Great Mercury Island Not far from the bustle of the world’s biggest Polynesian city (Auckland), we made the first landfall of our trip at a tranquil bay on the shores of Great Merucry Island. After cruising closely along the island’s stark volcanic cliffs, we chose a placid bay whose sandy beach simply demanded to be strolled. Using Xplorer , the innovative tender from Oceanic Discoverer , we landed off the bow ramp and enjoyed a sampling of local bird life. Red-billed gulls, white-fronted terns, paradise shelducks, and variable oystercatchers were all found right along the water’s edge, making for an easy introduction to some of New Zealand’s endemic wildlife. Our return to the ship was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a group of bottlenose dolphins, and we lingered to photograph them as they lolled on the surface or zoomed past us for a closer look. We remained anchored during dinner, but the dolphins didn’t desert us – they continued to splash boisterously right outside the dining room windows as the sun set over the island’s green hills.
Gisborne Aotearoa New Zealand Nau mai, Haere mai! This was the welcoming call (karanga) on to the Rongomai marae for the Lindblad guests. Today we experienced a traditional welcome at one of the most important Maori centres in the Gisborne area. Gisborne, is on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, a place where Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa (New Zealand), make up a significant portion of the population. The Lindblad guests were the first ship party to have ever been welcomed on to the Rongopai marae. We the manuhiri (guests) were looked after royally by the tangata whenua (people of the land). Rongopai, like other marae in this part of the world, is no tourist village. Set in the rural area inland from Gisborne, it is the living heart of an ancient community. Rongopai is the centre of the Whanau a Kai people, a hapu (subtribe) of the Aitanga a Mahaki iwi (tribe). Marae are the cornerstones of Maori culture. Rongopai, for example, is both a place of meeting for those of the tribe who still live in the rural area and a point of returning for the many scattered members of the tribe who now live throughout New Zealand and overseas. It is a site for weddings, funerals, political meetings, and cultural performances. The richly decorated wharenui (meeting house) was built in the late nineteenth century for the visionary rebel Te Kooti, a warrior prophet who led his people against the encroaching British colonists. It is also dedicated to the great chief Wi Pere, a leader who sought to fuse ancient Maori knowledge with the ways of the modern world to enable his people to survive. The beautiful paintings of the house are a history book, depicting the ancestors of Whanau a Kai back to ancient times. We were welcomed on to the marae by elder Rawiri Ruru and then had the history explained to us by Robyn Rauna. Robyn took care to explain that while Maori have a deep respect for the past, they are a people on the move. Maori seek to preserve their culture while taking on board the best of the modern world. Despite the injustices they have suffered under colonial rule Maori seek to live alongside the more recently arrived peoples of New Zealand and make a better future for the Rangatahi (young generation). Robyn described to us the resources set up by their ancestor Wi Pere, resources that were now being used to advance his many descendants. As Robyn told us of the history and future of the people of this marae, elder Rawiri Ruru showed his young mokopuna (grandson) the paintings of the house, explaining to the youngster his ancestors represented there. After a very enlightening question and answer session, we manuhiri were welcomed into the wharekai (dining room) where we were treated to a fine meal and superb traditional entertainement. The renowned local culture group Waka Toa performed waiata (Maori song), poi (an action song and dance) and Maori martial arts. Guests were invited up to participate in these activities. The demonstration reflected the traditional skills and the competition still keenly participated in by local tribes. As a finale guests were able to join in the famous ‘ka mate’ haka, made famous by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s legendary rugby team. The whole morning was a truly uplifting experience of a living culture, which we were privileged to be invited to participate in. The afternoon was spent visiting the nearby Arboretum and then one of the many fine local vinyards before returning to our ship. Throughout the day we were guided by local experts Ann MacGuire and Penny Shaw. Truly a day to remember and one that gave a deep insight into the heart of Aotearoa, the essence of indigenous New Zealand.
