With the thrill of an expeditioner spotting a rare species in the wild, we are excited to announce our new Subantarctic Discovery expedition aboard our new purpose-built expedition ship, the Douglas Mawson. That’s a lot of newness and wow in one go, we know. However, when the primordial beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Australia and New Zealand Subantarctic Islands call, we listen. It’s our first time sailing there in 13 years!

Protected for their unique environments and significant ecological value, the Subantarctic islands are an under-visited pocket of the world and perfect for the Aurora Expeditions traveller. The rugged beauty of the islands, thrills of its remoteness, and incredible wildlife species – many endemic to the region – make this an Antipodean trip to remember.

With five Subantarctic Island groups – Snares, Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes, and Bounty – there’s an abundance of natural wonders to explore. While the steep cliffs, rocky islets, misty landscapes, and unique flora appeal, the wildlife makes this expedition exceptional.

Discover the 15 incredible Subantarctic wildlife you won’t find anywhere else worldwide.

Subantarctic Islands

While you may be au fait with the highlights and sights of our long-standing Antarctica and Arctic expeditions, our brand-new itinerary to the Subantarctic Islands affords you a new destination to add to your travel wish list.

Departing from Aotearoa New Zealand, we sail – and return to – Ōtepoti Dunedin. As a teaser, here are our key points of interest:

  • Stewart Island (Rakiura) is the northernmost of the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands and famous for the blue and yellow-eyed penguins that waddle the pebbled shoreline while New Zealand white-capped albatross soar overhead. Stewart Island’s ancient forests transport visitors to a time when humans felt deeply connected to the land and sea.
  • Fiordland (Te Rua-o-te-moko) The stunning glacial fjords, deep lakes, and snowcapped Southern Alps are worth a trip to Fiordland. That we may also see playful bottlenose dolphins, lolling fur seals, and migrating humpback whales adds to the thrill of sailing this picturesque pocket at the bottom of New Zealand.
  • Snares Islands (Tini Heke) 200 kilometres (120 miles) off the coast of New Zealand sit the Snares Island chain with one large island (North East Island) and several smaller islets. Thanks to its pest-free status, the islands attract diverse seabird colonies and native Snares penguins. Sea lions are common to spy when touring the Snares by Zodiac boat, along with the Buller albatross.
  • Macquarie Islands This will be the most appealing trip to Macca you ever make. No, not the fast-food chain, the very Aussie nickname for the Macquarie Islands. This isn’t just a visit to witness the four species of penguins that reside here, nor the 3.5 million (!) seabirds that call Macca home, nor a chance to see the unspoiled landscape, including craggy coastal cliffs, rolling hills, and moss-covered valleys. It’s all that, plus a place to discover Macquarie Island’s important role in Antarctic polar history. For it’s here, in 1911, that five men disembarked Douglas Mawson’s Aurora, transmitting the first radio signal from Antarctica to the rest of the world. A visit to Macquarie Island on Subantarctic Discovery is subject to permits.
  • Campbell, Bounty, Antipodes and Auckland Islands With three days to explore the other New Zealand Subantarctic Islands, there are plenty of firsts to catch sight of. First to you, anyway, for Māori navigators first investigated these islands centuries ago. Your first sightings of the island’s fascinating endemic species. Expect to experience awe at the biodiversity of the remote Subantarctic Islands.


If we surveyed every Aurora Expeditions traveller (there have been so many!), we’d be confident to find ‘seeing a penguin’ as a key reason to travel to Antarctica. Well, with our new voyage, you can see the world’s most adorable flightless marine birds right from New Zealand!

In the islands, there are four well-known penguin breeds to watch out for. Catch the familiar vivid orange patches on a king penguin on Macquarie Island and the Auckland Islands. Gentoo and rockhopper penguins also call Macca home, and rockhoppers are native to Campbell Island. The adorable erect-crested penguins call the Antipodes and Bounty Islands home.

That’s not all. A subantarctic trip has two penguin species unique to these five Islands.

