The Panama Canal—one of the seven wonders of the modern world—has been a key conduit for international maritime trade since it was completed at the turn of the last century. Read more from Expedition Development Manager Ted Kenefick about the profound and poignant experience of crossing the canal for the first time.
Great Barrier Island sits forty-five miles northeast of Aukland, New Zealand. It is a massive island with a long and occasionally troubled history. Birds were the original caretakers of the island but were overthrown when Polynesians arrived around the year 1000. The disturbance to the island then was nothing compared to the near extinction event that followed the arrival of Europeans. Cleared of endemic trees and nearly all the native avifauna, the ecosystem of Great Barrier Island barely held on. More than a century later, the tide began to turn. Through the conservation efforts of mostly private individuals, the island is on its way to becoming a haven for indigenous flora and fauna. From the glorious native kauri tree, almost wiped out in the demand for timber, to the charming and iconic kiwi bird, positive change is taking place. Our visit today was a fantastic opportunity to explore a conservation success story in progress.
Today was a very special day. A beautiful morning invited us to disembark onto the dark sandy beach of Playas del Coco. We disembarked to catch two local, very comfortable buses that led us to the day’s adventures. Some of us decided to hike around the area of the active Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. Rugged trails covered in wonderfully dark green trees took us to a couple of viewpoints of bubbly mud pots and waterfalls. The other group chose to enjoy one of the highlights of visiting Costa Rica, a zipline or canopy tour that zips through a magnificent rocky ravine. We headed back to our headquarters for a well-deserved lunch of local foods and a very endearing performance of local dances. Without much time for a break, we headed out once again for our afternoon activities. Some of us decided to take a very relaxing dip in the local hot springs, and the rest decided on another walk towards the Chorreras Waterfall. We returned to the ship fatigued but without a doubt content.
Early in the morning, we made a dry landing at South Plaza Island. Amidst the Galapagos sea lions and land iguanas, we marveled at the island's breathtaking landscape – all before breakfast. Come afternoon, Santa Fe Island awaited. We explored its turquoise bay by kayak and snorkeling and swam alongside sea lions, green sea turtles, and eagle rays. A playful group of sea lion pups splashed water on us as we drew near, a delightful encounter. Later, we hiked to a beach where juvenile Galapagos hawks greeted us, capping off an incredible first full day aboard National Geographic Islander II .
Today was our last full day in Antarctica before heading back north to Ushuaia. We spent the day with two gentoo penguin colonies, one on Pleneau Island and one on Petermann Island. As I reflect on our voyage, penguins come to mind first. There are few animals on the planet whose charisma and charm touch our souls more. With that said, what better way to celebrate our time with these wonderful creatures than to showcase some of the penguins we saw today.
Continuing our discovery of remarkable Aeotearoa (New Zealand), National Geographic Orion made its way to some of the islands off the northeast coast of North Island. We began our day at the legendary White Island, known in the Maori language as Whakaari. The still active volcano was smoldering under the morning sun, sending up colorful smoke and vapor and reminding us of the eruption in 2019 that unfortunately resulted in the loss of 22 lives. The ship observed a respectable three-mile distance from the shore, giving us views of the island. The afternoon saw us take to Zodiacs to explore the small archipelago of the Aldermen Islands (Ruamaahu in Maori). Also volcanic in origin, these pillars of rhyolitic stone have long been quiet of all volcanism. They are thrust into deep water, allowing for scenic navigation and interesting wildlife potential. To cap it all off, our evening entertainment featured a fabulous performance by the crew, including traditional dances, some modern numbers, and even a full band set. A truly epic day.