Climbing A Vertical Swamp With Rob Hamill In The Subbies
Blogpost by Bunny McDiarmid - February 4, 2013 at 12:55
The weather is the weather some sailor I know always says. And given the kind of weather that the New Zealand subantarctic is famous for we have been extraordinarily lucky with it in the short time that we have had here with the Rainbow Warrior. One sunny day, one slightly crap one and two misty rainy ones.
Today's our last day here in the Auckland Islands and it was relatively kind. It was 'claggy' as they say here amongst the "subbies" club. Misty rain with cloud on the ridge lines. Every now and then it cleared and it was always a little breath taking when it did, as if revealing itself all in one go would be too much for us to bear.
Last night we were tucked up inside Carnley Harbour. When the wind picked up and we recorded 48 knot gusts, the boat swinging around in the wind and the anchor biting at the bit like a horse ready to bolt. The sooty shearwaters, AKA muttonbirds AKA titi were going to town in the wind funnels and put on a very dramatic aerial display.
With us we have Rob Hamill who once rowed for NZ at the Olympics, he is our story teller for this trip and he's good at it. Because he is with us, last night a bunch of us watched the documentary "Brother Number One" down in the hold. It's the story of Rob's brother Kerry who was killed by the khmer rouge in Cambodia in 1978. It was a disturbingly sad story and a story that just felt so not of this place that we're currently in.
But it gave us a good appreciation of Rob and grateful that he feels passionately about things and, having him with us here in the Auckland Islands the last days, its clear he feels passionately about this place that he is seeing for the first time and he really wants to be able to tell his three young boys the stories about the "SAMS'(sub-adult males), the teenage male sea lions, or penguin alley where the yellow eyed penguins make a dash from the sea to the trees hoping to avoid a Sam or a Sam's dad, or the way the sooty albatross pairs perform synchronised flying maneuvers at speed and are called the "Ferrari" of the albatross.
He was shocked to find out about all the deep sea oil plans for NZ's coasts and feels strongly that allowing deep sea oil drilling off our coasts is really stupid because it risks this wonderful place.
Today we started early in the morning, packing our lunches, checking if we have radios, piling on the layers of clothes, wet weather gear, lifejackets. And then into the boats and off up to the end of the channel to start our hike up the hill to South West Cape to see the white capped albatross that nest on the cliff edge.
Hike up the hill sounds like a nice wee bit of exercise on a Sunday but this was a boggy slog uphill, through what Jeremy called a 'vertical swamp' and he was not joking. The whole hill is sodden, you feel like you are walking on sponge until you are thigh deep in oozy mud.
It was worth it though because over the brow of the ridge you see hundreds and hundreds of albatross nesting in the cliffs. We were able to get close enough without breaking any DOC rules, to see the fluffy chicks when the albatross stood to swap places with their partner returning from sea, or to feed the hungry one. We were there for hours, happy to watch these creatures for a very long time. Their nests are high up in cliffs and so their flying coming and going from the nests is pretty spectacular.
Our photographer Dave Hansford and cameraman Iain Frengley are great. They have taken some truly great pictures and film and they love the work they do and the place they are in. They don't mind being crouched down behind a rock for an hour or two in the driving rain waiting for that one shot of the sooty pairs doing that flying thing or the giant petrel to make those odd calling noises they do.
Jeremy Carrol our expert 'guide' has truly been our educator about this place. Everyone wants him in their boat. He looks like the actor Pete Postlethwaite with a ridiculous woollen hat he wears on this head as he spouts the history, very wry and fit.
And all these guys immediately get why deep sea oil drilling, which risks the possibility of millions of litres of oil inundating these dramatic islands, is a madness when you have such a place as this.
Tomorrow we head for Snares to catch the titi arriving home at dusk and then onto Bluff.
It's great to be reminded that places like this exist in the world, you realise how important they are to keep. It's our wilderness, remote and people-less, and often so unforgiving. You can see the inseparable connection between the land and sea here and the lives that depend on both and move easily between the two, places like this make me feel good to be alive, to be part of this world.