Tasmania to New Zealand: A Voyage through the Sub-Antarctic Islands
Published on Monday, January 27, 2014
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - Melbourne, Australia: We gathered in the luxurious Grand Hyatt at the top of the oldest street in Melbourne. While some of our group had arrived in Australia up to two weeks earlier, most of us flew in today on long-haul flights to this seemingly remote island continent in the Southern Hemisphere. Nevertheless, many of us were lured out onto the streets to explore this very cosmopolitan city.
We met over cocktails before dinner, during which our Expedition Leader, John Yersin, welcomed us and introduced us to our expedition team. The effects of jet lag soon sent us to our rooms and into a horizontal position for a good night’s sleep.
Thursday, November 28 - Melbourne / Embark Caledonian Sky: In true Zegrahm style, we were up and ready to begin our adventure not long after the sun rose. Those seeking the famed Australian marsupial experience headed out this morning to the Serendip Reserve, where we quietly approached a mob of wild eastern gray kangaroos, and the You Yang ranges, where we saw our first koala. After lunch, a local Aboriginal man taught us about his traditional culture, tools, and weapons, including the boomerang. Afterwards, he entranced us with a long solo on the didgeridoo.
Those on the city tour enjoyed an excellent commentary by our Aussie guide and Melbourne-born driver. Both entertained us with a running conversation about Australia and Melbourne in particular. We visited the Koori Heritage Trust Cultural Centre and walked into the nearby park where we could look down on Port Phillip Bay and back at the city. Returning to the Koori Centre, we learned about Aboriginal stone tools and various kinds of boomerangs, each designed for very specific purposes. At the Melbourne Botanic Gardens we enjoyed superb layouts in the grand manner of colonial garden design of the 19th century. We met an Aboriginal man who, after a smoking ceremony to welcome us to Australia, led us around the gardens explaining the uses of particular plants to his people. After enjoying a cup of myrtle and tree tea, we boarded our buses and headed for Geelong to meet the Caledonian Sky. On board we quickly settled into our home for the next 16 days.
Friday, November 29 - Devonport, Tasmania: Though crossing Bass Strait kept many of us awake through the night, seas lightened by morning and seeing the landmass of Tasmania helped to buffer the effects of the Roaring 40s! Our lecture series began after breakfast with Shirley Campbell telling us the sad story of Truganini; The Last Tasmanian?, followed by Jonathan Rossouw’s introduction to the biodiversity of Tasmania, Duckbill to Beelzebub’s Pup: The Wildlife of Tasmania.
Once alongside in Devonport we disembarked and headed towards Wings Wildlife Sanctuary. We traveled the scenic coast with wonderful views of the Bass Strait, driving through the tiny settlements of Ulverstone and Penguin, before heading inland. We climbed the escarpment and drove down into beautiful valleys, stopping briefly at Gunn’s Plains before reaching our destination. Run by a farming family looking after injured wildlife, it has become a famous wildlife park where visitors are guaranteed to see Tasmania’s shyer inhabitants, in particular, a population of Tasmanian devil orphans. We watched the comical antics of the little devils fighting over their food—a wallaby leg—and one bold devil grabbed the meat and dashed off around the enclosure! We also saw Bennet’s wallabies, Forester kangaroos, a wedge-tailed eagle with a broken wing, and a pair of kookaburras responding to the calls of wild kookaburras in the surrounding bush. Baby wombats, also orphaned and now cared for by the staff, were in the arms of their keepers, noses buried under their arms as we tried to get a glimpse of these shy creatures.
From there we drove through mountainous dry sclerophyll forests featuring several varieties of eucalyptus, casuarina, and acacia, and passed wetter gorges with majestic Dicksonia tree-ferns. As we neared the coast, forest gave way to farmland and we finally arrived at the Arboretum where we hoped to see the reclusive platypus. However, despite our best efforts we had to admit defeat and return to the ship.
Back on board our captain, Peter Fielding, welcomed us with cocktails and introduced his senior staff before our welcome dinner together in the dining room.
