Australian & NZ Subantarctic Islands

Expedition travel is all about shared experience and collective knowledge. A gathering of individuals with endless stories of adventure that cross the divide between generations, only to find a mutual appreciation of the journey each has made to arrive at the furthest corners of the globe.

The Sub -Antarctic islands are remote, unforgiving, vulnerable, yet filled with life that thrives. Despite the harsh elements that create challenges for those that inhabit the region, life has found a way to exist and more importantly adapt and become one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystem on Earth.

The jewel of the Sub-Antarctic region is without a doubt the impressive Macquarie Island. Situated at latitude of 54” 30’ South and Longitude of 138” 55’ East, the rugged mountains, lush green landscapes, eclectic flora and diversity of wildlife species, make this a world class destination sort by many but visited by few.

Today, Macquarie Island is listed as a World Heritage Area, which is managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife service as a Nature reserve. During any visit to Macquarie Island you are accompanied by a Parks ranger to guide you through the specified areas. Many of the rangers have spent 6 months or more on the island running research programs and managing these natural resources. Vastly knowledgeable the team impart their experience and understanding of this delicate environment, bringing the past and the present into focus.

Literally thousands of animals leave the marine environment to mate, give birth and feed in the nutrient rich Sub-Antarctic sanctuary of Macquarie Island.

Four species of penguin including King, Gentoo, Royal and Rockhopper, breed on the island and congregate in large numbers all along the coast line. Penguins have developed specialised physiology to withstand the extreme cold of the Sub-Antarctic temperatures. Their feathers are tightly packed and have a layer of blubber to keep them insulated. They are the perfect design for this part of the world.

A first glimpse of the penguin colonies from the ocean heightens the visual senses, followed by the sounds of thousands of penguins before your sense of smell is awakened by the pungent odour of the colonies drifting on the ocean breeze. The sheer numbers and space they inhabit across the island is indicative of the thriving populations.

King Penguins are probably the most iconic part of Macquarie Island and represent the pristine environment that has become a sanctuary for the many penguin species coexisting in this remote Sub-Antarctic island. These penguins are the reason we were here. After many months of permit applications and expedition planning, we were about to get in the water to photograph these majestic marine birds. However, this would prove to be a challenging task.

The King penguins stand at just under a meter and can weigh up to 12kg on average. On land they move reasonably slow as they make their way from the ocean to their colonies at the base of the mountain range. In the water they move at high speeds and can be difficult to track as they quickly change direction leaving a trail of bubbles in their wake. On top of this, our time was limited so we had to determine where our best opportunities to photograph the penguins underwater might be.

Finally, we noticed some rock pools where the King Penguins were entering before coming to land. Carefully entering the water, we moved to the back of the rock pools as the penguins entered the pools from the Southern Ocean. The pools were small, but the penguins demonstrated their agility as they zipped around the rock pools before leaping out to dry land to continue their march back to the colonies.

The Royal Penguins seemed much more curious in the water and would often come in closer to investigate the camera. The curious Royal penguins are endemic to Macquarie Island of which is the largest colony found only on this remote stretch of land.  Royal penguins only breed on Macquarie Island and it is estimated that population numbers are more than one million pairs.

I must admit, I fell in love with the Royal penguins, they had personality and their overtly curious nature made them even more enduring. Deliberate in their actions, they would often come in for a closer look and surround me as I sat on the beach absorbing everything around me. With no real predators on land they were confident enough to interact with anything or anyone that came their way. Truly a unique experience.

Lusitano Bay off Macquarie Island, was a haven for king penguins, the sheer numbers in the water were remarkable, let alone the colonies that shrouded the coastline. Hundreds of penguins rafted along our zodiac’s, curious enough to see what was going on and take a break from their daily foraging duties. Nonetheless, King penguins still dominate the landscape and travel great distances to search for food to feed their young chicks.

Elephant seals also line the beaches of Macquarie Island and they are a dominant presence across the sub Antarctic regions. An era of exploitation saw the seal populations decimated between the 1800s to early 1900s, and the Southern Elephant seal numbers decreased dramatically during this period. However, a rapid recovery after the cessation of sealing saw an increase in numbers to over 60,000 individuals. The breeding season of Southern Elephant seals on Macquarie island begins late August and females usually come ashore approximately a week before giving birth. Pups increase in size from the fat rich milk from their mothers and the weaners can reach up to 200 kilograms in weight in less than 3 weeks.

These charismatic youngsters are thigmotactic and will look for any opportunity to nuzzle up to a warm body. Probably one of the most engaging animals you could meet, baby elephant seals are the embodiment of cuteness and very interactive. Their big affectionate eyes are endearing, and they have no fear.

Adult elephant seals during the mating season will fight with each other for dominance of the beach where they defend their harem of females. These battles between beachmasters can be bloody and brutal. The males have the overpowering urge to mate and will corral a group of females and spend their time defending their fleeting dominance of the harem. It is a constant battle for position, which sometimes ends in severe injuries to the loser.

