Saturday, 4 January 2014

Our Sub Antarctic Islands Adventure. (And no, we weren't stuck in the ice!!)

Everyone will be aware of the current embarrassing plight of the Russian vessel hired by a group of climate academics from one of our universities, to highlight their cause. They and their supporting private and media fellow passengers sure have achieved a poultice of world - wide publicity, but hardly of the sort they would have hoped for.

As a matter of fact, my wife and I, with our elder grandchildren Alex 15 and Isobel 12, had just completed a voyage deep into the  Southern Ocean at the same time as the above fiasco was developing, of all coincidences on the Professor Kromlov, a sister ship of the ice-bound vessel. Except that 'ours' was under long term lease to Kiwi adventure and environmental group Heritage Expeditions who conduct regular, highly and expertly organised voyages to the area, and to antipodean locations around northern and eastern Siberia in the northern hemisphere, in the northern summer. Our indefatigable Soul of EG, Dale (my words, not his) having heard of this invited me to contribute an article, so here goes!

Happy New Year to all of you. We returned from Queenstown NZ with Alex (15) and Isobel (12) on Christmas Eve, brim - full of excitement and memories. While we enjoyed introducing them to the glaciers, Aoraki (Mt Cook), Queenstown and all, a voyage to NZ's Sub Antarctic Islands was absolutely the centrepiece.

We embarked on 15 Dec on our doughty little Professor Kromov (72 metres of fully ice - strengthened Russian seaware) from Bluff hours late and in a somewhat disorganised appearing fashion (which we later learned was the result of an accident that very day to the young head chef, who most fortunately was able to re-join the  ship's complement after some emergency treatment at Invercargill hospital) and headed out for the open Southern Ocean, into a very brisk Sou'westerly.
We soon learned that given the weather outlook, and the fact that like all icebreakers, our vessel had no stabilisers, the Expedition Leader had decided to attack the voyage in reverse order, heading south for some 360 nautical miles (or nearly 700km, to landlubbers) to the most distant destination, Campbell Island. We arrived there 36 hours or so later, safely into aptly named Perseverance Harbour, a little battered, bruised and sleep deprived.

As HE's excellent brochures had adequately stressed, we were after all heading into the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and toward the region of the Screaming Sixties! Of the 50 passengers on board, it seemed that at least half were / had been sea sick, and that included Alex and Isobel, notwithstanding the medication provided "in case" by their medical parents. We soon learned from the ship's excellent young on - board doctor that patches placed immediately behind the ear were the most effective way of dealing with the dreaded nausea. They are apparently readily available in NZ but not so in Oz, and many of the passengers were sporting them. (To our knowledge we were 4 of 7 Australian passengers on board, the rest being Kiwis either professionally or just for sheer enjoyment dedicated to the studies of botany, bird and animal life). So from that point on, Alex and Isobel were basically fine, ready and raring to embark on zodiac and on - shore adventures!

The islands were individually discovered late in the 18th and early in the 19th centuries, and were first exploited as bases for whaling and sealing, although serious farming / grazing enterprises were launched by eternal optimists (energised by conmen??) by mid C19. These were not finally abandoned until the 1930s on Campbell Island, with the final removal of all introduced 'domestic' animals and pests (rats, rabbits, feral cats, feral pigs, stoats) achieved in the 1990s. NZ's revered DOC (Dept of Conservation) protects the islands very stringently indeed.

We had to thoroughly wash and disinfect all footwear before and after each shore landing, and we carefully vacuumed personal gear (outer clothing, footwear, backpacks) under close supervision, before we left the Professor K. A limit is placed on the number of on shore visitors each year, and landings can only be made by professionals on official business, or small groups such as ours, led by qualified people.

We all loved the Zodiac excursions, whether they involved "wet" (Wellies On!) or "dry" (more or less) landings, or close up and personal slow and quiet investigations around spectacular shorelines. That enjoyment included the controlled "running jumps" from the gangway onto the nearside top, and then a hop down to the floor of the rubber vessels, controlled 100% of the way by young and incredibly agile / competent Russian seamen garbed in very impressive black head to toe rough weather gear (looking like something out of "James Bond") and equally confidence - inspiring young HE male and female leaders. Not one person fell overboard!!  :-)  

DOC has constructed some excellent boardwalks to limit the 'trampling' effect of visitors, but once they are left to walk into areas which are open for access but without marked paths, it was really a case "choose your own tussock" to waddle around, trip over  for a soft fall, or have a nice little lie down under. No nasties, except for some potent stinging nettles (which I, wearing long shorts,  of course found!!). With a couple of brief exceptions there were no other defined paths and even where there were, these sometimes featured deep and murky bogs, lovingly created by Sea Lions.  B****y Sea Lions (or Hooker's SLs, to give them their full name) - what terrifying creatures they can be. Or at least the bulls, intent on territorial dominance, and maintaining their harems. They were everywhere and boy, can they gallop (maybe that should be gallump), and can they roar! And are they huge!! They challenge all animal life smaller than themselves, and that included me while I was slow in standing up, when eating a picnic lunch. They cover amazing distances, climbing up to mindboggling heights, have acute hearing (and smell? Not that they exude essence of roses themselves :-)  The only way to deal with them is to stand your ground, show no fear and increase your apparent height by holding your backpack up and out towards them, or a log. But it was all 90% bluff as no one was actually 'attacked', typical testosterone - driven male stuff. While all this was going on, row after row of cows on sandy beaches were giving birth to pups, before re-engaging in new sexual adventures. What a life!


 You can see some of all this and more in the accompanying pics, including the amazing megaflora, especially on Campbell and Enderby and the 'Lord of the Rings' Rata forests on the main Auckland Island, Royal Southern Albatrosses with their 3.5m wingspans mating for life on Campbell (sea lions, take note!), the incredible  Penguin antics on their favoured slippery dips on the Snares, Mollymawks, Giant Petrels, Shearwaters, Shags, Skuas, Dotterels  ......... you name it.

The food on board was very good, the bar fairly priced, the company congenially enthusiastic and the generous lectures / presentations, enlightening. So, what about the odd thump and bump and a bit of lost sleep? 'Twas as nothing, as The Bard might have said. These were experiences never to be forgotten.
Cheers al



  1. Some very interesting photos, Al. These sub Antarctic islands look to be well worth the sea voyage to visit.
    Did you learn of the brand name for the patches placed behind the ear for sea sickness or learn how they work?

    1. Dale, I should have. Will check with our medical daughter (and mother of Alex and Isobel), and get back.
      Meanwhile, the site feature which normally shows recent additions in the RHS panel isn't there, at least for me. Can you comment on that?
      Cheers al

    2. It was called Top Comments & showed all the recent comments. It wasn't working for me either & I looked into it. the message was that the "gadget" is broken & to remove it until it gets fixed.

  2. A highly interesting account, in Al's typically entertaining style, of an awesome family 'adventure' - doubtlessly one the grandchildren will never forget. Thanks for sharing, Al, a most enjoyable read. I loved the photos and the opportunity to share the voyage in 'an armchair'!

    Regarding that other 'adventure' by those climate change enthusiasts, cartoonist Zanetti - in his inimitable style - today highlights their embarrassing plight in his cartoon in our local press.

  3. Golly, my first effort was hopeless, so I will try again. Thanks for the kind words. it certainly was an adventure. And now, having watched that tricky race up and down the beautiful mountain on Lord Howe Island tonight on ABC's 7.30 Report, I am thinking ........ ;-)

    Dale, the medication patches contain scopolamine, also known as hyocine. Link
    Cheers al


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