Saturday, November 30 - Wineglass Bay / Coles Bay: This morning we awoke to a gray day and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before disembarking by Zodiac for a quick transfer to Wineglass Bay. Described by many as one of the top ten beaches in the world, we jumped off our Zodiacs onto beautiful white sand. We hiked along the stunning beach, stopping occasionally to look at beach-wrecked shearwaters and a sea lion. Leaving the beach, we climbed up between the higher peaks, pausing to admire banksia trees whose large flowers later turn into hairy brown seedpods called ‘Banksia Men’ by Australian children. The view from the outlook was spectacular, the bay below clearly outlining the perfect shape of a wine glass. Descending towards Coles Bay, we carefully made our way down to sea level for lunch at the beautiful Freycinet Lodge, where the cold beer on tap was the most popular beverage!
Replete with good food and the picturesque view from the Lodge’s veranda, some chose to make their way back to the ship while others embarked on a nature walk along the beach. Shell waste told of the lunches had by Aboriginal Tasmanians before European settlement disrupted their lives, while shearwaters washed onto shore after storms gave witness to the raw nature of this southerly island. Again we found fire-hardened banksia, casuarina trees, flowering tea-trees, and kunzia with its honeyed-caramel perfume. A pair of sooty oyster catchers with their young chicks was a highlight, but we also saw superb fairy wrens, yellow wattlebirds, and a laughing kookaburra.
Sunday, December 1 - Maria Island / Port Arthur: At 05:00 we were woken by John, urging us to rise and prepare for a wonderful morning on Maria Island. Apart from its association with the Tyreddeme Aboriginal Band, the island’s history is a rich layering of European settlement. In 1825, the first 150 convicts arrived to begin the island’s soon-to-be famous penal colony. By 1845 the colony contained 600 prisoners. We saw the remains of some of the older architecture, including the cement processing buildings built in the late 19th century by an Italian entrepreneur.
An excellent museum provided information about the wildlife to be seen on the island; everywhere we went there were Cape Barren geese grazing and displaying, as well as spotted and striated pardalotes and green rosellas. The most thrilling of all, however, was seeing the rare hooded plover across the river mouth.
Some explored the Fossil Cliffs with geologist Tom Sharpe, and enjoyed views of 260-270-million-year-old Permian cold-water fossils, mostly encrusted ancient shells, hinting at Australia’s past location much further south when part of Gondwana. We also walked through Darlington settlement to the famed Painted Cliffs where yellow Permian sandstone banded with iron oxides produced a wonderful range of colors.
During a luxurious brunch onboard, we repositioned to spend the afternoon exploring Port Arthur. Established in 1833, the prison was modeled on a new philosophy for dealing with prisoners, focusing on discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, and training and education. Our tour finished in the old asylum where we enjoyed fresh local oysters and the award-winning Jansz sparkling wine from Tasmania.
Monday, December 2 - Hobart: Hobart, Australia’s second oldest city, is nestled between the brooding peak of Mount Wellington and the Derwent estuary. Once a bustling port for whalers and entrepreneurs, the 19th-century sandstone warehouses are now inhabited by dockside cafes, artists’ studios, and restaurants. This morning our group split into two—those going to Bruny Island and those going to visit Bonorong Park and Richmond.
The drive to Bonorong took us through the beautiful countryside of the Derwent River Valley, where Bonorong Animal Sanctuary plays an important role in helping injured or orphaned native animals. We fed wallabies and kangaroos, observed emus, and delighted in watching the loving attention offered by a young wombat to her keeper. We saw spotted quolls and yellow-tailed black cockatoos, but the most popular sighting was the little eastern rosella, who gave us ample opportunity for close-up photography.
Leaving Bonorong, we followed the Coal River Valley to the charming village of Richmond, featuring the oldest surviving bridge in Australia, the oldest jail, and the oldest Catholic Church. We spent over an hour wandering through the picturesque streets and along the river before returning to our ship.
Meanwhile, our naturalists made the pilgrimage to south Bruny Island by road and ferry. There they enjoyed the wonderful scenery of ‘The Neck,’ the historic bay where Captain Cook re-watered his ships. They took several short walks in the native forest where the avian stars of the day were forty-spotted pardalote and flame robin.
