Subantarctic Voyage – Exciting, enthralling and out of this world.

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6 Mar 2024
In mid-December former New Zealand Nature Fund Chair, Charlotte Fisher embarked on a 16-day voyage aboard the Heritage Adventurer exploring the remote wildlife havens of New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands and the Chatham Islands.

Charlotte knows a thing or two about nature and the ocean. She’s a former competitive sailor, a generous conservation philanthropist and she and husband Robert have owned Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safaris Overland for over 30 years.

When Heritage Expeditions donated a double berth on the tour to the New Zealand Nature Fund Gala Dinner to raise funds for the Antipodean Albatross last year, Charlotte and Robert were the highest bidders.

Charlotte and Robert were joined by good friend Kim Hill who spontaneously interviewed three Chatham Islanders about the Island’s history towards the end of the tour. We sat down with Charlotte to find out more their voyage and this amazing opportunity.

You’ve sailed all your life around New Zealand and abroad. How did this voyage compare?

I’ve never done anything like this before, it was unique. And that was largely due to Heritage Expeditions. It was brilliantly organised and there was such a huge range of expertise on the ship. There were 130 passengers, 80 staff including 18 different experts speaking every day on their specialist subjects. When you hear that you are going to receive lectures you might think, oh that sounds school like, but when you’ve been out on the zodiacs and up close with all that nature and the different species, the lectures are just so valuable and interesting. We had scientists who specialised in everything – botanicals, birds, pinnipeds, cetaceans, geology and history. In total we saw 192 different species in 16 days!

There was a bit of time spent sailing between islands, but the Heritage Expeditions philosophy is that as soon as the ship is stationed at the next destination it’s time to disembark and explore. We landed in zodiacs on Enderby, Macquarie, Campbell and the Chatham Islands but we also did zodiac cruises from the ship at the Snares, Antipodes and Bounty Islands. There were 14 zodiacs which were used to carry us to and around the islands. As soon as the ship was stationed the zodiacs were craned into the water, and in our disinfected muck boots we were off to explore. The gangway team did an exceptional job of getting us on and off the ship.

We have great respect for the Russ Family who own Heritage Expeditions and we were fortunate to have Aaron Russ on our trip. They have been involved in efforts to save the albatross for a long time and contribute to research in various ways in the Subantarctics.

What sort of people were on the voyage?

It was a multinational cast of passengers from the UK, USA, Japan, Australian, Netherlands, Scandinavia and of course New Zealand.

There were a lot of committed ‘birders’ and nature photographers with amazing equipment but it didn’t matter if you didn’t have in-depth knowledge of birds or botanicals because the experts did such an amazing job explaining what we were seeing.

What stands out to you about what you saw and experienced?

The Albatross is the reason we were on this voyage. It was out of this world seeing the birds up close. There are 15 different species of Albatross but the Antipodean species is the most endangered by longline tuna fishing. When you’re out there you appreciate how important it is to help these birds. They’re matestic and a true oceanic nomad. They spend 80% of their lives at sea and they fly thousands of kilometres to the more plentiful oceans off South Africa, South America and the Tasman Sea for food. They come back to the Sub-Antarctic to breed because it’s like a safe haven with fewer predators.

New Zealand has the largest sea bird protectorate in the world, including the Sub-Antarctic islands, the Kermadecs and the Cook Islands. We have the largest variety of sea bird species in the world and I believe that comes with a massive responsibility.

The mega herbs that you find growing on the islands are just incredible. Fields and fields of plant life you would never see anywhere else on earth. Seeing the Royal and King Penguin colonies with their chicks at Macquarie Island was spectacular. Getting so close to enormous sea elephants jousting with one another was so exciting because they didn’t see us as predators.

Has what you’ve learned changed how you feel about nature conservation?

We spent two amazing days on the Chathams Islands and that included visiting Bruce and Liz Tuanui at their Awatotara Reserve on the southern corner of their stunning farm. Robert and I had visited the year before and had the privilege of seeing their amazing conservation efforts. It is the only place where you can see the Tāiko (Chatham Island Magenta Petrel) because it is so rare and endangered. The Tuanui’s have gone to enormous efforts to build the population back up. They’ve funded a vermin proof fence, created special burrows and even speakers that play bird song at night, amongst many other conservation initiatives.

These are the types of community efforts that we need in order to protect and conserve our natural species and I’m so heartened that they’re happening more and more. Communities in this country are taking their own initiatives for example the Miramar peninsular where the predator free movement really took hold and every household has traps in their back garden. Wellington now has Kaka and Kakariki returning to the suburbs thanks to Zealandia and these predator control efforts.

For me, I absolutely want to continue to be involved in conservation and I feel so privileged to have been on the Heritage Adventurer and to witness first-hand the huge breadth and beauty of our Southern Ocean Islands. Even weeks later I keep remembering special sights and moments. It was the trip of a lifetime, a secret worth sharing.


Image below: Charlotte & Robert Fisher

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