Arrive at Invercargill, which is New Zealand’s southernmost city. Established by Scottish settlers, the area’s wealth of rich farmland is well suited to the sheep and dairy farms that dot the landscape. This evening we will take the opportunity to meet fellow expeditioners at an informal dinnertime get-together.
Take breakfast at your leisure in the hotel dining room, then enjoy a visit to the Southland Museum to view the Subantarctic display before transferring to the Port of Bluff, 27 kilometres to the south of Invercargill, and boarding the Spirit of Enderby. Settle into your cabin and then join expedition staff and the Captain for orientation and a welcome on board.
North East Island is the largest of the Snares, the first group of Sub-Antarctic Islands that we visit. This one island is home to more nesting seabirds than in all of the British Isles. We arrive early in the morning, and as landings are not permitted we will cruise along the sheltered eastern side by Zodiac. Snares Crested Penguins are plentiful around the coast, as are the Cape Petrel and Buller’s Albatross that nest here later in the season. Cruising in the sheltered bays, we should see the endemic Tomtit and Fernbird. And since an estimated 60 million Antarctic Terns, White-fronted Terns and Red-billed Gulls nest among the Snares, we are quite likely to spot a few. Mottled Petrel, Diving Petrel and Broad-billed Prion are all also in the vicinity.
The Auckland Islands, one of the largest of the Subantarctic groups of islands, have a most colourful history of discovery and attempted settlement. During our stay we will visit Carnley Harbour and spend a day ashore on Enderby Island. Forested by gnarled and windswept Rata, Enderby is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Sub-Antarctic islands. It has a low plateau of scrubland and cushion bog. We will enjoy the extensive Bulbinella rossii fields, the regenerating patches of Anisotome latifolia and the red and white gentians. The island enjoys a much milder climate than most Sub-Antarctic Islands because of its location. It is also home to the rare Hooker’s Sea Lion, which breed each year on the beach at Sandy Bay. In the forest behind the beach we find Bellbirds, Red-crowned Parakeets and the friendly Tomtits. Yellow-eyed Penguins also nest in the forest and under the tangled divaricated shrub Myrsine divaricata. You can see them as they travel backwards and forwards across the beach to their nests, especially in the evenings. On the more open country beyond the Rata forest we find nesting Royal Albatross and the endemic Auckland Island Dotterel. There is also a good chance of seeing the endemic flightless Teal at Derrycastle Reef as we explore this island. In Carnley Harbour, energetic adventurers can climb up to the Southwest Cape Shy Mollymawk or Albatross Colony. It is a reasonably difficult scramble, but worth the effort. The views are spectacular and the colony provides great photo opportunities, as do the Wandering Albatross sometimes seen nesting in the tussock beyond the Mollymawk colony. For those who don’t make the climb, there will be a Zodiac excursion to explore parts of this magnificent harbour. We depart the Auckland Islands mid-afternoon and head southwest towards Macquarie Island.
At sea we will have a series of lectures supported by videos of the biology and history of the Sub-Antarctic Islands and the Southern Ocean. The Sub-Antarctic Convergence zone is very close to the area we will sail through, so we expect the bird life to reflect this as we approach Macquarie Island. Birds we may spot include the Wandering Albatross, Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and Little Shearwater. We will endeavour to spot the Fairy Prion, Fulmar Prion and Antarctic Prion – never an easy task – but we should get some great views. There are also many species of Petrel to be on the look-out for including the Soft-plumaged Petrel, Mottled Petrel, White-headed Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Black-bellied Storm Petrel and Common Diving Petrel.
Macquarie Island, Australia’s prized Subantarctic possession, is a small but impressive sliver of land supporting one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern Hemisphere. Millions of penguins of four different species - King, Rockhopper, Gentoo and the endemic Royal – breed here. We plan to spend two days observing the best wildlife areas on the Island and visiting the Australian scientific base where Tasmanian Park Rangers will take us on a tour of the station and nearby areas. The King Penguin rookery at Lusitania Bay is spectacular. A welcoming committee will likely porpoise around our Zodiacs as a quarter of a million King Penguins stand at attention on shore. In the centre of the rookery, rusting condensers are grim reminders of a time when scores of penguins were slaughtered for their oil. Now their offspring have reclaimed this territory. At Sandy Bay, a Royal Penguin rookery teems with feisty little birds trotting back and forth, golden head plumes bobbing as they march to and from the shore. All 3 million of the world’s Royal Penguins breed on Macquarie Island. Large groups of Elephant Seals slumber on the sandy beaches and in the tussock grass further inland. These giant, blubbery creatures barely acknowledge our presence, lying in groups of intertwined bodies, undergoing their annual moult. Younger bulls spar in the shallow water, preparing for their mature years when they will look after their own harems. Other wildlife includes Fur Seals, four species of nesting Albatross – Wandering, Black-browed, Greyheaded and Light-mantled Sooty – as well as many other species of bird. Macquarie Island is the single richest concentration of wildlife on our voyage, so we will aim to fit in as much as possible.
Soaring Albatrosses and Petrels circle the vessel as we steam ever southward through the Southern Ocean. Lectures now concentrate on our next destination – the Antarctic’s Ross Sea region. We will pay attention to water temperatures so that we know when we cross the Antarctic Convergence into the cold but extremely productive Antarctic waters. Drifting icebergs carry vivid colours and come in extraordinary shapes. Each is a unique, natural sculpture. The Captain will manuvre the ship in close for your first ice photography and announce a special celebration as we pass the Antarctic Circle and into Antarctica’s realm of 24-hour daylight!