Tuesday, December 3 - Hobart: Two options were available for us again this morning, with some setting off on a tour of historic Hobart, and others on a birding and natural history tour up Mount Wellington. On the nature tour we walked in excellent native forest, found a beautiful pink robin among other species, and enjoyed superb views from the mountaintop.
The historic tour of Hobart gave us a great appreciation of the history of this little city, and our drive up to Mount Nelson provided beautiful views over Hobart and the bay. We stopped at the Women’s Factory, exploring the ruins of the building that once housed female prisoners; from there we visited the Cascade Brewery, tasted some beer, and wandered in a nearby garden before returning to the ship for lunch.
The naturalists followed a trail leading to a waterfall, with lovely fern laden gullies, while beautiful open eucalyptus forests full of snow gums crowned the mountain. Burgeoning geologists joined Tom for a walk to the Organ Pipes where we had wonderful views of the city and the hinterland beyond.
We left port shortly after lunch, having been advised of rough seas. During the afternoon we had ‘popcorn at the movies,’ and watched the harrowing story of three children who were part of the Stolen Generation in Australia, to discover yet another indignity suffered by Aboriginal Australians. Later that afternoon Mark Brazil gave us biological background for our island visits ahead in his presentation, Understanding Island Biodiversity.
Wednesday & Thursday, December 4 & 5 - At Sea: With two days at sea, we were ready for our lecture series to begin in earnest. Jonathan began with Winged Wanderers: Seabirds of the Southern Ocean, followed by Tom’s lecture, To the Edge of the Plate: Geology from Tasmania to Macquarie. In the afternoon, Rich Pagen introduced us to pinnipeds in his presentation, Whiskers, Blubber, and General Lounging Around: Seals of the Sub-Antarctic. In between lectures many of us went on deck to enjoy the albatross, petrels, and prions accompanying the ship. All of us undertook biosecurity inspections and cleaned the gear we planned to take ashore to protect the pristine environment of Macquarie Island from invasive species.
On Thursday there seemed to be even more seabirds around the ship with excellent sightings of mottled and white-headed petrels, large numbers of Antarctic prions, and several species of albatross, including light-mantled sooty, wandering, and white-capped. Our lecture series continued with Brad Climpson’s fascinating presentation, Southern Oceans: Productivity in a Cold Climate. Who would have thought a lecture on plankton could be so interesting! Rich followed with his amusing discussion, Poised to Profit from Pelagic Productivity: Cetaceans of the Southern Ocean. In the afternoon Giovanna Fasanelli showed excerpts from her recently aired National Geographic Life on the Edge documentary project. Then, after our Ice Cream Social, Mark provided us with more insights into the extraordinary world of birds with his presentation, On a Wing and a Prayer: Bird Marvels of the Air.
Friday & Saturday, December 6 & 7 - Macquarie Island: On Friday, we were truly blessed. Not only were we able to go ashore, but by mid-afternoon blue skies and sunshine warmed us. At Sandy Bay, king penguins greeted us, and ‘weaners,’ or four- to six-week-old southern elephant seals, gave us a glancing eye or, if we moved too close, a warning yawn. We gradually made our way to the royal penguin breeding grounds, where thousands all held fast to their spot, many with a chick nestled beneath them. Brown skuas watched from the periphery and further north along the beach, king penguins congregated with their young, now as big as their parents and all puffed up in brown down.
We relocated to The Isthmus where we broke into small groups and toured the site. We had spectacular views north towards the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition Station. We delighted in close views of shy gentoo penguins, the third largest of the penguin family. Our tour ended at the station’s mess hall where we enjoyed a hot cup of tea and scones, before returning to the ship via Zodiac, along the coast to view eastern rockhopper penguins.
Saturday brought another beautiful day with blue skies and a distinct chill in the air. We explored along the coast of this gorgeous little bay with absolutely stunning views of the valleys rising above us. Huge colonies of king and royal penguins astounded us with their numbers, and we saw southern giant petrels and elegant light-mantled sooty albatross soaring overhead, as well as Macquarie Island shags along the coast. Back onboard we sailed on to view the enormous penguin colonies located at and near Hurd Point. Almost 50% of the royal penguins of Macquarie Island breed at this treacherous and dramatic southern cape.
