The Ross Sea region of Antarctica is one of the most remote places on Planet Earth and one of the most fascinating places in the continent's human history. With shipping restricted by impenetrable pack ice to just two brief months each austral summer, few people have ever visited this strange and beautiful territory, with opportunities for non-scientific personnel limited to a handful of tourist expedition ships. Heritage Expeditions offers such a voyage on its own fully equipped and ice-strengthened ship Spirit of Enderby, crewed by some of the most experienced officers and sailors in the world and staffed by a passionate and knowledgeable expedition team. This is a unique opportunity to experience nature on a scale so grand there are no words to describe it.
The Ross Sea takes its name from Sir James Clark Ross who discovered it in 1841. The British Royal Geographical Society chose the Ross Sea for the now famous British National Antarctic Expedition in 1901-04 led by Robert Falcon Scott. That one expedition spawned what is sometimes referred to as the 'Race to the Pole'. Ernest Shackleton almost succeeded in 1907-09 and the Japanese explorer Nobu Shirase tried in 1910-12. Scott thought it was his, but was beaten by his rival, Norwegian Roald Amundsen in the summer of 1911. Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1914-17 marked the end of this 'heroic' or 'golden age' of exploration, but many of the relics of this era, including some huts, remain. The dramatic landscape described by these early explorers is unchanged. Mt Erebus, Mt Discovery and the Transantarctic Mountains are as inspiring today as they were 100 years ago. The penguin rookeries described by the early biologists fluctuate in numbers from year to year, but they still occupy the same sites. The seals, which are no longer hunted for food, lie around on ice floes seemingly unperturbed. The whales, which were hunted so ruthlessly here in the 1920s, are slowly coming back, but it is a long way back from the edge of extinction, and some species have done better than others. Snow Petrels, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Antarctic Prions and South Polar Skuas all breed in this seemingly inhospitable environment.
There is so much to do and so much to see here, from exploring historic huts and sites to visiting penguin rookeries, marvelling at the glacial ice tongues and ice shelves, and understanding the icebergs and sea ice. Then there are all the seabirds, seals and whales to observe and photograph, modern scientific bases and field camps to visit and simply the opportunity to spend time drinking in the marvellous landscape that has always enthralled visitors.
Lying like stepping stones to the Antarctic continent are the little known Subantarctic Islands. Our journey also includes The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell Islands. They break our long journey but, more importantly, they help prepare us for what lies ahead, for these islands are part of the amazing and dynamic Southern Ocean ecosystem of which Antarctica is at the very heart. It is the powerhouse which drives this ecosystem upon which the world depends.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a recently updated combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room (March 2018). The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Classification: Russian register KM ice class
Year built: 1984
Accommodation: 50 berths expedition
Main engines: power 2x1560 bhp (2x 1147 Kw)
Maximum speed: 12 knots (2 engines),
Cruising speed: 10 knots(one engine)
Bunker capacity: 320 tons
Day 1: Monday 10th January
Invercargill, New Zealand
The passengers and staff arrived in Invercargill, a lovely town at the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island. Those who had some time to wander were rewarded with many surprising discoveries such as the Hayes Hardware Store, Botanical Gardens or the Motor Museum. A dinner was enjoyed at the Kelvin Hotel giving an opportunity for passengers to get acquainted before their voyage begins. For many it will be the experience of a lifetime and eager anticipation of the voyage ahead was evident in the many conversations around the tables.
Day 2: Thursday 11th January
Invercargill/Port of Bluff – New Zealand
The day began with a hearty breakfast at the hotel with the excitement of a new adventure in the air. The passengers gathered in the hotel lobby where luggage was put through the customs process. Once completed the suitcases and bags were whisked off to the Spirit of Enderby, berthed at the wharf in Bluff, to be placed in their assigned cabins. The morning’s activity included a visit to the Invercargill Museum and a special presentation on New Zealand’s unique Tuatara. This reptilian species is seriously endangered despite the fact that their lives usually exceed one hundred years. The museum is also a repository for the fascinating maritime history of the region. The busy morning concluded with a nourishing lunch at the hotel. At 1:15 a.m. we boarded our bus for the short drive out to the ship. On disembarking on the wharf some of us posed for a photo with the ship while others walked up the gangway to discover their cabins. Once we had settled into our cabins it was time to clear customs since we were leaving New Zealand territory. This all went smoothly and was followed by a briefing from our EL – Expedition Leader, Rodney Russ, founder of Heritage Expeditions, who is on his final voyages before starting new adventures to sail his new yacht into Arctic waters. The staff introductions were then followed by a safety message – “Always keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship”. The formal part of the program ended with the lifeboat drill – only required if we need to ‘abandon ship’ signalled by seven short blasts followed by one long one – times three! The most exciting part of the day belonged to the ship’s pilot who guided the Spirit of Enderby out of the harbour. In order to make his exit he had to leap off the rope ladder from the ship onto the harbour patrol boat that had come up alongside. It was a very deft manoeuvre carried out in heavy seas. Quite exciting to witness. After winding down in the bar our chefs, Ed and Lance, served up a delicious dinner of either Glazed Salmon or New Zealand Lamb with Blueberry & Almond Cake for dessert – Yum! Now off to bed and see what tomorrow brings – perhaps The Snares??
