Auckland Islands

  • overview
  • geography
  • history
  • fauna & flora
  • further reading


The Auckland Islands group is the largest in the New Zealand and Australian Subantarctic Islands. These islands support a wide variety of both vegetation and wildlife. There are two large sheltered harbours and these have resulted in a rich human history of shipwrecks, farming and attempted colonisation. The jewel in the crown is Enderby island, a small island in the north of the group.

Experience this destination by expedition cruising with Heritage Expeditions on the following departures:


Geographical Information:
50º 29’ - 50º 59’S, 165º 52’ - 166º 20’E, in the South Pacific Ocean, 460 km south of New Zealand
62 564 ha
Maximum Altitude: 
667 m (Mt Dick on Adams Island)
Physical Features: 

Carnley Harbour

Carnley Harbour

The group consists of the main Auckland Island, with Adams, Disappointment, Enderby, Ewing, Rose, Ocean and Dundas Islands and numerous islets and stacks.

Auckland Island is roughly pear shaped, 40km by 27km, with an area of 51,000ha. The west coast consists of an almost continuous line of steep cliffs, backed by hilly terrain with deep valleys. The east coast features numerous bays and inlets. Two natural harbours occur, Port Ross in the north and Carnley Harbour in the south.

The Islands are the eroded remains of cones of two basaltic volcanoes, which underwent a major eruptive phase in the Oligocene/Miocene. Composition is of Volcanic lava and scoria, and the oldest dated rocks are 95 MYr basement granites. The Islands have been subject to several periods of glaciation. Peat soils are widespread.



Historical Features: 

Isabella Younger's Grave

Isabella Younger's Grave

The Auckland Islands were discovered by the whaler Ocean on 18 August 1806. Captain Bristow, who was in command of the Ocean, worked for the English firm of Enderby. He returned the following year, in the ship Sarah, and anchored in Sarah's Bosom, now known as Port Ross. On this occasion he liberated pigs for the use of possible castaways.

In 1806 fur seals and sea lions (Neophoca hookeri) abounded, but were soon indiscriminately slaughtered for their skins and oil. Vessels from New South Wales and America made numerous voyages to the islands and sealing reached its height there about 1822 to 1823. By 1830 the seals were almost extinct, but whalers continued regular visits until declining whale stocks led to the abandonment of the industry in these waters about 1852.

Scientific expeditions from America, Britain and France visited the group in 1840 and found pigs, cats and mice well established on the main island.

In the summer of 1842-43, a number of Chatham Island Maori arrived at Port Ross in the brig Hannah to settle at the Auckland Islands. They subsequently split into two main groups, one living on Enderby Island and the other at the northeast end of the main island. The Southern Whale Fishery Company obtained a lease of the islands under charter from the Crown and established a settlement at Port Ross in 1849. When Charles Enderby (as chief commissioner to the company and `Lieutenant Governor of the Auckland Islands'), and his English colonists arrived, they found that the Maori population numbered about 70. The Maori had brought dogs and pigs with them from the Chathams and many of these were allowed to run wild.

The settlement of the Southern Whale Fishery Company was on the main island at Erebus Cove, but most of their stock was kept on Enderby Island. This stock included 45 horned cattle, about 300 sheep and three horses. The house mouse was probably introduced onto Enderby Island about this time. When the English abandoned the settlement in August 1852, the horses and some other stock were removed, but many pigs, sheep and cattle were left on Enderby Island. These soon disappeared, probably eaten by the Maori, who did not leave the islands until March 1856, and by visiting sealers. In 1863, Enderby's rights were formally cancelled, and by Imperial statute the islands were added to New Zealand.

The year 1864 marked the beginning of a disastrous chapter in the history of the group. Between that date and 1907, no fewer than 10 vessels are known to have been wrecked on those inhospitable shores. There is no question that the islands have always been charted with sufficient accuracy; with the majority of the disasters caused by vessels being carried off their courses. The islands are situated in a vast ocean swept by violent storms, and over which the sky is often completely overcast for weeks at a time. The seamen, having been perhaps a fortnight without sight of land, and unable to get an astronomical fix of their position, would be at the mercy of the little-known but strong ocean currents. These currents could easily carry a sailing vessel far off her course. In many cases the ships' officers had no idea they were in danger until land was sighted a few cables ahead - due to the poor visibility frequently experienced at these latitudes. The proximity of all of New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands, to what was then a busy shipping route from Australia to Cape Horn, made them especially dangerous.

