South Pacific forgotten islands

When we think of the South Pacific we think of tropical palm-fringed islands with golden beaches looking out over glorious lagoons. That’s a fair summation of many of the islands, but there are others that are rarely visited, simply because they are remote and bear none of the hallmarks of a tropical paradise.

The Subantarctic islands south of New Zealand are recognised as one of the worlds’ great biodiversity hotspots. Protected by the wild Southern Ocean, these remote, uninhabited, and seldom visited islands are home to many of the world’s albatross and penguin species.

Discovered by Europeans only in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the islands were quickly occupied by sealing and whaling gangs that plundered the seal populations and introduced pigs, goats, cattle, cats and rats. Today conservation efforts are focused on eliminating these non-native animals and returning the islands to their natural state.

Heritage Expeditions is offering adventurous travellers and nature-lovers the chance to explore these unique wildlife habitats on two special voyages to the Snares, Campbell and Auckland Subantarctic islands in 2011 and 2012.

The Snares Islands are a nature reserve of international importance. It is claimed that there are more birds nesting on this small forest-covered island than there are seabirds around the entire British Isles. The Snares is home to hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters, a large population of Buller’s Albatross and the endemic Snares Crested Penguin.

Campbell Island is known as the albatross capital of the world. It is home to six species of albatross, including the majestic Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell, Black-browed, Grey-headed, Light-mantled and a small population of Wandering Albatross. It is also known for its ‘mega herbs’ – described by the English botanist Joseph Hooker as having a “flora display second to none outside the tropics”. The voyages are timed to coincide with the peak of the flowering of these plants.

The Auckland Islands are the largest of the islands in this region. Auckland Island is made up of two tremendous, extinct volcanoes with the western coastline sculpted into formidable cliffs, and the eastern coastline carved by glaciers into some of the most picturesque fiords in the world. The jewel in the crown is Enderby Island, a wildlife rich island that has no equal in the Southern Ocean and is home to the world’s rarest penguin- the Yellow-eyed Penguin. Between landings, time at sea is filled with lectures on the biology and history of the Subantarctic islands by on-board experts, with opportunities to spot the many pelagic species of the region.

Two nine–day voyages on board the ‘Spirit of Enderby’ exploring these secret gems are scheduled for 28 December 2011 and 5 January 2012. Both voyages will focus on key ecological, historic and conservation themes. The second voyage will be supported by New Zealand Geographic with a portion of the fare going towards conservation projects run under the auspices of the New Zealand Geographic Trust, creating new opportunities for conservation and research projects in those locations and helping to secure their future.

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