Campbell Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Campbell Island was discovered in 1810 by Captain Frederick Hasselborough of the sealing brig Perseverance, which was owned by shipowner Robert Campbell's Sydney-based company Campbell & Co. (whence the island's name). Captain Hasselborough was drowned on 4 November 1810 in Perseverance Harbour.
The island became a seal hunting base, and the seal population was almost totally eradicated. The first sealing boom was over by the mid-1810s. The second was a brief revival in the 1820s. The whaling boom extended here in the 1830s and '40s. In 1874, the island was visited by a French scientific expedition intending to view the transit of Venus.
Much of the island's topography is named after aspects of, or people connected with, the expedition. In the late 19th century, the island became a pastoral lease. Sheep farming was undertaken from 1896 until the lease, along with the sheep and a small herd of cattle, was abandoned in 1931 because of the Great Depression.
In 1883 the American schooner Sarah W. Hunt, a whaler, was near Campbell Island. Twelve men in two small whaleboats headed for the island in terrible weather looking for seals. One of the boats disappeared, and the other boat with six men aboard managed to make it ashore. Sanford Miner, the captain of the Sarah W. Hunt, assumed all the whalers were lost, and sailed away to Lyttleton, New Zealand. Fortunately for the stranded whalers, a seal protection boat, the Kekeno, happened to arrive at the island, and rescued the castaways. The captain's behaviour caused an international scandal.
In 1907, a group of scientists spent eight days on the island group surveying. The 1907 Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition conducted a magnetic survey and also took botanical, zoological and geological specimens.
During World War II, a coastwatching station was operative at Tucker Cove at the north shore of Perseverance Harbour as part of the Cape Expedition program.
Following the passage of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, the name of the island was officially altered to Campbell Island / Motu Ihupuku.
An amateur radio DXpedition organised by the Hellenic Amateur Radio Association of Australia visited Campbell Island during November–December 2012. The team consisted of ten amateur radio operators from around the world, a NZ Department of Conservation Officer and the ship's crew of six including the captain on the sailing vessel "Evohe". The ZL9HR DXpedition team made 42,922 on air contacts during an eight-day operating period.
After the war, the facilities were used as a meteorological station until the summer of 1957/58, when a new base was established at Beeman Cove, a few hundred metres further east. The new location provided improved exposure for the weather instruments, particularly wind recordings, and more modern accommodation for up to 12 full-time staff.
The new meteorological station (WMO ID 93944) station at Beeman Cove was operated by the New Zealand government with ten full-time staff. Each team of undertook 12-month expeditions to the island to undertake three hourly weather reports and twice daily radiosonde flights using hydrogen filled balloons. Weather reports were radioed back to New Zealand using HF radio to ZLW Wellington Radio. In addition to its primary purpose as a meteorological station, staff at the station also made measurements of the earth's magnetic field, the ionosphere, and aurora australis, and undertook Albatross banding and whale counts of primarily Southern Right Whales for the New Zealand Wildlife Service. In 1995 station staff were permanently withdrawn when the manual weather observation programme was replaced by an Automatic Weather Station, and the upper air soundings ceased. Today periodic visits to the island are undertaken the by Royal New Zealand Navy to maintain the weather station and transport conservation staff undertaking field research. Other visitors to the island include occasional summer time eco-tourism cruises.
The Campbell Island weather station remains a very important source of weather observations in the oceans south of New Zealand.
In April 1992, staff of the weather station were snorkelling at Northwest Bay when one of them, Mike Fraser, was attacked by a great white shark some 30 metres offshore from the beach at Middle Bay. Fraser managed to return to shore with the assistance of one of his team, Jacinda Amey, after suffering severe lacerations to both his arms. The team kept Fraser alive at the bay, some 4 kilometres from the main base, while a rescue helicopter from Taupo, was called and made an emergency flight to the island to repatriate him to Invercargill Hospital. This was the longest ever single-engine helicopter rescue in the world. Jacinda Amey was awarded the New Zealand Cross, New Zealand's highest bravery medal for civilians, for assisting the injured team member from the water. The rescue helicopter pilot, John Funnell, was awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal.