Royal Penguin

If you thought you were having a bad hair day, check out royal penguins. Endemic to Macquarie Island, their errant yellow wispy feathers look like a combover-gone-wrong, the colour popping against their white face and black-and-white plumage.

Royal penguins are strong swimmers and excellent divers. They form large colonies and breed in September, hatching one egg per season. We’d consider royal penguins the stars of Macquarie Island.

Snares Penguin

It’s probably easy to figure out where Snares penguins call home. Also known as Snares-crested penguins, these medium-sized birds love the Snares Islands’ rocky shores and frigid waters.

The Snares penguin’s distinctive yellow ‘eyebrows’ make it a stunning bird to photograph, especially in contrast to their bright orange bill.

Soaring Sea Birds

The climate and landscape of the Australian and New Zealand Subantarctic Islands make for a fabulous base for the region’s soaring sea birds.

There are huge albatross colonies across the island chains, including non-endemic albatross species, like the southern royal albatross. Over 7,000 pairs reside on Campbell Island. On the Auckland Islands, find 70,000 pairs of white-capped albatross and 5,000 pairs of Gibson’s wandering albatross. On Snares Island, 100,000 pairs of Salvin’s albatross soar, swoop, and fish at high speed.

Petrels are also common here, too, including prion and giant petrels.

Macquarie Shag 

The rare Macquarie shag is a cormorant bird only found on Macquarie Island. Its distinctive white throat and bell and shawl-like black coat (with what seems like a metallic sheen if the sun hits it just right) make it an attractive bird to spot in the wild.

Macquarie shags love to dine on fish and invertebrates, using their top-notch diving and swimming skills to catch their prey. They breed from October to January, laying up to four eggs, which both parents incubate. After 50-60 days, the chicks are independent and join an estimated 1,000-2,000 Macquarie shag peers.

Auckland Islands Shag

A close relative of the Macquarie shag, the Auckland Islands shag has distinctive features, including a green-blue sheen to its upper coat, a bright white underbelly, and adorable ‘crew cut’ tuft atop its head.

The Auckland Islands shag uses seaweed and grasses to build its nest in coastal colonies. During breeding season (from November), both parents take turns to incubate the 2-3 eggs hatched. This good-looking cormorant is vital to the island’s ecosystem, controlling fish and invertebrate populations.

Campbell Albatross 

The Campbell – or mollymawk – albatross only breeds on… you guessed it, Campbell Island. With a wingspan of around 2.5 metres (8.2 feet), they make for an impressive sight over the island’s coastal cliffs and grassy plateaus. Their wingspan allows them to fly long distances in search of small fish, squid, and crustaceans. Often with a grace that sets them apart from other seabirds.

There are an estimated 24,000 breeding pairs, making the Campbell albatross one of the smaller albatross populations, yet still a prime attraction when visiting the island.

Bounty Shag

Also a relative, the Bounty shag is a cormorant species local to the Bounty Islands. There are only around 600 Bounty shags currently, leaving the species vulnerable.

Like its cousins, this pink-footed shag loves ledges, cliffs, and alcoves to hang and breed. Bounty shag chicks have a longer fledgling period – about 60 days – before their parents send them on their merry way to a life of independence.

Flightless Birds

While you might think the Subantarctic conditions would make migration an appealing option for the birds residing across the region, there several flightless species, leaving them homebound year-round.

Auckland Islands Teal 

The Auckland Islands teal is a small duck with a brown mottled appearance and a white ring around its eyes. Its stocky nature and large feet make it adept at walking along uneven terrain, features necessary for its flightless stature. It cannot fly due to its reduced wing size and is one of the few flightless fowl in the world.

We find the teal in the Auckland Islands’ coastal forests, shrublands, and near freshwater streams (where it forages). It nests in burrows and tree root cavities, making it harder to spot. The other characteristic that makes it harder to see on our travels? It’s nocturnal!

Auckland Islands Rail

The small, flightless rail loves the dense coastal vegetation of only two of the Auckland Islands – Adams and Disappointment. Its feathers make for a perfect camouflage against the dense undergrowth, and its strong legs help it navigate the bush to find its next meal, including insects, seeds, and small invertebrates.

