National Geographic Orion returned to New Zealand for the first time since 2014; our staff in Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands captured incredible wildlife close-ups; and sweeping, ice-filled landscapes greeted guests in Patagonia and Antarctica.
We awoke as National Geographic Endurance navigated towards the Auckland Islands accompanied by white-capped, southern royal, and wandering albatrosses. As we entered Port Ross, those on the bridge immediately spotted Sandy Bay and Enderby Island, the focus for the day’s ops. Immediately after breakfast, Zodiacs were launched, and we were soon cruising amongst endemic Auckland Island shags and yellow-eyed and southern rockhopper penguins. The sea lions of Sandy Bay played in the surf. Keen to check out the Zodiacs, the sea lions gave guests an appreciation of just how agile they are under the water. Our afternoon was spent on land, where we hiked amongst stunning flowering rata, past lots of sea lion pups, and up to the top of the island to enjoy the southern royal albatrosses. The birds put on quite a display for us.
After saying goodbye to Dunedin, we set sail towards the Subantarctic Islands. We had calm seas and foggy weather in the morning, so we focused on discussing plans for the voyage and introducing our experienced expedition team. Mandatory briefings on biosecurity and landings were followed by the biosecurity decontamination. Chef Sara invited guests to enjoy a very special treat, New Zealand oysters and champagne. In the afternoon, we reached the Snares Islands, a group of uninhabited islands about 200 km south of New Zealand's South Island. We had an amazing time exploring the area near the Snares Islands by boat. In the water, we spotted swarms of krill and schools of fish as albatrosses fished in the area. We observed Snares penguins in the water and ashore, as well as Hooker’s sea lions and various seabirds. Recap with the expedition team was very helpful, and we remembered the best moments from the day and discussed plans for tomorrow. In the evening, we had a delicious dinner at the ship’s restaurant, Two Seven Zero°.
Paulet Island was formed by a volcano that erupted beneath an enormous sheet of ice. Now it is the site of the vast Adelie penguin colony that we visited this morning. Our lunch was delayed as we watched a large pod of killer whales near the ship. Our afternoon walks at Tay Head on Joinville Island featured a smaller Adelie penguin colony, Antarctic fur seals, and a glacier. After dinner, the ship cruised very close to huge tabular icebergs – the views were magical.
Today was our last day in the western realm, and we spent it on Isabela, the largest island. Isabela has an interesting seahorse shape due to the five volcanoes that joined at their bases to form the island. Our morning was very special because we saw our first Galapagos giant tortoises! We observed females at Urbina Bay, where Alcedo giant tortoises come to nest. We also saw some juveniles right on our path. Besides tortoises, we saw sea turtles mating, yellow land iguanas, and various land birds, including finches and hawks. It was a spectacular morning! Our afternoon was spent at a famous anchorage, Tagus Cove. We explored the cove by kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and Zodiac tours. We went for a hike to the top of Darwin Lake. It was another magical day in paradise!
Perhaps part of the reason we travel is for the feelings of accomplishment and reward when we overcome unforeseen obstacles and challenges. Well, we ought to feel mightily accomplished at this point, as most of us had more than our share of epic challenges just to get to Dunedin, New Zealand to embark on National Geographic Endurance as we begin our Epic Antarctic voyage. Delayed flights, lost luggage, and flooding in Auckland affected most of us, requiring a delay in our departure from the city pier. But challenge can become an opportunity, and those who were able to embark last night had some “town time,” a chance to explore this important and picturesque city on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. We slipped lines and set sail within minutes after the last of our guests were aboard, and we headed for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the New Zealand/Australian Subantarctic Islands.