Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Antipodes Islands - hostile and barren, the first land to see New Year.


For a change, I'm describing today a very southernly, sub-antarctic island, where just a few ever layed their feet - the small Antipodes Island, with some even smaller islets around, all belonging to New Zealand.


At the beginning of every New Year, the Antipodes Islands are the first piece of land to see the change, although nobody, or at most one or two scientists got to experience it. They shelter in a small hut in the main island's northwest coast, at Hut Cove.


The volcanic islands of the Antipodes Island group lie 860 km to the southeast of New Zealand. The uninhabited group consists of the main Island, Bollons Island to the north, and several other islets and rocks. All are inhospitable volcanic territory in subantarctic waters.

The terrain on main Antipodes island has been infested with a mouse plague, introduced in the 20th century (*); efforts are taking place to erradicate them.

The main Antipodes Island is a harborless series of steep basalt cliffs covering five miles by three miles. Two permanent huts allow for a small crew to watch for the nature reserve, make biometric tests and monitoring results.


Antipodes Island
Coordinates: 49° 40′ S, 178° 46′ E
Area (main island) : 22 km2
Maximum elevation:  402 m

The island group is a World Heritage nature reserve and there is no general public access.

Occasionally the small sheltering space has to be increased for a scientific team.


Helicopter is the only practicable transport. A small hangar was installed above the hut camp.

The highest point on the islands is Mount Galloway (402 m), which is also a recently active volcano, although an exact eruption date is unknown.

Mount Galloway.

The rounded summmit was first reached in 1903; it's mostly clear ground, matted with Poa Litorosa grass and Pleurophyllum (a flowering megaherb).

The island's top is covered by wind-swept tussock grass.

Covering the island’s inland, there is a mixture of grasses, herbs, shrubs, and ferns. The dense ferns and tussock grasses deserve particular mention because they make impossible the simple act of walking in a straight line.

Coastal red-tussock makes up the rugged landscape of Antipodes Island.

In spite of its moderate latitude, there are no trees here. The problem is not the ice or cold - annual mean above 5ºC -, it's the wind, same as happens in the Kerguelen Islands: westerly gales blow all the time quite strong, and cold fronts bring terrible storms. No tree would survive time enough to grow.

The northwest coast, looking to Orde Lees and Winward Islands.

Bolloms Island seen from Antipodes.
[photo K. Walker]

Frightening basalt stacks.



One of the most spectacular sites is the narrow straight between the main Island and Leeward Island:


Storm near Hut Cove, with Bolloms Island in the far.


Scenic basalt cliffs give evidence of the volcanic past; below, a bird colony nesting slope, at Anchorage Bay.




History
(short)

The Antipodes Islands were discovered in 1800 by Captain Henry Waterhouse of H.M.S. Reliance. Soon, since 1804, sealing vessels arrived to the Antipodes, and though the sealing grounds were jealously guarded at the time, in a few years a sealing boom on the islands almost extinguished the fur seal species. By the 1830s seals were all but wiped out and sealing in the Antipodes came to an end. Only since the 1950s the population started recovering, there are a few thousands presently.

Since 1998, the NZSAI (New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands) are inscribed in Uneco's World Heritage list. The islands truly belong to birds, lush vegetation and some occasional adventurers in rubber boats...

The real star of the archipel is its unique Parakeet, the green-only endemic species:

'Cyanoramphus unicolor' is endemic to these uninhabited and protected islands. A treasure.


The red-crowned parakeet, 'Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae', is also commonly found here as in all New Zealand islands, namely Stewart Island.



Well, it was not easy getting all this documentation about such a remote, small, ignored territory in the antipode coordinates. I bet most of you had never heard or read about it. That's my 'mission' here at Ultima Thule - finding arctic or antarctic "neverlands" where I'll never go, and probably neither will you. The last places of mistery and adventure on Earth.


Antipodes from above. Lee and Windword left, Bolloms up right, facing the Cove, and Leeward at right.


(*) probably from a wrecked Spanish ship

0 comments: