29 May 2019

Heritage Expeditions Returns to Commonwealth Bay and Mawson’s Huts for Christmas

Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay

Heritage Expeditions is returning to East Antarctica with a visit to Mawson's Huts planned for Christmas Day during its 25-day voyage 'In the Wake of Mawson' following the historic region's first ice free summer in eight years.

Heritage Expeditions General Manager David Bowen said the location of Mawson's Huts, Cape Denison at Commonwealth Bay had historically been one of the very few ice free and readily accessible areas along the East Antarctic coastline - the reason it was chosen by Australian Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson as the location for his huts.

This all changed when 78 kilometres of the Mertz Glacier tongue broke off in 2010 after it was struck by a 97 kilometre-long iceberg, blocking the annual movement of sea ice and effectively isolating the region. However, access to Commonwealth Bay was now freeing up during the summer months, said Mr Bowen.

"With close monitoring and the first ice free summer last year, there are now opportunities to once again return and explore this previously off limits majestic and historic location."

Heritage Expeditions has timed its voyage to maximise the opportunity to land at Commonwealth Bay and explore Sir Douglas Mawson's Huts - established for the 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition - on Christmas Day and its environs, which includes the Memorial Cross to expeditioners Ninnis and Mertz who perished during the infamous three man 'Far Eastern Party' sledging trip (which Mawson himself barely survived). Nesting near the huts are substantial numbers of Adélie Penguin and Wilson's Storm-Petrel.

Notoriously known as the 'home of the blizzard' due to the strong Katabatic winds that frequently blow here access, as with all expeditions to remote, rugged and seldom visited destinations, will ultimately be determined by the conditions encountered during the voyage.

Pictured above, from left: Commonwealth Bay and Cape Denison ice free during the 2018 summer. Images ©Marty Paassingham, Mawson's Huts Foundation; and University of Bremen ice map showing an ice free Commonwealth Bay and Cape Denison circled above.

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