The Last Hope

“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.

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No Sleep at Nugget Point

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.

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Mackenzie peregrinations

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!

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Rakiura Stewart Island

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.

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One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship

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)

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Chatham Islands

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.

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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).

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Bounty Islands

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.

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Our day at the Bounty Islands was a bit bizarre for me: on the zodiac, I felt a tad tired, and uninspired. I was a perfect day, though, the absence of wind leaving the sea glass-like. These were conditions we hadn’t encountered so far, maybe that’s what set me off.

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Antipodes Islands

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.

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After more than a day at sea, we reached the Antipodes Islands. Initially, this congregation of islets were can the Penantipodes, or “almost-antipodes”, because they were very close to be exactly on the other end of the world from England. The Pen- prefix was lost with time, and actually, the exact antipode of the Antipodes lies in a small French village near Cherbourg.

Clouds were very low when we arrived, and an unusual wind direction forced us to discard the usual zodiac cruising site. We circled the archipelago, enjoying premium views of its indomitable cliffs and numerous nesting seabirds.

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Home of the kiwi

I leave the hostel after dusk, and it’s already dark. Others have gone earlier, telling me they get out before dark in this period because nights are so short, but it took me longer to have dinner. I see people coming back from the Church Hill but I do not dare to ask if they have seen one. I keep walking.

I’m in their territory now. It’s a residential area, but there’s no one around. I walk, alert, my head lamp scanning the roadsides, my ears trying to pick up any unusual noise. It’s not raining, there’s very little wind… it should be a good night. I turn the corner. Suddenly, on the left, some rattle in the understorey. Could it be one?

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Campbell Island

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.

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Campbell Island is where it all clicked, where I really got rid of the photographic pressure to enjoy the voyage to the fullest, where I had the most outstanding wildlife encounter… in short, where I felt the most alive! It was not as spectacular as Macquarie, but it was phenomenal in different ways.

Southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora)

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