A big event on Macca is the arrival of the cruise ships. Thirteen are coming to visit the island to have a gander at the amazing Macca wildlife. This season most of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Programme (MIPEP) team have volunteered to assist the rangers meet the people from civilisation. Dog handlers’ Ange, Dana and myself with our dogs, Cody, Joker and Colin were this party’s volunteers for the arrival of the Spirit of Enderby, down at Sandy bay, just north of Brothers point hut where we had been working from this month.
At 8:30am we were at Sandy bay and the first Zodiac was on its way to shore bringing our trusty rangers tall Chris and short Chris, name badges handed out to us. It is all official like, a few words of advice on how to accommodate the 50 visitors, and we were sent off to our relevant positions.
What a perfect day it was for the visitors; the sea was fairly calm, sun shining and the beach and water full of royal and king penguins. Elephant seals, from weaners to adults, lying about the beach, skuas just waiting for an easy meal, and the giant petrels around and about. We were even blessed with a few sooty albatross about the escarpment. Then the groups of visitors started wandering the beach and making their way about, with us keeping an eye on them; we didn’t want any backing onto an elephant seal just to get a few more penguins in that special shot, that would give them a shock! There were cameras of all sizes, from simple point and shoot to cameras with lenses that looked like they would need scaffold to support them, instead of a tripod. As the visitors down my end of the beach approached Colin and I, I was feeling a little nervous, clutching my Macca statistics sheets in my pocket, ready to pull out the info should I stumble at their questions. I shouldn’t have worried. The first round of questions was: are there any rabbits left? Do you think the island is pest free? Is the dog a rodent or rabbit dog? What’s his name?
That’s how most of the day’s questions went with all the people that came my way, only once did I have to refer to the trusty info sheet. I was surprised at how many people were re-visiting Macca. They were very complementary on the work that the MIPEP team had done over the years ridding the island of the pest species. It was great to be able to talk to people who had seen the island and had witnessed the amount of damage done, and were now able to see the benefits of the island being pest free.
One chap asked me what penguins we had on the beach. Royals and kings on this beach, gentoos and rock-hoppers elsewhere on the island, I replied. ‘You have a gentoo down there’, he said. I had a look and answered. ‘No, sorry. Gentoos don’t come on this beach.’ ‘Yes there is one, right there’ he says.
Then I spotted the penguin he was referring to; a white-faced penguin unknown to me stood amongst the royals. On the radio to Chris with a description, we found out we had a chinstrap penguin on the beach. Well, that was a real treat for the visitors, as well as us Macca dwellers. The chinstrap was a few thousand kilometres from home, but seemed to be fitting in nicely with the royals.
First round over and we were invited aboard the ship for lunch. Well, I didn’t think I was missing fruit until the chef brought up a fruit basket for the MIPEP crew. Nice as it was… the fruit basket took precedence over the rest of the meal. Bananas, kiwi fruit, grapes, strawberries and more. Ange had a pile of various fruits in front of her and I swear she had a possessive glint of ‘don’t touch’, in her eye as she guarded her mound of fruit.
Back to shore and the weather broke, the visitors were introduced to a more typical Macca weather; wind, snow and a drop of rain but it never deterred them as they still wandered and clicked away. I met a few people from the UK (I’m from Wales… and special), a chap from the same village — Macandrew Bay — where I lived when I first arrived to NZ, isn’t it a small world? Well, it was a great day for the visitors and for me – so many people appreciative of the work the MIPEP team and dogs had done, (it made me feel even more ‘special’). I think Colin had a good day too; posing for pictures, wandering around new people… his tail was wagging relentlessly all day.
More info on the chinstrap penguin.