I didn’t know what a megaherb was two days ago; now I’m wading waist-deep through meadows of the super-sized alien blooms along the soaring clifftops of Campbell Island, New Zealand’s southernmost subantarctic island.
It feels like we’ve stepped onto the set of a ’70s sci-fi movie as we pass the nodding golden cylinders of Bulbinella rossi and dusty pink cauliflowered spheres of Anisotome, as hirsute, vivid green leaves of the Macquarie Island cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris) and golden tussocks brush our legs, and waves crash on rocks below. Offshore, the tempestuous Southern Ocean swirls around the snaggletoothed outline of Dent Island – the last refuge of the Campbell Island teal (the world’s rarest duck) before rats, predators, cattle and sheep were eradicated allowing the island to be reclaimed by nature.
The first stop on an 11-day legacy voyage – ‘Beyond Fiordland: New Zealand’s Wildest Islands’ – run by pioneering Christchurch-based, expedition cruise company, Heritage Expeditions, Campbell Island is now a conservation cornerstone of the five wild, remote and rugged island groups that make up New Zealand’s subantarctic UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sitting 700 kilometres south of Bluff it is notoriously cold, wet and windy, averaging just 650 hours of sunshine a year. Despite the unforgiving climate, adaptable, unique and rare life flourishes here. Today is overcast and breezy, with well-timed patches of sunshine – the perfect conditions in which to tackle the full-day Northwest Bay hike around the now uninhabited island, a former sealing, whaling, farming and, more recently, weather station.
Island immersion is immediate; once ashore we’re navigating snoozing Hooker’s sea lions (the world’s rarest) in the low lying areas, and nesting southern royal albatross dotting the megaherbs and tussocks at higher altitudes. Traversing the undulating landscape we’re regularly stopped in our tracks by the ever-changing vistas and expansive fields of megaherbs framed by endless ocean. Numerous photos later we are in complete agreement with botanist Joseph Hooker who famously declared Campbell Island as having a “floral display second to none outside the tropics”.