The Sub-Antarctic is home to a myriad of seabirds, too numerous and varied to define in a typical species but more an evolutionary tale as new species is identified each year. The Southern Royal albatross is only found on Campbell and the Auckland Islands and nowhere else in the world, an endemic species that is the second largest of the Albatross species on the planet, with wing spans up to 3 meters.

The Southern Royal albatross has a repertoire of breeding behaviours including synchronised preening and calling, bill clacking and the language of dance. As the sun heads towards the horizon in the afternoon hours, the sound of gliding birds coming into land dominates the skies above. Like 747’s coming in for a landing, these large birds will swiftly arrive to join the evening ritual. They undertake their dancing rituals in search of the appropriate mate. These rituals can last for years before a mate is finally narrowed down and chosen.

To watch these rituals in all their glory and the intricate communications, that will eventually determine a mating pair, that will stay together for life, was truly fascinating. Wings expanded, vocalising and clacking bills these colossal birds put on an impressive display of sight and sound.

The nesting happens high up on top of Campbell Island, where we follow a 6km track through the spectacular inside valley of the island along a winding ridge of thick tussock grass until we reach the cliff tops that line the edge of the island. Harsh winds pound against the cliffs as the Southern Ocean demonstrates its power, moulding the rugged terrain of these emote island landscapes. At one point we walked the track to the sea edge as the wind pushed us back in retreat and the sea spray drenched us entirely. A clear reality of life in this part of the world.

But despite the extreme elements the flora and fauna were abundant. Walking along the track there were fields of lavender megaherb, daisy, lichen and Bulbinella, with a myriad of colours stretching across the landscape. As we made our way through the thick tussock grass we were startled by Hookers Sea lions that had decided the view and the comfortable grass were better at this elevation. But as soon as we reached the Royal Albatross we had a whole new perspective on the landscape and these incredible birds. We spend the last remain daylight hours watching as rare albatross crossed our path in search of a mate.

Bio Security is probably the most important factor when visiting remote isolated Sub Antarctica islands. Penguin colonies are vulnerable and susceptible to disease and other introduced contaminants, so the strict bio-security protocols in place help protect all the species from the spread of disease through human contact in the area.

This process starts before you even step foot off the ship. We are summoned to the lecture room to partake in the vacuuming ritual. Each piece of clothing, camera bag, equipment etc is thoroughly vacuumed with a clear focus on dislodging any evidence of seeds that could be introduced to a pristine environment. Velcro is one of the worse carriers, so we carefully pick out anything resembling a seed or a foreign object.

The next stage is submerging our boots in a sterilising chemical called Virkon, which is designed to basically kill any germ or bacteria, coupled with a scrubbing brush, this seems to be an effective system to keep these Eden’s disease free. We repeat the same process each time we get on and off the ship to ensure the integrity of all our gear.

Planning a journey to film and produce such a rare series of images involves a great deal of preparation and coordination to ensure success. Unexpected weather conditions, unpredictable wildlife and potential risk of not having an accessible place to land can make things difficult. The Sub Antarctic is a harsh environment to work in but when you overcome all the challenges you realise how much of a privilege it is to be able to visit these remote parts of our amazing planet.

Thanks for all the support from:

Lenovo – https://www3.lenovo.com/au/en/
Paddy Pallin Outdoor Clothing & Equipment – http://www.paddypallin.com.au/
Aquatech Imaging Solutions – https://aquatech.net/
HEC’s Stealthscreen wetsuits – https://www.hecsaquatic.com/
Australian Geographic – http://australiangeographic.com.au/
Olympus Australia – https://www.olympus.com.au/

gorilla among leaves photograph taken on tour with Scott Portelli

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda & Uganda

There is nothing more intimate than being up close and personal with some of the most impressive creatures on the planet, the rare endangered Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. There are two trips running, one will be a 6 day trip with 2 permit days and an optional 3rd in Rwanda. The other will be a 6 day trip with 2 days in Uganda trekking with the mountain gorillas and and an optional 3rd day with the Gorilla sin Uganda. If this is on your bucket list, now is the time to go. there are less than 800 Gorilla’s left in the Mountains.

