GO2 MACQUARIE ISLAND
bringing us ginger tea and tablets when things looked bleak. Our gourmet meals proceeded to schedule, with chef Rainer Wohrle and his team delivering Silversea’s trademark “La Collection Du Monde” every evening despitee occasional disconcerting noises from the galley. This is expedition sailing in style.
Macquarie Island was discovered in the early 19th century by sealers and intrepid adventurers who, over the course of the next hundred years, proceeded to drive the seal and penguin populations to the brink of extinction.
With these colonies almost empty, Antarctic explorers such as Australia’s Douglas Mawson used the island for geological study and as a halfway base for expeditions to Commonwealth Bay further south again on the Antarctic continent itself. In 1911, a radio station and a few rudimentary huts were set up on Wireless Hill on the northernmost extremity.
The newly created Australian Antarctic Division built a more permanent base in 1948 and has maintained a presence here since.
In 1933, it was declared a wildlife sanctuary and in 1972, a state reserve. In 1997, UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on the island in recognition of its geological features, which “demonstrate processes of oceanic crust formation and plate boundary dynamics”.
Politically, “Macca” is part of Tasmania and is presided over by a small delegation from Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service, led by ranger Chris Howard.
Two hundred years of sporadic human occupation has left the inevitable legacy of introduced animal and plant species. While the larger mammals such as livestock and dogs were easy enough to remove, the last of the cats took almost a decade to clear out.
Since the last wild moggy was shot in 2000, rabbits, rats and mice were left to take over Macquarie in near plague proportions. These ravenous little blighters ate the delicate megaherbs and tussocks, harassed and preyed on the nesting birds and dug burrows that collapsed a whole hillside on to a penguin colony.
Last June signalled the end of an almost military scale program in which 300 tonnes of poison baits were dropped from helicopters in 2010 and 2011. This was followed by painstaking foot patrols using Silversea Cruises returns to Macquarie Island in January 2016 aboard Silver Discoverer (Voyage 9601) sailing from Dunedin to Christchurch over 16 nights via the New Zealand subantarctic islands (Enderby and trained dogs that hunted out the last of the fugitive rodents.
Nowadays, the only invasive mammal species are the resident scientists and rangers and the almost 500 tourists who might arrive by one of the halfdozen expedition ship visits in a busy year.
Luke manoeuvres the Zodiac into the breaking swell at Sandy Bay, one of the few locations where a beach embarkation is possible.
“Welcome to Macquarie Island. I’m Chris.” Head ranger Chris is well into his second season on Macca and also our tour guide. He’s responsible for daily management including works programs, track maintenance, administration and escorting tourists.
It’s been four years since my Auckland islands, The Snares). Priced from $17,050, it includes all dining, excursions, lectures, beverages, butler service and gratuities. See silversea.com Macquarie Island can only be reached by prearranged ship visits and there is no guest accommodation on shore.
previous visit to Macca and already the pest-free landscape is showing promising signs of regeneration.
Just as I recall, elephant seals laze about like great loaves of lard, occasionally snorting their displeasure if we wander too close.
Meanwhile, the darling royal and king penguins waddle past us on their well-worn route between their nests in the raucous rookery behind us and the beach, where they launch themselves into the surf.
Our tour winds up at the base canteen, where we are treated to mugs of steaming tea and the best scones south of 50 degrees. The writer was a guest of Silversea Cruises.
ROYAL HOUSEHOLD: A visit to Macquarie Island and its Hasselborough Bay base (above) is a unique opportunity to get up close to wildlife such as king penguins (top). Pictures: Rod Eime