After another night of rocking and rolling we woke up anchored off Enderby Island, the northernmost of the Maungahuka/Auckland Island group.  Passengers made the most of the open bridge policy, eagerly chatting about what our first land excursion might have in store. From the ship we could see black slugs spread along Sandy Bay; later this morning we would have our first round of rāpoka roulette.

Brekkie was quickly tucked into by the full complement of passengers this time, followed by a briefing on the Auckland Islands, our options for the day excursion, and guidance on how to interact with sea lions/rāpoka. Most of us opted for the longer day excursion option, circumnavigating the eastern coast of the island, then returning to Sandy Bay via boardwalk. Prepared for whatever the subantarctics threw at us we had plenty of warm clothes, rain gear and dry bags for camera gear in case the fine weather turned. Everyone was getting used to loading into the zodiacs by now, and we were quickly shuttled across to the beach.

The first couple groups ashore were immediately greeted by an Auckland Island teal foraging amongst the kelp at the landing point, while later groups had to make do with watching brown skua determinedly pick flesh from a sea lion pup carcass – while also being mindful of a rāpoka bull right beside the track. I quickly realised that I had overestimated the climate and ditched the long johns along with my gumboots, changing into my familiar tramping boots. Almost as soon as I had done this and taken my camera out of my bag an Auckland Island tomtit obligingly landed on a sedge a couple metres away from me. Good start.

We quickly got to put our sea lion training to use, with a large number of males of various sizes spread all along the beach and a few in the dunes behind it where we would be walking. I quickly learnt that some places in the walking group had distinct advantages when in sea lion territory. Being at the front of the group meant they were mostly asleep when passing and they took little notice. Closer towards the middle of the group and they were starting to stir, disturbed by the unexpected sight and noise, and if you were at the end of the group they were awake and investigating the intrusion into their territory and sleep. They are inherently playful and inquisitive animals, so there was minimal risk to us as long as we kept moving away from their territory and didn’t try engage them in a game of play fighting. My previous interactions with sea lions around Otago gave me some level of understanding of their behaviour around humans, particularly the young ones, but I still tried to keep as much distance as possible from them.

Our walk held no expectations, but many possibilities. Before long we were all spread out along the coastline, with guides at each end of the group and scattered throughout. Many species call Enderby Island home – hoiho/yellow eyed penguin, brown skua, giant petrels, light mantled sooty albatross, southern royal albatross, falcon/karearea, yellow and red-crowned kakariki, and Auckland Island variants of teal, snipe, tomtits, shags, pipits and dotterels, to name some the those that we encountered. As we meandered along, different groups encountered different wildlife sightings, sharing the experience with people nearby before them and the wildlife moved on. The variation and unpredictability of wildlife spotting made it more enjoyable and meant every encounter was treasured.

I was surprised to see a light brown fluffball of unknown species walking around near a small lake, before an adult skua landed nearby and fed that turned out to be its chick. While taking photos of the coastline an Auckland Island shag crested the cliff and quickly put the brakes on at the sight of four humans where there usually aren’t. We quickly took some photos of the nearby bird before it moved off. Occasional hoiho heads popped up from behind vegetation to keep an eye on us, always maintaining a large distance between human and penguin. Larger sea lion heads occasionally poked up from the tussock or megaherbs, even hundreds of metres away from the beaches where we thought we finally didn’t have to keep an eye out for them. Luckily these ones were usually females trying to avoid the large males, rather than playful pups or males trying to establish a territory.

While I knew that the wildlife would be the highlight of Enderby I hadn’t considered the landscapes. Fields of megaherbs, most not yet flowering, spread around the coast and sometimes blanketed the rough route we were following. Below the rugged cliffs were large sea caverns fringed with golden kelp swaying in the clear blue ocean. The fine weather held throughout the whole day, and strong northerlies sent small waterfalls spraying back up the cliffs. I spent most of the day at the end of the group, trying to catch up while being simultaneously waylaid by wildlife and scenery.

Eventually we all met up at the northern end of the boardwalk and made our way back towards the bay, but it wasn’t long before the first southern royal albatross sighting slowed our progress. Initially seen flying over the island from a distance we soon had lucky encounters of birds on the ground near the boardwalk, including a group of young adults “gaming”. Young birds socialise in groups, making a range of displays and noises to advertise their suitability to potential mates. If their courtship displays impress a potential suitor they’ll form monogamous bonds with long term partnerships. Southern royal albatross were once wiped off Enderby Island by humans in the 1800’s and have since returned in small numbers now the island is cleared of introduced predators. Their main threat is now fisheries bycatch when foraging in waters from New Zealand to South America. We would have further encounters with these massive seabirds on Campbell Island, their main breeding ground.

Back at the beach the skua were still working on the sea lion pup. Groups of people walked within metres to get to the landing area but the large birds paid little attention. I made the most of their curious nature to get close and take some photos of them grouping on the beach and feeding while the zodiacs shuttled back and forth. Before long the last boat was ready and I reluctantly packed up my gear, said goodbye to the skua, hopped in the zodi and buzzed back to the Spirit.