As the captain of trusty National Geographic Orion continued onward in the itinerary, we said a bittersweet goodbye to the Australian territorial waters surrounding Macquarie Island. As the amazing, remote island landscape drifted away in our rearview, a new day dawned for our adventure. Guests and staff took the leisurely morning at sea to enjoy the open ocean. We were gently rocked into a state of relaxation as the swell pushed our beloved ship side to side. As our morning progressed, guests were treated to a rousing presentation on the enthralling life of naturalist Jayden O’Neill. His knowledge of the practices of a Patagonia toothfish vessel was interspersed with anecdotes and tales from his 124 days at sea, because 125 days would have just been too many! After a delicious lunch, each guest and staff member performed another “biosecurity blitz” to ensure that any small seeds or sediment that may have tried to escape Macquarie Island would not be transferred to the next incredibly unique and diverse environment. Undersea specialist Kelly Morgan presented about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) during our afternoon tea, giving us a lesson in governmental protection of the waters surrounding New Zealand and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. Just when we thought the day was coming to a close as everyone finished dessert, the keen eyes of our Expedition Leader and crew members on the bridge spotted a spout from a whale off in the distance. Slowing down and adeptly maneuvering the ship to offer passengers a great view, the team on the bridge stood side by side with guests in awe of the sight of two fin whales. As the sun started to go down over the horizon, guests wielded binoculars, photography equipment, wide eyes, and giant smiles. We were delighted by the sight of a large baleen whale surfacing and displaying its dorsal fin, a quintessential body part and a helpful identification tool! The sun set on an amazing day at sea with golden hour light beaming across the surface of the open ocean as we continued our journey to our new destination…the Auckland Islands.
National Geographic Orion
The last excursion of this great voyage began with heavy rain. Hopefully this weather is the tail end of an incredible easterly rainstorm that has battered Auckland with the highest rainfall in recorded history. Located in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland region, Great Barrier Island was no exception. Our intention at Great Barrier Island, also called Aotea locally, was to visit Glenfern Sanctuary, a predator proof peninsula. Aboard National Geographic Orion, we received a briefing from Steve, the park manager, who explained the incredible history of the peninsula. Ranging from early settlers to World War II bases, the history of the island is rich. Part of this story is the beginning of a guest house in the late 1800s when the park was logged from ancient podocarp forest into grass farmland. More recently, an Auckland sailor had a vision to create a bird sanctuary in this damaged ecosystem. Glenfern began with a predator proof fence to keep out pests like rats, stoats, and cats, followed by a mass native tree planting project. Aboard Zodiacs, we traveled to the peninsula in thoroughly wet conditions…thankfully, smiles were still on our faces! We split into different groups and headed for three main destinations: Sunset Rock for peninsula views; the ancient Kauri for a treetop experience; and the ancient Puriri tree for a look inside the temperate subtropical forest of northern New Zealand. The heavy rain continued, and many of the trails were running with water. The expedition remained unbothered by this as we searched for some of North Island’s unique birdlife and rainforest. Today, we were lucky to see kākās, red-fronted kakariki, fantails/pīwakawakas, New Zealand storm petrels, and tūīs. These were special sightings! One of New Zealand’s most famous tree species is the kauri. It is one of the most striking Northland trees, capable of living for up to 2,000 years. At Glenfern, we had the privilege of clambering into the lofty canopy of a ‘young’ ancient kauri. A final highlight from the 3rd of February was a circumnavigation of Little Barrier Island during dinner.