The Destination - Blog 2
Monday 5th November, 2012The Auckland islands lie at latitude 50° south, 460 kilometres south of Bluff - that's just beyond the Roaring Forties and into the Furious Fifties! They're imposing rugged chunks of rata-covered rock, the largest of New Zealand's five groups of subantarctic islands. The weather is usually bleak: gale-force winds are the norm, temperatures seldom make it into double digits, and the rain - while never heavy - drizzles continuously on most days. That makes the islands sound very unattractive, but while they are certainly not an immediately welcoming place they are spectacular and breath-taking in many ways (especially on one of the rare nice days!) - vast towering cliffs pummelled by huge waves, rata forest which paints the lower slopes of the islands red in summer, swathes of pink and yellow and blue flowers in the megaherb gardens, and an amazing abundance of spectacular wildlife, both large and small, from sealions and southern right whales to albatrosses and, of course, penguins!
The main Auckland Island is by far our biggest subantartic island. Forty kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide at its pear-shaped bottom, it is almost 51,000 hectares in size and 659 metres above sea level at its highest point. While the higher slopes are covered in tussock, most of the island is blanketed in thick, and often impenetrable, rata forest.
Adams Island lies across the bottom of Auckland Island, separated from it by Carnley Harbour. Just over 10,000 hectares in size it has remained free of introduced animals, even though it was farmed for a while. Adams Island, and the much smaller Disappointment Island which lies off the west coast of the main island, are two of the most pristine islands in New Zealand, and a haven for breeding seabirds, invertebrates and spectacular flowering megaherbs.
The Auckland islands are the remnants of two ancient volcanoes, which have been significantly shaped by glaciers over the last two million years. The south coast of Adams Island and the west coast of Auckland Island are towering sea cliffs which bear the full brunt of the southern ocean and its frequent storms. Their northern and western coasts respectively slope steadily to the sea, and are indented with bays and harbours.
Enderby Island (710 hectares) is the northern-most island, at the top of Port Ross. Compared to the other rugged islands it is a benign undulation of an island, and as it is slightly sheltered from the worst of the weather by the bulk of Auckland Island it is often referred to as the 'banana belt' of the subantarctic.
Our expedition will head first to Enderby Island. We'll look for yellow-eyed penguins there as well as on some small neighbouring islands, in North Harbour and around the shores of Port Ross. Our other main port of call will be the northern shores of Adams Island and other likely spots around Carnley Harbour in the south. The order in which we do things will depend on what the weather gods throw at us, as high winds and seas will make many shore landings difficult, if not impossible. Keep an eye on the weather maps over the next few weeks, and if you see lots of close-together lines south of New Zealand spare a thought for us - it means we'll be copping lots of wind. Fingers crossed that is not the case!