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Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:00

NZ & Australian Sub-antarctic Islands - Part 3

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Macquarie Island has world heritage listing and is managed by Tasmanian National Parks. At 34km long it is a mere speck in the ocean, yet it is home to abundant wildlife and unique flora. While we were there the rabbit eradication program was at the stage where baiting had been completed and the hunters were trying to track down the final few rabbits.

Day 7  At sea
Day 8  It was a partly cloudy day with calm seas so we were confident that the two landings planned for the day would be possible.  In the morning we landed at the station which is situated on the isthmus near the northern end of the island. On landing we were greeted by a number of Tasmanian National Parks rangers and split into small tour groups. Our group first headed towards the boardwalk and lookout at the southern end of the isthmus. After navigating our way through some lounging elephant seals we stopped briefly to photograph a crèche of young Gentoo Penguins. The ranger made sure we kept our distance as this species of penguin was comparatively shy, so a few group photos were all that could be managed.  Thankfully Elephant Seals are generally passive in regards to humans as we literally had to step around some 4 ton giants to get to the lookout.  From the top the views of the western shores of the isthmus and the station were wonderful. What made it even better was fly pasts performed by Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel and Brown Skuas.  We then headed towards the station itself, stopping to examine some relics from past sealing and penguin harvesting days.
 DSC3890-as-Smart-Object-1Very near the road a single adult Gentoo along with its chick were spotted. Even though they we were probably too close In terms of their comfort it was too tempting not to take a couple of images as we were ushered past.  It was ironic that this species chose the area around station to breed given their shy nature.  At this stage some of our group chose to take the opportunity to send some post cards while others waited around for a weather balloon to be launched.  I didn’t come all this way to get caught up in human activities, so with the ranger’s permission headed towards the beach and the wildlife.  This was what it was all about, photographing penguins and seals as they behaved naturally.  It wasn’t long before a couple of skuas fighting over a seal carcass drew my attention.  Their aggressive behaviour and bad habits making for plenty of action shots. Just off the coast on a rocky outcrop several Antarctic terns were flying about and making a lot of noise. Unfortunately as with all good things time ran out and we were ferried back to the boat for lunch. 
During lunch we sailed south and anchored off Sandy bay in preparation for our afternoon landing.  Thankfully the weather had not changed from the morning. We came ashore to be greeted by a cacophony of sound and the now familiar smells.  This was wildlife photography heaven, where to start? Unlike the station area we were free to roam a large stretch of the beach. I was almost in a panic, I knew time was short and yet there was just so much here. With my senses overpowered, I first headed towards a rocky outcrop, where a number of white morph Northern Giant Petrels were roosting. Before I’d made much progress I had to drop to my knees to photograph the “three amigos” as they strolled nonchalantly down the beach towards me. Having being welcomed formally by the Kings I set about getting the Petrel images.
 DSC4118-as-Smart-Object-1A small colony of King Penguins was situated on the northern end so I made my way in that direction. As I passed a large number of Elephant seal wieners I was assaulted by a barrage of farting and belching. As they huddled together in a great mass, they looked every bit like “orca sausages.” These poor unsuspecting animals will be confronted by pods of Orcas who will devour them, as we would devour a succulent sausage.  The rangers had rolled out a thick rope at the edge of the Penguin colony to act as a boundary beyond which we could not pass. Thankfully penguins don’t give toss for such things and after a close inspection stepped over the rope if it suited them.  I sat down near the rope to observe the action as it unfolded in the colony. It was probably only a couple of minutes before I was joined by a couple of brown fuzz balls. These young birds had no fear and were happily inspecting my boots and the end of the lens. Their apparent bulk makes them look like they will topple over at the slightest touch, however they are remarkably stable. After spending a very enjoyable time with the kings I headed south down the beach towards the Royal Penguin (Macaroni) colony. 
Roughly in the middle of the beach there is an area that the Royals favour as a landing spot as it affords them easy access to a gully and their colony. We were advised not to linger in this area as it would disturb the penguins. It also happened to be an area of great activity as the birds landed and made their way inland. Like others I settled on the edge of this alleyway and took the  DSC4086-as-Smart-Object-1opportunity to capture images of the penguins’ antics.Royals are real characters, not as curious as Kings, but very entertaining in the way they interact. There was also a very noticeable difference in appearance with some looking aloof, while others looked like little punks with their yellow crest feathers spiking upwards. A little further along the beach a boardwalk led up the hill to a lookout overlooking the Royal Penguin colony. It was an amazing sight with thousands of birds sitting on eggs in what appeared to be a formal pattern. In fact this pattern was a result of the need for each bird to have its own space, so effectively birds remains just slightly out of pecking range. Chaos erupted whenever a penguin returning from the sea needed to make its way back to its nesting site.  No quarter or mercy is given as they run the gauntlet. If a penguin was to get too carried away and move too far from its egg, an ever vigilant skua would swoop like a precision bomber and grab the egg. The number of broken eggs littering the boardwalk edges was testimony to the success of the skuas.
 DSC4284-as-Smart-Object-1It was yet again time to head back to the zodiacs and the ship.  I’m not sure whether it was three or four hours that we spent at Sandy Bay, but whatever, it went too quickly. We arranged a quick zodiac cruise down the coast with Nigel Brothers, one of our naturalists who probably knows more about Macquarie than any other living person. It was well worth the discomfort from what had now turned to a bleak and cold afternoon. Soon he had us up close to Emperor shags and a couple of Rockhopper Penguin colonies as we searched the coastline for roosting Antarctic Terns. We missed out with the terns, however, to finish the excursion we cruised along in front of the King Penguin colony where we were able to get views of the birds as they entered and left the water. This also turned out be a great spot for getting up close to the Giant Petrels, as they, like many birds, are much more approachable from the water. During the night we sailed south to Lusitania Bay, the site of a huge King Penguin colony.
Day 9 It was cloudy and windy when we woke and it soon became apparent that the planned zodiac cruise to view the penguin colony would not be possible. We satisfied ourselves with distant views before heading north towards Hobart.  DSC4151-as-Smart-Object-1

