VOY­AGE OF A LIFE­TIME

Hikuai res­i­dent and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Gus An­ning re­flects on his visit to the Subantarc­tic Is­lands.

Coastal News - - Front Page - By ALI­SON SMITH [email protected]­news.co.nz

Hikuai res­i­dent Gus An­ning re­cently re­turned from a 19-day voy­age as a guide to the Subantarc­tic is­lands and is even more sup­port­ive than ever of the coun­try’s preda­tor free goal.

Gus was on­board the Her­itage Ex­pe­di­tions ship The Pro­fes­sor Kro­mov, a Rus­sian ice-classed ves­sel on a Bird­ing Dow­nun­der tour to the re­mote South­ern Ocean is­lands. Along with a crew and 50 guests on­board, he sailed to the Snares, Auck­land, Mac­quarie, Camp­bell, An­tipodes, Boun­ties, Chatham Is­lands and Mac­quarie – which is in Aus­tralian own­er­ship – where it was snow­ing in Novem­ber.

The trip was a huge suc­cess for guests — bird­ers, a breed unto them­selves — who paid be­tween US$11,000 and US$16,000 to tick dozens more birds off their list.

“There are 11,500 species of birds in the world and bird­ers are fa­nat­i­cal about see­ing as many of them as they can,” says Gus, who guided one woman on the trip who is aged 98.

Gus was in charge of the zo­di­acs, which are used to get vis­i­tors close to the Snares, An­tipodes and Bounty Is­lands which are must not be landed on. Be­cause of their iso­la­tion and lack of in­tro­duced an­i­mals, they are a haven to rare and rarely seen wildlife.

The trip clocked 121 dif­fer­ent species in­clud­ing 42 types of pe­trels and tube nose birds, nu­mer­ous 2m South­ern Royal Al­ba­trosses, 10 species of cor­morants, para­keets, half the known species of pen­guins (eight) and the rarest seabird in the world – the Taiko, or Ma­genta Pe­trel.

“We were so lucky to see the Ma­genta Pe­trel at all in the mid­dle of a vast ocean, and yet we had 10 sight­ings of it, off the SW Horn off Rekohu, and prob­a­bly the fur­thest west­erly sight­ing ever. This just shows the phe­nom­e­nal work the Chatham Is­land Taiko Trust is do­ing to help man­age the 19 known bur­rows left. For guests it was the ic­ing on a very rich cake.” He says the work of the trust – www.taikotrust.org.nz – is well worth sup­port­ing for any­one in­ter­ested.

Gus de­vel­oped his love of wildlife from an en­thu­si­as­tic teacher in pri­mary school who was a bird­er­who made the class count birds and write them down on a list.

“I grew up do­ing lots of projects on birds, and it re­ally planted some­thing in me to start vol­un­teer­ing for DOC and look­ing af­ter birds.”

He and wife Sarah named their child Whio af­ter the Blue Duck found only in New Zealand.

Gus was first given the op­por­tu­nity to visit the subantarc­tic when he won a schol­ar­ship with Her­itage Ex­pe­di­tions 14 years ago, re­turn­ing as a guide not long af­ter.

His pas­sion for the ocean, and es­pe­cially th­ese is­lands has only grown. They have Unesco World Her­itage sta­tus, and Gus en­joys pass­ing on his knowl­edge of ship­wrecks, cast­aways, Mo­ri­ori and Ma¯ ori mi­gra­tion, and the early seal­ing and whal­ing that led to the in­tro­duc­tion of pests such as pigs which were in­tro­duced for food.

The Auck­land Is­lands have the largest land area of New Zealand’s subantarc­tic is­lands with 84 per cent of its plants still indige­nous. It is the only is­land among those vis­ited that is not pest free, and Gus says the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC) and New Zealand Gov­ern­ment are aim­ing to erad­i­cate the pigs, cats and mice here with trap lines and a preda­tor proof fence to seg­ment the huge task.

Gus says many of the bird species sighted on the trip are un­used to hu­man con­tact and quite friendly, though guests kept a safe dis­tance from the New Zealand Fur Seals, Ele­phant Seals and other wildlife.

“All the birds come and check you out — they’re not afraid. We vis­ited a colony of 50,000 King Pen­guins with their chicks and you can imag­ine the noise and the smell. They’re so in­quis­i­tive, if you sit on the beach, they’ll just come up to you. They don’t know about the rule that hu­mans should stay 5m away from wildlife!”

He says most of the is­lands have their own unique species of para­keet.

“It’s strange see­ing para­keets by pen­guins. The cor­morants are amaz­ing too. They’re all so di­verse through­out the is­lands.”

On Mac­quarie Is­land there is no shel­tered har­bour, so ex­pe­di­tion­ers are lucky to be able to ex­plore ashore.

“There’s a fam­ily of orca here that ev­ery time we go down seem to come and say hello,” says Gus.

He de­scribes the Bounty Is­lands as “rock stacks in the mid­dle of nowhere” yet ab­so­lutely teem­ing with seabirds and seals.

“Some 40,000 Salvins Al­ba­tross breed here, and the world’s rarest shag swims past in rafts of 50. It is con­sid­ered re­ally lucky to put a zo­diac in the wa­ter as the South­ern Ocean usu­ally doesn’t play ball.” How­ever, the seas were kind on this trip, mak­ing all land­ings and zo­diac cruis­ing pos­si­ble.

“It re­ally was the best trip yet.” The trip has re­in­forced Gus’ en­thu­si­asm for New Zealand’s preda­tor­free goals and his faith in DOC to achieve it. He be­lieves well-man­aged tourism is a pos­i­tive for wildlife in th­ese re­mote seas.

“Hav­ing tourism there spreads the word about what is pos­si­ble with pest erad­i­ca­tion. If New Zealand’s goal is ever pos­si­ble, seabirds will come back to the main­land in big colonies and that in turn will bring in in­sects, seeds, nour­ish­ment of the for­est and a re­turn to what you see in th­ese re­moter places of the South­ern Ocean.

“Down there it’s like walk­ing through a won­der­land of ecol­ogy.”

PHO­TOS / SUP­PLIED

Gus An­ning was a guide on a 19-day voy­age to the Subantarc­tic Is­lands.

King pen­guins and chicks.

The 98-year-old who was on the voy­age and came face to face with a seal.

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