After lunch many of us watched the story of four Aboriginal sisters who formed The Sapphires, a musical group who toured the American and Australian bases during the Vietnam War. Mark completed our afternoon’s entertainment with his pertinent presentation, Aliens and Biosecurity. This evening we enjoyed cocktails in the Panorama Lounge hosted by Zegrahm Expeditions and Amazing Cruises and Tours.
Sunday & Monday, December 8 & 9 - At Sea / Campbell Island, New Zealand: We continued to experience good weather as we crossed the Tasman Sea towards New Zealand. Kevin Clement began our morning with his highly entertaining lecture, Lord of the Fowl and the Brute: Castaways of the Southern Lands. Shirley followed with her presentation, Maori Colonization of New Zealand: A Cultural Conquest of a New Land. After another biosecurity clean-up in the afternoon Tom continued our lecture series with The Geology of Zealandia. After dinner we enjoyed cherries jubilee while watching another episode from Giovanna’s production, Life on the Edge.
The next morning we arrived Campbell Island, a marvelous sanctuary from which non-native mammals have been eradicated. The ‘survival of the fittest’ hikers set off with Kevin for the summit of Mount Honey and sighted rare sub-Antarctic snipe, royal albatross on their nests, and many of the extraordinary megaherbs for which the island is famous. It was a tough, five-hour hike, but once on board and tucking into lunch, we were glad we had done it.
Most of us hiked past the Ranger Station up onto the flank of the island in search of nesting albatross. As we climbed onto the slope of a classic U-shaped glacial valley, we began seeing more and more of the megaherbs for which the sub-Antarctic islands are famous. Suddenly, a huge bull New Zealand sea lion blocked our way! It took considerable effort, maneuvering, and perseverance before Mark and Brad were finally able to encourage it off the track. Finally, we were high enough to see the largest albatross of all, the southern royal, sitting on their nests of neatly arranged tussock grass. Campbell Island is the bird’s main breeding ground with an estimated population of 14,000 pairs.
Once back on board, we enjoyed an impromptu Zodiac cruise along the spectacular cliffs of Courrejolles Point, where huge numbers of Campbell albatross were breeding on the grassy slopes above us. It was a fantastic ride with light-mantled sooty albatross and gray-headed mollymawk, all seen against a dramatic backdrop of geological formations with lovely folded and faulted beds of volcanic ash forming the lower cliffs. We cruised gently along the sheer rock face, popping into caves and speeding through a narrow arch to the western side of the island. What a fabulous finale to a jam-packed day!
Tuesday, December 10 - Enderby, Auckland Islands: Once our final biosecurity check was completed, we were ready for spectacular Enderby Island, another predator-free island in the northern Auckland Islands. Before we could enjoy the beauty of the southern rata forests and look for the shy yellow-eyed penguin, however, we had to ‘battle for the beach,’ or at least a small landing patch! Hooker’s sea lions use the bay as one of four major breeding sites in the Auckland Islands. Bulls were already claiming territories into which they aimed to muster females into harems, though they were not as interested in us as the younger males. Our expedition team, armed with poles and tripods, ensured that the battle was ours, winning us the right to climb the dunes to view the solitary penguins cautiously making their way from their nesting sites in the forest to the sea for feeding.
We visited the Ranger Station and also saw the historic Stella Hut, a cache for castaways should they find themselves in need of supplies. The sea lions continued to be a hazard as we picked our way carefully through the tussock and along the vegetated upper dunes. It wasn’t until we entered the forest and walked along the boardwalk that we were safe from their posturing. We came across a pair of yellow-eyed penguins snoozing; quite unlike the massed colonies of royal and king penguins on Macquarie Island, these penguins prefer their privacy. Beyond the forest and towards the headland we saw carpets of beautiful yellow bulbinella in flower.
Back on board for lunch, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon before Shirley’s presentation, Ta Moko: The Art of Maori Tattooing.
