Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, and it is included on the World Heritage List. Rain is prominent in this remote wilderness, and the temperate forest is pristine and lush. A morning Zodiac cruise through a fiord led us between granite rocks and steep hills entirely covered with endemic vegetation. The tree daisies stood out. It was not difficult to spot wildlife, including New Zealand fur seals, spotted shags, black-backed gulls, and as a bonus, Fiordland crested penguins. The penguins frolicked in the water or stood around on rocks, wondering about us as we visited their homeland. After this very productive show of species, it was time for an expertly prepared lunch, with an exciting variety like usual. Today’s menu was Mexican. In the meantime, the ship repositioned to nearby Observation Point. Captain Cook spent time here on his second voyage to New Zealand. Our afternoon Zodiac excursion led us to explore the spot, which is commemorated with a plaque. Baby forest trees are prolific, and we saw the rimu trees that Captain Cook used to brew beer. In the afternoon, National Geographic photographer Andrew and our own certified instructor Lauren led a photo session. Everyone had a chance to ask the experts how to improve their photos. As the ship moved north through the fiords in between sheltering islands, the sun came out. What a bonus in an area with plenty of rain! Today was another successful day, and we were able to see a lot of “firsts.”
National Geographic Orion
Great Barrier Island sits forty-five miles northeast of Aukland, New Zealand. It is a massive island with a long and occasionally troubled history. Birds were the original caretakers of the island but were overthrown when Polynesians arrived around the year 1000. The disturbance to the island then was nothing compared to the near extinction event that followed the arrival of Europeans. Cleared of endemic trees and nearly all the native avifauna, the ecosystem of Great Barrier Island barely held on. More than a century later, the tide began to turn. Through the conservation efforts of mostly private individuals, the island is on its way to becoming a haven for indigenous flora and fauna. From the glorious native kauri tree, almost wiped out in the demand for timber, to the charming and iconic kiwi bird, positive change is taking place. Our visit today was a fantastic opportunity to explore a conservation success story in progress.