At sea So this morning I looked out my window, and there was Cape Kidnappers. To be honest I was not expecting that, and what’s more there were common dolphins leaping from the water...not a bad way to start the day! Even better there was a clear blue sky and then a glassy sea with almost 10cm of swell (if that). We were heading south down the east coast of the North Island, along a piece of coast renowned for being isolated and off the beaten track. With the lack of wind and calm conditions I was surprised to see a few birds starting to float past the ship – flesh-footed and Buller’s shearwaters, and then within a short time the first albatrosses of the trip started to appear. White-capped and Salvin’s albatrosses, then a Northern Royal albatross, a Buller’s albatross, and finally the biggest of them all a Wandering albatross. Where were these birds coming from? With almost no wind they were a real surprise. But at the end of the day who cares where they were coming from, they were here for us to enjoy! Then it was time for a lecture from Peter Clayworth on the history of NZ during the period 1830-1890. With everyone inside, and few people daring to be out on the decks the birds decided they too should hide, but following the lecture we were treated to a real spectacle. At least two, possibly three ocean sunfish were seen very close to the ship (just south of 40° South), then more albatross, even cutting right in front of the bow with beautiful reflections on the water, even a flying fish, and then another small pod of common dolphins. This time coming in from the landward side of the ship, perfectly lit and visible beneath the surface as they came in towards the bow. The photographers were ecstatic, and with perfect light and smooth conditions you could see them below the surface before they lept from the water, allowing stunning photos! We continued to see some excellent birds over the course of the morning, with the odd Cook’s petrel, white-faced storm-petrel, and even a black-winged petrel. Peter Carey gave us a run down of the next few days’ excursions, and then it was time for lunch. After lunch the birds continued, and Mike Greenfelder gave a talk about photography and how we could use our cameras to maximise our photographic opportunities whilst onboard. A little later Brent then gave an overview of the conservation initiatives that have occurred in New Zealand to save the weird and wonderful wildlife that New Zealand has become known for. Many of these conservation initiatives have been used in other parts of the world to save endangered species from their introduced enemies. The rest of the afternoon was then spent relaxing and watching more albatross and other seabird species drift past the ship, or enjoying a cup of tea and some quiet time, before the recap and then dinner. Apparently there were even more common dolphins beside the ship at dinner, but I managed to miss them...this ship does seem to be a cetacean magnet! However, the day belonged to the albatross – five species, and fantastic views of them all!
Into the Heart of the Southern Alps The Lindblad New Zealand expedition ventured today to Arthur’s Pass, in the heart of the Southern Alps, the backbone of New Zealand’s South Island or Te Wai Pounamu. We were heading for Arthur’s Pass, the gateway between the East and West Coasts. Our planned Whale Watching trip in Kaikoura was cancelled due to inclement weather, so the decision was made to set out from Christchurch’s port town of Lyttelton for a day in the mountains of the interior. Driving through Lyttelton and Christchurch we saw some of the damage caused by last September’s earthquake, mainly to the older stone and brick buildings. The two towns have, however, survived remarkably well with the vast majority of their significant structures remaining intact. We travelled across country, heading over the Canterbury Plains. Our first stop was at Homebush, a farm that is the home of the Deans family. The Deans, originally from Scotland, were the first European settlers in Christchurch, arriving in 1843. Our host Louise Deans, along with story-teller Colin Watson, made us feel at home and explained the history of Homebush. Unfortunately, the beautiful brick homestead, which stood at Homebush since 1906, was so badly damaged in the recent earthquake that it had to be demolished. The impressive grounds and historic stables remain, with museum, cafe and gift shop. We were treated to a display of sheep shearing by former champion shearer and ‘real Kiwi bloke’ Bruce Leeming. This was followed with a sheep herding display by Kuri the dog. Bruce explained that Kuri was ‘not your champion sheep dog’ and the display provided was more a comedy routine than a business-like exercise. We were then treated to a fine lunch to prepare us for our expedition to the mountains. Bidding farewell to Homebush, we drove through spectacular mountain scenery, cut by wide braided rivers such as the Waimakariri, as we headed for Arthur’s Pass. We followed the trail originally used by Maori journeying to the West Coast in pursuit of pounamu, the highly valued New Zealand greenstone or jade. The trail and the pass it crosses were later ‘discovered’ by the Dobson brothers, Arthur, Edward and George, on a surveying mission for the Canterbury (Christchurch) settlers. The Dobsons were in fact advised of the existence of the pass by Tarapuhi, a West Coast chief. The pass was named for one of the brothers, Arthur Dudley Dobson. Travelling in the wake of Maori and Pakeha (European) adventurers, we traversed the pass and came to the lookout point over an impressive viaduct. Here we were given a free show by the local performers, a group of Kea, the native New Zealand mountain parrot. The Kea is notorious for its cheeky antics, in particular removing the rubber lining from windshields with its powerful hooked beak. The parrots showed no fear of people, but gave us a good demonstration of how to ride on top of a moving bus. Heading back towards the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass we had the chance to take a short walk to the lovely Punchbowl Falls. Making our way through the beech forest a number of the native forest birds of the area were observed. These included a tiny wren called the Rifleman (titipounamu), the Brown Creeper (Pipipi), the Silver Eye (Tauhou) and the Bellbird (Korimako), a famous songster. The day was topped off by a visit to the spectacular limestone rocks of Castle Hill or Kura Tawhiti. These naturally sculpted masterpieces provided scenic backdrops for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and for the first of the Narnia films. They provide an example of nature assisting human creativity with her own stunning works of art. After an uplifting day in the mountains we returned to the Oceanic Discoverer for a well earned meal and reflection on the days adventures.
