Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:00

NZ & Australian Sub-Antarctic Island - Part 1

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 DSC1367-as-Smart-Object-1Snares and Auckland Islands  My wife and I were privileged to recently complete a 13 day cruise of the New Zealand and Australian Sub-Antarctic Islands including the Snares, Auckland, Campbell and Macquarie Islands. We were joined by about 50 other passengers including fellowFeathers and Photosmember Sonja.  This is the first of a three part trip report.

Day1  Depart Bluff, NZ. late afternoon.  As we headed south we were soon in the company of Sooty shearwaters, Diving Petrels and the first of the Albatross, Salvin’s and White-capped.

Day 2  Overnight we sailed to the Snares Islands. Unfortunately due to the rough seas, the planned zodiac cruise around the islands was cancelled, so instead we cruised on a route that took us as close as possible to the western chain of islands. It had been hoped to see some of the 1.5 million Sooty Shearwaters take off early in the morning however, like us, most of them stayed away. There were some hardy birds about and I was fortunate enough to grab a few images of a group of Snares Island penguins as they porpoised near the ship. For the rest of the day we continued south into rough seas and 45 knot winds. The only sensible thing to do was wedge yourself in your bed to prevent serious physical injury.  Meal times turned out to be a good gauge of how the rough the seas were with the numbers attending dropping significantly when the seas were up.  Actually sitting down for a meal was a real challenge at times with balance, reflexes and timing all required to avoid ending up in a messy heap.
 DSC1516-as-Smart-Object-1Day 3  After a day and night of rough seas it was a relief to find shelter at Enderby Island (Auckland Islands). In the calm water breakfast was a chance for those affected by sea sickness to resurface. Even with most taking the advice and staying in bed there were some bruised and battered passengers about.
As with all the New Zealand and Australian Sub-Antarctic Islands, access is limited to less than 1000 visitors a year and then only under strict permit conditions. You are accompanied by a park ranger who ensures you adhere to the permit conditions. We had great Australian and NZ rangers who went out of their way to ensure our visits were rewarding.
There was a bit of surf at our landing site so I was pleased when the staff made the sacrifice and jumped into the water to ensure we had a dry landing. From a distance we could see a welcoming group of New Zealand sea lions. It only took some fancy footwork and the use of a few unknowing human shields to avoid these frisky sea lions.  Almost immediately someone spotted a pair of Auckland Island teal a few metres away.  Too good to be true, I almost fell into the water in an effort to get lower and unobstructed views.  Water in my gumboots for the rest of the landing would be a good reminder to take more care. After a quick demo from one of the staff naturalists on how to avoid being a sea lion kissing buddy it was off to explore the island.  I was just about to set off when I noticed a Yellow-eyed Penguin emerging from the surf on the beach below. The poor thing got stage fright and retreated slowly , constantly looking back over its shoulder.  I’m glad I had the 500mm handy as this was the only decent view of a Yellow-eyed on the trip. The walk up to West Cape was on a board walk which made for an easy stroll.
On the way we were entertained by a friendly Tomtit, numerous Pipits and good numbers of Royal Albatross.  Some of the young albatross were in small groups practicing their courtship displays. At the end of the boardwalk,  along the cliff edge, a roosting Auckland Island Shag was spotted.  Some people also managed some images of a Banded Dotterel, however it was gone before I got a look. On the way back down to the shore I took the time to study and photograph the tundra like herb field. The yellow flowering Bulbinella was spectacular, as was the Macquarie Island cabbage. However for me it was the lichens and mosses that covered the rata trees and rocks that stole the show at Enderby.
While waiting on shore for our departure we were briefly entertained when one of the adolescent male Sea Lions decided to confront a female passenger. She did everything by the book, however it kept advancing menacingly. She finally managed to extract herself by using her tripod as a prod. When she rejoined us she demanded to know why we had not come to her rescue. To which someone replied “if it was good enough for your husband to stop and photograph you, it was good enough for the rest of us”.  It was more the case that no one was close enough to help.
 DSC1797-as-Smart-Object-1Day 4  Having sailed south during the night we woke in the calm waters of Carnley Harbour at the south end of Auckland Island.  The weather didn’t look too bad, so into the zodiacs for a cruise along Adams Island , which is adjacent to Auckland Island.  The unspoilt vegetation right down to the rocky shore looked superb, from which a surprising amount of bird song could be heard. After a short time a pair of Red-crowned parakeets kindly popped onto a low branch for good views.  A little further on an immature Auckland Island shag posed for photos and then a single Auckland Island Teal. 
Enough of this sedate stuff, into the breach we went with a bumpy ride through Victoria Passage to view the magnificent basalt cliffs that are home to thousands of White-capped Albatross and a smaller number of Light-mantled Albatross. I’ve seen scenes like this before, but they’ve been in places in the northern hemisphere, truly mind blowing stuff. The light wasn’t the best for photography, so I just sat back and enjoyed the spectacle.
After lunch we had another zodiac trip and this time a landing on Auckland Island at Camp Cove.  A very interesting spot as it is the location of a castaways hut which was built to provide shelter for ship wreck survivors, back in the sealing days.  Not much to report bird wise from this location, just another Tomtit and a much photographed Tui.  The highlight was on the way back to the ship when two very obliging Light-mantled Sooty Albatross allowed a close approach as they sat on the water.  A bit of a bugger as I’d packed my gear away due to the constant drizzle. Not to worry, Light-mantled Albatross are featured in part 2.
Next instalment Campell Island
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