Day 3: Friday 12th January
48⁰ S. 166⁰ 30’ E.
We were awakened at 6:00 a.m. with the announcement from Rodney that we needed to prepare for a Zodiac cruise. The strong seas had abated and we were going to explore The Snares! Hooray! The sun was shining and the birdlife circling the island was incredible to behold. We split into two groups using three Zodiacs with the first group departing at 7:15 a.m. First Rodney gave us a briefing on The Snares history and then explained Zodiac loading/unloading procedures as well as the intricacies of the Zodiac life-vest. We were eager to experience our first excursion into the Sub-Antarctic. We were not disappointed as our Zodiac drivers competently took us to a fascinating unique part of the world. We saw hundreds of Cape Petrels, dozens of Buller Albatross and then thousands of the endemic Snares Crested Penguin. These were our first penguins and they put on a show oblivious to our presence. Many were scattered along different portions of the island but an equal number were seen cavorting offshore, bobbing up as a group only a few metres from the Zodiacs. Cameras were kept busy as the wildlife included several New Zealand Fur Seals resting on the rocks, a group of Antarctic Terns and sightings of the tiny, black and endemic Snares Island Tomtit. Occasionally, a Hooker’s Sea Lion would swim past our Zodiac only to quickly disappear under water. We then returned to our ship and, using the ‘sailor’s grip’ disembarked and mounted the gangway to our breakfast awaiting. It was a marvellous start to our journey.
The afternoon program featured a briefing on biosecurity and an inspection and sign-off of our clothing. This was followed by an interesting lecture on the Auckland Islands by Rodney who has intimate knowledge on its history and bio-diversity. This ensured we would be well prepared for our visit to the Auckland Islands, a World Heritage Site. The plan is to spend two days exploring its geography, wildlife and history. During our quiet time passengers are finding their sea-legs and can be seen out on the decks with camera in hand or just admiring the superb flying skills of the prions, petrels and albatross. This evening’s Wildlife Club Meeting, led by Lisle, will certainly be a lively one with many species to be ticked off the list. The weather has been excellent all day and the seas remarkably calm as we now make for our next destination, the Auckland Islands. With favourable weather we expect to arrive in Port Ross by mid-night. That will ensure a good night’s sleep for all.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 4: Saturday 13th January
The Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
50⁰ 40’ S. 166⁰ 10 E.
We were gently awakened at 6:15 a.m. and learned that the sun was shining and the winds were non-existent. On looking out from our cabins we could see that we had indeed arrived in Port Ross which explained the deep sleep we had enjoyed. It would be a perfect day for visiting Enderby Island. And so it was. The first agenda item was an early morning briefing on the day’s program where two options were presented. Option one was to take the boardwalk across the island to its northern boundary and return to spend a quiet day observing the endless amusing antics of the hundreds of Hooker Sea Lions on Sandy Beach since it was the height of the breeding season. The second was to extend the walk and continue to circumnavigate the perimeter of the island arriving back at Sandy Beach, a distance of about 10-15km. As it turned out 42 people chose the longer walk.
For both groups it was a magic day with new experiences around every turn. We observed much new wildlife including parakeets, snipes, Auckland Island Flightless Teal, and Yellow-eyed Penguins. An additional bonus was our sighting of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross sitting on their cliff-side nests. Hooker Sea Lions were abundant and Sandy Beach was alive with the roar of the mature bulls and the squeals of the new born pups. The long walkers visited the sight of the 1887 wreck of the Derry Castle where 15 people perished. There was an occasional sea lion approach providing additional excitement to the outing. Although late in the growing season the plant life and flowers, including gentiana cerina and red Rata trees, were outstanding and the subject of many photographs. We enjoyed some free time at the end of the day which allowed us to complete our photography goals and meander at leisure amongst the beautiful scenes that nature presented to us on such a glorious day.