Taieri Gorge: Rail Journey through a Strange and Beautiful Land Today the Oceanic Discoverer arrived in the fine southern city of Dunedin. Founded by Scottish settlers in 1848, Dunedin is the chief city of Otago, which with its sister province of Southland makes up the southern quarter of Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand’s South Island. A combination of Scottish enterprise and the wealth generated by the 1860s gold rush has left Dunedin with a leagacy of many fine Victorian era buildings. Here we find the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first University, a place that has made a huge contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of the country. The city is famous for its vibrant student culture, and the art, music amd occasional mayhem this produces. The Maori name for Dunedin is Otepoti, reputed to mean ‘the place beyond which no one can go’, where waka (canoes) were put ashore. We followed in this tradition, leaving our own waka in port and dividing our party for two distinct adventures. One group of Lindblad guests set off for a day on the Otago Peninsula, a haven for local wildlife. The team observed the only mainland breeding colony of the Northern Royal Albatross at Taiaroa Heads. They were also able to get up close and personal to New Zealand Fur Seals, a species that is found in abundance on the peninsula. For the rest of us the day was spent on a railway excursion through the Taieri Gorge, a truly spectacular part of the southern landscape. The railway line passes through magnificent gorge country, a landscape carved by the winding Taeiri River. A bizarre series of rock pillars and formations set in semi-arid country gives the journey an otherworldly feel. The line passes over high viaducts and clings to steep schist slopes. The traveller can not help marvelling at the achievement of the railway workers of the 1870s and ‘80s who built this line with sweat, muscle, pick and shovel. Throughout the journey we were entertained by commentary from the train guide, who told tales of building the line, and of the lives of the isolated farming families who lived in the area. As we ventured into the open stone and tor country to the north of the Taieri Gorge, we followed yet another trail pioneered by the first Maori inhabitants in the thirteenth century AD. The European settlers who followed in the 1850s brought large scale farming to the area, to be followed by the gold prospectors of the 1860s and the railway builders of the following decades. The railway is no longer a working line but is now for tourists who wish to appreciate the natural beauty of the area and the human history visible in the railway itself. The line, which once went into the heart of Central Otago, now stops at the charming little town of Middlemarch. There it joins the Otago rail trail, a cycle way on which a three day journey can be taken through spectacular scenery and great wine country. For us though, Middlemarch was the end of the line. There we were served with a superb meal at the Quench cafe, our local hosts keeping us entertained and informed about the area. Then it was back on board for a return journey through the Gorge. A day of magnificent weather enhanced the visual experience and provided the chance for photographers to get busy. A great way to travel!
