The Snares group are the closest of New Zealand's subantarctic islands to mainland New Zealand, lying about 100 km southwest of Stewart Island/Rakiura.
Introduced land mammals were never established on the Snares, making it one of the most untouched and pristine areas in New Zealand.
Map of Snares Islands (GIF, 38K)
The Snares cover a total area of only 340 ha and, apart from a few eastern parts, all the islands of the Snares group are bordered by steep cliffs.
North East Island is the main island in The Snares group. It is surrounded by many smaller islands and rocks, the largest of which is Broughton Island in the north, and a group of six islands known as the Western Chain about 5km west-south-west.
Shearwaters, petrels and penguins are all abundant on The Snares. The sooty shearwater is the most numerous with a couple of million arriving in the spring for the summer breeding season.
The most numerous seabird here, after the sooty shearwater, is probably the common diving petrel. The mottled petrel, an endemic New Zealand species, has a significant breeding population at The Snares too. Other birds breeding at The Snares include broad-billed prion, fairy prion, fulmar prion and brown skua. The Snares is also the main breeding base for The Snares cape pigeon.
After the sooty shearwater the bird most closely associated with The Snares is the Snares crested penguin. The penguins only breed on The Snares where they have established more than 100 colonies on the larger islands of the group.
Three land birds are endemic to The Snares: the Snares Island fernbird, the Snares Island tomtit and the Snares Island snipe, which is partly nocturnal.
Four albatross species are listed as breeding at The Snares but only two are consistent breeders. The southern Buller's mollymawk is the most numerous. The other three mollymawk species only breed at the Western Chain.
New Zealand fur seal/kekeno (Arctocephalus forsteri) breed on the exposed coasts of the Snares, while an increasing number of and New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri, formerly known as Hooker's sea lion) come out of the water and rest and warm up on the Snares breeding has not been recorded.
The Snares also boast several invertebrate species that can be found nowhere else in the world including one species of weevil which is only found on one species of plant on Broughton island.
Forests of the large tree daisy Olearia lyallii are the dominant feature across about 80 percent of the main island, forming a canopy over 5m tall in places.
Of the 22 vascular plants found on The Snares, 20 are indigenous. The only introduced plants are the chickweed Stellaria media and the annual grass Poa annua. Besides the vascular plants at The Snares, there are 77 moss and other bryophyte species, 45 lichens and at least six fungi.
Among the herbs on The Snares are three significant species: Stilbocarpa robusta, which grows in just one other place in the world; Anisotome acutifolia, which is only found on The Snares; and Lepidium oleraceum which is now a threatened plant.
On 23 November 1791 The Snares were discovered by by two English ships independently: HMS Chatham, commanded by Lieutenant William Broughton, and HMS Discovery under Captain George Vancouver. Vancouver named 'The Snares' because he thought they were a shipping hazard.
An islet east of the Western Chain bears the name Vancouver Rock, and the second largest island is named after Lieutenant Broughton. Māori already knew of the islands as they can be seen from the southern end of Stewart Island/Rakiura on a clear day. They had named the group Tini Heke.