If someone asked you to name UNESCO World Heritage Sites, how many could you get through? Everest, Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef and Galapagos might come to mind, but chances are that the New Zealand subantarctic islands wouldn’t be on that list. Tucked away to the south east of NZ in the roaring forties and furious fifties they are remote, wild, and teeming with wildlife. In short, a photographers dream.

Most NZ and international birders have a visit to the subantarctic islands on their bucket list. I wouldn’t class myself as a birder/”twitcher” but if you are reading this, you’ll know I have an interest in birds. My birding “list” only includes a few locations around NZ and the world I would like to visit for the bird spotting (and photographing) opportunities. The subants or subs (as they’re known to kiwis) are one of these locations.

Comprised of the Snares, Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands, access is limited to researchers and a few authorised expeditions. When Heritage Expeditions advertised scholarships for the upcoming season I jumped at the chance. It was also the last year that I would be eligible for their True Young Explorer scholarship as I was almost no longer young; fingers were well and truly crossed.

Past work as a fisheries observer stoked my interest in seabirds, prompting me to help out with seabird research fieldwork and study a Master of Wildlife Management focussed on yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho. NZ is considered the seabird capital of the world – 86 seabird species breed around NZ, and 38 of these breed nowhere else in the world. Many of these breeding sites are on the subs, and the birds forage over the Southern Ocean and beyond.

Heritage specialises in expedition cruises to areas rich in natural history, increasing awareness and appreciation of the conservation challenges facing the regions they visit. This is the same driver for my bird photography, so I was stoked when I was offered a berth on one their “Galapagos of the Southern Ocean” trip in December.

Prior to the trip I had a basic understanding of the wildlife likely to be seen on the islands, though I couldn’t tell you which seabird species were likely to be seen where and thought the islands would be somewhat similar with varying bird diversity. Throughout the trip I was continually awed by the stunning landscapes and coastlines of the different islands, something I hadn’t expected. I had also never seen such variation and scale of birdlife before. Each shore excursion or zodiac cruise held surprise sightings that I quickly gave up trying to predict.

The people I shared the trip with also contributed to an amazing time. One of the other scholarship recipients also happened to work for DOC, and after the trip we wrote a short post for the DOC blog outlining our experiences and lessons learnt on the trip. With a wide range of backgrounds there were plenty of inspirational discussions and stories and being surrounded by like-minded people in awe of the wildlife and scenery they were seeing amplified the experience. There was a clear conservation slant to lectures taken by guides, and the final topic was on the global biodiversity crisis led by Professor Murray Potter from Massey University. Throughout the trip we heard several stories highlighting the fragility and vulnerability of species on the islands we had visited, as well as their resilience to recover – if given the chance. I am sharing these experiences and stories to help other people learn about this remote part of the world as I did on the trip.

For ease of reading, I have split the voyage into different entries for the different island groups, plus one about photography on the islands to help anyone planning an upcoming journey:

If you are thinking of a trip down south or have any questions relating to it please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact page!