Auckland Islands

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Auckland Islands
Motu Maha or Maungahuka (Māori)
Auckland islands topo.png
Topographical map of the Auckland Islands

Position relative to New Zealand and other outlying islands
Location Southern Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 50°42′S 166°06′E / 50.7°S 166.1°E / -50.7; 166.1Coordinates: 50°42′S 166°06′E / 50.7°S 166.1°E / -50.7; 166.1
Archipelago Auckland Islands
Total islands 7
Major islands Auckland Island, Adams Island, Enderby Island, Disappointment Island, Ewing Island, Dundas Island, Green Island
Highest elevation 660 m (2,170 ft)
Highest point Mount Dick
New Zealand
Area Outside Territorial Authority New Zealand Subantarctic Islands
Population Uninhabited

The Auckland Islands (Māori: Motu Maha or Maungahuka)[1] are an archipelago of the New Zealand subantarctic islands and include Auckland Island, Adams Island, Enderby Island, Disappointment Island, Ewing Island, Rose Island, Dundas Island and Green Island, with a combined area of 625 square kilometres (240 sq mi). They lie 465 kilometres (290 mi) from the South Island port of Bluff, between the latitudes 50° 30' and 50° 55' S and longitudes 165° 50' and 166° 20' E. The islands have no permanent human inhabitants. Ecologically, the Auckland Islands form part of the Antipodes Subantarctic Islands tundra ecoregion.


Southern coast of the main island
The Auckland Islands as seen by STS-89 in 1998, with the southwest towards the top of the image

Auckland Island, the main island, has an approximate land area of 510 km2 (197 sq mi), and a length of 42 km (26 mi). It is notable for its steep cliffs and rugged terrain, which rises to over 600 m (1,969 ft). Prominent peaks include Cavern Peak (650 m or 2,133 ft), Mount Raynal (635 m or 2,083 ft), Mount D'Urville (630 m or 2,067 ft), Mount Easton (610 m or 2,001 ft), and the Tower of Babel (550 m or 1,804 ft).

The southern end of the island broadens to a width of 26 km (16 mi). Here, the narrow channel of Carnley Harbour (the Adams Straits on some maps) separates the main island from the roughly triangular Adams Island (area approximately 100 km2 or 39 sq mi), which is even more mountainous, reaching a height of 705 m (2,313 ft) at Mount Dick. The channel is the remains of the crater of an extinct volcano, and Adams Island and the southern part of the main island form the crater rim.

The group includes numerous other smaller islands, notably Disappointment Island (10 km or 6.2 mi northwest of the main island) and Enderby Island (1 km or 0.62 mi off the northern tip of the main island), each covering less than 5 km2 (2 sq mi).

The main island features many sharply incised inlets, notably Port Ross at the northern end.

Most of the islands originated volcanically, with the archipelago dominated by two 12 million year old Miocene volcanoes, subsequently eroded and dissected.[2] These rest on older volcanic rocks 15-25 million years old with some older granites and fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks from around 100 million years ago.[3]


Restored grave of Jabez Peters, first officer of the Dundonald, in the graveyard on the main island.

Discovery and early exploitation[edit]

Evidence exists that Polynesian voyagers first discovered the Auckland Islands. Traces of Polynesian settlement, possibly dating to the 13th century, have been found by archaeologists on Enderby Island.[4] This is the most southerly settlement by Polynesians yet known.[5]

A whaling vessel, Ocean, rediscovered the islands in 1806, finding them uninhabited.[6] Captain Abraham Bristow named them "Lord Auckland's" on 18 August 1806 in honour of his father's friend William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland. Bristow worked for the businessman Samuel Enderby, the namesake of Enderby Island. The following year Bristow returned on the Sarah in order to claim the archipelago for Britain. The explorers Dumont D'Urville in 1839, and James Clark Ross visited in 1839 and in 1840 respectively.

Whalers and sealers set up temporary bases, the islands becoming one of the principal sealing stations in the Pacific in the years immediately after their discovery.[6] By 1812 so much sealing had occurred on the islands that they lost their commercial importance and sealers redirected their efforts towards Campbell and Macquarie Islands. Visits to the islands declined, although recovering seal populations allowed a modest revival in sealing in the mid-1820s.


