In the afternoon we headed south into Perseverance Harbour and were given three excursion options; 1. The ‘Assault on Mt Honey’, which would try to make quick progress up to the island’s summit with remaining daylight. 2. Walking to the saddle at the base of Mt Honey, or 3. Walking as far as it took to see albatross in the distance. I’m a sucker for walking up a hill, so quickly signed up for the Assault on Mt Honey. Landing at Garden Cove all the passengers followed the muddy track towards the base of Mt Honey at various speeds depending on their mission.
Once we broke out of the scrubby Dracophyllum bushline we saw our first southern royal albatross nesting near the track. Having seen so many albatross at sea while working as a fisheries observer, I had always wanted to see them in their terrestrial environment, which was one of the motivations for applying for the trip. Motu Ihupuku is a stronghold for southern royal albatross, though their population was severely depleted by humans, rats and farm dogs, and suffered from destruction of their nesting habitat when the island was farmed. Once these threats were removed/stopped their numbers began recovering, though they are still killed at sea by fisheries bycatch in New Zealand waters and further afield. Despite being so well adapted for life at sea, the albatross somehow also looked perfectly at home amongst the stunted vegetation on this remote island, nestled onto it’s bowl and fluffed up to keep warm. This was also the beginning of the end of the Assault on Mt Honey. With time running out, we walked a little further to the top of an outcrop above the bushline, now dozens of royal albatross in sight. For once there was little wind, and the calls of albatross carried down the slopes of the hill to our small group. Everyone whispered, though we weren’t sure why. We all decided together that this would be the place to stop and enjoy the moment. The group spread out to watch and listen, or try to capture the moment on their cameras. Occasionally I would hear a faint whooshing noise and look up to see that a 3m wide albatross had just passed metres above my head. I lost track of how long we spent there, still whispering, aware that we were well and truly visitors to their land and cherishing the moment. Several times our guides unsuccessfully tried to start us moving again, and eventually we arrived back at the Spirit at 7:30pm.