05 December 2014


Buried treasure, eye patches, wooden legs, parrots, Jolly Roger, hats, hooks, rum, swashbuckling, Davy Jones’ locker, the Flying Dutchman, Captain Hook, Captain Pugwash, Captain Jack Sparrow... arrrr me hearties!!

Every Halloween or fancy dress party, for adults and kids, you can be fairly confident you’ll encounter a pirate. The idea of the stereotypical pirate is exciting and romantic, sometimes comical, and he is a familiar sight in popular culture.

In the 1990s, someone even invented the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day to be celebrated on 19 September.

At the Maritime Museum we often have pirate-themed activities for young and old to enjoy, for example, our recent A Pirate Christmas event with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Check out the cute pictures on Facebook.

And Smith & Caughey's annual Christmas windows are delightfully pirate-themed this year.

This recognisable idea of what constitutes a pirate is based on the classic era of piracy in the Caribbean from around 1650 until the mid-1720s. The concept has remained in popular consciousness since then, and was most recently reinforced by the popular Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

But, pirates are still very real in the 21st century. Piracy is criminal violence and robbery conducted at sea, and pirates are the people who commit these crimes.

Pirates today are dangerously sophisticated, armed, and can be equipped with modern technology such as GPS systems and night-vision goggles. They terrorise the seas with their hijacking, violence and robbery.

In the Amazon, gangs of criminals known as 'water rats' are common throughout the rivers, ambushing and robbing boats and ferries they encounter.

On 5 December 2001 Sir Peter Blake was shot and killed by a group of masked “water rats” who had boarded his boat in the Amazon with the intention of robbing it.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has had a huge effect on international shipping in the early 21st century, peaking in 2011 with 151 attacks on ships and the pirates holding 159 hostages and 10 vessels in February 2012.

Although Hollywood has done a lot to reinforce the stereotypical pirate character, the movie Captain Phillips tells the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama, an American cargo ship, by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, and shows the dangerous reality of modern day piracy.

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03 December 2014

A hostile climate not fit for humans

Howling winds persisted all night and well into the morning for the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Survey team, which meant the penultimate penguin count on Enderby Island had to be cancelled. Getting ashore in the dark in 50 knot winds would simply have been too dangerous.

After a welcome lie in, the team went ashore at the site of the castaway depot and boatshed in Erebus Bay. They walked around the coastline to the remains of Hardwicke settlement, established by the whaling firm of Enderby and Company. They set up the 'Southern Whale Fishery Station' and town of Hardwicke with a simple ceremony on New Year's Day 1850.

At its height the settlement had around 30 buildings and 200 colonists but after two years and eight months, with the failure of both whaling and farming, it was dismantled and the site abandoned. Little remains today other than the cemetery with headstones for people from the settlement as well as sailors from various shipwrecks.

“In horizontal rain and gale force winds, it is easy to picture just how hard it must have been for these pioneer settlers, many of whom brought out young families lured by the promise that the island offered”, explained Frazer.

Settlers were promised ‘Salubrious climate and level plains of grass perfect for pasture’. But the reality was very different.  Instead of grass there was impenetrable scrub and swamp. The acid peat soil and lack of sun made growing vegetables difficult. Whaling was the biggest disappointment as many ships returned empty handed.

It's not surprising that the settlement failed and most of the settlers were glad to leave. One of the settlers wrote in his diary; ‘Everyone in this place has been longing to leave from the time of his arrival’. And when he finally departed, he wrote, ‘the satisfaction I feel at this moment is beyond description, my miserable life [in the Auckland Islands] will never be forgotten.

The team also found the Victoria tree left by Commander Norman of HMCS Victoria from the first visit in search of shipwreck victims. It was created in response to the wreck of the Grafton shipwreck, and carved into the trunk of the tree is the message; ‘H.M.C.S Victoria in search of shipwreck people. Oct 13th 1865.’

“After being confined for a day on the boat, it was disappointing to have to miss out on a penguin count but was good to get off and have a good walk to stretch our legs. Tomorrow is our last day before we head home. A very early start is on the cards as we need to be on the beach ready to walk to our sites by 3.30am. At the end of the count we are hoping to have a good explore of Enderby Island before we get back on board the Evohe and head out into the Southern Ocean and sail North for NZ.”