Dusky and Doubtful Sounds The southwest coast of the South Island of New Zealand is the most remote part of the country. Wave battered cliffs give way to narrow entrances that lead to immense fiords. Nearly untouched by humanity, these pristine areas all fall within the massive Fiordland National Park. Lush forests reach right down to the high tide line, and disappear above into the mist. Add to this some spectacular wildlife and a historic site, and it makes for a perfect day. Early in the morning we set out to explore the southern entrance, and were rewarded with stunning scenic views. A light mist created some beautiful layers in the green mountains. The forest here really is spectacular in texture and color, with every color of green represented. The wildlife star of the morning certainly was the Fiordland Crested Penguin. This is a very difficult species to see and we were rewarded with views of two stellar adults. After lunch, it was time for the human history of the area. A visit to Astronomers Point gave us an insight to the spot Captain Cook visited in 1773 on the Resolution. Here, he stayed for two months, not only replenishing his stores, but also doing important observations to test his chronometer. A short walk led to a viewpoint down on the Oceanic Discoverer, certainly a bit more comfortable way to visit this area. We then poked around in some of the smaller bays seeing numerous birds and seals, but a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins was very curious and playful. Quite a few images of the dolphins were taken, as they were quite cooperative. They were traveling right next to shore that made for a sharp contrast between the brown, tannin filled water and the vibrant, green hillsides. In the late afternoon we left the shelter of Dusky Sound and headed north. Albatross, shearwaters, and petrels were abundant along this stunning shoreline. During dinner, we entered Doubtful Sound. The sun broke through as the weather was “fining up”. We dropped anchor for the night and a fiery sunset in the fiords left us with dreams of our explorations in Doubtful Sound tomorrow.
White Island, New Zealand Lying at the convergence of the Australian and Pacific Plates, geologically, New Zealand is a very active place. High mountains, hot springs, and old volcanoes dot the landscape, but nowhere in New Zealand is as active as White Island. The last major eruption was in the year 2000, but every day the island changes with different bits of activity. This morning we were lucky enough to get ashore and explore this marvelous island. Local guides came out by boat from the North Island and met us ashore, well equipped with hard hats, gas masks (to knock down the sulfur smell) and sweet candy! After our safety briefing, and a bit of laughter at ourselves with our new equipment, we set out to explore this exciting and a bit intimidating landscape. In spots, scalding water boiled out of the ground. In others, mud bubbled up in pots. And probably most spectacular, many vents shot out huge jets of steam, some hundreds of feet into the air. The ground was a rainbow of colors, with some of the most stunning spots a brilliant gold, marking some of the sulfur that previously had been mined from this island. The guides gave a brilliant tour, not only describing all of the geological features but also the history of the tragic miners on the island. They led us to our highest point, an overlook of the crater lake. At first, we were unable to see anything due to a wall of steam, but after awhile, a bit of the curtain was pulled back to reveal a pea green lake with jagged rocky areas all around, and steam shooting out from abundant vents. It was exhilarating! Continuing on, we slowly made our way back to the shore, past the remains of the old sulfur works, and back to lunch on board the Oceanic Discoverer. We pulled anchor and did a loop around the island to get the full view. Australasian Gannets were nesting on the slopes of the island and a few flying fish were kicked up. In the afternoon we sailed southeast, enjoying following seas and sunny skies. Many different seabirds were observed, including some feasting on some fat squid. A fiery sunset during dinner left us thinking of what tomorrow will bring.
Cape Kidnappers and Napier The sultry weather of New Zealand’s northeast coast continued today, which meant that our explorations of the Napier region were accompanied by a blazing sun and temperatures over 100º F. It’s sunshine like this that makes the region one of the most productive agriclutural areas in the country. We passed fields of kiwifruit, apples, pumpkins and tomatoes on our way to our first destination: the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers. Named for an unfortunate incident between local Maori and men from James Cook’s visit here in 1769, the cape is now best known for the seething carpet of gannets that breed here. We found the nesting birds packed in on the cliff top, with the downy chicks panting heavily in the hot conditions. About 7500 pairs of Australasian gannets currently breed here, and their numbers are increasing. As you can see, they are not bothered by the presence of people. In the afternoon, we walked around the central business district to admire the plethora of art deco buildings which dominate this compact town. Extremely popular in the 1930s, art deco was the style of architecture most often chosen when the city rebuilt from scratch following a massive earthquake in 1931. The result is a fascinating set of buildings whose many entertaining details invite scrutiny.