Now uninhabited, the islands saw unsuccessful settlements in the mid-19th century. In 1842 a small party of Māori and their Moriori slaves from the Chatham Islands migrated to the archipelago, surviving for some 20 years on sealing and flax growing. Samuel Enderby's grandson, Charles Enderby, proposed a community based on agriculture and whaling in 1846. This settlement, established at Port Ross in 1849 and named Hardwicke, lasted only two and a half years.

The Auckland Islands were part of the Colony of New Zealand under the Letters Patent of April 1842 which fixed the southern boundary of New Zealand at 53° south, but they were then excluded by the Act of 1846 which defined the southern boundary at 47° 10' south; however they were again included by the New Zealand Boundaries Act of 1863, an act of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster which extended the boundaries of New Zealand.[7]


The rocky coasts of the islands have proved disastrous for several ships. The Grafton, captained by Thomas Musgrave, was wrecked in Carnley Harbour in 1864. Madelene Ferguson Allen's narrative about her great-grandfather, Robert Holding, and the wreck of the Scottish sailing ship the Invercauld, wrecked in the Auckland Islands in 1864, counterpoints the Grafton story.[8]

In 1866 one of New Zealand's most famous shipwrecks, that of the General Grant, occurred on the western coast. Several attempts have failed to salvage its cargo, allegedly including bullion. A further maritime tragedy occurred in 1907, with the loss of the Dundonald and 12 crew off Disappointment Island. Because of the probability of wrecks around the islands, calls arose for the establishment of emergency depots for castaways in 1868. The New Zealand authorities established and maintained three such depots, at Port Ross, Norman Inlet and Carnley Harbour from 1887. They also cached additional supplies, including boats (to help reach the depots) and 40 finger-posts (which had smaller amounts of supplies), around the islands.

Scientific research and reserve[edit]

The 1907 Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition spent ten days on the islands conducting a magnetic survey and taking botanical, zoological and geological specimens.

From 1941 to 1945 the islands hosted a New Zealand meteorological station as part of a coastwatching programme staffed by scientist volunteers and known for security reasons as the "Cape Expedition".[9] The staff included Robert Falla, later an eminent New Zealand scientist. Currently the islands have no inhabitants, although scientists visit regularly and the authorities allow limited tourism on Enderby Island and Auckland Island.[10]



Gentianella concinna, an endemic plant of the Auckland Islands.

The vegetation of the islands sub-divides into distinct altitudinal zones. Inland from the salt-spray zone, the fringes of the islands predominantly feature forests of southern rata Metrosideros umbellata, and in places the subantarctic tree daisy (Olearia lyallii), probably introduced by sealers.[11] Above this exists a subalpine shrub zone dominated by Dracophyllum, Coprosma and Myrsine (with some rata). At higher elevations tussock grass and megaherb communities dominate the flora.



Several introduced species have come to the islands; ecologists eliminated or allowed to go extinct cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, possums and rabbits in the 1990s, but feral cats, pigs and mice remain on Auckland Island. The last rabbits on Enderby Island were removed in 1993 through the application of poison, also eradicating mice there.[12]

Curiously, rats have never managed to colonise the islands, in spite of numerous visits and shipwrecks and their ubiquity on other islands.[13] Introduced species affected the native vegetation and bird life, and caused the extinction of the Auckland Merganser, a duck formerly widespread in southern New Zealand, and ultimately confined to the islands.


The islands host the largest communities of subantarctic invertebrates, with 24 species of spider, 11 species of springtail and over 200 insects.[14] These include 57 species of beetle, 110 flies and 39 moths. The islands also boast an endemic genus and species of weta, Dendroplectron cryptacanthus.

Freshwater fauna[edit]

The freshwater environments of the islands host a freshwater fish, the Koaro or climbing galaxias, which lives in saltwater as a juvenile but which returns to the rivers as an adult. The islands have 19 species of endemic freshwater invertebrates, including one mollusc, one crustacean, a mayfly, 12 flies and two caddis flies.


New Zealand (Hooker's) Sea Lions.
By the 21st century the islands had become its primary breeding location.

