“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”
These are words from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who started a global movement demanding immediate action to tackle global warming.
Switch off the light when you leave the room. Take the bus. Eat less meat.
Individual actions are important, but small changes have a limited impact. Stark changes may sound more powerful, but in the end, they won’t be enough either. Besides, how can you ask people to alter drastically their way of life when those in power seem more intent in wasting millions in climate conferences than in actually doing anything effective?
Last Friday, thousands of young people walked out of school and gathered all around the planet for what might be the biggest global demonstration event ever. I will confess it, they gave me hope.
It was in November, last year. I was on the way south, to embark on the Spirit of Enderby in Bluff, for an expedition to the subantarctic islands. I had just spent a day in Dunedin to discuss volunteering possibilities with the Department of Conservation (DOC) there. I veered off State Highway One and started my trip through the Catlins.
The first stop in this famous region, when coming from Dunedin, is Nugget Point, a peninsula that ends in a pointy cape, with stacks of rocks jutting out of the water.
India is a completely different world in itself. If I had to choose one adjective to describe it, it would probably be “overwhelming”. Too many people, too much traffic. Just too much. But also an incredible diversity of cultures and biotopes, rich history and of course stunning wildlife, as you’ve seen in my last two articles, Unholy river and Bharatpur.
After my family had joined me at the hotel in Delhi, our driver took us to the Qutab Complex. From the car, we witnessed the fury of the city: cars, bikes, tuktuks, pedestrians following absolutely no rules (“the only rule is that there is no rule”, as reader Stuart put it), mens showering on the sidewalk inches from exhaust pipes, Black kites (Milvus migrans) and Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) flying overhead, cutting the thick smog with their stretched wings and strident calls.
Bharatpur. A birder’s myth. Vast expanses of water, home to thousands of birds fleeing winter, and some more thousand staying there all year round.
Even before thinking of this trip to India, I talked with a friend about this place, one of the last winter refuges for Siberian cranes (Leucogeranus leucogeranus). Alas, victim of hunting and habitat destruction, these majestic white birds haven’t been seen in India since 2002. Sad as it is, I knew there would still be birds there.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is the official name of the place nowadays. It’s an artificial wetland next to the city of Bharatpur, built in the 18th century and formerly used as a hunting ground by the local Maharaja. It protects the surrounding land from flooding, and provides the necessary water for life to thrive. The area was protected as a bird sanctuary in 1976, and as a national park in 1982.
A few hours in Delhi, a day in Agra… and already we felt exhausted. Crowd, traffic, pollution, it all added up for a massive and unpleasant cultural shock. Bring me back to the Subantarctic! Bring me back to Finland! There was a lot to see, of course, a lot to discover, but overall, I felt completely overwhelmed. It hadn’t taken long: just a few minutes after exiting the airport, the aggressions of taxi drivers had made me feel disorientated. Luckily, my parents and my two brothers had joined me soon after, and it’s as a family that we had started this Indian adventure.
Like I said, the cacophony of cities had taken its toll, and it’s with evident relief that we reached the Chambal Safari Lodge – Mela Kothi, in Jarar. We had just stepped through the entrance that we started to regret spending only a night in this welcoming compound. The sun shone, the birds chirped in the trees and the bougainvillea were in full bloom. Bliss.
After a few epic days in the Mackenzie Country, I drove to Christchurch and arrived there without delay. My plane left on the day after, bound to Singapore, where another flight would take me to Delhi.
For this 11-hour flight, I had selected an aisle seat, to be free to move however I pleased. Fortunately, on this Christmas Day, I had no neighbour to my right, and could enjoy 3 seats for myself. After flying over the Southern Alps of New Zealand, we crossed the Tasman Sea, and I got hooked by the book I was reading at the time.
The next thing I saw was an ocean of red dust far below – we were crossing Australia!
Finally free. It’s Thursday afternoon, December 20, and I’m leaving Wanaka after being stuck there for ten days. The reason? My car broke down while climbing a mountain pass, in the middle of the night… the transmission needed to be changed, and it took some time in this busy pre-Christmas period.
Luckily, I found a nice place to stay in Wanaka (Wanaka Bakpaka hostel), and I enjoyed relaxed days there. The internet connection was good as well (not something you should take for granted in New Zealand’s hostels…), so I spent some time updating my website (check it out here: samuelbloch.weebly.com).
All this is behind me now, though. After the trauma of my car’s breakdown, I’m terrified of going up the mountains again, but to reach the Mackenzie Basin, there’s no choice, I have to go over Lindis Pass. I go very slowly in the last steep slopes, but we manage and glide down on the other side. Phew!
Staying on Stewart Island, it’s a bit like living in a bubble of tranquillity, while the world keeps rumbling away in the distance. You step out of the ferry, the sun is shining, people sit at the bar’s terrace, parrots fly over town, and life feels good. It has this feeling of a village in the south of France, in summer; not a touristic one, but one that some people visit because they know it’s a haven of peace.
That’s actually not why I went. To me, Stewart Island had two appeals: the kiwi, and Ulva. I introduced you to the emblematic bird of New Zealand in a previous article, so I’ll focus on the rest today.
As you know if you’ve followed this blog these past weeks, I spent two weeks in November aboard a ship for a cruise-expedition to the subantarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia. 50 tourists, 9 staff members and 30 crew members, we embarked in Bluff, at the bottom of New Zealand, and visited several island groups scattered around the Southern Ocean for a voyage of discovery to none the same.
In my previous articles, I revealed all we saw on or around the islands… but how was it in between, at sea? Indeed, we spent a lot of time sailing from one place to the other, sometimes spending more than a day without seeing any land. Here, I’ll try to give you a taste of what it was like. Before that, feel free to browse my previous publications, island by island:
The Snares Islands | the Auckland Islands | Macquarie Island | Campbell Island | the Antipodes Islands | the Bounty Islands | the Chatham Islands
Snares penguin (Eudyptes robustus)
Between November 12 and 29, I went on an expedition to the Subantarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia. Two and a half weeks on a ship through the Southern Ocean, hopping from island to island, watching birds and making photographs, away from civilization… it was a true adventure. I’m telling here the tale of this voyage.
In this phenomenal voyage, the Chatham Islands were in a category of their own, not the least because there we saw our first “regular” human inhabitants (I’m not counting the researchers on Macquarie here) in almost two weeks. House! Fields! Sheep (beurk)!
While the main island looks a lot like mainland New Zealand, where pastures have replaced the forest, the outlying groups offered more variety; some islets have even managed to remain predator-free! We encountered many endemic species, but the Black robin (Petroica traversi) eluded us. This small black bird has an extraordinary story, for in 1980 only five birds remained on Little Mangere, including only one breeding pair. A commando of conservationists managed to bring the species back from the brink by collecting eggs and giving them to Tomtits (Petroica macrocephala) for them to incubate and raise, forcing Black robins to lay more eggs and therefore increasing breeding success; that technique is called “cross-fostering”. Now 250 birds roam South-East Island and the Mangere Islands. This success story shouldn’t make us forget that, without having their habitat strictly protected, these birds would still be in grave danger (or extinct, probably).