Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Campbell, Island of Rarities

Greetings All,
High winds and waves have impeded our journey north.

We were running out of time so were able to visit only one of New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands. The captain chose Campbell Island as it was directly on our route and we would arrive mid-day. We cruised into Perseverance Harbour. The steep cliffs along the Harbour were lined with columns of basalt testament to the island's volcanic origin.

Flocks of Sooty Shearwaters bobbed on the surface of the water or swirled around us in brown clouds. They were joined by Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Giant, Wilson's Storm and Cape Petrels, and Campbell Island Shags.

The captain gave the order to drop anchor and the first zodiacs were launched. Amazing, three curious Yellow-eyed Penguins, one of the world's rarest penguins, came to check out these intruders in their remote realm.

I was eager to get ashore and to walk on terra firma after so many days at sea. Fortunately, we were in the first group to go ashore. A large Hooker Sea Lion was on shore to greet us. We joined Richard's team to make the climb to a lookout on a ridge 900 feet above. We picked our way past an abandoned research station keeping a close lookout for the sea lion we saw from the Zodiac. I spotted him in the tussock grass. We passed quickly and quietly and he paid us little heed. We passed singe file on a boardwalk through the forest. The tallest species of plants, the grass trees (Dracoplyllum) grow here. There is a long-leafed (left) and short-leafed (right) species growing 3 to 5 meters tall.

Leathery green ferns grew along the path. Friendly little New Zealand Pipets hopped along the boardwalk in front of us.

As we climbed higher, the forest gave way to the grasslands. Richard pointed out the tiny orchids and gentians growing along the way.

All three species of Pleurophyllum, members of the daisy family, grow on the island. One has large flat leaves with tall flower stalks. The flowers have gone by and only brown balls remain. The second has large flat leaves that are more grooved and shorter flower stalks. As we climbed higher some of the plants were still in bloom with showy purple flowers.

We could see Southern Royal Albatross soaring above. As we got higher we could see some birds nesting in the tussock grass. Then amazingly one was nesting right next to the boardwalk. We had to divert off the boardwalk as not to disturb the bird. Being this close you really get to see just how large a Royal Albatross is. They have beautiful pink bills that have a hook on the end and a black line along the bill that differentiates them from other similar Albatross. They are of the purest white and have gentle black eyes.

We passed by many more nesting Albatrosses before reaching the end of the boardwalk. The wind was gusting up to 40 mph and blew me off the boardwalk a couple of times. The view over Northwest and Cattle Bays to tiny Dent Island was spectacular.

We headed down with Eric and encountered a pair of Albatross preening each other.  Both the male and female take turns incubating the egg and they were in the processing of changing.

Back at the harbor, we hung out hoping to see more sea lions. One showed up along the shore rubbing against the rocks and rolling over. A second approached the wharf and popped up his head to check out these strangers invading his landing beach.

Hooker or New Zealand Sea Lions are the rarest Pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in the world. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining due to disease and commercial fishing.

Don, our expedition leader, spotted a Teal swimming along the wharf. The teal was a drab brown color, but turns out to be one of the world's rarest duck. Wow, what luck to see the world's rarest seal and duck within a matter of minutes!

It started to rain so we headed back to the Orion, thrilled with our experience. Now another race has started. We need to get back to the port at Bluff, New Zealand before bad weather sets in. High winds, gusting to over 50 knots are in the forecast. If this happens, the port will be closed. At this point, I'm in no hurry to get back. Others have flights to catch and are more eager to get ashore. We'll see what happens when we arrive late tonight.
We hope all is well back home.
Marc and Peggy

Here is a map of Campbell Island:

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