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.
These tiny islands miraculously escaped the introduction of pest animals, and as such still host hordes of birds; it’s one of the rare places on earth where albatrosses nest in the forest, under the tree daisies, and it’s said more seabirds nest there than on the whole British Isles.
On this calm morning, the captain positioned the ship in the lee of the Snares, and we jumped into the zodiacs to cruise along the shore. Only a few researchers are allowed to land on these pristine islands, but our floating position offered us great views of the wildlife anyway. Expertly led by Dan, we found New Zealand fernbirds (Poodytes punctatus caudatus) and Tomtits (Petroica macrocephala dannefaerdi, an endemic subspecies completely black) in no time while a New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) followed us in the water.
I could also mention the Cape petrels (Daption capense), but the real treat that morning was the Snares penguin (Eudyptes robustus), a species endemic to these islands and found in great numbers there. Like many species of penguins, they are gregarious when it comes to nesting, and we observed large groups come out of the forest and make their way to the sea, walking, running, slipping, hesitating when a bigger wave came and finally diving into the water, or come from offshore in large groups and fly out of the ocean, landing with ease or crashing head first onto the rocks.
We watched them quarrel for no reason, then forget about it and climb up the ramp towards their nesting grounds, or wander around the islands in curious exploration.
From a photographic point of view, I had two main concerns: the sun, and the sea. Sunrise was long gone when we made our way to the water’s edge, and we were left with harsh, unforgiving day light. I tried to tame it as much as I could, and from time to time a cloud would jump into the way and create softer, more suitable conditions. The sea, on the other hand, never stopped going up and down, and it was a challenge to keep my camera aimed at a specific target. Fortunately, we enjoyed a very favourable weather, with limited wind and swell; otherwise, we would have had to stay onboard the ship, watching these lovely creatures from a distance. I heard that this zodiac cruise at the Snares is possible only 50% of the time, therefore I prayed for our luck to hold.
Besides the penguins, I found kelp very photogenic, and I tried to include both in my pictures; the following one is maybe my favourite of all.
Rock and plants were also a fascinating sight, and I wished I had more time there to work with wider lenses. As always, I did my best, and made sure to enjoy the moment as well.
Once we were back on board, we learnt that we had to go back north to evacuate a passenger that had come with an injury and decided he couldn’t carry on. Fortunately, the impact on our schedule would be minimal, and we would discover the Auckland Islands, further south, on the morrow.
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