The Sub-Antarctic islands are a strange and mysterious place. A place where sea lions roam the mountain peaks, where penguins waddle through the remains of failed settlements, and where megaherb fields give you the feeling of being in the middle of a Dr. Seuss world.
If you have ever felt the desire to explore an environment where the land is completely controlled by nature, this is the place to go.
In the southern corner of the Earth, far below the range of modern human civilisation lies a unique archipelago, known as Aotearoa’s Sub-Antarctic Islands. Bursting with marine life, these islands provide a habitat for a diversity of endangered and culturally significant species, ranging from small hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin) to large sea lion populations.
Inhabiting islands this far south, however, requires the ability to withstand a substantially cold and dangerous climate. The Sub-Antarctic Islands are positioned in perhaps the most harsh and extreme oceanic system in the world: the Southern Ocean. This region surrounds Antarctica, with a latitudinal range that stretches northward to approximately 40 degrees south. Home to the origin of fierce low-pressure systems and deep ocean swells, this oceanic system produces some of the largest waves in the world.
The Sub-Antarctic Islands are positioned in perhaps the most harsh and extreme oceanic system in the world: the Southern Ocean … home to the origin of fierce low-pressure systems and deep ocean swells, this oceanic system produces some of the largest waves in the world.
As a surfer and a marine science student, the Sub-Antarctic Islands are a fascinating place, of which I was lucky enough to explore in January 2022.
Marine science naturally became an interest of mine, largely driven through surfing. Understanding how different swells, winds, and tides influence the way a wave breaks is a required understanding that each surfer gains through experience. For myself, this understanding opened my eyes to question how other processes in the marine environment occur. My grandfather Ross Clapp also played a large role in this interest. Ross was one of the original gliders in the Canterbury Aero Club, a role that he established due to his own interest in weather systems. His teachings of the different names and formations of clouds was a learning experience for myself that deepened my interest in environmental processes.
Studying at the University of Otago, I have found myself located in Whakahekerau (St. Clair), positioned at the southern point of Muaūpoko (Otago Peninsula). The Ōtepoti (Dunedin) coastline is rich in both wildlife and good waves … two features that make this city a much-desired location. The cold and raw attributes of the coastline are what draw me to this region of the world, where there is a hidden beauty within the harsh marine environment. Finding a connection to the Ōtepoti coastline is what sparked my desire to look south, in an attempt to discover a similar coastline – one that has not yet been overly influenced by human activity. This desire led me to the roaring 40s and the furious 50s, home to Aotearoa’s Sub-Antarctic Islands.
Five islands compose Aotearoa’s Sub-Antarctic island group:
1. Moutere Hauriri (Bounty Island)
2. Moutere Mahue (the Antipodes)
3. Tini Heke (the Snares)
4. Motu Maha (Auckland Island)
5. Motu Ihupuku (Campbell Island)
These islands are protected marine reserves, recognised as world heritage sites by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation.
With the intensifying desire to get south and explore these remote islands, I set sail on Heritage Expeditions’ 71 metre Russian icebreaker The Spirit of Enderby. My journey began on the 31st of December 2021 – 663km and 36 hours of sailing awaited as we departed Bluff and headed South for Motu Ihupuku, Aotearoa’s southernmost Sub-Antarctic island.