VOYAGE OF A LIFETIME
Hikuai resident and environmentalist Gus Anning reflects on his visit to the Subantarctic Islands.
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.”
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.