The first victim in this series was the Grafton, which in 1864 was driven ashore in the North Arm of Carnley Harbour. There were no casualties, but the crew of five were in a miserable plight until the following year, when the Master, Thomas Musgrave, along with two others, made a hazardous voyage to Stewart Island in a small boat. They subsequently returned to rescue the remaining men. The publicity following this event resulted in visits by the New Zealand Government vessel Southland, and HMCS Victoria, in 1865, in search of other possible castaways. Then the General Grant was wrecked with considerable loss of life in 1866, and the few survivors (including a woman) were marooned for about eighteen months before they were rescued. The government then decided to establish provision depots throughout the Subantarctic Islands. In the Lord Auckland group these depots were built at Camp Cove, Norman Inlet and Erebus Cove. Finger posts were erected at likely points to indicate the direction and distance to the nearest depot. Lifeboats were later put ashore on all the larger adjacent islands. The depots were visited periodically to replenish stores, and on several occasions the visiting ship was able to pick up the castaways who had been able to make their way to the huts. On their first yearly inspection visit of the castaway huts, the government steamer started to take sheep, goats and sometimes cattle, to liberate on the islands for the castaway sailors. Sheep were liberated on Ross Island in the late 1880s. Cattle and sheep were landed on Enderby Island and cattle on Ross Island in 1895. The last known shipwreck on the islands was the Dundonald which was wrecked in 1907 on Disappointment Island.

In 1873 Dr F A Monckton of Invercargill obtained a lease of the Auckland Islands. Monckton ran sheep at the northern end of the main island for a few years. An attempt to ship cattle to the Auckland Islands from Riverton in May 1874, was unsuccessful and Monckton's scheme was abandoned in 1877. Further attempts to establish a pastoral industry were made in 1896, when 9 cattle and 20 sheep were landed on Enderby Island, for Mr Moffett of Invercargill, who had obtained a pastoral lease of Enderby and Rose Island. Further pastoral leases were let for Adams Island (Fleming), Musgrave Harbour and Carnley Harbour. This late lease was occupied from 1904 to 1909. As these leases expired they were not renewed, and in 1934 the entire group was made a reserve for the protection of native flora and fauna. After 1927 the regular twice yearly inspections of the castaway depots in the Subantarctic were discontinued. (These inspections had been carried out by the New Zealand Government steamer). The chances of shipwrecks at these islands had become remote, for with steam replacing sail and the opening of the Panama Canal, few ships took the great circle route past the islands between Australia and Cape Horn. In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, the German freighter Erlangen cut firewood in Carnley Harbour, to allow her to return to a neutral country. (She was tied up in Dunedin when war was declared.) This incident led to a fear that enemy shipping might use these islands as a staging post for attacks on New Zealand.

From 1941 to 1945, coast watching parties were established on the Aucklands and Campbell Island. Two bases, one in Port Ross and the other in Carnley Harbour, were manned throughout this period. Apart from their duties as coast watchers, the men stationed here gathered valuable scientific information. During the last two years (1944-45) the first detailed topographical survey of the islands was carried out.

Scientific expeditions, have visited the islands regularly since the coast watching stations were abandoned.


Flora and Vegetation: 

Inside a Rata Forest

Inside a Rata Forest

On the main Auckland Islands, Southern Rata (Metrodsideros Umbellata) forest dominates to an altitude of 50 m. Above this, a board belt of scrub occurs, comprising Dracophyllum longifolium, coprosma spp, Myrsine divaricata, Pseudopanax simplex, Cassinia vauvilliersii with the fern Polystichum vestitum. Bogs of cushion sedge Oreobolus pectinatus are common. Above 300m, tussock grassland of Chionochloa antarctica predominates, giving way to herbfield (dominated by Pleurophyllum spp) and fell field  (of bryophytes, mosses, lichens, sedges) at around 500 meters.

This basic vegetation pattern varies among the islands, largely depending on the extent of modification by man and introduced animals. Adams Island is the least disturbed, and is known internationally for its herbaceous flora. Ewing Island features dense stands of Olearia lyallii. Disappointment Island has a coastal grassland of Poa species. On Enderby Island, grazing has enabled the spread of the herb Bulbinella rossii.

