The New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Expedition of 2014

Just a century ago a voyage to the subantarctic islands was a journey into the unknown. Tales of archipelagos home to thriving seal and penguin colonies and surrounded by vast numbers of whales promised riches to those who dared head south. But getting there was an entirely different matter. Ships literally sailed off the edge off the map in their quest for profit. The ‘Roaring Forties’ and ‘Furious Fifty’ winds made the Southern Ocean a dangerous place to venture in small wooden craft, while the islands were often poorly mapped or non-existent. Today the region offers wealth of a different sort to scientists.

Yesterday, a team of five of us returned from a three week voyage to the Southern Ocean. Building on the scientific findings of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014, we set out from the University of New South Wales to explore the changing climate and environment of the New Zealand subantarctic islands Campbell and Auckland. These biological hotspots straddle 50 to 52˚S, providing a precious opportunity to extend historical records back tens of thousands of years across a region that plays a major role in our planet’s climate. Setting out from the southern port of Bluff, Jonathan Palmer, Zoë Thomas, Mat Lipson, Pavla Fenwick and myself journeyed in the fifty-foot veteran of the Southern Ocean, the Tiama, with the irrepressible Captain Henk Haazen and First Mate Kali Kahn. 

Watch the new expedition film: the New Zealand Subantarctic islands

We explored numerous inlet and harbours, venturing far and wide as we searched for forests in the south, ancient trees in peat bogs and remnants of the last ice age along the peaks on the islands. While the subantarctics are better mapped today, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The Southern Ocean hasn’t mellowed with age while the wildlife – although protected today – were far from welcoming. During our expedition, we made a short film of our adventure, explaining the science and sharing our discoveries. We couldn’t resist showing you what it’s like to work in one of the most remote, wildest and beautiful places on our planet and share some of the humour on the voyage. 

If you’d like to learn more about the Tiama, check out the link here. Henk has some great film footage and short reports on other trips that headed south in this fantastic vessel.

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