26/12/15 Boxing Day, Musgrave Inlet, Auckland Island
6AM Woke up this morning in Musgrave Inlet on Auckland Is, a change of plans from yesterday (we had planned to anchor in Carnley Harbor.) Musgrave Inlet is about halfway down the east coast of Auckland Is, a glacial-carved fjord about 5 km long terminating in moraine-dammed Lake Hinemoa, which we’re hiking to today after a zodiac cruise.
Later We cruised around the northern coasts of the inlet, past steep cliffs covered in rich vegetation. Megaherbs including Pleurophyllum and Anisotome in great floral shows, tussock grasses, shrubs and mosses sprout from and cling to the volcanic rock. Along the waterline and even into the scrub Southern Rockhopper penguins gather and huddle. Light Mantled Sooty albatross nesting high in the cliff face, pairs swoop and call. Auckland Island’s endemic shag stands solitary on the rocks.
Crossing the mouth of the inlet to explore the southern coast’s sea caves, we come up against giant bull kelp along rocky shores in clear blue water. In the dense kelp a sea lion munched on a big squid for breakfast, must’ve been out deep to catch something that size. Vibrant Subantarctic colours bring the landscape to life. Thick coloured bands in volcanic sea cave strata contrast with white and turquoise foam from the zodiacs. We enter a sea cave? Sink hole? Lacuna? A cave opened to the sky above by a wide round hole. Stalactites of bright green moss hang down, rata forest fringes the holes edge. Could see the bottom meters down, rocks, kelp and krill swarms.
Then we’re gunning over the waves, headed for the top of the inlet. Winds racing down the glacial valley kick up a swell, zodiac pushes on, time to hold on tight to the side rope. We reach a narrow beach bordered by rata forest and patrolled by a big sea lion bull. Rodney Russ is keeping the bull busy while we make our way past. There’s not a lot of room on the beach and as a second bull emerges from the water, we shuffle to and fro trying to give way.
The forest of rata trunks and branches is so impenetrable, even a 400kg bull sea lion can disappear from view in a few feet. His brown fur blending in with the dappled shadows, it’s a shock we he reappears again, even closer. Although it can still camouflage a sea lion the forest here lacks the groundcovers of the rata forest on Enderby Island; feral pigs eat any megaherb that sprouts and cats target the bush birds. We hear a Bellbird, but only once. The rata trunks support a healthy community of mosses and lichens, adding another bright green to the hardy ferns surviving on the forest floor.
We enter the forest and head for Lake Hinemoa, a couple of kilometers away. There’s no defined path, just orange tin tags nailed to a tree every 25 or so meters. You could quickly lose your way in this forest and it’s not long before we’re straining to see the groups before and after us, even though they’re only a short distance away. Some of us stop to briefly admire native orchids spiking through the moss before being moved on.
Reaching the lake, the forest stops suddenly and drops to another rocky shoreline. Blasting katabatic winds whip down the valley, skimming over the forest it hits suddenly as you emerge from the trees, almost blows you over. The valleys high peaks are capped with cloud, I can see waterfalls in the distance. Clouds scud across valley walls, it seems more alpine than oceanic here.
It’s not long before we have to head back, the march through the forest giving us a final look at trees before we head to Macquarie Island, which lacks any woody vegetation. At the end of the path Alex, one of the guides and a botanist, spots another orchid. He tells me the Auckland Island group has 7 orchid species, today I’ve seen 3.
Back on board ship by lunchtime, we’re heading south and west to cross international waters and should reach Macquarie Island sometime in the early hours of December A day at sea tomorrow, going against the prevailing winds and currents. That’ll be interesting.