The Snares Islands, about latitude 48° S and longitude 166° 35' E, lie some 65 miles SSW of Stewart Island of which they are commonly regarded as distant outliers. Sometimes, however, they are described as belonging to the sub-Antarctic group. There is one larger triangular island with several offshore islets and pinnacles, and a string of bare rocky islets to the south-west. These latter stand just above a submerged rock reef (the Western Reef). All the islands of the group are made of coarse granite rocks generally similar to those of Stewart Island. The main island (highest point 620 ft) is bounded by steep cliffs in the west and south, sloping off to the north-east where there is a good sheltered anchorage for boats.
As the group is now visited only at rare intervals, climate records are meagre but the weather may be described as windy (mainly from the north and west), cloudy, wet, and cool. A stunted forest cover, mainly of species of Olearia, Senecio, and Hebe, with patches of coarse tussock, reflects this harsh climate. Surface beds of so-called guano are peat, impregnated with wastes from the bird colonies.
The Snares, discovered by Vancouver and Broughton independently on the same day (23 November 1791), were soon invaded by sealers. The almost exterminated seal population is increasing steadily, the islands being now a sanctuary for seals and a few sea lions. There is also a very large bird population, especially of mutton birds and penguins. Happily there are no introduced mammals to disturb them.
by George Jobberns, C.B.E., M.A., D.SC., Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Canterbury.