I must be honest and say I didn’t know anything about Macquarie Island when I booked my trip to the Subantarctic. As Macquarie Island is an Australian territory, not NZ, I wasn’t familiar with the wildlife, birds or even the Australian Antarctic Division base. I must be even more honest and say I had already formed a strong dislike for the place after two solid days of seasickness. Thankfully by the time we reached Buckles Bay, the Southern Ocean and I had come to an agreement, I would be at her mercy for the sea days as long as my days ashore were amazing. It was a bit like making a deal with the devil but at this point in the trip I would have signed my life away.
Chris, a ranger on Macquarie, spoke to us before we landed at Sandy Bay. His instruction was clear – get off the Zodiac and give him our full attention for 5 minutes for a briefing. He said there would be a lot of distractions but we must learn which areas were free, and which areas we weren’t allowed. As the Zodiac cruised towards the beach I understood the instruction, there were penguins as far as the eye could see, majestic Kings and cheeky Royals mingling on the shore. Elephant seals of all ages hunkered down against the freezing southerly wind and Southern Giant Petrels stomped through the seaweed looking for their next meal.
Once our briefing was over we were free to roam, I wandered towards the main King Penguin colony snapping photos of anything that caught my eye along the way. When I was happy that I had seen all possible areas, I found a quiet spot on the beach and just sat and watched. I was overcome with emotion when I realised of all the places I could visit in the world, right now this was exactly where I needed to be. I watched so many beautiful interactions in complete silence, I was sharing the moment with no one else, it was just thousands of penguins, piles of sea lions and me.
We had the whole day at Sandy Bay and I went back to ship absolutely beaming. The beauty of a trip like this is that when you all sit down at the end of the day everyone shares the most incredible moments, people are animated, excited and you get to see the best of them. It is priceless.
The next day we jumped back in the Zodiacs and landed at Buckles Bay – The Australian Antarctic Division Macquarie Island base. I chose to be part of the “photographers” group, this meant sacrificing warm scones and a wander around the barracks for more time among the wildlife.
Baby Gentoo penguins gathered in fluffy tribes and Macquarie Island Shags collected nesting material to impress their other halves. Light Mantled Sooty Albatross wailed while we meandered around the shoreline watching hulking elephant seals fight for a spot in the middle of their warm huddles. Although I found the base fascinating, I was definitely more interested in the wildlife and found myself gazing at the soaring sea birds as the hosts on Macquarie were speaking to us
Soon it was time to jump back in the Zodiacs and start our journey north-east towards Campbell Island. It occurred to me that our trip was well past the halfway mark and I started to feel quite upset at the thought of it ending. Mother Nature and I were finally on the same page and even in a fairly good swell heading north you couldn’t keep me inside or off the bridge. I had FINALLY found my sea legs!
Stay tuned for the final Subantarctic Instalment – there are grumpy sealions, beautiful albatross and a slightly wet camera…