<figcaption> Credit: Photo by Gail Simons</figcaption>
Credit: Photo by Gail Simons

In August 1806, an English whaling captain by the name of Abraham Bristow was sailing home to England from the colony of Van Diemen's Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania) when he came across a remote, windswept archipelago of small islands. He named them "Lord Auckland's," in honor of his father's friend William Eden, First Baron Auckland.

These seven sub-Antarctic specks - Auckland Island is the largest, at 42 km long - are more than 300 km south of New Zealand and as inhospitable as you like. "It's a wonderful place, but it's very, very harsh," says Mike Willis, a New Zealand wildlife specialist who has visited the islands several times. "They have exceptionally volatile weather, with huge storms and snow. It can go from sunny to snowing in an hour."

Despite their terrible climate, the islands were visited regularly by sailors in the...

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