A baby NZ sea lion on Enderby Island (C) Kate Paris

The sub-Antarctic islands.  Not so much on our doorstep but definitely in our hood.  Of all the nature freaks I know and love only a few possess an intimate knowledge of this far-flung, incredibly wild place.  As for the regular town folk in my life, the ones who drive their cars to the gym where they can ride bikes indoors, safely tucked away from those pesky, unpredictable elements, well they know nothing of these places.  I hope this trip will change that.

We are the caretakers of a place that’s hard to describe without sounding like a lonely planet travel writer on ecstasy.  It is incredibly beautiful here, surreal in its isolation and wildness.  But it’s not just the lonely landscapes and deep, amazingly clear, full oceans that make it special. It’s the creatures that call this World Heritage site home.

Humans have been unable to survive  here. There have been some attempts at settlement, the most successful of these by Maori fleeing trouble on the Chatham Islands.  A few shipwrecks have tossed up lost souls, who probably thought death a fairly attractive alternative to the wretched sense of sublime harshness that must descend when the unforgiving weather turns bleak.  And it is because this land shakes off humans so surely that it remains so pristine.

Sea lions used to live all over Aotearoa.  Now they are critically endangered.  Because of us.  We hunted them to near extinction for fur and skins.  Eighty-six percent of the remaining population live here in the Auckland Islands.  There’s a small pocket on Campbell Island and an even smaller one in Otago.  And that’s it.  They get around a bit, but the Auckland Islands is their last stronghold. It’s hard to believe that we’d even consider putting them at more risk yet that’s what our Government will do if it allows deep sea oil drilling to go ahead.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been granted the rare privilege of getting up close and personal with these charming, vulnerable creatures.  Gazing into the wet black eyes of a trusting wee female pup has got me feeling very protective in the most primal of ways, and enormously furious at the forces that care more for money than life.

As a Greenpeace volunteer I’ve been involved in many campaigns aimed at protecting the habitats of tigers, orangutans and polar bears, but now it’s personal.  Sea lions are no longer just the June photograph on my calendar.  I got to meet them, smell them and hear them. While I resisted the urge to reach out and touch one, they certainly touched me.  And I’ll be doing whatever I can to make sure that the next time Greenpeace visits, it won’t be to mop up the mess made by the oil industry.