Although there are no pests on the Auckland Islands, the rail is a rare and endangered species due to its small population size and limited location for breeding.

Campbell Teal

Admired for its adaptation to its unique environment, this small flightless bird has large feet and a reduced wing size to accommodate life on a remote, wild, and weathered island. It favours moist, sheltered environments, like the island’s wetlands, tussocks, and grasslands, and prefers an after-dark feast.

With only 200 to 300 Campbell teals, the conservation efforts of the island – and its protected UNESCO status – are invaluable to its safety. Once thought extinct, the Cambell teal was discovered by accident in the early 1970s. Since then, habitat preservation and pest control have been its saving grace.

Antipodes Snipe

The Antipodes snipe is a small flightless territorial bird known for its plumpness and mottled brown and white plumage. The shrublands, forests, and grasslands of the Antipodes Islands shelter the snipe, along with plenty of foraging spots for the insects, worms, and spiders it enjoys.

The Antipodes snipe population sits at around 8,000. They breed from December to March, and when the chicks hatch, they are advanced enough to be independent shortly thereafter.

Small birds

It’s not only penguins, shags, and flightless birds who call the Subantarctic Islands home; there are small songbirds, too, belonging to the Australasian robin family. Tomtits are small passerine birds found only on two islands here.

Auckland Islands Tomtit

With its large head and prominent eyes, the Auckland Islands tomtit is as adorable as it is diminutive. Its striking black plumage with a dash of white and its rotund white belly make the Auckland Islands tomtit seem more cartoon character than real life.

The adage that small things pack a punch is true with this delicate-looking bird; it has a distinctive, harmonious song that belies its size. It’s a sound used to defend its territories, particularly during breeding season (September to February).

Snares Tomtit

Similar in size and song, the Snares tomtit differs in plumage, with adults predominantly black. Like its relatives, it enjoys feasting on insects foraged from the island’s undergrowth.

The pristine environment of the Snares Islands provides tomtits with an ideal habitat, one away from pests and with limited human contact. There are an estimated 1,000 Snares tomtits on the island today.

The Unexpected

While you may expect waddling penguins and soaring seabirds, these subpolar islands offer a few surprises, too.

Antipodes Parakeet

Would you be expecting a parakeet in subantarctic conditions? We’d guess no, and yet the Antipodes parakeet is one of two parakeets in the region, both endemic.

Its moss-coloured plumage, sometimes with a spot of blue in the wing feathers, gives it a standout appearance compared to the other birds on this list. The Antipodes parakeet is known for its intelligence and problem-solving skills.

Around 1,000 to 2,000 Antipodes parakeets nest or forage across the island’s forests and shrublands. Tasty meals include flowers, insects, and seasonal berries.

Reischek’s Parakeet

Will you be able to tell the difference between an Antipodes and Reischek’s parakeet when visiting the Antipodes Islands? Yes! Reischek’s parakeets are significantly smaller with a red crown. Their long tails and rounded wings help them take flight with ease.

With a larger population – some 4,000 to 6,000 birds – Reischek’s parakeets are a vulnerable yet stable species. They are named after the Austrian naturalist Andreas Reischek after he collected specimens in the late 19th century.

Campbell Snipe

This final entry is less “Wow, what is a bird like that doing here?” and more “Wow, we didn’t know this existed”. The Campbell snipe was only discovered by chance in 1997! To say it’s rare (and endangered) is an understatement. Last records show 30 birds on the Campbell Island.

This small flightless bird is a plump mottled-brown subspecies of the Subantarctic snipe. Its distinctive long bill allows it to forage for insects, worms, and spiders with ease among the dense coastal shrubland and forest vegetation.

Ready to sail to the Subantarctic Islands?

Our carefully crafted itineraries to Australia and New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands present an unparalleled opportunity to uncover the unique character of each island. We’ve hand-picked some of our favourites for you below, or to view the full range of itineraries, explore our latest brochure. Ready to book? Simply contact our team of experts or request an online quote.


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