The story of this amazing journey starts a year ago in January 2015.
I was down at Lake Wollumboola on the New South Wales south coast photographing birds - obviously - with some good mates.
There was a colony of terns roosting on the sand and over a period of some time I managed to crawl within a reasonable distance for photography.
The sand spit was filled mostly with Little Terns however it was the couple of White-winged Terns that caught my attention as it was a species I didn't have any good images of.
I waited and captured a great sequence where a Little Tern tried to land close to the White-winged Tern and they had quite the struggle for territory.
However it was this later image that captured my eye.
The tern simply stretched its wings as a normal precursor to flight.
Nothing special in behaviour, however I was struck by the beautiful symmetry of the wings standing out against the soft blues and yellows of the lake and distant shore.
I was incredibly lucky that the judges of the 2015 ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year competition were also struck by it.
And thanks to the generosity of Heritage Expeditions and Australian Geographic, I am writing a visual trip report on the trip of a life time.
For so long I have dreamt of visiting Macquarie Island and seeing a beach bursting with King Penguins.
This is the story of that dream.....
Day 1 - 22/12/15 - Sydney - Invercargill
It's always early
One day I'm going to sleep in and start a holiday around lunchtime
But not today
A long boring day of a couple of flights punctuated by a 5 hour stopover in Christchurch airport, started with a 4 on the clock. Getting the kids out of bed to see Daddy off was easier than expected and well worth it from my perspective. It will be 12 days before I will be able to tell them about our adventure face to face.
The adventure of a lifetime
A trip to the sub-Antarctic Islands with Heritage Expeditions on their "Galapagos of the Southern Ocean" voyage.
Accompanied by my good mate Henry Cook and many dollars (and kilograms) worth of camera gear, the trip is starting off slowly and won't feel real until we board The Spirit of Enderby tomorrow.
The fear of rough weather and sea-sickness losing to the excitement and anticipation of Penguins, Albatross, Elephant Seals
Oh how I hope there are photos!
It won't be through lack of equipment, planning or intent that's for sure. A barrage of digital artillery will indeed be firing once we set off
My equipment includes three camera bodies: Canon 1DX, 5DS, (thanks Canon Professional Services) and 7DmkII, a couple of GoPros, lenses from 14mm to 500mm, a Sirui monopod, and various tele-converters, flashes, and bits and pieces
Practical additions include Aquatech all weather covers to keep off the salt spray and rain; of which I hope there is little. So on the gear front I think I might have it covered
On the sea-sickness front I've done all I can including possessing most pharmaceutical remedies known to man
My starting regime will include Scopamine patch and a daily Stugeron with some Zophram anti-nausea wafers as a backup
And no I haven't forgotten clothing. I had to add an extra piece of luggage to get some clothes in, but nonetheless there are even proper waterproof sailing pants from Burke Marine
So now we fly
High over the South Island heading for a new piece of Nowhere
Further south than Nowhere I have been before
And I'm excited. ....
although it might be the sugar rush from the choc chip cookie the flight attendant just gave me...
Day 2 - 23/12/15 - Invercargill - at sea
We arrived at the hotel in time for dinner and briefings last night. Disappointingly we realized that we weren't getting on the ship until 3pm and sailing at 5pm, so the anticipation and lead up is drawn out even more.
Met some lovely people and found that some of the party are bound for Macquarie Island to fill roles as researchers, the doctor, and the plumber.
To pass the time we head to the Invercargill museum to check out their sub-Antarctic display. The big highlight though was the Tuatara!
Tuatara are a long lived reptile found only in New Zealand
Henry was totally in his element and could no doubt talk about it for some time
"They are the last representative of a lineage stretching back 225 million years of the order 'sphenodontia'....."
Best part was that the oldest Tuatara there (estimated to be at least 120 years old) was named Henry! We were lucky to spend a fair bit of time talking to the man in charge and were able to hold a much younger 28 year old specimen
Once the herping was done we walked back to the hotel for lunch and a last FaceTime with Amy and the kids before we'd be out of contact for some time
I miss them already and not having them with me is the only negative in this fairytale
A short bus ride to Bluff and there she was - the Spirit of Enderby or the Professor Kromov if you want to use the proper Russian title
We embarked and found cabin 331 - our home for the next 11 days
Thankfully our cabin is on the lowest passenger deck which I'm hoping will help with the movement and my sea sickness. Our cabin is bigger than I expected with a good amount of storage space and two floor level beds. I've quickly filled the two smaller drawers with clothes and the big one with camera gear. Shared toilet and shower are right outside our cabin which is handy. (note the photo below was taken at the end of our trip as we were leaving. It was much cleaner before we got there)
And then we were off
Wharves and container ships give way to blue skies and strong winds
And the ocean
An ocean vast and strong
An ocean filled with the promise of the middle of Nowhere
Day 3 - 24/12/15 - Snares Islands and beyond
I'm sitting here alone in the dining room an hour after most others had lunch, eating a piece of toast the lovely Russian kitchen staff gave me
As I look out the portholes I see the sky
Then I see water
Then I see sky
Then I see water...
Needless to say I wasn't the only one that missed lunch today
After leaving the Snares we've had a strong westerly swell rolling us on our southward journey to the Auckland Islands. Half an Ondansetron wafer and a lie down for an hour have done me well and I'm still feeling so blessed that I've lasted almost 24 hours without throwing up!
My Scopamine patch is working well coupled with a nightly Stugeron and Fexotab
But I've got ahead of myself...
The sun isn't setting until late and we managed to spend a fair bit of time last night on deck as we passed Stewart Island and beyond
Plenty of Cape Petrels (these would be a running joke for the entire trip as they were so common), prions and Albatross - including Bullers, Shy, Salvins, Royal and Wandering
But even more exciting was what we got up to this morning!
We have been very blessed to be the first trip in the last four to have been able to get into Zodiacs this morning and cruise the eastern edge of The Snares!
We saw Penguins!!
Snares Crested Penguins no less
The Snares are the closest of the sub-antarctic islands to mainland New Zealand and only about 100km from Stewart Island
Incredibly they have never had any introduced pest species that have plagued so many other places and as such we were only allowed to cruise along the coast in zodiacs without landing.
There were plenty of birds including Tomtits, Fernbirds and nesting Bullers Albatross to look at
As exciting as they were, it really was all about the penguins
Penguins everywhere you looked...
and pointed a camera
A favourite spot was "The Slide"
A steep rock face incredibly covered in more penguins
It really was an amazing experience that totally whet our appetite for the islands to come where we are hoping to get ashore
A great couple of hours testing out our wet weather gear in the rain and wind
Also a fantastic test of the GoPro filming underwater from the Zodiac
It was pretty dark and miserable above the water however we couldn't resist getting the cheap selfie stick wet and probing below the surface with the GoPro
We had no idea what we were capturing (if anything)
However having just looked at a couple of the clips I can tell you we're pretty excited!
So for now, in an effort to reduce the effect of the rolling ocean, we head on a zig zag course to Enderby Island which we should reach in the early hours of Christmas Day
Hopefully I'll get out on deck soon to join the other birders for some sea watching
PS: Happy to write that I did make it on deck and my world list has added Cooks and Mottled Petrels :)
Would have been even more exciting if they were in Australian waters though!
Heaps of Prions of species I'm yet to work out plus more albatross
I even ate dinner and I still haven't thrown up!!