Although the Maori already knew of islands south of Stewart Island, the island group received its name “The Snares” in 1791 by Captain George Vancouver who surprisingly discovered the islands the same day another British ship under Lieutenant Broughton sighted them -islets have been named after both navigators. A nature reserve since 1977, it is one of the five island groups in New Zealand’s youngest UNESCO World Heritage site “New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands” since 1998. The Snares are split into two: the Western Chain with five elongated islands named 1-5 in Maori and then the much larger North East Island and its surrounding rocks and islets, including the second largest island named after Broughton. The total land area is of 340 hectares.
Because of its remoteness, The Snares have never been exploited and are considered to be among the few places on earth to have essentially unmodified vegetation. Mostly steep cliffs lead to forested areas consisting of large tree daisies. With no introduced terrestrial mammals, birds can thrive on the islands and islets, and seabirds are present in the millions. Three land bird species are endemic: the Snares Island Fernbird, the Snares Island Tomtit and the Snares Island Snipe. Several million Sooty Shearwaters breed on The Snares, but it is probably the Snares Crested Penguin with some 60,000 individuals spread out in about 100 colonies which most visitors want to see during a Zodiac cruise –landings are not permitted.