During our time in the Ross Sea region, we will visit the highlights of Antarctica’s most historic region. Due to the unpredictable nature of ice and weather conditions, a day-by-day itinerary is not possible. The Captain and Expedition Leader will assess daily conditions and take advantage of every opportunity to make landings or send you out in the Zodiacs. Our program emphasises wildlife viewing, key scientific bases and historic sites, as well as the spectacular scenery of the coastal terrain, the glaciers and icebergs of the Ross Sea. Zodiacs and/or hovercraft are used on a regular basis for sightseeing and landings. Whilst specific landings cannot be guaranteed, we hope to visit the following as well as explore for new, perhaps previously unvisited areas:
Cape Adare’s bold headland and the Downshire Cliffs greet us as we approach Cape Adare – ice conditions permitting – at the tip of the Ross Sea, the site of the largest Adélie penguin rookery in Antarctica. Blanketing the large, flat spit which forms the Cape is the huge rookery which now, at the height of summer, numbers up to one million birds – an absolutely staggering sight. You will never forget your first experiences in a ceaselessly active and noisy ‘penguin city’, where the dapper inhabitants show no fear of their strange visitors. Our naturalists will point out various aspects of their lifestyle and, by sitting down quietly, one may observe the often-comical behaviour of the penguins, courtship displays, feeding ever-hungry chicks, territorial disputes and the pilfering of nest material. Curious penguins often come and visit us very closely, presenting superb photographic opportunities. Surrounded by a sea of penguins, we will find Borchgrevink’s Hut, the oldest in Antarctica, an overwintering shelter for the first expedition to the Antarctic continent in 1899. It is a fascinating relic of the ‘Heroic Age’ of Antarctic exploration and we are able to inspect the interior, which still contains artifacts of the early explorers. One thousand feet up in the hills behind Cape Adare is the oldest grave in Antarctica, that of 22 year-old Nicolai Hansen, a member of Borghgrevink’s expedition.
Terra Nova Bay
Baia Terra Nova, an Italian summer research station, is one of the most modern and attractive in Antarctica. The scientists and support staff here are always most hospitable and enjoy showing us around their lonely but beautiful home. The Italians conduct many streams of scientific research and also claim to have the best ‘caffe espresso’ in Antarctica!
The enormous Admiralty Range heralds our arrival at Cape Hallett, near the head of the Ross Sea. The scenery here is wild and spectacular; mountains rear up from the sea to over 4,000 metres and giant glaciers course down from the interior to the water’s edge. We land next to an abandoned American-New Zealand base, home to large numbers of Adélie Penguins and Weddell Seals.
Ross Island – Mount Erebus / Cape Bird / Shackleton’s Hut / Scott’s Hut
At the base of the Ross Sea we arrive at Ross Island, dominated by the 13,000 foot high volcano, Mt Erebus. The New Zealand Antarctica programme maintains a field station at Cape Bird, where scientists study many aspects of the region’s natural history, including the large Adélie Penguin colony. Scientists may be at he field station when we arrive. At Cape Royds we visit Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut, built during the Nimrod polar attempt of 1907- 1909. Lectures explain many facets of Shackleton’s amazing expeditions. He was possibly one of the greatest, and certainly one of the most heroic of the Antarctic explorers. Though the legendary explorers are long gone, the area around the hut is far from deserted, having been reclaimed by the original inhabitants of the area - thousands of Adélie penguins – in the world’s southernmost penguin rookery. Also found on Ross Island is Cape Evans, the historic site of Captain Scott’s second hut, erected in 1911 and beautifully preserved by the staff at New Zealand’s Scott Base. It stands as testimony to the rigours faced by pioneering explorers. Inside the hut we will witness the living conditions almost exactly as they were when Scott, Wilson and Ponting occupied these quarters. Behind the hut, Mt. Erebus looms above with its plume of white smoke spiralling up from the still-active inferno in its bowels.
Ross Ice Shelf
The largest ice shelf in Antarctica, the Ross Ice Shelf is also the world’s largest body of floating ice. A natural ice barrier, at times it creates hazardous weather conditions, with sheets of snow blown at gale force by the katabatic winds coming off the polar ice cap. Just 800 miles from the South Pole, this daunting spectacle prevented many early Antarctic explorers from venturing further south. From the Ross Ice Shelf we cruise eastward along the Shelf front, with its spectacular 30 metre high ice cliffs, which sometimes calve tabular icebergs.
This rugged Island, deep in the Ross Sea, is gouged by numerous glaciers and is home to a large Adélie Penguin population and other nesting seabirds. We will attempt a Zodiac landing near a rookery as well as exploring the coastline. If a landing is achieved, there will be an opportunity for those who are feeling fit to climb to the summit of the Island.
These small, rugged and rarely visited islands lay off the shore of Cape Hallett. An Adélie Penguin rookery, numbering tens of thousands of birds, blankets Foyn Island. Observe their busy and sometimes humorous activities, with the Admiralty Mountains forming a superb backdrop across the water.
Enroute to Campbell Island, take part in a series of lectures designed to prepare you for our visit to Campbell Island. Pelagic species abound here as they did enroute to Macquarie Island from the Auckland Islands. Above all, take the time to rest and enjoy shipboard life after the excitement of the Antarctic.
Campbell Island is a place of rugged scenery and abundant wildlife. On this stunning island we will also see mega herbs which have been regenerated since the removal of sheep in the 70’s, and witness other wildlife such as Campbell Island Shags, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Sea Lions.
On our return journey, we will have the opportunity to reflect on the experiences we have had throughout our voyage. It is also a chance to ask any last minute questions of the lecturers. Tonight we will enjoy a farewell dinner as we complete the last stretch of our journey.
We arrive into port early in the morning. After breakfast and customs formalities, we will disembark in Invercargill. We will go our separate ways enriched by this life changing trip.