Check out what it is like to spend time with these amazing primates that are virtually on the brink of extinction. This is your chance to see these beautiful Mountain Gorillas in their natural environment:

Gorilla Trekking Rwanda (6 day tour) 2018

Synopsis of Trip:

Where: Rwanda
When: March 2018
Length of tour – 6 days
Group Size: Maximum 7 people
Pricing:  £6,235 British Pounds

Download Rwanda Itinerary

For more information call us on +61 (0)402124453

Gorilla Trekking Uganda (6 day tour) 2018

Synopsis of Trip:

Where: Uganda
When:  April 2018
Length of tour – 6 days
Group Size: Maximum 7 people
Pricing:  £5350 British Pounds

Download Uganda Itinerary

For more information call us on +61 (0)402124453

Contact Us

Gorilla Trekking Uganda Rwanda 2016


Includes: accommodation & meals as stated (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner), airport meet/greet & airport transfers as per itinerary, private professional English speaking driver/guide & private 4×4 vehicle throughout, transfers to all visited areas as per itinerary, park entrance fees as per itinerary, four Gorilla Permits per person.
Excludes: international flights, possible fuel surcharge, possible departure tax, early & late check in/out at lodges/camps/hotels, visas, tips, items of personal nature, items not mentioned in the `Includes` section


Day by Day Sample Itinerary Rwanda (6 day trip)

Day 1

Kigali – Volcanoes National Park

Upon your arrival into Kigali International Airport (KGL), you are met by your private professional English speaking driver/guide and private 4×4 safari vehicle and head up to the Volcanoes National Park. Note that arrival should be before 1pm, for those arriving on later flights, please book a night in Kigali beforehand. A ‘true island in the sky’, the Volcanoes National Park is home to some of the worlds few remaining Mountain Gorilla, which were first studied here in 1959 by George Schaller, and through the 1960’s by Dian Fossey and her colleagues. In the afternoon you’ll have a briefing where Scott will take you through the next few days and ensure you are properly prepared for your encounters with the gorillas!

Overnight accommodation: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel – You will find a warm welcome at Five Volcanoes, which is ideally situated close to the park headquarters for the start of the gorilla treks. The hotel comprises of 13 double/twin en-suite rooms and a two bedroom VIP cottage. After a day of trekking what better way to relax than in the sparkling swimming pool followed by a visit to the sauna and/or steam room. The hotel also has on site massage rooms to help you unwind even further.

Day 2 -3

Volcanoes National Park

Enjoy 2 days of gorilla tracking. The gorillas we are allowed to track belong to either one of ten habituated family groups. An early breakfast and you’re off to the park headquarters at Kinigi to register and be allocated your gorilla family for today. Once this is done, you set out by vehicle to the start of on your gorilla safari. The gorillas are by no means tame, and are completely wild animals. However, experienced guides will accompany you on your gorilla tracking, many of whom have been involved in the habituation process themselves. The guides will use their knowledge of the gorillas’ habits and information from the previous day to locate the group’s whereabouts.

Scott will guide you through how to get the best out of your photographs and in the evenings, go through them with you so you can improve your skills in following days.

Overnight accommodation: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

Day 4

Optional Gorilla Trek, Golden Monkey or Dian Fossey Visit

Today you have a chance to either track the gorillas another time, head out in search of the golden monkeys or visit the remains of the Karisoke Research Centre where Dian Fossey worked, which includes a chance to visit the meadow of where her mountain hut used to be, with views of Bisoke, Karisimbi and Sabyinyo peaks. These activities must be booked at time of booking and are not included in the quote. For those who wish to relax at the lodge and recuperate after the last day’s activities, then this is of course also an option!

Overnight accommodation: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

Day 5

Optional Gorilla Trek, Golden Monkey or Dian Fossey Visit

Today you have a chance to either track the gorillas another time, head out in search of the golden monkeys or visit the remains of the Karisoke Research Centre where Dian Fossey worked, which includes a chance to visit the meadow of where her mountain hut used to be, with views of Bisoke, Karisimbi and Sabyinyo peaks. These activities must be booked at time of booking and are not included in the quote. For those who wish to relax at the lodge and recuperate after the last day’s activities, then this is of course also an option!

Overnight accommodation: Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

Day 6

Volcanoes National Park – Kigali

Breakfast at the lodge. Hot lunch or packed lunch from the lodge depending on flight departure time (earliest flight should leave at 2pm). Drive back to Kigali and transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Gorilla Trekking 2017 Trip Report

Have a read of the Gorilla Trekking Trip report visit to Rwanda and the Volcanoes National Park:

Video Footage from our 2017 Trips:


Antarctica 2014

Unpredictable – Expedition to Antarctica

They say the best laid plans of mice and men, well the plan was to get down to Antarctica, get some helicopters, see some Emperor penguins and come home content. However in Antarctica, things don’t always go to Plan and you usually have to deal with what you get. In this instance the trip of a lifetime did not quite deliver. But despite the various mishaps and not reaching our goal, Antarctica is the most beautiful pristine place on the planet, and what you do get to see is quite spectacular to say the least. Even a not-ideal trip to Antarctica is still out of this world. So focusing on the positive here is a glimpse of what you can see in unpredictable Antarctica.

And if you like this, then save your pennies and join us in 2016 on an expedition to South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula, I can assure you it will be a trip of a lifetime as you visit the most amazing parts of Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic Islands.

Unpredictable Antarctica 2014 collage penguins seals ice helicopters

Join me on an upcoming tour here: