Subantarctic Islands, Southern Ocean

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by JKA, Jan 8, 2017.

  1. JKA

    JKA Paddler

    Jul 25, 2016
    Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
    Hi Folks,

    I've just come back from a trip to the Subantarctic Islands, which are a collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites between New Zealand and Antarctica.

    The islands we visited were The Snares, Auckland Islands and Campbell Islands, which are NZ territory, and Macquarie Island, which is Australian. They are all heavily-protected due to their pristine environment, and access is restricted.

    I was there as a kayak guide for Heritage Expeditions
    who run trips from a Russian research vessel which carries 50 passengers. The crew is Russian and there were eight staff, including Rodney Russ, who started the business, and two chefs. The meals were first-class and I put on weight!

    As well as trips to the Subantarctics and Antarctica, they take passengers into the Pacific and Arctic Russia in the Northern summer.

    I only had three paddlers, and they advised me early on that they were not really dedicated kayakers but it was simply an option they wanted.

    On boarding the vessel I had to get the kayaks from storage in the hold and check all the gear. It was all good gear in perfect condition. The kayaks were Prijon Kodiak singles and Poseidon doubles, there were Werner paddles, and Stohlquist drysuits. As I wasn't sure what I would find, I took my own gear, including a Necky Chatham 16 poly. It wasn't used, and I paddled in a Poseidon with a client. Before leaving Port Bluff, on the south of NZ's South Island, the kayaks were secured on deck. Waves had swept this deck before so I had to check them often.

    I was concerned about sea sickness, given the seas we were likely to face, and I had a pharmacy-load of medications. I ended up using Scopoderm patches, which did have some side effects. I was drowsy, had vision issues, and was a bit mentally-dull. The worst conditions we hit were punching into 6 metre seas and 50 knots wind. A friend who travelled with them a few years ago hit 17 metre seas!

    We paddled at The Snares, which may have been a first as it is rare for them to even launch RHIB's due to the weather. Landing is forbidden on this island, and it is the only place that has never had any introduced predators. The sea was flat calm and we were visited by Hookers Sea Lions, one of which tried to bite my elbow, and were surrounded by rafts of Snares Penguins. A highlight was the 'Penguin Slide', a slope of rock where penguins would land through the swell before beginning a long slog up to their colonies which were high in the vegetation.

    At Enderby Island, part of the Auckland Islands, the clients weren't interested in paddling as the walk on land was so good. I was used as tail-end-charlie on the 12 km walk, which meant I was gently prodding the wildlife photographers along. This was ironic for me, as I'm normally the photographer who always wan't "just one more"! The wildlife here was remarkable, with Yellow-Eyed Penguin wandering the island, and bull Hookers Sea Lions, who had lost the battles to form a harem on the beach, dotted around. They rose from the tussock at our approach, with a face that only a mother could love! Botanists were literally falling to the knees to study tiny orchids, and the island's famous "mega herbs" were in flower.

    Macquarie Island was simply amazing. The wildlife was completely unconcerned about us; one Elephant Seal weaner climbed on my leg while I was sitting on the beach. While paddling we saw a penguin killed and eaten by a Giant Petrel, which are large birds with a needle-like tip on the end of a very strong beak. On land the Petrels and Skua were targeting penguin chicks, dragging them from their parents. The rangers who work there are equipped with googles in the event they are injured and immobile, as the birds would target their eyes!

    At Campbell Island the weather was against us for one of the days and we only had a short paddle before we left, but that was amongst sea lions, elephant seals, and with a backdrop of an isolated island. Enormous Southern Royal Albatross breed on the island, and soared overhead. With a wingspan of 3 metres they are an impressive bird.

    As I had a drysuit and was the new guy, I got to be a 'Zodiac Wrestler', helping land the RHIB's and load/unload passengers. When not paddling I was a guide on land and on a couple of wet days I walked in my drysuit wearing my PFD, as it held my radio and safety gear. Often we had to walk past sea lions, who were randy males and keen to form a relationship! One of the guides was bitten on a hip and a knee but they were only grazes and we think they were love bites!

    It was an amazing trip, and one I never expected to do. I'm still buzzing.


  2. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

    May 31, 2005
    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Rare, very amazing trip. Thanks for the report!
  3. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

    Jan 19, 2015
    Landlocked in Tennessee
    Just saw this. Wow!! What an awesome trip. Lucky, lucky you!
  4. waterjay

    waterjay New Member

    Sep 5, 2017
    Santa Clara, CA
    Amazing report! Wish I could experience the same.