Wellington Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, as well as a fabulous sheltered port. It is in many ways, a microcosm of the entire country. It contains a diversity of people, has a long history with early Maori settlement in the great harbor, and has a stunning landscape. It also is very modern as the political center, and yet quite old. One can look back to the earliest settlers and even as far back to the time of Gondwanaland. Our day of exploring Wellington touched on all of these aspects. The morning was focused on the city proper, and for seeing a number of these highlights. Parliament, the new Supreme Court building, and the old St. Paul’s Cathedral all gave us hints as to the more modern times here. A stroll through the botanical gardens gave us a mixture of the local and the far away. But what really helped us understand this magical land was Te Papa, the national museum. With things as diverse as Maori canoes, gigantic satellite images of the entire country, interactive earthquake rooms, and Colossal squid, Te Papa helped us complete our image a bit more. The natural environment certainly has taken a beating since the arrival of the first humans, but all over New Zealand, areas are being returned to what they once were. Nowhere is this better illustrated than Zealandia. By taking a gorgeous valley, fencing it, removing all the nasty introduced pests, and returning many mega-rare species, this project is a glimpse as to Aotearoa maybe 1,000 years ago. Native birds are abundant with a great diversity of very rare birds including Kaka (the forest parrot), Saddleback, Stichbird, Brown Teal, and even Takahe. But even going back further, to a time before dinosaurs, the Tuatara is an incredible species to see. Not like any vertebrate living today, the Tuatara is a so-called living fossil. It, like so many of the species seen today, were or are teetering on the edge of extinction, and to be able to visit a project like this and view these creatures was certainly a treat. In the evening we set out across Cook Strait, heading towards the South Island. Visiting Wellington and getting such a diverse day was a perfect ending to our time in the North Island. As the sun set over the distant mountains of the South Island, we thought of what amazing new experiences this land would bring.
Akaroa The morning dawned fine and sunny as we cruised into the picturesque and sheltered port of Akaroa. Situated on the south-eastern quarter of Bank’s Peninsula, this natural harbour is formed from the crater of an extinct volcano. But the sleepy town of Akaroa belies little about its origins. Our mission for today was to swim with the world’s smallest oceanic dolphin – the endemic Hector’s dolphin. This endangered species, with its ‘Mickey Mouse’ dorsal fin is found throughout coastal areas of the South Island, particularly around river mouths and cloudy inshore areas. Affected by set-netting (gill-nets) which was used by recreational fishers around the New Zealand coast, protection and the banning of set-nets has resulted in the species future looking a little brighter. Education and conservation have led to an awareness of the plight of this species. So, it was with this in mind that we headed into the township, some of us choosing to do the local town tour, whilst others headed out on the local boats to swim with the dolphins. Those who ventured out early were in the end the lucky ones, as the successive groups that headed out met with unfriendly dolphins, which were more intent on feeding than playing. The first boat however had an excellent encounter with these little guys. Later boats saw little penguins (the white-flippered subspecies), spotted shags, and Hutton’s shearwaters, as well as getting good looks at the dolphins, but the wet-suits were not properly tested and no swimming was had. But, they are wild animals, and they choose when they want to play. All back onboard, we had a bite to eat before heading back out into the open ocean in the mid-afternoon. The wind was being drawn in through the harbour by the warming of the land, but back out in the open Pacific there was little swell, and beautiful calm conditions. At first there were few birds, but as we cruised south and the wind freshened, the albatrosses started to appear. But it was all inside for a talk by Brent on the seabirds that have been, and will be encountered during the cruise. Not wanting to take up too much time, the talk was over and people retuned to on deck. At first we had a Northern Royal albatross, then several Salvin’s albatross. Hutton’s shearwaters drifted past, and a blue shark was spotted. It was very calm on the bow, and with such conditions the seabirds were few, but later, of course as the recap and briefing started, the wind shifted and the birds started to whip past the windows...Northern Royal, Southern Royal, wandering albatross, Salvin’s and white-capped albatross. Then a Westland petrel or two, a white-chinned petrel, and then during recap a Royal swept past the window giving stunning views...masters of the air!
