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.
We set sail from the port of Bluff in the late afternoon, past Stewart Island and south onwards. Pills and patches were used to fight seasickness and help us adapt to the roll, which would be our faithful companion for the whole trip. Dinner on the rocking ship proved to be a challenge, and so did the shower, but we all survived the night and woke up as we approached the Snares archipelago.
It was difficult, but I managed to shake myself off sleep early enough to be at Sandfly Bay for sunrise. On this remote beach, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) leaving its dwelling for the sea, but the bird was far away. Like the evening before, there were a few New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) resting in the sand. Ironically, in this wild place, I only made pictures of common birds: gulls, oystercatchers and shelducks.
In Dunedin, I met Karen Connor, coordinator of the volunteer program in coastal Otago. I will be a volunteer at Sandfly Bay next year, welcoming the public to the area, so she explained me the job.
Then I drove to the Catlins, the rugged coast between Dunedin and Invercargill. My first stop was at Nugget Point, a picturesque outcrop where sits a lighthouse. Nearby, Yellow-eyed penguins nest, and I was lucky to see one come to shore, hopping from rock to rock back home.
After nightfall, I went to the tip again to make pictures of the stars. I wanted to capture the Milky Way, but guess what I found? That’s right, Southern Lights! I didn’t expect them at all, but here they were, first revealed on a long-exposure before showing up loud and clear to the south, forming a tall band with high pillars. An amazing sight, what a surprise!
Technically, Cape Palliser is part of the Wairarapa region. However, since I described my time on the southern peninsula in my previous article, I’ll here focus on the two following days, which I spent between Lake Ferry and Martinborough.
The former is the small settlement from where the road branches out to the Cape. I spent almost a full day there, first resting in a holiday park (a shower!) and then exploring the seaside next to Onoke Lake.
The clouds were hanging low, promising rain, but I still went on a walk along Okorewa Lagoon. I saw interesting things there, like a White-faced heron (Egretta novahollandiae) fishing on the other side, or a pair of Australasian shovelers (Spatula rhynchotis), but there was no accessible shore where I could have lain without getting completely soaked – or that’s what I thought.
Austin, with whom I hiked in Tongariro, had been adamant: while near Wellington, I had to go to Cape Palliser.
Seals, a picturesque lighthouse and an isolated peninsula: sounds like my thing!
Before jumping over to the South Island, I took a few days to explore this part of the country, just east of the capital. I didn’t really have plans, except taking pictures, but I had one thing for sure: time.
The weather was not very welcoming when I arrived. Light rain quickly turned into not-so-light rain, but after climbing to the lighthouse for the view, I geared up for humid weather and went to the beach to meet the fur seals (Australasian fur seal, Arctocephalus forsteri).
This is the last story article dedicated to my trip to Lapland and Varanger, back in June. We will have a wrap-up post later on, and then we will be done with it. I have some more photographs from Finland and France I want to show you (many I haven’t edited yet…), and of course there will be more content from New Zealand, as I travel further.
Several animals look different depending on whether you’re looking at a male or a female. Think of the lion: males have a mane, which females lack. Think of the Paradise shelduck (Tadorna variegata): females are orange and white, while males are essentially dark grey.
New Zealand was separated from Australia some 80 million years ago. Over this period, life evolved into forms seen nowhere else, adapted to their habitat and their potential predators (or absence thereof). Before the arrival of men, 800 years ago, there was no terrestrial mammal in New Zealand, and many birds had lost the ability to fly. When the Maori introduced Polynesian rats (Ratus exulans), and later the European introduced countless exotic species, birds didn’t know how to defend themselves against these new predators. Pests ate birds, while men destroyed their habitat (and ate them too), and in no time, species declined dramatically. Some, like moas or the Huia, went extinct; below is a picture of all the animal and vegetal species that have disappeared since then.
Finally, on an adventure again! I spent the last three weeks in Wellington, but today I hit the road. And with style, for I was driving this time! I bought a small van, a Toyota Estima, which will allow me more freedom than when I was hitch-hiking. I can cook and sleep in it, and so I can be wherever I want for sunrise or sunset.
From Wellington, I drove north along the Hutt River, over the Wairarapa Range, and walked in wetlands by Lake Wairarapa. It started to rain as I cooked, first a light drizzle that increased in intensity as I made my way on the scenic road to Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island.
After Auckland, I spent some time in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. In terms of population, it’s the second largest, but it’s only one fourth of Auckland.
My first impression was really pleasant, as I arrived on a sunny day, by train. I have the feeling that entering a city by train gives me a very idyllic view of the area, as I had the same impression of Auckland even though I didn’t end up liking it much. Maybe it’s only the novelty.