The flora of the Auckland Islands is notable for the occurrence of three species of Pleurophyllum, a genus endemic to New Zealand Sub Antarctic Islands and Macquarie Island, the existence of southern rata forest, and the occurrence of Cyathea smithii on Auckland Island representing the southern limit of tree ferns in the world.

Birding Highlights: 

Auckland Island Snipe: Auckland Island Snipe, seen on Enderby Island in increasing numbers after the major restortation of the island.

Auckland Island Snipe: Auckland Island Snipe, seen on Enderby Island in increasing numbers after the major restortation of the island.

The day ashore on Enderby gives a great opportunity to see the greatest number of species. Highlights would have to be the Flightless Teal, the Sub Antarctic Snipe, Auckland Island Dotterel, the endemic cormorant, the yelloweyed penguin, the red crowned parakeet and possibly the New Zealand falcon.

Country or region: Auckland Islands
Number of species: 70
Number of endemics: 3
Number of globally threatened species: 10
Number of introduced species: 9

The taxonomic order and nomenclature follows Clements 5th edition (updated 2005).

King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus Rare/Accidental 
Fiordland Penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus Rare/Accidental Vulnerable
Erect-crested Penguin Eudyptes sclateri Endangered
Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome Rare/Accidental Vulnerable
Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes Endangered
Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans 
Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora 
Gray-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma Vulnerable
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris 
Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta Near-threatened
Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata Near-threatened
Antarctic Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus Vulnerable
Hall's Giant Petrel Macronectes halli Near-threatened
Cape Petrel Daption capense 
White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii 
Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata 
Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris 
Gray Petrel Procellaria cinerea Near-threatened
White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis 
Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes 
Buller's Shearwater Puffinus bulleri Vulnerable
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 
Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis 
Gray-backed Storm-Petrel Garrodia nereis 
White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina 
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel Fregetta tropica 
South Georgia Diving-Petrel Pelecanoides georgicus 
Common Diving-Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix 
Australian Gannet Morus serrator Rare/Accidental 
PELECANIFORMES: Phalacrocoracidae
Auckland Islands Shag Phalacrocorax colensoi Endemic Vulnerable
Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos Rare/Accidental 
Australian Shelduck Tadorna tadornoides Rare/Accidental 
Auckland Islands Teal Anas aucklandica Endemic Endangered
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Introduced species 
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa 
Australian Shoveler Anas rhynchotis Rare/Accidental 
New Zealand Falcon Falco novaeseelandiae Endemic (country/region) Near-threatened
Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis 
Lewin's Rail Rallus pectoralis 
Auckland Islands Rail Lewinia muelleri Endemic Vulnerable
Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles 
Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva Rare/Accidental 
Double-banded Plover Charadrius bicinctus 
Subantarctic Snipe Coenocorypha aucklandica Endemic (country/region) Near-threatened
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 
Red Knot Calidris canutus Rare/Accidental 
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis Rare/Accidental 
Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus 
Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae 
Red-billed Gull Larus scopulinus Endemic (country/region) 
White-fronted Tern Sterna striata Endemic (country/region) 
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea Rare/Accidental 
Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata 
Red-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae 
Yellow-fronted Parakeet Cyanoramphus auriceps Endemic (country/region) Near-threatened
Long-tailed Koel Eudynamys taitensis Rare/Accidental 
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis Introduced species 
Australasian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae 
Dunnock Prunella modularis Introduced species 
Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula Introduced species 
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Introduced species 
Tomtit Petroica macrocephala Endemic (country/region) 
Silver-eye Zosterops lateralis 
New Zealand Bellbird Anthornis melanura Endemic (country/region) 
Tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae Endemic (country/region) 
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris Introduced species 
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Introduced species 
Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea Introduced species 
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Introduced species 
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Rare/Accidental 


Bird Checklists of the World is part of Avibase and Bird links to the World, which are designed and maintained by Denis Lepage, and hosted by Bird Studies Canada, which is a co-partner of Birdlife International.
© Denis Lepage 2006


Wise's New Zealand Guide (4th ed.) (1969). Dunedin: H. Wise & Co. (NZ) Ltd.

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked At the Edge of the World (2007) by Joan Druett - an account of the Grafton & Invercauld wrecks

Sub Antarctic New Zealand: A Rare Heritage by Neville Peat - the Department of Conservation guide to the islands


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