Tuesday 10 January 2023
We have sailed to the Auckland Islands overnight and outside the window this morning is Enderby Island. The Auckland Islands are the largest, highest and most biologically diverse of all the Subantarctic Islands, formed from the eroded and sea-flooded remains of two ancient volcanoes. Enderby Island is at the northernmost tip and helps to form Port Ross, a somewhat sheltered harbour.
There are 3 options for activities today:
- Full day hike of the Northern Circuit of Enderby Island (around 12 km but without a formed track)
- Hike the central boardwalk track to the cliffs on the other side (approx 5km return) giving you all day to photograph, bird-watch, botanize as you wish
- And the 3rd option (which we chose) to do a morning zodiac exploration around the island and then after lunch to have a guided walk across the boardwalk track and be free to do whatever you wished on the way back.
Those who were going to be on the island all day had to pick up specially packed picnic lunches and their ‘poo bags’ to take on shore with them and then were ferried over in the zodiacs first.
We had a somewhat more leisurely start to the day but soon enough we were off in the Zodiacs for our adventure. Although it was almost flat calm and not too cold it was raining steadily so we soon found out who’s waterproof gear worked or not. Our zodiac driver and naturalist today was Julia (from Kamchatka in Russia).
The eroded volcanic cliffs were quite spectacular – you could see a range of different colours and formations, including amazing hexagonal(ish) grey columns that towered up out of black rocks. There were also a fascinating collection of caves and overhangs to be explored. Orangey brown bull kelp lined the bottom and perched high on top were clumps of grasses and other vegetation that we would be seeing in more detail later. There were also vivid flashes of red where the rata trees were in flower for summer- seemingly the only way you can tell what season it is as the temperature stays around 10C and it rains most of the year.
We see lots of shags around the rocks and perched up in the cliffs – some still nesting but mostly a mix of juveniles and mature birds. From time to time we see yellow-eyed penguins too. There are about 500 pairs nesting on mainly Enderby Island but on mainland NZ they are critically endangered. They are much shyer birds than some of the other penguins and don’t form the large colonies that others do, although we did come across a group of them. One very curious fellow made his way down the rocks to the boat to check us out – but didn’t seem impressed or concerned as he then turned his back and walked away.
We were also lucky to see two flightless teal. They moved very fast and disappeared behind rocks almost as soon as you could spot them.
We then make our way around to Sandy Bay, appropriately named, where there is a research station and a large colony of Hooker’s Sea Lions (the world’s rarest sea lion- nationally critical). NZ Fur Seals and NZ Hooker’s Sea Lions are both eared seal species. We saw mostly fur seals (with pointy noses and long whiskers) yesterday and today we see predominantly sea lions (rounder noses). Sea lion males are dark in colour and the females a much paler colour which makes it much easier to work out what is going on.
The large ‘beachmaster’ males come to the beach just before summer to stake out their claims to the best spots on the beach. Once the females arrive they are gathered together in ‘harems’ guarded by their protector. They all give birth to their pups at around the same time and then just a couple of weeks later are ready to mate again. The largest males have a full time job trying to ward off all the other males who come to try to mate with ‘their’ females, there is always a scuffle happening somewhere on the beach. There are also males who stake out their claim in the shallows and chase any female (or male) that ventures into the water – some poor females seem to be endlessly chased by randy males wherever they go.
Whilst all of this is happening the young pups (who may only be a day or so old) have to try to keep out of the way to avoid being squashed. We see them huddled in big clusters, sometimes tucked up out of the way of the main action.
Also on the beach are two enormous elephant seals who barely moved all day – one did raise its head briefly. We also saw several Giant Petrel at the far end of the beach.
We were all thoroughly soaked through by now and quite keen to head back to the ship to dry out a bit and have some lunch. Anne and I head straight up to the Bistro area to find a hot drink and then have a fish and chips lunch.
Then we put our now not quite so wet gear back on and gather extra supplies such as water bottles for our walk on the island. The rain has eased off quite a bit so we are more hopeful for the afternoon. We are shuttled to shore in the zodiacs and then must wait for a ‘sacrificial naturalist’ to help us run the gauntlet of the beachmaster sea lions. We put our life jackets and wet boots (if we have brought our own hiking boots) in big bins and then all set off towards the boardwalk in a group.
The first area we cross is bordered by 2 streams and marks where the yellow-eyed penguins come down from the forest in the morning on their way to the sea and where they come back in again in the evening. We must make our way consistently across this area without stopping because the penguins are so shy that they will not come out if people are in their way.
On the way across to the other side of the island we are shown a number of key types of vegetation and also where there are albatross nests and other things of interest for us to look at in our own time as we walk back. On the far side of the island Aaron leads us around to where there are some light mantled sooty albatross nesting on the cliffs. We spend quite a bit of time photographing them and those that are swooping around the cliffs. We are also intrigued by the size of some of the photography gear that some people are lugging around.
The vegetation is amazing, encompassing a vast number of plants of which the majority are indigenous. The diversity includes the red-flowering rata forests, tundra-like hill tops, scrubland, grassland and meadows full of flowering megaherbs. Although we have just about missed the mass yellow flowering of the Bulbinella, the huge pink Anistome flowers are on full display and the gentians are popping up everywhere.
The guide book says that there are 6 endemic land birds: a rail, snipe, teal, banded dotterel, tomtit and pipit. We’ve seen the teal and a tomtit comes to visit us right at the start. There are a lot of small brown birds moving around and I’m pretty certain we saw a pipit and a dotterell so I think we did quite well.
As well as the sooty albatross we were able to watch a Southern Royal Albatross (with a second one visible way in the distance) nesting not too far away from the path. On our first pass it was mostly completely motionless but on the way back we were treated to some wing stretching, preening, beak clapping and calling.
As we came through the rata forests and down into a dip we found ourselves in a flight path for albatross as they swooped down really low right past our heads as they flew by close to our heads. We spent a long time using up a lot of photos trying to get good shots of them but we could never tell which direction they would come from and they moved so fast.
Back over at Sandy Bay we walked along to watch the sea lion activity for the day. There were marauding beachmaster sea lions that would come to check us out. They really are just like big dogs coming over to investigate so we are told not to run or to hit out but just to offer up a backpack or something for them to sniff so they will be satisfied. Thankfully there are also sacrificial naturalists there to help us out. We watch all of the sea lion beach antics for quite awhile (along with the brown skua who are on beach clean up duty).
The wind has changed to a southerly so we are starting to cool down and make our way back across the penguin travel area to the meeting spot and sit down to wait a while in the hope of seeing penguins coming up from the sea. Unfortunately they are not going to oblige us (perhaps they are waiting for us to go) and we decide to take a zodiac shuttle back to the ship for a hot shower and warm dry clothes.
Dinner is late (8.00) this evening to give everyone maximum chance to explore the island. We have a recap of the day and a bit of preparation for what will be a day at sea tomorrow as we set sail for Macquarie Island (hopefully arriving the morning afterwards). Anne races to secure us a dinner table next to the window so that we can see the rest of the Auckland Islands beside us as we travel south – unfortunately it is quite misty so we don’t see much.
And if you are interested here is a sequence of photos of the Southern Royal Albatross practicing its mating moves: wing stretching, preening, beak clapping and calling.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea