Sailing south – an intrepid journey to the sub-antarctic

A wedding, a pregnant wife, and a busy evening job at the Herald has meant my blog’s gone unloved for months – which is a shame because I’ve had some great adventures. A while back I abandoned my seriously morning-sick lady for two weeks and sailed to the Auckland Island and Campbell Island groups in the subantarctic – several hundred kilometres south of mainland New Zealand – with Air New Zealand.

It was a project dreamed up by their Green Team, which is an internal staff group that raises environmental awareness within the company – they asked me along because they wanted a journalist to document the trip and spread the word.

Unfortunately, the word for the first two days was “yaaarrgghhhh!” as my first experience of open-ocean sailing on the 15m Tiama resulted in 48hrs of exhausting, constant vomiting. But pretty quickly my landlubber’s belly settled down and the trip turned out to be one of those never-to-be-forgotten experiences.

If I could choose my favourite moment¬† out of the dozens of experiences it would be my nightwatch sailing between Auckland and Campbell Islands. Far, far out in the open ocean Brian and I sat in the boat’s open cockpit until 4am, monitoring the auto-pilot, checking the sails and scanning the horizon while waves like small hills reared up alongside us, visible only as they blotted out the stars, or broke into foaming white on their peaks.

Wrapped in every piece of warm clothing we had we watched for hours as the rudder stirred the cold, cold water into bioluminescent rosettes that whirled and sparked and left a glowing trail behind us. It was a magical,  lonely experience broken by the occasional bout of sea-sickness which in itself was almost special: seeing the contents of your stomach, projected overboard in an elegant arc, hit the sea in an explosion of green bioluminesence like some submarine firework display is quite the sight.

Anyway, here are some photos from the trip, plus a few notes on other, less vomitous aspects of the expedition.

As I said, the 15m ice-strengthened yacht Tiama was our open-ocean vessel…

…but the yellow inflatable was our workhorse when it came time to land.

(Which could occasionally be a hairy experience)

Here Brian, first-mate Tod, and myself head to shore – on a pleasantly gentle sea.

This is the full team on Enderby Island – from left, Jacqui, Brian, myself, Angela, Tod and Dave – except for Captain Henk, who was back minding the boat…

… a task he relished in all weather.

Once on land, we’d set about exploring.

The variety of wildlife was amazing.

And the diversity of bird-life was incredible.

We saw rockhopper penguins…

…brown skuas (who enjoy a rockhopper penguin snack)…

…banded dotterals…

…parakeets…

…and of course, beautiful albatrosses.

It’s impossible to visit the subantarctic and not try to capture the grace of these huge and elegant birds.

Aside from the bird-life, Hookers sealions were ever-present.

In the water sealions are very graceful.

But downright beligerant on land…

And we were very lucky to see a leopard seal. They normally stay in Antarctica, where they eat other seals. Look at that craggy grin, huh…

Speaking of craggy grins… that’s me filing one of my nightly blogs for Air New Zealand. So big thanks to the airline and their Green Team – what an epic trip it was!

2 comments

  1. Greg, I’m disappointed! All that time we spent together on the Tiama and absolutely no mention of Megaherbs in your blog…jeez

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