Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, and it is included on the World Heritage List. Rain is prominent in this remote wilderness, and the temperate forest is pristine and lush. A morning Zodiac cruise through a fiord led us between granite rocks and steep hills entirely covered with endemic vegetation. The tree daisies stood out. It was not difficult to spot wildlife, including New Zealand fur seals, spotted shags, black-backed gulls, and as a bonus, Fiordland crested penguins. The penguins frolicked in the water or stood around on rocks, wondering about us as we visited their homeland. After this very productive show of species, it was time for an expertly prepared lunch, with an exciting variety like usual. Today’s menu was Mexican. In the meantime, the ship repositioned to nearby Observation Point. Captain Cook spent time here on his second voyage to New Zealand. Our afternoon Zodiac excursion led us to explore the spot, which is commemorated with a plaque. Baby forest trees are prolific, and we saw the rimu trees that Captain Cook used to brew beer. In the afternoon, National Geographic photographer Andrew and our own certified instructor Lauren led a photo session. Everyone had a chance to ask the experts how to improve their photos. As the ship moved north through the fiords in between sheltering islands, the sun came out. What a bonus in an area with plenty of rain! Today was another successful day, and we were able to see a lot of “firsts.”
National Geographic Orion
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.