As the sun broke over the horizon, National Geographic Orion set anchor in Whangamata on the northeastern side of North Island. Impressive geological sea stacks were dotted around the ship, creating an epic landscape to explore via Zodiac and kayak. After our breakfast, we set out to explore the small town. Activities included shore walks, bird watching, a journey to observe the local scenery, and a kayaking adventure that forded a narrow crevasse through a mountainous island. So narrow, in fact, that not even our Zodiacs could make it through. It was a lovely day, with many more to come.
We continue making our way southeast towards the Ross Sea for an exciting new chapter in this already incredible voyage. This morning, we had part two of visiting scientist Alessandro Silvano’s presentation, “Southern Ocean.” We came to grips with what exactly Antarctic bottom water is, how it forms, and why it is important to Antarctica and the rest of the planet. Later in the morning, naturalist Jessica Farrer presented her case for the conservation of the Antarctic toothfish, diving deep into why and where this incredible fish species needs to be protected from overfishing. In the late afternoon, naturalist Gabriela Roland introduced us to the Southern Cross Expedition (1898-1900), describing how the crew of this exploratory expedition experienced being the first people ever to spend a winter on mainland Antarctica, thus leading the way for future Antarctic explorers. After three days at sea, we are chomping at the bit to meet the White Continent when we wake tomorrow morning.
We enjoyed calm seas from the early morning. Some of us were busy birdwatching on the bridge. We spotted lots of sooty shearwaters, Cape petrels, and light-mantled albatrosses. The highlight of our morning was spotting a group of fin whales actively feeding near the surface of the sea. Fin whales are among the fastest swimming great whales. Aggregations of the whales in productive areas of the Southern Ocean attract special attention of scientists and visitors to Antarctica. And we encountered blue whales! We also saw the first tabular iceberg of our voyage. As we traveled through time zones, we had to move one hour ahead. We enjoyed a bunch of presentations focused on animal migrations, the Southern Ocean, and New Zealand fisheries. For our photography enthusiasts, we had a photo feedback session to review images taken during the first portion of our journey.
Early on February 5, National Geographic Orion navigated toward our destination in the Bay of Islands. Preparations were underway to commemorate the 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand, on February 6. We were extremely lucky, as the 35 meter/115 foot war canoe passed by as we were on our guided tour of the grounds. A ceremonial band was playing, and various activities were underway in preparation for the commemoration ceremonies tomorrow. Our group was treated to a cultural performance by the Maori. Singing, dancing, storytelling, and traditional weapons captured our attention. Everyone enjoyed free time to explore the grounds and museum. We returned to National Geographic Orion for a delicious lunch before heading out on Zodiacs again to visit the charming town of Russell. Each group spent an hour walking around this charming village and learning about its history.
Please Note: This expedition crosses the International Date Line, so there will be two DERs for February 5. A calm but foggy morning greeted us for our last day of exploring the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia. Macquarie is unique in its position on the boundary of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. The island is entirely comprised of oceanic rocks with a complete sequence from mantle to extruded ocean floor. These rocks are draped with a lush vegetation dominated by grasses and megaherbs that tumble down precipitous slopes to the shore. Many seabirds call this place home, including the elegant light-mantled albatross, the endemic Macquarie shag, and the effervescent rockhopper penguin. The main story is in the massive colonies of royal penguins and king penguins, estimated at well over a million pairs.