The Lady of the Heather is the title of a romantic novel by Will Lawson. The novel is a mixture of facts and fiction elaborating on the incidents surrounding Captain Hasselburg's death on Campbell Island. The story is about a daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, exiled to Campbell Island after she is suspected of treachery to the Jacobite cause. Her character was inspired by Elizabeth Farr. Farr was probably what would now be called a "ship girl", but the presence of a European woman at this remote place, and her death, gave rise to The Lady of the Heather story.
The accident happened when William Tucker was present on the Aurora. Tucker was another unusual character in the sealing era who became the source of a legend and a novel. The remoteness and striking appearance of the sealing grounds, whether on mainland New Zealand or the subantarctic islands, and the sealing era's early place in Australasia's European history, supply the elements for romance and legend which are generally absent in the area's colonial history.
Campbell Island has a maritime tundra climate (Köppen ET). The island receives only 647 hours of bright sunshine annually and it can expect less than an hour's sunshine on 215 days (59%) of the year. The peaks of the island are frequently obscured by clouds. It has an annual rainfall of 1,329 millimetres (52.3 in), with rain, mainly light showers or drizzle, falling on an average of 325 days a year. It is a windy place, with gusts of over 96 kilometres per hour (50 kn; 60 mph) occurring on at least 100 days each year. Variations in daily and annual temperatures are small with a mean annual temperature of 7 °C (44.6 °F), rarely rising above 12.1 °C (53.8 °F). The warmest temperature ever recorded was 21.2 °C (70.2 °F) and the coldest was −7.9 °C (17.8 °F).
Campbell Island is the most important breeding area of the southern royal albatross. The island is part of the Campbell Island group Important Bird Area (IBA), identified as such by BirdLife International because of its significance as a breeding site for several species of seabirds as well as the endemic Campbell teal and Campbell snipe.
The world's most remote tree is believed to be on Campbell Island, a solitary 100-year-old Sitka spruce. The nearest tree is over 222 km away on the Auckland Islands.
In 1954, the island was gazetted as a nature reserve. Feral Campbell Island cattle were eliminated by about 1984 and feral Campbell Island sheep were culled during the 1970s and 1980s, with their eventual extermination in 1992. In 2001, brown rats (Norway rats) were eradicated from the island nearly 200 years after their introduction. This was the world's largest rat eradication programme. The island's rat-free status was confirmed in 2003. Since the eradication, vegetation and invertebrates have been recovering, seabirds have been returning and the Campbell teal, the world's rarest duck, has been reintroduced. Other native landbirds include the New Zealand pipit and the Campbell snipe, a race or species of the Coenocorypha snipes discovered only in 1997. The snipe had survived on Jacquemart Island and began recolonising the main island after the rats had been removed.
Marine mammals have shown gradual recovery in the past decades. Sea lions and southern elephant seals have begun to re-colonize the island. Some southern right whales still come into bays in the winter to winter or calve most notably at Northwest Bay and Perseverance Harbour, but in much smaller number than in the Auckland Islands. Historically, fin whales used to inhabit close to shore.
The area is one of five subantarctic island groups designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
To mark the 200th anniversary of its discovery, the Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition (CIBE) was undertaken from December 2010 to February 2011. The research expedition was the largest multidisciplinary expedition to the island in over 20 years, and aimed to document the island's human history, assess recovery of the island's flora and invertebrate fauna since the removal of sheep and the world's largest rat eradication programme, study the island's plentiful but little understood streams and characterise the unusual stream fauna, and reconstruct past environmental conditions and deduce long term climate change from tarn sediment cores.
The expedition was run by the 50 Degrees South Trust, a charitable organisation established to further research and education on New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands, and to support the preservation and management of these World Heritage ecosystems. The expedition and the programme outputs can be followed at the CIBE website.