The Auckland Islands, with a total land area of 625 sq km (about a third the size of Stewart Island) are the largest of New Zealand’s subantarctic island groups. The islands are about 350 kilometres south of Stewart Island and stretch 50 kilometres from the north-east cape of Enderby Island to the south cape of Adams Island. They are 26 kilometres wide.
There are two main islands. The pear-shaped Auckland Island is 509 sq km, and 102-sq-km Adams Island, immediately to the south, has the highest point (Mt Dick at 705 m). There are many smaller islands, of which the most significant are Enderby Island to the north-east and Disappointment Island to the west.
The islands are the result of the activity of two shield volcanoes centred on Carnley Harbour and Disappointment Island. The towering cliffs of the west coast are a wall of the northern caldera. The more gentle east side forms a series of deep inlets. There are two magnificent harbours. Port Ross (also called Sarah’s Bosom or Rendezvous Harbour) in the north-east was the location of Hardwicke, the Enderby settlement at Enderby Cove. A cemetery can still be found there. Carnley Harbour separates Auckland and Adams islands.
The topography is hilly and the shoreline forest of rātā is succeeded higher up by a shrubland and then open tussock country. The vegetation on Adams Island is in almost pristine condition.
The Enderby settlement and the seven groups of castaways gave the Auckland Islands a rich 19th-century human history. However, the islands have been a nature reserve since 1934 and in the 2000s they were long uninhabited.
Lady of the heather
A romantic story claims that Campbell Island was home to the exiled daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s mistress. The daughter supposedly also entered the prince’s affections, so the Jacobites arranged for her transportation to Campbell Island. Her existence was apparently proved by discoveries of a woman’s grave, a stone fireplace, a shell-lined path and some heather plants. Will Lawson told the story in a novel, The lady of the heather (1945). There was certainly a grave of a woman, who was possibly drowned in 1810, and heather plants were found, but little else has any historical foundation.
About 550 kilometres south-east of Stewart Island, Campbell Island is the most southerly of the subantarctic islands. The land area is 113 sq km, slightly larger than Waiheke Island.
Campbell Island is hilly, with seven peaks over 300 metres, of which the highest is Mt Honey (558 m). Because of its southerly latitude, the island supports no native trees and is largely covered in shrubland, herbfields and tussock grassland. It is a major breeding ground for albatrosses.
During the 20th century Campbell Island was the most populated subantarctic island. From 1895 to 1931 it was farmed, during the Second World War it hosted a coast-watch station, and from 1945 to 1994 a meteorological station was based there. Human settlement and sheep severely damaged the flora, but the eradication of sheep, cats and rats has led to a revival. In the 2000s it was uninhabited.