Days 10 to 12 at sea . These were hardly wasted days as there were very enjoyable and informative lectures from the naturalists, expedition leader and the head of the Rabbit Eradication Program on Macquarie.  As we departed Macquarie we headed into 8 to 10 metre seas, it was going to be a bumpy ride to Hobart.
Day 13  Arrived Hobart mid afternoon .
I suppose the question here is: would I go again? Yes without a doubt, though I think next time I would like to see more of the islands such as Bounty, Antipodes etc. There are some significant risks in going on a cruise such as this. You are so much at the mercy of the weather. It’s not the rain, but rather the wind and sea conditions that will govern whether you can land a zodiac. There is a good chance that you could end up at Macquarie and spend all the time sitting in your cabin. You also need to consider how you will handle the Layer-0conditions. In these latitudes you will strike bad weather. Whether you get sea sick or not will have a lot to do with how much you can get out of a cruise like this. The positive thing here is that once you hit calm water and you will in the sheltered harbours, or when on land you will quickly recover.  Some people who did get sick at the start improved with time, however a few got sick as soon as it got rough again. The staff will also influence the overall experience. Overall we had wonderful staff that were experienced, helpful and approachable. The biggest problem and also the highlight, was the time spent at the Sandy Bay penguin colonies. It is an experience you will never forget, but it is too short. I could have spent a month on this beach and it wouldn’t have been enough. Lastly you will be amongst passengers with a similar passion for nature; you will make friends and have great company.
We were so lucky with the weather on this trip. To my knowledge we missed no planned landings and only two planned zodiac cruises. We had reasonable weather at some stage on every island we visited except Snares and the wind did not blow on our landing day at Macquarie.
We travelled with Aurora Expeditions.
Birds Photographed:
Southern Royal Albatross, White-capped Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Black-browed Albatross,  DSC4306a-as-Smart-Object-1Campbell Island Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Yellow-eyed Penguin, Snares Island Penguin, Rockhopper Penguin, Gentoo Penguin, Royal Penguin, King Penguin, Northern Giant Petrel, Southern Giant Petrel, Diving Petrel,  Cape Petrel, White-chinned Petrels, New Zealand Pipit, Tomtit, Tui, Red-crowned Parakeet, Steward Island Shag, Auckland Island Shag, Emperor Shag, Brown Skua. Auckland Island Teal, Red-billed Gull, Antarctic Tern, Kelp Gull, Short-tailed Shearwater and Australasian Gannet.  Birds see but not photographed included; Grey-headed Albatross and White-headed Petrel. I’ve obviously I have not included any of the introduced species seen.
There was no use of chumming/oiling/burley to attract birds, which I think would have greatly improved the opportunity for photography.
I will put more images in the trip report I post on my web site.
Read 1397 times Last modified on Friday, 12 December 2014 17:46