Invercargill and Port of Bluff (South Port)
Flying into to Invercargill the plane circled over the wide New River Estuary, a tidal lagoon fed by the Waihopia and Oreti Rivers. The airport sits on reclaimed land at the estuaries northern end, and driving into town you cross the Waihopia River, running along the western edge of the Invercargill CBD. Invercargill is New Zealand’ southernmost city, colonised by Europeans in the 1850s and bolstered by a gold rush in the 1860s. The town is surrounded by farmland, and more recently has become the setting off point for tourism to Stewart Island, and Subantarctic tourism and research. The NZ Department of Conservation has an office in Invercargill which manages research and visitor applications for New Zealand’s World Heritage listed Subantarctic islands. I met up with the Heritage Expeditions group in Invercargill on the 22/12/15, and set off to board the ship at the Port of Bluff on 23/12/15.
The Invercargill area had an established Maori population prior to European colonisation, and I read about some of the early encounters between Maori and Europeans, and saw examples of local Maori cultural artefacts including tools and fishing gear, in the Southland Museum. The first European account of the Port of Bluff, or Port Macquarie as it was first named by them, is from 1813 when an expedition from Sydney in the ship Perseverance went seeking reliable supplies of New Zealand Flax. It’s one of the earliest sites of European activity in New Zealand. Located 30 min drive south of Invercargill, the port is on the western side of Bluff Harbour and Awarua Bay. Today South Port in Bluff Harbour is NZ’s southernmost deep water port and services import and export shipping, as well as tourism and research vessels.
20/12/15 Kelvin Hotel, 9.30PM Made it to Invercargill. The short view I’ve had of the town so far reminds me of Bendigo – federation and earlier style buildings mixed with modern, flat, smaller than it used to be. Tomorrow I’m planning to visit the local museums and gardens. My neighbour on the flight from Christchurch gave me a lift to the hotel and tips for passing time in ‘Invers’. I meet up with the Heritage Expeditions group on Tuesday night (22/12) so have a couple of days to fill.
21/12/15 The rose gardens in Queens Park were beautiful, glad I saw them at this time of year. Surrounded by a thick band of established trees the gardens smelt delicious, a scent and colour filled bowl. Fierce hot winds today, took refuge in the Southland Museum. A whole floor dedicated to the Subantarctic: flora and fauna, histories of attempts at grazing and colonisation, coastwatchers and so many shipwrecks. Next floor down had displays of extinct NZ fauna, stuffed birds over a century old and a giant Moa leg bone. Fascinating displays of Maori artefacts, intricately worked fish hooks and tools. Explored the motorbike museum at E Hayes and Sons, old bikes beautifully restored alongside ingenious DIY engines. Saw The World’s Fastest Indian. Regarding travelling with MS, so far so good, but will take advantage of an early night to keep fatigue at bay.
Today I met up with Heritage Expeditions group at a dinner in the hotel, and was introduced to a bunch of intrepid women – mostly from Australia – traveling to the Subantarctic. There’s 50 passengers on this expedition, including two other scholarships: Edin, a wildlife photographer and student from NZ’s North Island, and Ollie, a birder from London. We met the founder of Heritage Expeditions Rodney Russ, who will be leading us over the next 12 days. The other expedition staff are Jess, the Hotel Manager; Lesley the ship medic; Tui De Roy, wildlife photographer; Alex, botanist specialising in the Subantarctic; Katja, chemist with a background studying glacial ice in Antarctica and two chefs including Connor, who doubles as a zodiac pilot. Tomorrow we head for the Port of Bluff to board the ship in the afternoon, can’t wait.
23/12/15 Port of Bluff, on board the Professor Khromov/Spirit of Enderby
Spent this morning revisiting Queens Park and the Museum, and got up close with the mysterious Tuatara.
Now on board the ship, waiting to depart. Sharing a cabin with Edin, and can see the feet of Russian sailors on the wharf outside our porthole as they release the ropes holding us in dock. Port of Bluff is a working port, drove past piles of woodchips and logs for overseas markets, and there’s a massive container ship docked on the other side of the small habour.
Our ship is a Russian ‘Professor Class’ vessel built for oceanic research expeditions, and re-purposed for tourism – hence the double name. Spirit of Enderby is its eco-tourism moniker. Built in 1984 and registered in Vladivostok, the ship flies a Russian flag and the captain, 22 crew members, housekeeping and galley staff are all Russian. Its official name, Professor Khromov, pays tribute to Soviet meteorologist Professor Sergei Petrovich Khromov whose imposing portrait hangs near our cabin. We’re in cabin number 322 on the water-line 300 level, so we have a porthole (not a window) and the galley and dining rooms are only a couple of meters away. Down a steep and narrow set of stairs is the 200 level Lecture Room, and shared bathrooms are along the hall. Access to the deck (for passengers) is from the 400 level, up a flight of internal stairs. From there, you can take the internal or external stairs up to the 500 and 600 levels, and even onto the very top deck of the ship. The Bridge is on the 600 level, and once we’re safely guided out of Bluff Harbour by our pilot we can enter the Bridge and watch the ship’s progress.
Tonight I learnt that I do get seasick. What a miserable feeling. After and exhilarating hour or two on the top deck as we crossed the tumultuous Foveaux Straits, separating Stewart Island from NZ, I forgot to keep up with the meds and dinner was cut very short. At least I wasn’t the only one. Looking forward to tomorrow when we arrive at The Snares, and hope the weather holds so we can get into the zodiacs and cruise the islands.