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.
Visits operate by permit of which there are a limited number. Most permits are held by expedition ship companies who provide guides and monitor/limit environmental image through their procedures and also report back to government agencies such as Department of Conservation.
Access is generally by, or with the support of, a boat/ship. 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).
Expedition eco-tourism ships such as Spirit of Enderby / Professor Kromov depart from a number of ports, in New Zealand primarily from Dunedin or Bluff. Other departure locations include Hobart, Australia, and Ushuaia, Chile. Many ships that visit the New Zealand sub-antarctic islands also visit Macquarie Island, a sub-antarctic island administered by Australia. Many expedition vessels carrying tourists also visit Antarctica as part of the journey through the southern oceans. Passengers on these ship mainly visit for the wildlife and scenery.
The Subantarctic Islands can only be visited over the summer months of November through to February. The NZ navy runs occasional trips there, in conjunction with NZ’s Department of Conservation. There are occasional tourist ships that visit these islands also. Heritage Expeditions runs itineraries aboard their 50 passenger ship (www.heritage-expeditions.com) over the New Zealand summer months, generally departing from Bluff or Dunedin.
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.