New Zealand: Sub-Antarctic Island Cruise
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Our wildlife safari begins with cruise to three remarkable island groups forming part of New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic territories. You won’t find them mentioned in a travel agent’s brochure; you won’t find them in most guidebooks, you probably don’t know anyone who has ever been there, and they don’t even appear on some maps of the South Pacific – these are the ‘forgotten islands’. Despite their low profile, they are among the most remarkable wildlife reserves in the Southern Ocean, designated UNESCO World Heritage sites and afforded the highest protection of any nature reserves in New Zealand. Remote, uninhabited and on no regular shipping route, access is further restricted by a strict Management Plan which limits the number of people allowed ashore each year. Departing Port Bluff (Invercargill), the first of these islands we visit are The Snares. No landings are permitted because the islands are honey-combed with seabird burrows. Of particular interest are Snares Penguin, and Snares endemic subspecies of Fernbird and Tomtit. We should see them all as we enjoy the dramatic coastline and tree daisy forest from our Zodiac excursions. In the Auckland Islands, the largest of the island groups, we have the chance to spend the day ashore Enderby Island, arguably the most amazing of the Sub-Antarctic Islands. Here we can hike through the windswept Rata forests, and along the exposed coastal cliffs. The wildlife is never far away, and its lack of fear means close encounters and great photographic opportunities abound. Carnley Harbour in the south of the Auckland Islands we can visit a White-capped Albatross colony, abandoned Coastwatcher’s huts, shipwrecks and castaway depots. Campbell Island, the southernmost island of this expedition is an example of what can be achieved in island restoration. In recent years sheep, cattle, cats and rats have all been eradicated and the island is rapidly recovering. The great English botanist Sir Joseph Hooker, a friend of Charles Darwin, visited Campbell Island in the 1840’s and described the flowering fields of ‘megaherbs’ to be ‘second to none outside of the tropics’. We can say the same now, because of the removal of these introduced animals. This island is also the home of the majestic ‘Southern’ Royal Albatross, the endemic Campbell Islands Teal and ‘Campbell Snipe’, a rare and endemic sub-species of Sub-Antarctic Snipe.
|Tour Fact Sheet
Day 1: Arrive in Invercargill After arriving in Invercargill, we will transfer to Port Bluff. The township of Bluff is situated on the north-eastern side of Bluff Hill, an extinct volcanic cone that forms a knoll on the southern end of the peninsula extending into the Foveaux Strait. We will join the captain and expedition team (who will include 3 American Birding Association representatives and three Rockjumper Birding Tours specialist bird guides as well as the ship’s guiding team) on our arrival at the ship, be shown to our cabins and have the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with our team and surroundings before conducting a safety briefing. Departing Port Bluff, we will be able to join the captain on the bridge, or mingle with our fellow travelers on deck as we head for The Snares Islands. Our route will take us past Ruapuke Island, formerly a local Maori stronghold supporting a population of over 200 people. We will also be able to see Stewart Island, which despite appearing quite small on most maps, has a 700 kilometer coastline. Birding will begin almost immediately, and we will look out for Pied Cormorant, Stewart Island and Spotted Shag, Salvin's Albatross, Common Diving Petrels, Mottled and Cape Petrels, Sooty and Fluttering Shearwaters, Northern Giant-Petrel, Fairy Prion and Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers which may be encountered at this early point in the voyage. On the mammal front, small pods of Dusky Dolphins may also be in evidence.
