200 km south of mainland NZ a group of rocky islands jut out of the sea like shark’s teeth. Named ‘The Snares’ by George Vancouver in 1791 and already named Te Taniwha (the sea-monster) by local Māori, the name alone was foreboding. I didn't have high hopes for The Snares on my visit to the Subantarctic Islands. I knew we weren't allowed ashore, I couldn't imagine how I would get any reasonable photographs from a moving Zodiac, and the horrid seasickness I felt almost the instant we left Bluff had me wondering frankly what I had signed up for. As it turned out The Snares was the first day of the most incredible two weeks of my life.
We came to anchor in the early hours of December 25th, yes Christmas Day. I was still feeling a little green so I skipped breakfast to check and repack my camera gear. We flipped our tags to notify Jessie that we were leaving the ship, and struggled into our inflatable life jackets over top of our layers and layers of warm and water proof clothing.
Every exit off the ship followed the same process
- Merino under layers,
- Fleece middle layers
- Woollen jersey
- Water proof outer layers
- Neoprene gumboots
- Woolly hat
- Camera gear into a dry bag, into a back pack
Each island had strict quarantine requirements so every morning this gear was checked, cleaned, vacuumed and pick apart (with tweezers) until it past inspection.
Once outside on the deck we huddled, shaking as much in anticipation as from the cold. There was no picking or choosing when it came to the Zodiac, we watched for one to come along side, scampered down the gangway and with a firm grip from the Russian sailors landed squarely in centre of our inflatables. When each Zodiac was full it veered away towards the shelter of the islands.
The welcoming party were on form, Sub adult Hookers Sea Lions quickly surrounded the Zodiacs, poking their noses out of the water to investigate the strange beings in their home. Snares Crested Penguins leapt out of the water as they raced towards the shore. These guys always seemed to have an agenda, there was somewhere they desperately needed to be. Once I understood how hard it was to launch themselves up on the rock slides then to waddle hundreds of metres back to their forest nests and young chick I appreciated why they were rushing everywhere.
Buller’s Albatross peered down at us from the cliff tops and a Skua shuffled slowly out of sight behind an endemic Hebe. We were spoilt with the weather. The calm seas allowed us to investigate some of the many sea caves on the island. The gorgeous black Snares Tomtit flittered ahead of us as if he was leading the way. Distracted by a Snares Fernbird scrambling up the rocky banks I ducked just in time to prevent being struck on the head by a blooming brachyglottis stewartiae.
The Snares was an exceptional introduction to the Subantarctic, perhaps a glimpse at New Zealand of old, or a glimmer of how predator-free New Zealand could look. I spent 5 hours cruising around these magnificent islands, it felt like five seconds and a lifetime all at once.
Stay tuned for my next Subantarctic Instalment, we are heading for the Auckland Island group however Mother Nature and the Southern Ocean may have other plans...
'Below 40 degrees south there is no law, below 50 degrees there is no god'