Campbell Island

We spent December 30 at sea on the way to Campbell Island. During the day we watched a video on New Zealand sub Antarctic Islands and had a lecture/slide show from Gerrit on the Galapagos Islands. We also spent some time catching up on our sleep - the night was a bit rough and we both only slept fitfully. During the day the sea calmed down and the evening was lovely, bright sunshine and only a moderate swell. During the evening we spent some time with John and Cathy planning our contributions to the following day's New Years Eve concert. We devised special Southern Ocean versions of 'Happy Wanderer' and 'Where have all the Flowers Gone'

On New Years Eve we had a leisurely breakfast and then went up on deck to take photos of the birds flying along with the ship - as we approached Campbell Island so we gathered a quite impressive escort of Cape Petrels and various albatrosses (together with some prions and Antarctic Terns). The photography was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a small school of Hourglass Dolphins. We also found the time to write most of our postcards as we were told it should be possible to get them franked at the small Campbell Island weather station.

Brian gave a lecture as an introduction to Campbell Island and outlined what we should expect to see. After the lecture we had a 'choir practice' for our performance later in the evening.

Once we had reached Campbell Island we had to steam around the south coast and into Perseverance Harbour. The number of birds joining us and flying all around was amazing, and the craggy coastline of eroded volcanic crater impressive. As we approached the meteorological station where we anchored, everyone was eagerly anticipating getting back onto terra firma.

We chose to take a coastal walk around Tuckers Cove and a little beyond to Camp Cove. The Megaherbs which were in flower are very impressive for their colours and shapes. Megaherbs are a group of flowering plants which are specific to the New Zealand sub Antarctic Islands, all the plants have large flowers. Some are related to flowers we are familiar with such as daisies; except that these daisies grow several feet tall and some have no petals! However, perhaps the most lasting impression of this walk will be the immense sheets of green, red and white algae spread across the rocky beaches. Along the way we passed many young Elephant Seals (all this years cubs) - the adults having left by this time, and several Hooker's Sealions. The highlight of the walk for us was to find a King Penguin standing on a grassy point just about to begin his moult. He seemed quite unconcerned by our presence and let us approach quite close (a bit nearer than the 5m allowed under the New Zealand Department of Conservation sub Antarctic code but nobody seemed to worry). In the same area we found and photographed two Giant Petrel chicks sitting on their nests. These were large chicks and nearly ready to fledge, so we were lucky to find them at all.

We returned to the ship just in time to have a shower and get changed before dinner - Barbara wore her penguin dress and received a round of applause when she made her entrance (we certainly acquired a reputation for wearing penguin clothes). After dinner there was a concert party attended by the staff from the meteorological station on the Island. We performed our two songs, the Dutch formed a group - the 12 Flying Dutchmen! and performed a witty (if incomprehensible) song mostly in Dutch which included many animal/bird impressions. Not surprisingly we won the contest for the best penguin impersonation with a short demonstration of a pair of Emperors changing duties of looking after a small chick. The concert finished a little early so we all had to have a drink before going out on the stern deck to sing Auld Lang Syne and dance etc. to celebrate the new year. We were joined a little later by the Russian crew who enthusiastically joined in and danced and sang - we left to get some sleep around 01:00 and the party was still going strong.

We had to get up early next morning for an 08:30 departure for the Col Ridge walk (following the previous night's carousing for New Year's Eve!). The party going to Northwest Bay had to get up even earlier so we were almost last for breakfast at 7:30! We had clear skies and the promise of a good sunny and not too windy day. The walk up to the Albatross colony was a pleasant stroll taking a little more than an hour. We thought we would take our time coming back down to look at some parts in more detail. We especially thought it would be a good idea to keep a sharp lookout for Yellow-Eyed Penguins as Tony thought he had heard some and Chris (who was leading the group of eight) said they nest just below the track.

Once we reached the ridge the sight was fantastic. Albatrosses on their nests are huge, and striking birds. I can see why Brian raves about them nevertheless we remain convinced penguins are far better. We spent about an hour just looking at the birds and photographing them - they stay still on the nests so it is quite easy to get good pictures. We then walked up the ridge to the next summit and witnessed spectacular views of the west coast and the megaherbs. The weather was very fine and there was little wind - most unusual conditions we were told. The wind that day only blew across the west side of the ridge so the albatrosses had to waddle up to the top before they could get enough wind to take off. We watched one bird plodding up and trying several times to get up in the air only finally managing it when nearly at the top. When it did, it simply opened its wings and glided away.

Since it was now about 12:30 we decided to walk down to the top of the board walk, where we had left the rucksack for lunch. When we got down Chris told us he was going off along another ridge with Tony and that we could take our time but be sure to get back down to the wharf by around 15:00. Just as we had finished lunch, Chris suddenly appeared over the horizon wildly waving his arms to attract our attention. It turned out that Brian had radioed him to say they had found a Chinstrap (yes Chinstrap) in the bay. Chris had booked a Zodiac to take us there but we had to get back down as quickly as possible. We ran. It was quite true, Nathan had spotted the penguin from the Zodiac as they cruised around the bay. In fact while eating our lunch, we had looked down and noticed the Zodiac in the bay parked where the Chinstrap was, but didn't have any idea what they were doing there.

The Chinstrap appeared to be in excellent condition, and did not seem about to moult, so we could not work out what it was doing there so far from home. The nearest Chinstraps are the 30 or 40 pairs on the Balleny Islands about 2000 km to the south. All the others should be in the South Atlantic. We spent as much time as we could looking at the penguin before Brian had to get back to the ship to prepare to pick up the party returning from the Northwest Bay trip.

We expected there might be a change in the plans to allow the Northwest Bay group to see the Chinstrap, but as it turned out they had also found another Chinstrap! Two birds so far from home must suggest they had got lost in a storm. I hope they are able to find their way home. These are, we understand, the first ever sightings of Chinstraps on Campbell Island.

Meanwhile back on the ship, Mike, from the Met station, (the only person we've met who has actually been attacked by a shark and lived to tell the tale!) had come aboard to stamp our passports with a Campbell Island stamp - which includes a penguin. Shirley had been able to post the mail from the Met station, which gets the Campbell Island franking, so our batch of postcards had been sent. Mike had previously worked on Campbell Island and one fine day he went body surfing on the rollers in Northwest Bay. He was attacked by a shark and his arm was bitten clean off. He was lucky in that one of his colleagues was there on the beach and was able to pull him out of the water and radio for help. They had to send a helicopter from New Zealand to rescue him. The only problem is that New Zealand is out of helicopter range of the Campbell Islands. They had to load down the 'copter with as many barrels of fuel as they could fit in and then stop to refuel on Enderby Island. Even so they only just managed the trip with the smell of a drop of fuel left in the tank!

Once everyone was safely back on board the ship, we set off for the Rockhoppers in Smoothwater Bay. There were about 40 or so birds in total and we saw around a dozen close up, including a chick. Rodney told us that a few years ago the whole bay was full of Rockhoppers. No one knows why the colony has undergone such a dramatic reduction in numbers; one suggestion is that the fish may have moved away from the traditional feeding grounds.

We had an excellent time on Campbell Island and saw much that we otherwise would have missed; particular highlights were the Royal Albatross colony and the Chinstrap Penguin. Although it didn't make up for missing out on getting onto the Antarctic continent it certainly made us much happier.

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