GO2 MAC­QUARIE IS­LAND

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - UNITED STATES -

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.

See parks.tas.gov.au/mac­quarie

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

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