (and to many others I heard). I must admit I was rather apprehensive before the trip wondering if I had done the right thing. I could have gone to many other places in the world for that amount of money...did I choose the right place....could I manage by myself....would I meet anyone nice...would I be by myself on the ship etc. etc. I know I certainly did make the right choice. Without your kindness and help, I may not have gone ahead with the trip and chickened out.
Jess....what a gem. Thank you Jess. Always smiling and helpfull and organised. I won't forget those early morning wake up calls..."good morning everyone....it's now 7.30....breakfast will be ready...." I'll employ you anytime Jess.
Thanks Connor our wonderful cook. You always had our delicious meals ready on time. Very caring...... Always friendly and polite. Your Mum would be proud of you.
To Tui thank you for your informative and interesting talks. Two of my highlights on the trip were seeing those two magnificent albatross close up with you on the Campbell Island board walk (I just loved being there in those wet/windy/misty cold conditions....it was like I was the only person on earth and I had time to reflect on who I was and what a wonderful and magical world it can be), and also being on Macquarie Island where the Royal penguins were swimming in the rock pool. You were filming them with your underwater camera. My favourite photo is of you doing so with two royals posing for my photo right in front of me...you in the background.
And Kartya (not sure of spelling...sorry). Your talks so very informative and interesting also. Thanks for your company on the bus on the way to Bluff. Hope you had a fabulous skating adventure.
Alex....boy, do you know your stuff. All those megaherbs. You just rattle the names off your tongue like you were speaking them since you were born. Very much your passion. I didn't think too much about the megaherbs/flora before I left.....just the wildlife to be honest......but you gave me a new insight into just how beautiful they all are. It was like being in the garden of Eden.
And of course, our leader Rodney. No nonsense, organised, informative...one always felt safe. Can still see that poor Sea Lion on Campbell Island, having a lovely roll on the grass and then rolling off the wall and into the water. So funny...hope he didn't hurt himself.
Just so many memories. Where to next???
Thank you all.