Day 2: The Snares – North East Island The closest Sub Antarctic islands to New Zealand, they were appropriately called The Snares as they were once considered a significant hazard to sailing ships. Comprised of two main islands, and a group of five smaller islands named the Western Chain; they are uninhabited and enjoy the highest protection as Nature Reserves. The islands consist of boreal forest in a Sub Antarctic environment, and have been little affected by humans. It is claimed by some that these islands are home to more nesting seabirds than all the British Isles combined! We plan to arrive near The Snares early in the morning, but as landings are not permitted, we will climb into Zodiac inflatables and cruise along the sheltered eastern side of the main island (weather and sea conditions permitting). In the sheltered bays, we can expect to see the endemic Snares Penguin; a highly vulnerable species, as their low numbers and limited breeding areas make them susceptible to both natural and human disturbances. Thankfully, the New Zealand government has undertaken significant efforts to protect and preserve the island’s habitats and marine feeding grounds. Of course, there are many other birds present aside from the penguins and we hope to get good views of the Snares endemic subspecies of Tomtit and Fernbird, both of which show markedly different morphology and probably warrant species status. An estimated six million Sooty Shearwaters nest here, and we will also be on the look out for pairs of Buller’s Albatross that would have arrived to breed only a few weeks before our cruise. Other species we will keep an eye out for include Antarctic and White-fronted Terns, Cape Petrel and Red-billed Gull. As we sail towards the Auckland Islands, we shall be on the lookout for Little Shearwater as well as photogenic Gray-backed and White-faced Storm Petrels.
Day 3: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island The Auckland Islands group was formed by two volcanoes that erupted some 10 - 25 million years ago. These have undergone erosion and dissection by glaciation, creating the archipelago we know today. Enderby Island is one of the most beautiful islands in this group. This northernmost island in the archipelago is an outstanding wildlife and birding location, being pleasantly easy to land on and walk around. The island was cleared of all introduced animals in 1994, and both fauna and flora, especially the herbaceous plants are recovering both in numbers and diversity. We plan to land at Sandy Bay, one of three breeding areas in the Auckland Islands for New Zealand (Hooker's) Sea Lion, a rare member of the seal family. Beachmaster bulls gather on the beach defending their harems from younger (though ambitious) males, to mate with the cows shortly after they have given birth to a single pup. For reasons unknown, Hooker numbers are in slow decline at present, though this is most probably connected with a nearby squid fishery. During our day ashore there will be several options available to us, covering both long and short walks as well as having time to spend just sitting and enjoying the wildlife. Walking here is relatively easy, with a boardwalk traversing the island from the east to the dramatic western cliffs, from which point we follow the coast on a circumnavigation of the island. Birding activity is high and we can look forward to sightings of ‘Southern’ Royal and Whitecapped Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrel, Auckland Islands Shag, Auckland Islands Teal dozing between patches of rock, Double-banded Plover, Tomtit, New Zealand Bellbird, Sub Antarctic Snipe, Red-crowned Parakeet, the rare Yellow-eyed Penguin and Light-mantled Albatross; often claimed to be the world’s most elegant bird. Commoner species we may see amongst the dense thickets of chaparral shrubs and stunning Gentians include Australasian Pipit (sometimes split as an endemic, New Zealand Pipit) and introduced species such as European Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Eurasian Blackbird, European Starling and Common Redpoll. If we are very lucky we may locate the rare endemic New Zealand Falcon. On Derrycastle Reef there is also a good chance to see migratory waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit and Ruddy Turnstone, while there is every possibility that we could stumble upon the odd vagrant or two.
Day 4: Auckland Island - Carnley Harbour In the south of the Auckland Island archipelago is a very large, sheltered harbour - rich in human history that covers shipwrecks, treasure hunters, coastwatchers and of course scientific parties. We plan to arrive in the early morning from our anchorage at Enderby Island. Access to the harbour is through the eastern entrance, guarded on both sides by dramatic cliffs and rugged tussock covered hills. Our activities here today are totally weather dependent, though we have a number of possible options. The more energetic expeditioners can climb the South West Cape and visit the Whitecapped Albatross colony, where we occasionally see 'Gibson’s' Wandering Albatross, while also providing magnificent views in all directions, especially over the western entrance to Carnley Harbour, Adams Island and Western Harbour. For those not keen on the climb, there will be an opportunity to take a Zodiac cruise along the coast of Adams Island and Western Harbour, with landings in the latter. For some history and culture, there is a visit to Tagua Bay coastwatchers hut and lookout (the former is derelict), which was occupied during the Second World War, or we can visit Epigwatt and the remains of the ‘Grafton’ that was wrecked here in 1864. All five men aboard the Grafton survived and lived here for 19 months before sailing their modified dinghy to New Zealand to get help (it took 6 days to reach Stewart Island!) Two of the survivors wrote books about their ordeal, their first-hand accounts telling us much about their time here. We can also visit Camp Cove, where we will see the remains of the castaway depots established and maintained by the New Zealand government between the 1860's and early 1900's. Later this afternoon, we depart Carnley Harbour for Campbell Island. En route to Campbell Island, we have excellent chances of seeing White-headed Petrel, bevvies of ‘Campbell’ Black-browed, Gray-headed and Light-mantled Albatrosses, Southern Fulmar, Auckland Islands Shag, Blackbellied Storm-Petrel and, with more than an ounce of luck and a dash of fortune, the incredibly rare and Critically endangered Magenta Petrel (Taiko).
