Subantarctic Islands: The Ultimate Pelagic

South of New Zealand there is a string of islands that offer the avid seabirder some of the best pelagic birding on the planet, coupled with awesome opportunities to get close up to a variety of these same birds at massive breeding colonies, including a variety of albatross and penguin species. On top of this the Subantarctic Islands offer up a wealth of other Antarctic wildlife, from an abundance of cetaceans roaming the icy waters, to nesting seals, including another giant and formidable species, the impressive Hooker’s Sea Lion. Like any Antarctic destination this tour offers much for the non-birding partner and non-birding nature photographer; a wealth of wonderful landscapes awaits, as do some truly close encounters with Antarctic wildlife. No other tour offers the variety of penguins and seabirds possible on such a short cruise, thus boasting the highest diversity and numbers of seabirds of any of our tours. This should have great appeal to any seabird enthusiast, who may pick up 30+ different species of tube-nose procelariiformes in record time!

Day 1: Invercargill. The tour starts this evening at our hotel in Invercargill.

Day 2: Port of Bluff. After a visit to the Southland Museum, we transfer to the Port of Bluff where we board our vessel, the Spirit of Enderby.

The largest flying bird on Earth, Wandering Albatross, comes in to land
The largest flying bird on Earth, Wandering Albatross, comes in to land (Nick Leseberg)

Day 3: The Snares – North East Island. Cruise by Zodiac if weather and sea conditions are suitable along the sheltered eastern side of North East Island. We should see the endemic Snares Crested Penguin, Snares Island Tomtit and Fernbirds. Also we should see Cape Pigeons, Antarctic Terns, White-fronted Terns and Red-billed Gulls. There are hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters nesting here. Buller’s Albatross breed here from late December onwards.

Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island. Enderby Island is a great place to view birds and wildlife. We visit Sandy Bay, the main breeding ground for the rare New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lion and just one of three breeding grounds on the Auckland Islands. There are chances to observe the Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel, Auckland Island Shag, Auckland Island Flightless Teal, Auckland Island Banded Dotterel, Auckland Island Tomtit, Bellbird, Pipit, Red-crowned Parakeet, Yellow-eyed Penguin and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. We will also keep a lookout for the rare Subantarctic Snipe. On Derry Castle Reef there is a good chance of seeing the Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone and perhaps other migratory waders.

Day 5: Auckland Islands – Carnley Harbour. These islands have witnessed many a shipwreck in days gone by and harbour tales of castaways and coastwatchers. If weather and sea conditions are suitable energetic expeditioners are able to climb to the South West Cape Shy Albatross colony where Gibson’s Wandering Albatross nest amongst the tussocks above the colony.

Day 6: At Sea. We can expect some of the best pelagic birding on this leg of the journey from the Auckland Islands to Macquarie Island with great views of species such as the Royal Albatrosses, Wandering Albatrosses, Shy Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, diving-petrel, Little Shearwaters, storm-petrel and to confuse everybody, numerous prion species.

Days 7-8: Macquarie Island The only place in the world where the beautiful Royal Penguin breeds, this remote outpost supports a breath-taking concentration of wildlife. You will never forget your first experience of a noisy ‘penguin city’ where you will be witness to a thousand chattering, feeding chicks; territorial disputes; petty pilfering and courtship displays: King, Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins can be seen here. We meet with Park Rangers and seek out the thousands of Southern Elephant Seals lolling on the beaches and along the coast, Redpolls and Imperial Shag can often be spotted.

Day 9: At Sea. We will be keeping a keen lookout for cetaceans, albatross and petrels today, relax in the ship’s bar or catch up on your reading in the library.

Day 10: Campbell Island – Perseverance Harbour. We drop anchor in Perseverance Harbour. Once on shore we walk to the nesting site of the Southern Royal Albatross or to Northwest Bay, pass beautiful megaherbs growing on the hills. During the day ashore we should see the Campbell Island Shag, Southern Skua, Antarctic Tern, Dunnock, New Zealand Pipit, Campbell Island Teal and hopefully the elusive Campbell Island Snipe.

Docking with penguins will be a regular feature of our time in these rich islands
Docking with penguins will be a regular feature of our time in these rich islands (Heritage Expeditions)

Day 11: At Sea. Join us on the bridge, where we keep a keen lookout for species commonly seen in this area: Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Island Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Sooty Shearwater and Little Shearwater. There should be plenty of petrels and again the hard to identify prion species.

Days 12: Antipodes Islands. One of the most isolated, least known and rugged of the Subantarctic Islands; landings are not permitted here, so we cruise along the coast looking for the endemic Antipodes Island and Reischek’s Parakeet. We may also see the Antipodes subspecies of the New Zealand Pipit, and with half the world population of Erect-crested Penguins here, we should encounter one or two as well as Antarctic Terns and Kelp Gulls.

Day 13: Bounty Islands. These inhospitable granite islets are home to thousands of Salvin’s Albatross, Erect-crested Penguins, Fulmar Prions and the endemic Bounty Island Shag, the world’s rarest. At sea we should spot Wandering Albatross species, Northern Royal Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel, Broad-billed Prion, White-chinned Petrel and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels as well as Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.

White-capped Albatross breeds in the Aucklands
White-capped Albatross breeds in the Aucklands (Nick Leseberg)

Day 14: At Sea and Pyramid Rock. We continue north towards the Chatham Islands, with similar species accompanying us as yesterday. Towards evening as we approach the islands we are closer to the Subantarctic and sub tropical convergence and we see a subtle change in the species composition. Late this afternoon we arrive at the spectacular Pyramid Rock, the only breeding place of the Chatham Island Albatross.

Day 15: Chatham Islands – Waitangi. This morning we go ashore on the main island where we might see the endemic Chatham Island Shag and along the coast the Chatham Island Oystercatcher. We visit a private bush reserve on the south coast to see the Chatham Island Warbler, Chatham Island Pigeon and Tui. This afternoon we have another look for the Magenta and Chatham Island Petrels.

Majestic King Penguins on Macquarie Island
Majestic King Penguins on Macquarie Island (Heritage Expeditions)

Day 16: South East Island and Mangere Islands. Arrive early morning at South East Island one of the world’s greatest nature reserves here we plan to Zodiac cruise to see the endangered Shore Plover. We will also keep our eyes peeled for the Pitt Island Shag. Before we depart the archipelago we visit the Mangere Islands from where the endemic Black Robin was rescued.

Royal Albatrosses breed on Campbell Island
Royal Albatrosses breed on Campbell Island (Heritage Expeditions)

Days 17-18: At sea. En route to Dunedin we will cross the Chatham Rise, here nutrient-rich waters allow for an overlap between northern pelagic species and birds from southern latitudes. We can expect to see Royal Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Westland Black Petrel, Cook’s Petrel and much more.

Day 19: Dunedin. Our adventure ends at this historic Otago Harbour. Early this morning we arrive in port and after a final breakfast we say our farewells before disembarking and transferring by complimentary coach to either a central city point or to the airport.



CLIMATE: Very cold to mild, depending on prevailing weather conditions. Rain, snow and sleet possible at any time.

DIFFICULTY: This trip is not very physically challenging. Most activities involve rides on Zodiacs and then easy walking. The ocean crossings can be rough, and seasickness for those prone to it is a real possibility.

ACCOMMODATION: Good onboard facilities.