Wednesday, December 11 - Snares Islands: This morning brought rain and wind but undaunted, many of us stood out on deck from 05:00 onwards to witness the phenomenal morning mass exodus of sooty shearwaters from the island. And what a sight it was! As the sky lightened we could see multitudes of birds, thousands upon thousands, quietly leaving to feed in the Tasman Sea. Their stealth meant that predators such as giant petrels would not know the location of breeding burrows, nor impede their journey away from the island in search of food. The sight of so many birds in the air at once was unforgettable.
A few hardy travelers went by Zodiac to touch the island, but the generally rough conditions made our planned cruise untenable. However, Captain Fielding managed to take the ship close to the Snares crested penguin slide. These little creatures, endemic to the Snares, clamored up the steep slippery rock towards the tree line where their nests were located.
Northbound for Bluff, where we were to clear into New Zealand, we were suitably entertained by Kevin who gave a most entertaining presentation entitled Captain Cook and His Experimental Gentlemen. After lunch we enjoyed another episode from Giovanna’s Life on the Edge series.
Thursday, December 12 - Dusky and Doubtful Sounds, Fiordland National Park: This morning we sailed into Dusky Sound, the southern end of Fiordland National Park. Following breakfast we headed out for a Zodiac cruise of this World Heritage Site in search of the elusive Fiordland crested penguin. We were not disappointed as most of us were able to catch sight of this little penguin, as well as blue fairy penguins. Southern beech, rata, and rimu trees created a magnificent framework for stunning scenery featuring Hobbit-like forests of moss and lichen-laden branches amongst an understory of ferns. We also visited Pickersgill Harbour and walked the short distance to Astronomer’s Point, a temporary observatory from which the exact position of New Zealand was fixed on Captain Cook’s second voyage. As we sailed away we were treated to Dusky Sound bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the dark waters.
Over lunch we cruised through both Dusky and Doubtful Sounds enjoying the quiet calm of the forests and the majesty of the peaks; the thought of packing for our imminent departure from the ship conflicting with our desire to remain on deck and breathe in the sheer beauty of the Sounds.
Continuing to enjoy the scenery, we gathered for the Captain’s Farewell cocktails in the Panorama Lounge. We learned that it wasn’t just our ‘farewell’ we were toasting, but also Peter Fielding’s celebration of his time as ship’s captain and his plan to adopt a more sedentary life in Florida following this trip. Afterwards we had our final dinner together before watching the fabulous slideshow compiled by Giovanna. As the images flashed by, reminding us of our last few weeks together, we appreciated just how far we had come, not simply the 2,537 nautical miles, but the many and varied experiences we had enjoyed together.
Friday, December 13 - Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park / Disembark / Queenstown: The Captain held the ship off shore overnight so that we could enter Milford Sound early in the morning to experience the ship’s passage. As we stood out on deck, the breathtaking beauty of Milford Sound’s dramatic landscape rising high above left us speechless. It seemed almost sacrilegious to speak too loudly within this natural cathedral. It is no wonder Rudyard Kipling claimed Milford Sound as the “eighth wonder of the world.”
Packed and saying our final goodbyes to the ship and her crew, we embarked a local boat taking us ashore. As we looked back we marveled at the sheer drama of Milford Sound; the Caledonian Sky looked humble beneath the majesty of Mitre Peak.
Boarding our buses we started our journey to Queenstown. As the road climbed up the steep mountains, we stopped briefly to walk amongst tree ferns to cascading falls. Continuing our climb through the breathtaking Cleddau Valley, we stopped again at a lookout to view the towering snowcapped peaks. After passing through the Homer Tunnel (drilled through solid rock), we made our way along a valley separating the Earl and Livingston mountains. At one point we stopped to photograph the scenery, but were instead captivated by the comical antics of a kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. Further on, an exquisite lupin-filled valley, displaying varied shades of purple and lavender, warranted another stop. A lovely lunch awaited us at Te Anau before we made our final drive to Queenstown.
Saturday, December 14 - Queenstown / USA: A sunny morning marked the end of our sub-Antarctic exploration. The time had come for us to say our final farewells and make independent departures to varied destinations. As we went our different ways, either by bus to the nearby airport or towards other parts of the South Island, we had spectacular views of the razor sharp peaks of the Remarkables Range rising out of the icy-blue Lake Wakatipu.