We returned to the Spirit of Enderby feeling tired but happy and looking forward to a hot shower and the tasty dinner that Ed and Lance would produce. An hour was spent in the bar recounting the experiences of the day and enjoying the camaraderie of our shipmates. A rousing rendition of Happy Birthday was sung by all as Helen celebrated her 60th. What a wonderful way to close a chapter of life. The day closed with a very productive meeting of the Wildlife Club that filled in many of the gaps in the record. During the night we’ll travel the 30 miles south to Carnley Harbour where we’ll pass through its magnificent entrance and visit the other two islands of the Auckland’s, Adams Island (no landing here), and the main Auckland Island. Day five looks to be another exciting day.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 5: Sunday 14th January
Auckland Islands – Carnley Harbour
50⁰ 40’ S. 166⁰ 10 E.
Our Hotel Manager Heidi awakened us at 6:45 a.m. to announce a heavy fog limiting visibility within Carnley Harbour. But the weather Gods were smiling on us and within half an hour the fog began to disperse and blue sky appeared overhead. As we proceeded further down the Western arm of the harbour the weather continued to improve. Finally we reached our destination in sight of the renowned and rarely visited Victoria Passage which separates Adams Island from the main Auckland Island. Adams Island is pest free and the passage helps maintain that status as a barrier to destructive pests. At our daily briefing two alternative excursions were presented. One was a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline and up into the end of the Western arm. The other was a strenuous hike up 200m to witness one of nature’s marvels – the breeding colony of the Shy AlbatrossThalassarche cauta. Our climb up the tussock slope was amply rewarded with a spectacular view down onto the cliff-side colony. There were hundreds of birds nesting on the surrounding cliffs while at any one time dozens were observed in flight against the dark blue ocean below. We were all stunned at the beauty of the scene before us. After taking our photos we rested for half an hour and simply gazed on in admiration. Our walk back down to the Zodiacs was a chance to absorb the magnificence of what we had just witnessed. As an added treat, and since we were blessed with calm seas and sunny skies our Zodiac drivers, Lisle and Rodney, took us through the narrow Victoria Passage on our way back to the ship – as did those on the Zodiac cruise.
We arrived in time for a welcome lunch. During the afternoon we were treated to a presentation by Lisle, our bird-man cum photography consultant, entitled ‘Seabirds of the Southern Ocean’. It was standing room only as we learned how to differentiate between the various sub-species of the albatross, petrel, shearwater and prion families. It was full of interesting information and excellent photographs. Our enjoyment of the birds that accompany our ship on this voyage will be greatly enhanced as a result. Lisle did admit that separation of sub-species from the moving ship is not an easy task but practice (and good binoculars) should improve our chances since now we know what to look for. During our happy hour at the bar Louise and Rodney completed the story of the Auckland Islands with additional detail on the sea lion populations and island history. We sail away this evening with an expanded appreciation for the Auckland Islands. With two good hikes under our belt we welcome the day of rest tomorrow as we sail down to our next destination, Macquarie Island.
Day 6: Monday 15th January
After two exciting days at the Auckland Islands we sailed out of Carnley Harbour and made a right turn south saying farewell to a fascinating group of islands. We certainly were fortunate and caught the Auckland Islands at their best. We’re now making our way towards our next destination, Macquarie Island, which lies 1500km south of New Zealand. We won’t arrive there before midnight. Today the Southern Ocean is living up to its name as we traverse the ‘Furious Fifties’. This has given us the chance to organise the hundreds of photos we’ve taken since departure as well as to write a few postcards to friends in faraway places. They will be special editions as the Macquarie Island postal office will stamp each one individually. Delivery could be a bit slower than usual however since the next ship doesn’t leave Macquarie Island until April!
