Perseverance harbour and environs was an ambient and suitably subantarctic grey and Mnt.Honey, the target of one of two planned walks was shrouded in cloud. The tour leaders opted for an extended version of a walk up to the Col Lyall ridge and beyond to again look over North West Bay, this time from a different more northerly aspect.
The first part of the walk took us through the old base, now being made habitable by two staff from New Zealands Department of Conservation who had arrived with our ship and were setting up for a logistically massive attempt to eliminate rats Ratus norvegicus from the island. (Rats have had significant impacts on nesting birds -especially burrowing or flightless birds, common characteristics of many birds from NZ islands – and in the case of Campbell have been partially responsible for driving two small ground dwelling birds, a flightless teal and a snipe to the point were they were considered extinct until re-discovered on tiny nearby, rat free, Ile La Dente).
I spotted some rather mega-sized dandelions and several other weeds near the base, further examples of man’s feral legacy, although, fortunately in this case they still seem to be confined to the areas in and directly surrounding the base. A duckboarded track led through the base and into a low (up to 3m) thicket of Dracophyllum, a small number of these stout, many branched, shrubs were encrusted with a large, thick, rubbery, lichen which was coloured an almost unnatural, radioactive, duck-egg green . As the thicket opened out the occasional Pleurophyllum criniferum began to appear. We had seen some small specimens on the previous day but nothing to compare with these out of scale herbaceous plants, their size making them appear illogical and dream like. The pale grey/green, papery leaves were informally and very shallowly rippled as opposed to the precise and angular geometry of Pleurophyllum speciosum. The articulated silver ghosts of last seasons metre long flower spikes lay amongst the plants.
In contrast to the outsized Pleurophyllum a number of fingernail sized orchids flowered boldly but were barely visible along the edges of the path. Hands and knees were needed to view the minute, nearly transparent flowers of the antarctic beak orchid, Lyperanthus antarcticus.
A distinctive feature of New Zealands shrublands is the high percentage of divaricating plants. This physiological adaption is characterised by dense, obtusely angled branching and helps create the pruned/sculpted appearance of the shrubby heathlands on the island. The low heathlands on Campbell island are dominated by Myrsine divaricata and Coprosma species. Divarication is probably an adaption to environmental conditions, especially extreme winds and is possibly also attributable to grazing animals (some scientists blame the now extinct giant flightless bird, the Moa).
From this point we could see two sites of historical significance on the island, the collapsing remains of the coast watchers hut was barely visible at the base of a short rise. The hut had been manned constantly during the Second World War when both Perseverance harbour and Carnley Harbour on Auckland island were perceived as being possible points for hiding and massing large fleets. Paradoxically and more importantly the coast watchers became the islands first naturalists and were instrumental in gaining recognition for the islands as places of ecological significance.
The other historical site was a discernible line created by the regeneration of the grasslands and herbfields on the northern side of a now nonexistent fence used to restrict the remaining sheep to the southern section of the island. With the removal of sheep (and the fence) from the entire island in 1991 this grass formed ecological demarcation zone is now starting to blur. Patches of megaherbs and the larger palatable grasses, Chinochloa antarctica and Poa foliosa are rapidly beginning to recolonise. Here protected from the westerlies, the megaherbs, especially Pleurophyllum speciosum and P. criniferum were reaching their maximum dimensions.
Somehow in this otherwise flowerless season one Pleurophyllum speciosum flowered conveniently close to the track, it’s large, classic daisy flowers in a rich purple, made even more flamboyant by the pared down straw/grey of the surrounding landscape. This was hardly matched by the one, small, albatross-trampled, Pleurophyllum hookerii flower viewed the previous day, and a single P. criniferum flowerhead of battered black buttons spotted later in amongst the buildings at the base.