Black-Browed Albatross

New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands are for the Birds

Brent Stephenson|May 23, 2016|Blog Post

A native New Zealander and birder since childhood, ornithologist Brent Stephenson helped rediscover the New Zealand storm-petrel in 2003, long thought to be extinct. Brent also assisted in designing our upcoming trip to the region's remote Sub-Antarctic Islands, which he will accompany as part of our expert expedition team. Here, Brent shares some of the avian adventures that he most looks forward to sharing on the journey.


What is so intriguing about the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand?

These windswept and wild islands are rarely visited by people—in fact, fewer people visit this part of the world than the actual Antarctic. The islands have a rich history of exploration, as well as sealing and whaling, but today the wildlife is almost completely naïve of humans.


Why do the islands appeal to bird enthusiasts?

New Zealand and its Sub-Antarctic Islands are considered the seabird capital of the world, with more breeding seabird species than any other country on Earth.

Visitors get to see several iconic species up close, including southern royal albatross; endemic to New Zealand, they are one of the largest flying birds, second only to the wandering albatross. Guests will enjoy the rare chance to observe them nesting and watch their behavior on both Campbell and Enderby Islands, sometimes from as close as 15 feet away! We will also see the closely related northern royal albatross nesting at Taiaroa Head, Dunedin, and hope to see snowy, antipodean, black-browed, campbell, gray-headed, light-mantled sooty, white-capped, Salvin’s, and Buller’s albatross—11 species in all, or half the world's species of albatross in one trip!


What other bird species will guests observe?

A trip through this region promises encounters with more species of penguin than almost any other part of the world. We hope to see yellow-eyed, Snare’s crested, and perhaps fiordland penguins (all New Zealand endemics), as well as little, king, gentoo, eastern rockhopper, and royal penguins (all Australia endemics). So seven, perhaps eight penguin species—a penguin lover’s dream!

The islands are also home to three endemic cormorant species—Auckland Island shag, Campbell Island shag, and Macquarie Island shag—plus two endemic species of duck (Campbell Island and Auckland Island teal), and the rare sub-Antarctic snipe (also endemic). And those are just a few!


Of course, there are plenty of other highlights, as well….

Absolutely! Both the wildlife and flora have adapted to a life in the Southern Ocean with essentially no contact with a large land mass, leading to high endemism. Visitors will enjoy the rare chance to witness the endemic Hooker’s sea lion on Enderby and Campbell Islands, New Zealand fur seals (near endemic), and a host of other marine mammals. There is also the opportunity to see amazing sub-Antarctic megaherbs, possibly with some of them still in bloom, as well as do some pretty cool things on the Southern South Island. Just a handful of operators are able to secure permits to explore these destinations, and even fewer in the comfort to which Zegrahm guests will become accustomed aboard the Caledonian Sky.


Why is the Caledonian Sky the perfect vessel for this destination?

The ship's safe, stable platform is ideal for exploring the area, with a fleet of Zodiacs for getting close to and landing on these unique islands. Afterward, guests can return to absolute comfort, enjoying a cocktail while learning from the enthusiastic and knowledgeable expedition staff. (For more details, visit our Caledonian Sky information page.)


Any other highlights to mention?

The photography opportunities are outstanding, from the thronging penguin colonies on Macquarie Island to the dramatic landscapes of Fiordland National Park and Milford, Dusky, and Doubtful Sounds. Pack plenty of extra memory cards!


For more information, visit Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand.

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