At 52⁰ degrees South, Campbell Island is New Zealand’s southernmost Subantarctic island. Sitting near the edge of the Campbell Plateau 660 km south of NZ’s South Island, the island’s 11,300 hectares have been eroded over millennia into the shape of a bird in flight. Campbell Island and its outlying satellites are the remains of a shield volcano erupted from the sea floor sometime in the Miocene age, 6-11 million years ago. The history of volcanic activity is evident in the island’s distinct and varied rock formations and landscapes. Carved, like the Auckland Islands, by glaciers and pummelled by the Southern Ocean’s constant westerly swell, the island’s geology is strikingly visible in its cliff faces, dykes and sea caves.
Campbell Island has a wet, cold climate with an average of 325 days of precipitation per year. This can take the form of dense fog, rain, sleet or snow and ensures the islands’ thick layering peat never dries out completely. Megaherbs flourish in the acidic peaty soils, along with tussock grasses, dracophyllum and other shrubs. Campbell is the nesting and breeding ground for 6 species of albatross, endangered snipe, teal and penguins including Yellow Eyed and Rockhoppers. The island’s population of Rockhopper penguins has suffered a sharp decline in over the past century, likely due to changes in the oceanic food web caused by rising temperatures. Hookers sea lions breed on Campbell, forming great colonies along the harbours and into the scrub. Fur seals can be found there, and Elephant seals also visit the island, wallowing on the beaches of North West Harbour.
First discovered by Frederick Hasselborough in 1810, on the same voyage he discovered Macquarie Island, Campbell Island has been a site of sporadic human activity ever since. One of the heaviest impacts from the human presence was the accidental introduction of Norwegian, or Brown Rats.
Fierce and omnivorous, the rats wiped out the population of land birds – teal and snipe – on the main island, and almost destroyed the breeding populations of sea birds including albatross, gulls and petrels. By the late 1990’s all other introduced species had been removed from Campbell Island, and the New Zealand Dept. of Conservation had developed a plan to eradicate this final and most destructive pest. In 2001 an island-wide baiting operation took place, followed by several years of monitoring to make sure no rats had survived. In 2005 Campbell Island was declared pest-free, making this the world’s first successful whole-island pest eradication program.
In the following decade the expertise gained from this impressive achievement, including the use of rodent-sniffer dogs was used to develop and implement the successful Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project and is informing the Million Dollar Mouse project to eradicate mice from the Antipodes Islands, NZ’s most remote Subantarctic island group.
Campbell Island was gazetted as a Nature Reserve in 1954 and is part of NZ’s Subantarctic Islands World Heritage listing. Landing on Campbell is by permit only, with the main visitors being researchers and eco-tourism groups. Most tourism groups are restricted to zodiac cruising and walks along the Col Lyall saddle boardwalk, but Heritage Expeditions has special permission to take visitors on hikes across the island to North West Bay and Mount Honey, the island’s tallest peak. While I didn’t take part in the longer hikes the passengers who did came back with stories of spectacular landscapes and flourishing wildlife. Edin Whitehead, wildlife photographer and my scholarship cabin mate documented her trek to North West Bay on her blog.
In this section:
Journals and photos from two days on Campbell Island: