The first sign that we were approaching Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku was a change in seabirds around the Spirit. I had woken up before the wakeup call, and after an early raid on the cookie jar I went up to the bridge to check our progress. Campbell Island black-browed albatross were soaring the waves, though too far off to see their distinctive golden iris. Arriving around midday, we prepared for a zodiac cruise along the coastline at North Cape.

Another volcanically formed island, the steep cliffs of Motu Ihupuku were splashed with lush megaherbs, benefitting from the nutrient-rich guano deposited by thousands of nesting albatross and other seabirds. Again, twisted rock layers hinted at the massive forces at play during the formation of the island. The scene was a layered rainbow of colours, from turquoise sea, to golden kelp, black rocks, a wavy line of orange and red, topped with algae-coated basalt columns. White specks of Campbell Albatross heads garnished the bright green plant growth flourishing on the terraces. Once in the zodiacs we cruised along the coast, looking upwards at the albatross colony, which also had slowly increasing numbers of sooty albatross mixed through. An opportunistic group of endemic Campbell Island shags were seen nesting along a slight edge of the steep cliffs. Photographers struggled to do justice to the scene with their long lenses, switching to wide angles or using phones to capture the scale of the cliffs and albatross numbers.

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.

Our first full day at Campbell Island came with two options; visiting historic sites in the morning then a walk up to Col Lyall saddle on the boardwalk to see nesting albatross, or a full-day walk to Northwest Bay with the possibility of seeing albatross, other wildlife and dramatic coastlines. This was a difficult decision for me as seeing albatross on land was a priority, and the tussock and scrub of the island’s interior didn’t strike me as being particularly scenic. However, given the incredible albatross encounter we had the previous evening, and the unknowns of what could be seen on the longer walk, I put my name down with the Northwest Circuit crew.

We began the walk at Beeman Base, once a Metservice outpost, utilised by DOC since the meteorological station became automated. Skirting the coastline we had our first sighting of Campbell Island teal. Once wiped off the main island by rats, they unknowingly persisted on nearby 23ha Dent Island until being rediscovered in 1973. After a successful captive breeding programme and eradication of rats from Campbell Island they were reintroduced and can be seen fossicking along the shoreline, as we did. By mid-morning drizzle had set in, with no sign of easing. A quick smoko break amongst the tussock coincided with a sighting of several snipe, though they evaded most photographers. The route continued up and over to the western side of the island, and once at the top of the cliffs we had stunning atmospheric views into Northwest Bay and further up the coast. Blue seas contrasted with the lush green megaherbs, their flowers also adding an occasional splash of colour. Low cloud and drizzle threatened to obscure the views, so we were lucky to arrive before the worst of the weather. Following the top of the ridge down to the bay we carefully navigated through Bulbinella rosii and Anisotome latifolia, occasionally deviating to avoid giant petrel and subantarctic skua nests.

Once at sea level we enjoyed another game of “dodge the sea lion”, with the added challenge of a very slippery rock platform and cliff at our back to limit evasive manoeuvres. Sharing the bay with sea lions were several elephant seals, including an adorable pup lounging amongst the kelp. Already the surprise sightings of various wildlife and landscapes vindicated my decision to opt for the longer walk. Throw in the bonus hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin that skirted past our group as we were having lunch near the bay and I was buzzing despite the now steady horizontal drizzle. After lunch we started heading away from the western coast, back towards the Inlet on the western side of the island. Rain jacket hoods firmly pulled down we trudged through tussock, our group members spread out between the guides depending on our eagerness to get back to the warm shelter of the Spirit. Amongst the drizzle we passed southern royal albatross hunkered down on their nests, their bright white feathers particularly vibrant against the dull landscape. In an ongoing theme I was a straggler at the back with a colleague and a guide, our progress hindered by regular albatross photo stops. Finally we descended to the waiting zodiacs and buzzed across to the Spirit with the wind to our back – according to the captain the gusts had risen to 95kt (175km/h). The other party had gotten as wet as us, with limited albatross viewing opportunities on the Col Lyall boardwalk.

This day was everything that I loved about wildlife photography – the unknown of what you would face and where, but the opportunity to make the most of every sighting. It delivered everything that I had hoped for, even though I wasn’t sure what that was. Despite the rain (and what seemed to be a dead lens…) I was buzzing over our wildlife sightings and the stunning landscapes from the day. Wet clothing draped over hallway handrails and in the sauna we began our steam to the Antipodes Islands, wedged in our bunks to combat the rolling.