Sub-Antarctic Islands (New Zealand)
New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands lie far to the south of Stewart Island and are 5 groups of uninhabited and windswept Islands of the Southern Ocean. A hazard in the days of sailing ships, the islands are now wildlife preserves, which, due to their isolation, are only visited occasionally, normally by scientists or conservation workers.
The New Zealand sub-antarctic islands are an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and were designated in 1998 for their outstanding universal value. Due to the unique environment and strong connection between the islands and the ocean, the World Heritage status is extended beyond the shores of the island to 12 nautical miles. Their unique position in an ecological and historical context makes them a fascinating place for the adventurous whether they be scientists, visitors or conservationists.
To date, conservation of the islands is a priority for the New Zealand government and work is being done to maintain the rich biodiversity on the islands through careful management of all visitors as well as working on eradicating pests (such as mice) on the islands.
There are a number of good books written on the Subantarctic Islands including 'Subantarctic New Zealand: A rare heritage' written by Neville Peat. 'Galapagos of the Antarctic: Wild Islands South of New Zealand' by Rodney Russ and Aleks Terauds provides a very comprehensive guide to the Subantarctic Islands with chapters on the Chatham Islands, Bounty Islands, Antipodes Islands, Campbell Island, Auckland Islands, The Snares and Australia's Macquarie Island.
Cool temperatures and strong winds from the west dominate. Mean temperatures vary from island to island between 6 and 12 degrees Celsius. The islands are humid places, with lots of rain and expect approximately 600 hours of sunlight per year.
New Zealand's sub-antarctic islands are wild and beautiful places. They are home to some of the most abundant and unique wildlife on earth: many birds, plants and invertebrates are found nowhere else in the world. The sub-antarctic islands are particularly renowned for the large number and diversity of penguins and other seabirds that nest there.
All the sub-antarctic islands are New Zealand National Nature Reserves, the highest possible conservation status. As mentioned above, they have also been honoured with World Heritage status, meaning they represent the best of the world’s natural heritage and rate alongside the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest.
Despite the remote location of these islands the lure to study, visit and preserve the historic fabric on the islands is high. Access to these islands is generally by, or with the support of, a boat. The islands are beyond the (return) range of most helicopters and there is no airstrip for fixed wing aircraft. Access is by permit only, there are a number of expedition-style cruise ships which visit permitted locations on the islands during the Southern Hemisphere summer months (November-March).
Ships depart from a number of ports, in New Zealand primarily from Dunedin or Bluff. Other departure locations include Hobart, Australia as well as Ushuaia, Chile. Many ships that visit the New Zealand sub-antarctic islands also visit Macquarie Island, an additional sub-antarctic island administered by Australia. Many tourist vessels also visit Antarctica as part of the journey through the southern oceans.
The islands are a birdwatcher's and plant aficionado's dream with rich flora, and some of the rarest birds on earth on full display including rare penguin and albatross species. The marine mammal life is active too as the islands are prime breeding grounds for New Zealand Sea Lion among others. Activities from the cruise ship can include: Zodiac cruising, tramping, and visitation of human historical points of interest from the days of shipwrecks and sealing, as well as Maori history and even some WWII locations of note.
The latitudes of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties in which these islands are anchored are legends in the stories of sailors and for good reason, staying safe in these waters as a ship is about being prepared for extreme weather. The islands themselves pose little risk to travellers, their remoteness is the extreme part of the experience.