Campbell Island, in New Zealand’s subantarctic, rains (on average) 325 days per year so it was no surprise that it was grey and grim when we arrived in Perseverance Harbour. It was, however, surprising to have the wind funnelling straight up the normally calm harbour. I was really excited for Campbell Island due the nesting Southern Royal Albatross, the Col Lyal boardwalk, and the chance of spotting the Campbell Island Snipe. Unlike the other islands, I knew a bit about Campbell and therefore had high hopes.
Sadly, given the weather conditions, half of our first day was lost as we stood on the bridge watching squalls of water go past the windows. The odd angle of the front meant we also wouldn’t be able to land at the meteorological station when we could finally get ashore. We had a bit of a wet landing onto a slippery rock bank and a bush bash over the point to meet the boardwalk. When Rodney announced the wind had settled enough we all rushed to board the zodiacs, eager to get ashore. As it was now late on our first day we only had one option – all 50 passengers were walking up the Col Lyal boardwalk. The Southern Royal Albatross were most active in the afternoon and if we didn’t go now we would miss seeing them chatting to each other.
The rain was still torrential so we traipsed in a slow silent chain bending into the wind and blinking from the stinging drops in our eyes. Once we reached the albatross, we grabbed our cameras and flicked off as many photos as we could while rained poured over our gear. After about 15 minutes my camera had had enough, the shutter and focus stopped working and it was flicking on and off. I knew I had pushed its weather-proof capabilities and was extremely thankful this was nearly the end of the trip. I wrapped my gear up, put it away and watched as everyone continued to photograph these magnificent birds.
Back on ship I confessed to the boys what had happened and on their advice, I removed the battery and SD card, and popped the camera (battery slot open) in a warm dry spot to dry out praying to the camera gods that it would last just a few more days. I did have a second camera body with me but it wouldn’t have been as good as the 6D. My camera worry was quickly forgotten as tonight was our New Year celebration and was my favourite night on the ship, although the mulled wine, cheese, great conversation and some fantastic editing advice was making me even more upset that the trip was coming to a close.
Campbell Island really was the tale of two days, we woke to brilliant blue sky and warm sun (subantarctic warm, not your average warm though). Due to the great weather, there were three choices for our second day – A Zodiac cruise to see the nesting Light Mantled Sooty Albatross and hopefully the Campbell Island Teal, A long walk across the island to see more species or back up the Col Lyal boardwalk. I felt like I had missed out a little the day before and with my camera working again I decided to go back up the boardwalk. Only 7 of us chose this option so yet again I felt like I had paradise to myself. I wandered slowly, looking at the beautiful Pleurophyllum with their interchangeable purple flowers, listening to the haunting wails of the Light Mantled Sooty Albatross and stepping carefully to not nudge the pipits that danced along at my feet.
Nesting albatross raised their elegant heads as I walked by, not even a beak clack to warn me away. I sat in the sun at the top of the island and contemplated the life I would be returning to back home. I knew already that changes had to be made to ensure this adventure didn’t become a distant memory. After photographing the stunning ocean and Dent Island I meandered back down the boardwalk towards the ship. Although I had briefly spotted a Snipe the day before, my camera was out of action so when another scampered out of the bush in front of me I was delighted. They are really the strangest little birds with the most incredible story and I encourage you to google “Campbell Island Snipe” to learn a little more.
The only downside with being on your own in these places is having no one to defend you from the playful and sometimes aggressive sealions. After getting a serious fright and dodging a couple I was well and truly stuck when one particular male decided I would not being going past. We had a Mexican standoff for about 15 minutes. He would dose off, I’d gingerly step forward, he would open one eye, yawn and lunge forcing me back to my sanctuary (the balcony of the meteorological buildings) finally he was bored of the game and waddled off back towards the sea, I made my escape.
Back on ship we prepared to leave the safety of Perseverance Harbour, out past Bull Rock to start the journey home. I was quite happy standing on the bridge rolling with the swell and watching all the amazing seabirds cruise by however I was thankful that our guides had done this all before as Lisle insisted I went downstairs to get my camera while we steamed around the north end of the island. The sight was incredible, thousands and thousands of nesting albatross, the skies full with birds. I secured my spot on the deck (wedged between the oil drums and ships rails) quickly ignored the “One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself” rule and fired off round after round of photos. My favourite sighting (unfortunately not captured) was the stunning dark head and bright yellow beak of the Chatham Albatross. Hopefully one day I’ll have the chance to see one again and grab a photo. Our last day on ship was slightly solemn. Cruising home towards bluff I knew these two weeks had changed my life entirely and I was going to miss the ocean, these islands, the animals and the people. They were all etched into my heart.
Thank you for reading my adventures in the Subantarctic. If it is an area you would like to visit or learn more about, feel free to email me on Tamzin.firstname.lastname@example.org
Until the next adventure…. Good bye.