02 December 2014

Cabin Fever: Getting to know the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Expedition Team

Trapped on board the yacht by bad weather, Frazer reflects on how the weather influences the team's mood and behaviour, and introduces us to more of the team.

"Bad weather in the form of extreme high winds gusting well over 50 knots and heavy rain has meant no penguin counts for the last two mornings. Yesterday we couldn't even leave the ship. It was just too dangerous to use the dingy. 

Previous penguin surveys over the last few years have been lucky they were not affected by extreme weather as much as our expedition. Here in the sub Antarctic the weather influences everything. It influences where you sleep, as in where the ship will anchor and possibly have to move to keep safe. The weather influences how much sleep you get, as the ship rocks or bangs. If we are lucky, it is calm. If it's too bad, most people just head to bed and hibernate. 

The wind howling past puts everyone in a quiet, reflective mood. It is very noticeable here just how much the weather influences our moods. At the moment everyone has a little bit of cabin fever. It is a small confined place with everyone living in each other's pockets. It gives me greater respect for Sir Peter Blake and those other round the world sailors who did this for months on end!

So who are the people I share this small boat with? Who are the participants on a scientific expedition to the sub Antarctic? Some work for the Department of Conservation. Some have worked for DoC but now freelance and do a variety of interesting projects. Two participants work for the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust. One is a scientist writing a paper about penguins. Two - Chris and myself are teachers. Then there is the crew of the Evohe. The rest are volunteers who have paid for this amazing experience. Many of these volunteers have done an Auckland Island survey before. 

ALL of my shipmates are remarkable people with a real passion for the sub Antarctic. They come from different backgrounds, different places and are at different stages in life. It has been a real pleasure to get to know them and share this Yellow-Eyed Penguin adventure with them."

Reflections from the wilderness: What is the future for the Auckland Islands?

As predicted, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Expedition team have spent the last days of their trip battling 50km an hour winds. With gusts of over 60 knots, they spent a day confirmed to the yacht at Erebus Cove on Enderby Island. After ten days living in close quarters, for Christine it was a chance to reflect on the experience so far.

“The Islands are everything that I had hoped they would be: wild, remote and untamed with an unforgiving climate. I have sometimes found it hard to grasp just how remote it is down here especially when you are surrounded by a group of people for 20 hours a day. 

Sitting on Adams Island the other morning, listening to the amazing dawn chorus from the Bell Birds it struck me that there were potentially no other humans around for perhaps 400km. Sailing here through the magnificence of the wild Southern Ocean for 37 hours reinforced this sense of isolation.

The islands really are a special place because they truly are a wilderness with their own rugged beauty. The native plants and animals are unique and in many cases endangered. As such, I feel that we have a duty to ensure the future of this fragile environment and I see my role as an educator to inform young people about this special place. 

Human interaction is an inevitable part of their future, as more and more people look to more distant and remote destinations. There is a conundrum here, as wilderness tourism inevitably brings environmental impacts, but it also serves as an essential educational tool.

How do we strike a balance between maintaining the wilderness and protecting its fragile environment, while enabling people to feel connected to what is a small but critical part of their heritage and one for which they have a responsibility of guardianship? I am torn between the two.

Cruise ships already visit the islands – their numbers are managed by DOC, which has a strict quota of permitted visitors. Income from permits provides essential money to finance research such as the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Survey and pest eradication programmes. 

It’s a challenge for DOC. Past human interaction has left significant impacts, the legacy of which we are dealing with today. It's easy to look back and shake our heads at Government policies that saw the release of pigs and rabbits onto the islands to provide food for potential castaways, but at the time these actions were viewed as forward thinking and undoubtedly did save lives. 

Humans were not meant to live here permanently and the various failed settlement attempts are testimony to this. However, humans will continue to want to visit and the pressure to open up ‘wilderness' locations will only increase. As stated by the Department of Conservation in their management plans for the islands: ‘These islands are amongst the highest valued conservation assets in New Zealand and the world and have to be managed on this basis in perpetuity’.

I treasure the time that I have spent here and hope to get the chance to return some day. In the meantime, I take with me special memories of the place and the people I have shared it with and look forward to going back to the people I have yet to share it with.”