Pearls Around the White Continent Part III: Intruders in the Realm of the Sea Lions
In this installment, documentary filmmakers Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke continue their 22,500-nautical-mile circumnavigation of the Southern Ocean. Sailing the 40-foot steel ketch Northern Light in the Roaring 40s, Furious 50s, and Screaming 60s, Deborah and Rolf explore the beautiful and far-flung subantarctic islands strung like pearls around the bottom of our planet. Click here for previous installments.
The next day, we hike up along a gushing creek and follow tracks leading away from it. But each ends in a low, muddy tunnel into dense bush. We assume that these are pig trails. Pigs are an introduced species here, put ashore by early whalers and sealers as a food source. Now wild, the pigs are well established all over the island. We've already seen one rummaging on the shoreline at low tide. A cute fellow, white with black spots and curly tusks, it fled from the first noise we made. It's a different story, however, for ground-nesting albatross. Their eggs and chicks are decimated by pigs. New Zealand's Department of Conservation has plans to eradicate the feral swine.
As we return to the dinghy, wouldn't you know, that bull sea lion again charges out of the water and up the beach toward us. Considering his bulk, the bull moves amazingly fast. He ambulates on his flippers, his body moving in a wavelike form. We're treed again, staying put until we win the patience game. "It's two points to the sea lion, zero points to us," I tell Rolf.
"Yes," he says as we climb down. "Let's leave this place to its rightful owner."
We weigh anchor and sail north along the island. For the next three weeks, the weather is dominated by a series of high-pressure cells. The calm allows us to explore each indentation in the coastline, and we leave the boat at anchor to walk the beaches and hills. We sail as far as the northern end of the island and get in a visit to adjacent Enderby Island, a little wonderland with its own microclimate. In the lee of Auckland Island, Enderby is both warmer and drier. The island has been recently cleared of all introduced species, and albatross have re-established nesting areas on the higher parts. The birds are easy to spot: Their white, bulbous bodies stand out against the dark-green vegetation.
And Then There Was Wind
Following the fine days are two weeks of weather dominated by low-pressure systems. On our way south again, we play hide-and-seek: hide from the weather and seek shelter. Auckland is a high island, with peaks rising 2,000 feet out of the water-not good for shelter seekers, because steep contours channel wind, causing strong downdrafts. A gale in open water can result in storm-force gusts in any fjord.