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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Auckland 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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“Port Ross is a very sheltered bay, we never have problem getting to shore there”. These optimistic words came from our staff as Judd, the expedition leader, announced conditions would get a bit tougher, with wind picking up significantly. Indeed, our shelter proved good enough to visit Enderby Island, the piece of land at the north of the Auckland Islands archipelago.

New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri)

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The Snares

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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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.

Brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus)

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Dear diary #6

05.11.2018

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!

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Wairarapa

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.

White-faced heron (Egretta novahollandiae)

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