By now most of us have gained our sea legs and are enjoying spending time on the bridge or in the fresh air out on deck. The variety of birds following the ship is truly amazing. The temperature is beginning to drop and it won’t be long before we put on the cold weather gear. This afternoon many of us caught up on sleep to renew our energy for the visit to Macquarie Island. Rodney gave a very informative lecture on the history and fauna of the island which is under the administrative wing of the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service and supported logistically by the Australian Antarctic Division. Macquarie Island has only recently been formed geologically about 500,000 years ago and is still rising at a fast pace as the Pacific and Australasian tectonic plates continue to collide with each other. It’s our intention to land at Sandy Bay tomorrow on the eastern shore to avoid the rougher seas of the west coast which is buffeted by the prevailing westerly. Tonight we prepared for tomorrow’s bio-security inspection to allow for a quick start to the day. It will be an early night for most after we enjoyed a delicious dinner of pan-fried salmon or chicken risotto. Our program is always subject to weather conditions but luck has been with us every day so far. Fingers crossed.
Day 7: Tuesday 16th January
54⁰ 30’ S. 158⁰ 40 E.
Last night everyone enjoyed a good sleep and all are ready to enjoy the new day ahead. We can see Macquarie Island through our portholes since the Spirit of Enderby is holding position outside Buckle’s Bay near the northern tip of the island. We can see the Australian base on the isthmus. This morning the Zodiacs delivered Jan the medical doctor to the base and picked up three rangers, Andrea, Matt and Penny from the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service. They’ll accompany us on our visit to Sandy Bay which has been postponed to tomorrow morning. Our attempt to land this afternoon has been forestalled by a sudden change in the wind now coming from the south and has been re-scheduled for tomorrow morning. Today’s afternoon program will focus on two lectures and a film describing the extensive pest eradication effort that has made the island completely pest-free and established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project extended over a period of several years and cost $32M dollars. The island was declared free of pests in 2014, three years ahead of schedule with the elimination of the last mice and rabbits. We’ve all completed our bio-security inspection and will be ready to land on the island tomorrow morning.
This afternoon’s program ended with a lecture by Lisle on photography in the Antarctic; that is, how to ensure we return home with quality photographs. His advice will go a long way towards ensuring we capture the memories of our voyage for ourselves and also for our friends and family to enjoy. The Wildlife Club was able to celebrate several highlights as the ship was visited all afternoon by swarms of Antarctic Prions. In addition, there were rafts of penguins spotted on the seas surrounding the ship including the diminutive Chinstrap Penguin and the Gentoo Penguin. Cameras were snapping excitedly when three mature Orca whales appeared near the ship and stayed with us for almost 30 minutes spouting and surfacing at various times near the ship. Our chefs Ed and Lance gave us another delicious meal to remember, a difficult choice between roast pork belly and John Dory on couscous followed by a custard panna cotta dessert. We’ll sleep well tonight and be ready for an early 6:30 a.m. start tomorrow when we plan to land on Sandy Bay Beach.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 8: Wednesday 17th January
Macquarie Island – Sandy Bay, Buckles Bay, AAD Base
Dobroe ootro! We were awakened at 6:30 a.m. with the announcement that it was all go for a landing on the beach at Sandy Bay. Breakfast was set for 7:30 a.m. with an 8:30 a.m. start for the Zodiacs. The weather had settled down since yesterday and the landing went very smoothly. We were dressed for cold wet conditions so the occasional drizzle did little to dampen our spirits. What a magnificent scene greeted us on the beach. The King Penguins formed a welcome party and gathered around us as we tossed our life jackets into the box and listened while our Australian ranger explained the best way to visit the area. We were easily distracted by the cacophony of activity around us – Elephant Seals were grunting and burping without embarrassment. The King Penguins were fraternizing with the sparky Royal Penguins as they both marched up and down the beach, some groups detouring into the surf while another contingent would emerge from the sea after feeding and with amusing yet mighty effort make their way onto the beach. Pairs of frisky juvenile Elephant Seals could be seen performing their mock battles for breeding superiority, rising up and throwing their enormous bodies against each other like medieval battering rams. Giant Petrels and restless skuas patrolled the coastline with their sharp vision always engaged for a free meal. We were mesmerised and at a loss for words as we wandered freely in the midst of Macquarie Island’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ of wildlife. A highlight was the boardwalk leading up to the enormous Royal Penguin colony above the beach where an estimated 60,000 penguins reside. The weather improved as the morning progressed and the last group returned to the ship at 12:30 p.m. after almost four hours observing, photographing and inhaling the memorable aromas of Sandy Bay.