Days 5 & 6: Campbell Island We have two days to explore Campbell Island, New Zealand’s southernmost Sub Antarctic territory. Its history is as rich and varied as the other islands we have visited. Discovered in 1810, it was soon occupied by sealers who introduced rats and cats. In 1895 the New Zealand government advertised the island as a pastoral lease, which was duly taken up by an entrepreneurial New Zealand sheep farmer who stocked the island with sheep and cattle. Farming practices, which included burning the scrub, modified the island considerably. The farming lasted until 1934 when it was abandoned. Coastwatchers were stationed on the island during the Second World War, but made way for the New Zealand Metrological service after the hostilities ceased. They maintained a manned weather and research station here until 1995. In the early 1970's the island was fenced in half, and stock was removed off the northern half. The impacts of the remaining livestock were monitored, before they were all eventually removed in 1990. The vegetation recovered quickly, with the local feral cat population dying out naturally. In a very ambitious eradication program (never before attempted on such a large scale), the New Zealand Department of Conservation successfully removed the rat population. With the island declared predator free, the way was clear to reintroduce the endangered Campbell Islands Teal that had been rediscovered on an offshore island in 1975. Sub Antarctic Snipe, which were formerly unknown from the island found their way over and recolonized the islands themselves. The great English botanist Sir Joseph Hooker described the island's vegetation in 1841 as having a 'flora display second to none outside the tropics', is flourishing again, being nothing short of spectacular. We will offer a number of options that will enable you to explore the island. There will be an extended walk to Northwest Bay and possibly Mount Honey, while an easier walk will visit Col Lyall Saddle. All of these options will allow you the opportunity and time to enjoy the large numbers of ‘Southern’ Royal Albatross that nest here. We will also visit areas of the island that contain outstanding examples of the megaherbs for which the island is renowned. We shall target a number of special birds here including the endemic Campbell Islands Teal and Sub-Antarctic Snipe, although the latter will require some level of luck. The endemic Campbell Islands Shag can be seen in the harbour while Northern Giant Petrel, Brown Skua, Antarctic Tern, Gray-headed, Light-mantled and Black-browed Albatrosses will be sought at sea.
Day 7: At sea toward Port Bluff Today we are at sea en route to Port Bluff. We have most of the day to search for any further pelagic species that we might be missing, or perhaps for better views and photographs. There are a number of species present in these waters, though some of the highlights we will be searching for include half a dozen albatross species, Fluttering, Hutton’s, Flesh-footed and Buller´s Shearwaters, Northern Giant, White-chinned, Black-winged, Gray and Cape Petrels, Fairy, Fulmar and Broad-billed Prions, while the beautiful Mottled, rare Gould’s, Great-winged (Grey-faced), Soft-plumaged, Westland and Cook´s Petrels are all possible. We will take the opportunity to recap the many experiences we have had on this unique expedition. This is also a good opportunity to download and edit any remaining photos while they are fresh in your mind, and you will have the experience of our expedition team on board for any questions. Tonight we enjoy a celebratory farewell dinner with our travel companions and friends, and time to reflect on a wealth of experiences.
Day 8: Disembark and final departures We arrive at Port Bluff early this morning. After breakfast and customs formalities, we will then disembark and transfer by coach to Invercargill Airport where the cruise will conclude.