Only two native mammals exist: two species of seal which haul out on the islands, the New Zealand fur seal and the threatened New Zealand sea lion. A population in excess of 1,000 southern right whales is found off the islands.


The islands hold important seabird breeding colonies, among them albatrosses, penguins and several small petrels,[2] with a million pairs of Sooty Shearwater. Landbirds include Red-fronted and Yellow-crowned Parakeet, New Zealand Falcon, Tuis, Bellbirds, Pipits and an endemic subspecies of Tomtit. The whole Auckland Island group has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because of its significance as a breeding site for several species of seabirds as well as the endemic Auckland Shag, Auckland Teal, Auckland Rail and Auckland Snipe. The seabirds include Southern Rockhopper and Yellow-eyed Penguins, Antipodean, Southern Royal, Light-mantled and White-capped Albatrosses, and White-chinned Petrel.[15]

In film[edit]

The 1955 film The Sea Chase has a German merchant ship fleeing from British Australian naval ships at the beginning of World War II. The ship stops at Auckland Island (film shot at Hawaii) to take victuals from the rescue station. A pro-Nazi officer finds there three castaway fishermen, whom he shoots. Later a pursuing British ship finds the corpses and chases the German ship. The plot was inspired by the trip of Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer Erlangen.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1.3 Kaupapa Atawhai". Conservation Management Strategy Subantarctic Islands 1998-2008. Department of Conservation. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Shirihai, H (2002) A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife. Alua Press:Degerby, Finland ISBN 951-98947-0-5
  3. ^ Denison, R.E.; Coombs, D.S. (1977). "Radiometric ages for some rocks from Snares and Auckland Islands, Campbell Plateau". Earth and Planetary Science Letters 34 (1): 23–29. Bibcode:1977E&PSL..34...23D. doi:10.1016/0012-821X(77)90101-7. 
  4. ^ 4. Early human settlement – Subantarctic islands – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. (2013-01-24). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  5. ^ Don Macnaughtan - Lane Community College Library - Bibliography of Prehistoric Settlement on Norfolk Island, the Kermadecs, Lord Howe, and the Auckland Islands. Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  6. ^ a b McLaren, F.B. (1948) The Auckland Islands: Their Eventful History A.H and A.W Reed:Wellington
  7. ^ Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand parliamentary record, 1840-1984 (4 ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. p. 31. OCLC 154283103. 
  8. ^ Allen, Madelene Ferguson (1997). Wake of the Invercauld : shipwrecked in the sub-Antarctic : a great-granddaughter’s pilgrimage. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1688-3. 
  9. ^ Hall, D.O.W. (1950). "The Cape Expedition". The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945 (Historical Publications Branch). Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  10. ^ BirdLife International (2003) "Auckland Islands" BirdLife's online World Bird Database: the site for bird conservation. Version 2.0. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International. Available: (accessed 13 July 2007)
  11. ^ Campbell, D & Rudge, M (1976) "The case for controlling the distribution of the tree daisy Olearia lyallii Hook. F. in its type locality, Auckland Islands" Proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society 23 109-115 [1]
  12. ^ Torr, N (2002) "Eradication of rabbits and mice from subantarctic Enderby and Rose Islands", Turning the tide: the eradication of invasive species (Proceedings of the international conference on eradication of island invasives; Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 27. Veitch, C. R. and Clout, M.N., eds
  13. ^ Chimera, C.; Coleman, M. C.; Parkes, J. P. (1995). "Diet of feral goats and feral pigs on Auckland Island, New Zealand" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 19 (2): 203–207. 
  14. ^ Department of Conservation (1999) New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands. Reed Books: Auckland ISBN 0-7900-0719-3
  15. ^ BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Auckland Islands. Downloaded from on 2012-01-23.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wise's New Zealand Guide (4th ed.) (1969). Dunedin: H. Wise & Co. (N.Z.) Ltd.
  • Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand (1863, Session III Oct-Dec) (A5)
  • Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked At the Edge of the World (2007) by Joan Druett – an account of the Grafton and Invercauld wrecks
  • Sub Antarctic New Zealand: A Rare Heritage by Neville Peat – the Department of Conservation guide to the islands

External links[edit]