After an excellent Italian pasta lunch we dressed once more for our second visit to the island. This time we landed at Buckles Bay on the eastern side of the northern isthmus of the island. Again it was a smooth landing but a very different experience from Sandy Bay. This is the location of the Australian Antarctic Division Research Station and is also where the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson established the communications station for his Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14. It has been an active research station continuously since 1948. We separated into four groups and were guided by a base staff member for a memorable afternoon. Beginning with a short climb up a stairway to the viewing platform we had a wonderful outlook northward on the base and the isthmus. Light-mantled Albatross flew in formation overhead at regular intervals. We then descended to the path and made our way to the western side of the isthmus through lush grasses with Elephant Seals lurking behind almost every tussock, in some cases three deep piled on top of one another. There we encountered a new penguin species, the Gentoo. Their orange feet and white head markings confirmed their lineage and we found ourselves once again reaching for our cameras. Our next stop was the station museum where we examined the relics that have been found on the island. These vary from spars lost from shipwrecks and staves of barrels that carried animal oil to Sydney to whale teeth of leviathans that have come to grief on the island. The station then hosted us to afternoon tea and scones which was welcomed heartily by all. This gave us an opportunity to purchase some souvenirs and mail home a few postcards. The tour ended with a visit to the digesters with which entrepreneur Joseph Hatch produced animal oil from elephant seals and penguins, a business that fortunately ended in 1911. We returned to the ship well satisfied with our day, having been out in the Subantarctic brisk climate for nine hours. Ed, Lance, Kate and Olga served up another delicious dinner of fish and chicken while we discussed which part of the day we found to be the most amazing. There were many candidates.
The day ended with another highlight as the Spirit of Enderby sailed turning southward once again. As we passed the southernmost portion of the eastern coastline we approached Lusitania Bay, the site of one of the largest penguin populations on the planet. The King Penguin colony alone has hundreds of thousands residents. It was yet another highlight in what had been an incredible day. We now looked forward to sailing through the ‘screaming sixties’ on our way to the frozen southern continent – Antarctica!
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 9: Thursday 18th January
Everyone had an early night and slept well although the ‘motion of the ocean’ had noticeably increased towards morning as we were once again in the open seas no longer sheltered by any adjacent islands. This would be the case for the next four days as we crossed the ‘screaming 60’s’ – also known as the ‘dead zone’ for the lack of bird life nor sight of land. Our daily program would be subject to weather and sea conditions but would give us time to reflect on the special experiences we had enjoyed on the Sub-Antarctic Islands and to organise our photographs and update our diaries. The library would also become a well visited facility and lectures on a variety of topics would certainly be well attended.
Our EL gave us a morning briefing on what we might expect as we make our way south to Cape Adare and then into the Ross Sea. Rodney described the latest ice chart and indicated that this year the annual ice pack had broken out such that the ocean currents had kept much of it hugging the coast of Victoria Land. This meant that certain bays would be plugged but others would open. It appears that McMurdo Sound will be open this year and allow us access to the sites of the historic huts at Cape Royds (Shackleton) and Cape Evans (Scott). That is very welcome news. Also there is a large polynya (area of open coastal water) at Terra Nova Bay which might enable us to land at Inexpressible Island and perhaps visit the Italian Base. Inexpressible Island is where Scott’s Northern Party survived an unplanned and extremely difficult six month period over winter living on minimal rations in a snow cave. Rodney introduced us to the ‘immersion body flotation suit’, a recent development in ocean vessel safety regulations. There is one of these for every person on the ship in case of dire emergency. Hopefully that will be as close as we will need to come to actually wearing one. The suit resembles an astronaut’s suit.
We’re now approaching the Antarctic convergence where the cooler Antarctic waters meet the warmer northern waters. This means that temperatures will continue to drop and warmer clothing will be needed. Everyone today was issued with a blue cold weather parka to ensure our comfort as we experience the amazing geography at the bottom of the world. Later in the afternoon Olga gave us an excellent lecture on Orca, her area of special expertise. Our knowledge of these magnificent creatures has now increased significantly. Regarding wildlife we have now left most of the Sub-Antarctic seabirds behind us, including the albatrosses but still see plenty of Antarctic Prions. Soon we will see Antarctic Petrels and the beautiful Snow Petrels. Today we sighted a pair of Hour-glass Dolphins and also what may have been a Humpback Whale.
This afternoon our Captain re-directed the ship to take us on a more easterly course to reduce the effect of the swell on the ‘rock n rollin’ of the ship. This has improved shipboard conditions significantly and a good night’s sleep will be our reward. Our first day sailing through the ‘dead zone’ has been a good one and we now are close to crossing the Antarctic circle at latitude 66⁰ 34’ S.
