Today we found ourselves visiting what is undoubtedly the highlight of this expedition. Macquarie Island, a sliver of land halfway between Australia and Antarctica, is home to an abundance of wildlife with lots of elephant seals, skuas, and giant petrels, including the white morph. The island is also home to king, gentoo, and rockhopper penguins. Macca, as our Australian shipmates refer to it, resembles South Georgia at first. Macca has an added bonus, the endemic royal penguin. These penguins are characterized by a large, orange-colored bill, a white face, and a yellow and orange crest over a black head. Visiting Macquarie isn’t easy. Strong westerly winds can make landings quite challenging, but we lucked out in the weather department. We were able to make two landings and take a Zodiac ride with sunshine and blue skies.
National Geographic Orion
Aotea Great Barrier Island and Hauraki Gulf
The last excursion of this great voyage began with heavy rain. Hopefully this weather is the tail end of an incredible easterly rainstorm that has battered Auckland with the highest rainfall in recorded history. Located in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland region, Great Barrier Island was no exception. Our intention at Great Barrier Island, also called Aotea locally, was to visit Glenfern Sanctuary, a predator proof peninsula. Aboard National Geographic Orion, we received a briefing from Steve, the park manager, who explained the incredible history of the peninsula. Ranging from early settlers to World War II bases, the history of the island is rich. Part of this story is the beginning of a guest house in the late 1800s when the park was logged from ancient podocarp forest into grass farmland. More recently, an Auckland sailor had a vision to create a bird sanctuary in this damaged ecosystem. Glenfern began with a predator proof fence to keep out pests like rats, stoats, and cats, followed by a mass native tree planting project. Aboard Zodiacs, we traveled to the peninsula in thoroughly wet conditions…thankfully, smiles were still on our faces! We split into different groups and headed for three main destinations: Sunset Rock for peninsula views; the ancient Kauri for a treetop experience; and the ancient Puriri tree for a look inside the temperate subtropical forest of northern New Zealand. The heavy rain continued, and many of the trails were running with water. The expedition remained unbothered by this as we searched for some of North Island’s unique birdlife and rainforest. Today, we were lucky to see kākās, red-fronted kakariki, fantails/pīwakawakas, New Zealand storm petrels, and tūīs. These were special sightings! One of New Zealand’s most famous tree species is the kauri. It is one of the most striking Northland trees, capable of living for up to 2,000 years. At Glenfern, we had the privilege of clambering into the lofty canopy of a ‘young’ ancient kauri. A final highlight from the 3rd of February was a circumnavigation of Little Barrier Island during dinner.