The first half of the trip had given us a full spectrum of Subantarctic wind, rain, and swell. Thankfully our long steam from Campbell Island to the Antipodes Islands, around 750km, saw the swell and wind easing and staying calm for the remainder of the voyage.
On the way we had a short talk on Antipodean albatross conservation by one of the guests on board, Sue Maturin. Sue is a conservation legend, and a wealth of knowledge on marine protection and seabird conservation. She explained to us how the entire Antipodean albatross population is projected to decline to 500 breeding pairs within 20 years at the current rates. Their main threat is bycatch in longline fisheries in international waters, exacerbated by climate change which is decreasing their historical food supply and increasing the birds interactions with fisheries. Shortly before our visit to the island two researchers had arrived to continue with the Antipodean albatross monitoring project, as well as carrying out other seabird monitoring. Some albatross have had GPS trackers fitted to better understand how the interact with foreign fisheries. You can check them out on an interactive map – their range is impressive, but it also highlights the difficulty of trans-boundary conservation: https://docnewzealand.shinyapps.io/albatrosstracker/
The lack of wind meant we had limited visibility in sea fog during the day in transit between island groups, persisting the next day as we arrived at the Antipodes. Visible on the radar and plotter but not to the eye, eventually the dark base of the island appeared as the fog lifted by a few metres. The Spirit stopped in Ringdove Bay at the Southeast of the island as passengers lined the deck to take in the scene. Sharp basalt cliffs rose into the fog, pockmarked with rocks blasted into the then-lava when the island group was formed. Green grasses, tussocks and megaherbs grow where they can, white lichens adding to the palette of green and black. The island looked like something straight out of a Jurassic Park movie.
We began our zodiac cruise at Albatross Point, and many birders were keen to get their first sighting of the Antipodes kākāriki. Almost entirely green, they have learnt to opportunistically scavenge from dead animals around the shore, and are only found on the Antipodes and a few captive rearing facilities on the mainland. The Antipodes are also exclusively home to Reischek’s parakeet, visually similar to red-crowned kākāriki but genetically distinct. Photographers were quickly roped into identifying distant kākāriki sightings for other zodiac passengers, leading to humorous discussions of which green shrub the camouflaged green birds were supposedly near. We were lucky enough to see a pair of Antipodes kākāriki fly down to the shore near our zodiac, foraging amongst the dark rocks where they stood out like bright green highlighters.
From there we nosed along the coast, making the most of the calm seas to watch kākāriki, subantarctic fur seals with their cream-coloured snouts, erect-crested and Eastern rockhopper penguins, the occasional elephant seal, pipits and light-mantled sooty albatross. The rock around penguin colonies were splashed pink or white depending on their predominant prey item; white for squid, pink for crustaceans. Amongst the colonies are brown huddles of fluffy chicks, still with their warm down feathers. Waves of porpoising penguins passed us before being ejected from the water onto the ramp leading up to the colonies. Some exits from the water are less than graceful, though they all make it onto dry land eventually.
Back at the Spirit for lunch, expedition leader Aaron’s voice comes over the intercom to announce that the Antipodean Swim Team will be convening shortly. It’s usually tradition to swim at Campbell Island, the southernmost point in the voyage, but since everyone was thoroughly wet and cold at the end of our last day there the swim was postponed. I was hesitant about joining the team but my decision was made when I saw Bill and Gordy, two other passengers, running past the door, tops off and towels in hand. The captain set the bar high with a perfectly executed swan dive off the side of the boat, followed by passengers pulling off a range of water entry techniques. According to the bridge the water temperature was around 10 degrees, so refreshing is an understatement!
After another cruise around to North Cape it was time to leave Antipodes behind and make way to the Bounty Islands. Our original trip itinerary included Macquarie Island instead of Antipodes and Bounty, but at this stage I couldn’t care less. The otherworldly fog shrouded coastline of the Antipodes had blown me away and I couldn’t wait to see what the Bounty Islands had in store.