Day 10: Friday 19th January
The change of bearing yesterday had a salubrious effect and a smooth sailing night allowed everyone to sleep well. The weather pattern is also positive and with luck may see us through the entire ‘screaming sixties’. We’ve noticed a slight mistiness on the horizon as moisture condenses from the clash of temperatures over the Antarctic convergence. Also, our sea temperature has dropped from 8⁰ to 5⁰ today and should soon reach 2⁰C. In the early afternoon we crossed 60⁰S. latitude and are now in the official Antarctic region as defined by the Antarctic Treaty. The birdlife has definitely diminished although we are still seeing quite a wide variety of species albeit in low numbers. A Wandering Albatross (Salvin) was sighted today along with a few Sooty Shearwaters and various Antarctic Prions. No mammals were seen (other than Homo sapiens). Stephen gave his first lecture on Antarctic history ‘The Unveiling of Antarctica’ which was followed by the showing of Part I of the film ‘The Last Place on Earth’. The film is based on the book by polar historian Roland Huntford, and is an account of the race between Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian, Roald Amundsen to the South Pole. The afternoon was easy going with retail therapy provided by the opening of the Heritage Expeditions souvenir shop and a very informative lecture by Olga on ‘Seals of the Antarctic’. One message was to be wary of Leopard Seals – they are a serious predator of the Southern Ocean. Chances are we will sight several new species except perhaps for the Ross Seal which is very rare. New species for us would include the Weddell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals.
We have two more days of sailing before arriving at Cape Adare. The next highlight will be crossing the Antarctic Circle at 66⁰ 34’ S. At that latitude the sun begins its 24 hour presence on the longest day of the year (December 21). Everyone has also guessed the date and time of the sighting of the first iceberg. That should occur within the next 24-48 hours and will be worth a choice bottle of wine to the lucky iceberg expert. The passengers have enjoyed this lull in outdoor activity and taken advantage to re-build their energies for the exciting days in Antarctica that lie ahead. We expect to see an updated ice chart tomorrow that will give us an idea of how our journey will unfold.
The ship continues to sail smoothly and now it’s time to enjoy a mildly rocking slumber.
Day 11: Saturday 20th January
There was a sense of excitement in the air this morning as perhaps today we would see our first iceberg. We had traversed the Antarctic convergence and the temperature of both the ocean and the air had dropped. We watched episode 2 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’ and the plot was thickening with further revelations about Scott’s doubts about the use of skis and Amundsen’s paranoia about secrecy. We were left hanging as the Fram was surprisingly pointed ‘South’. After a brief interlude our learning continued as Sarah shared with us her extensive knowledge of sea birds, and in this case penguins. There are 18 separate species which fall into three categories: Great (Emperor and King), Brush-tailed, and Crested with the Yellow-eyed Penguin occupying its own reserved category. The Yellow-eyed is also the rarest penguin species. Sarah’s lecture was interrupted when Rodney announced over the intercom that the first iceberg had been sighted. Corey was the winner as staff was not eligible for the prize. Those at Corey’s table for dinner will certainly appreciate her bottle of fine wine.
We enjoyed our lunch and for some of us, a light nap followed before beginning the afternoon program. First up was the very moving film ‘Blackfish’ that told the story of the captive Orcas trained for entertainment shows at theme parks such as Sea World. It is a disturbing form of animal cruelty that hopefully will cease once people understand the effects it has on these highly intelligent and sensitive mammals. It is time that humankind acknowledged that it must exist alongside the natural environment and not on top of it.
In closing out the day Rodney gave a presentation explaining the Antarctic Treaty and how it relates to the tourism industry. It raised much interest and several questions regarding the different regulatory bodies involved. We are fortunate the original treaty, in its simplicity, has stood the test of time. We can only hope it continues to protect the Antarctic for future generations to enjoy.
Tonight the bridge was a busy scene as Light-mantled Sooty Albatross put on a flying display that kept cameras clicking on ‘burst mode’. Then more icebergs began to appear and further whet our anticipation for the Antarctic. We won’t be crossing the Antarctic Circle until after 1:00 a.m. tomorrow morning so celebrations are set to occur after breakfast. Since it is a Sunday, breakfast has been moved back half an hour to 8:30 a.m. The extra sleep will ensure we all are in good spirits for the ceremonial proceedings! Good night all.