Stewart Island / Ulva Island New Zealand is a rather green country. It is quite enlightened when it comes to environmental matters, and politically the country cultivates a “green” image. But as we have cruised down the eastern side of the North and South Islands, the landscapes we’ve seen have not always been verdant. That’s because the east side is the dry side, in the rain-shadow of the interior highlands. So it was quite a dramatic change for us today when we arrived at Stewart Island. Tucked away in the far south, Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest landmass, and it is extremely green. Our visit today started with a hike on Ulva Island, close to Stewart Island’s only settlement. Ulva is clad in dense podacarp forest and has been the scene of some intense conservation efforts. Introduced predators, the bane of New Zealand wildlife the length of the country, have been eradicated from Ulva and the result is a green treasure resounding with bird song. With our knowledgable local guides, we were treated to excellent views of such native birds as mohua (yellowhead), toutouwai (robin) and tieke (South Island saddleback). New Zealand forest birds will often approach visitors, and it was easy to see how this behaviour makes them vulnerable to exotic predators like rats and cats. In the afternoon some of us explored the wee village of Oban, our last spot of civilisation on this trip, while others ventured forth on another hike. Our destination this time was wild Ocean Beach. This sandy crescent was notable for its beautiful surf and the numerous footprints left by the many nocturnal kiwi that forage on the shoreline. This is the southernmost point of our cruise (46º 56’S), as we now turn north and head to the rugged isolation of Fiordland.
Doubtful and Milford Sounds The days of rain in Fiordland are common, but this was not one of them. The morning light slowly covered the peaks around our anchorage of Blanket Bay, inside Doubtful Sound, and clear skies with just wisps of cloud were above us. Although not the deafening birdsong that Cook and his men met, the calls of bellbird could be heard in the forest around the ship. After breakfast we climbed aboard the Xplorer for a morning tour of Doubtful Sound. We headed out to look at Malaspina Reach, back up Doubtful Sound and then Bradshaw Arm, before heading up the northern side of Secretary Island through Thompson Sound. We looked out over the beautiful podocarp/broadleaf forest that cloaked the steep slopes of these glacial valleys. We spotted a pair of paradise shelduck, and whilst looking at a pair of variable oystercatcher on a rock beside the Blanket Bay Hotel, a weka came around the corner of the pier. It looked like it was in charge of the area, checking us out for a moment, and then ducking off from where it had come. As we passed Bradshaw Sound and headed up Thompson Sound we stopped and looked at a large tree avalanche that had been caused by a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake that struck the area in 2007. Several other large slips and tree avalanches were seen during the course of the morning. Several black-billed gulls were spotted amongst the red-billed gulls feeding on the water, and as we headed towards the open sea we kept a watch for fur seals. But, not a single seal was found! We had a short landing on a beach near the entrance to the sea, spotting several South Island tomtits; bellbirds and brown creepers were also seen and heard nearby. The ‘mischievous’ sand-flies were also out in force, and clouds of them descended upon us, although the bug spray managed to keep most from biting. Back onboard the ship we steamed out into the open sea again, with the very much larger MV Amsterdam and MV Dawn Princess cruising past. Small ships are definitely the way to travel! After lunch we enjoyed the smooth sailing conditions as we cruised northwards towards Milford Sound. Out on the bow conditions were superb, but with only a light breeze there were not many birds. White-capped albatross, the odd sooty shearwater, and then later in the afternoon several mottled petrels made up the majority of bird sightings. However, a wandering albatross made an appearance, and the biggest surprise was three sightings of tiny grey-backed storm-petrels. Rather fleeting views of this diminutive little seabird, and although sometimes seen on this part of the New Zealand coast, a great set of records nonetheless. Peter Clayworth gave a lecture on the last period of European history in New Zealand rounding up the talk in the 1970s. And then it was time to enter the incredible Milford Sound. Clear blue skies and light breezes made for a beautiful backdrop against the steep bush clad slopes of the glacial valley. A Fiordland crested penguin was spotted near the entrance, and then fur seals were found resting up on top of a rock, but the main attraction here was not the wildlife but the stunning views. The ship headed right through to the end of Milford Sound, pausing under Stirling Falls along the way, and then with the sun directly behind Mitre Peak, we cruised back up the fiord and back out to sea. Our anchorage for the night was just south along the coast in Poison Bay. The Captain’s Farewell Cocktail party was a time to reflect on what a wonderful cruise we had, before enjoying our last sumptuous dinner onboard.