Day 12: Sunday 21st January
The 30 minute extension to our sleep was much appreciated as we would soon enter the zone of 24 hour daylight which is a feature of summer life below the Antarctic Circle. The morning dawn was bright and clear including numerous bergs, both large and small floating in the distance in all directions from the ship. The seas were remarkably calm so much so that our ceremony for the crossing of the Circle was held in the open air on the bow of the ship rather than in the bar area on level 3. We could not have asked for better conditions for marking this important occasion. Sailors the world over go through a rite of passage to mark the first time they cross the Antarctic Circle aboard ship. A special tasty blend of mulled wine prepared by Ed and Lance was served out to everyone in preparation for the toast. Our EL, Rodney, then read Heritage Expeditions Oath of the Antarctic Circle which we all repeated and promised to uphold. (See text below). We then raised our cups and sipped the delicious nectar in our salute to protect the environment. Finally, Heidi, our Hotel Manager imprinted our foreheads with the Sign of the Penguin. Thus branded we proudly carried the symbol for the rest of the day.
Antarctic Circle Crossing
By anyone’s standards this event is an auspicious occasion – very few people have crossed the Antarctic Circle by ship.
So on this occasion we want to both celebrate the occasion and acknowledge its importance.
Today each of us joins a unique group of explorers that have gone before us not only showing us the way but giving us the courage to follow and to make our own destiny. We follow explorers such as Sir James Clark Ross, Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Sir Douglas Mawson, Richard Byrd, Sir Edmund Hilary and others that pioneered new routes south of the circle. Today we acknowledge them and their efforts.
Crossing the Circle also carries with it a responsibility – a responsibility that those explorers who went before us took seriously which is part of the reason that we are here today. They advocated for the protection of these lands and the wildlife that inhabited them, ensuring that future generations would have them to enjoy.
So today as we cross the circle I would like each of you to take this vow and receive the Mark of the Penguin – as evidence that you have crossed the Antarctic Circle and have taken the pledge which I am going to ask you to say after me.
Having endured the privations of the Roaring Forties, the rigors of the Furious Fifties and the ice strewn waters of the Screaming Sixties to cross the Antarctic Circle, pay homage to those early explorers who have not only shown the way but have demonstrated what it means to advocate for the continued protection of Antarctica and its wildlife. I (put your own name) hereby pledge that in accepting the Mark of the Penguin will, until I take my last expedition, advocate to everybody, even those who will not listen, the importance of the Antarctic and its wildlife.
Would you please step forward to receive the Mark of the Penguin.
Later in the morning our historian Stephen gave his second lecture focusing on the heroic age of Antarctic exploration from 1895-1922. He emphasised Carsten Borchgrevink and his Southern Cross expedition since we were soon to arrive at Cape Adare where Borchgrevink’s party spent the first winter on the Antarctic continent.
After spending an hour on the bridge admiring icebergs and wildlife we enjoyed a warming lunch of Asian Broth and tossed salad. The afternoon activity began with Part III of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. It again provided further grist for the mill of debate over the merits of Scott vs Amundsen.
The seas remained smooth as a sheet of paper (almost) and many passengers spent the next two hours on one of the four deck levels or on the bridge peering into the ocean looking for new Antarctic wildlife species. Their perseverance was amply rewarded with sightings of Adelie Penguins, a Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, Snow Petrel, and an Antarctic Prion. The highlight of the afternoon was sighting several Weddell Seals resting on ice floes as the Spirit of Enderby made her way through the broken ice pack that had floated out from the Ross Sea.
Our busy day concluded with a lecture by Louise, our DOC (Department of Conservation) rep on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its workings and challenges. Without doubt there remain many significant hurdles to overcome before we can say that the world’s whale species are no longer endangered after more than a century of excessive exploitation.
At dinner we celebrated the birthday of one of our Japanese passengers, Takayo. There isn’t a more memorable venue in which to spend your special day.
The Southern Ocean has granted us an exciting and beautiful day and unusually placid seas as well. May our good fortune continue as we enter the Ross Sea tomorrow! We plan to awaken at an early hour – 5:30 a.m within sight of Cape Adare. Very exciting indeed.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 13: Monday 22nd January
70⁰ 20’ S. 170⁰ E.
We awoke early in hopes of seeing Antarctica for the first time. We were not disappointed even though a slight cloudbank had placed itself between us and the continent. The massive snow covered peaks of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains loomed majestically above the clouds and removed all doubt that we would soon arrive at Cape Adare and the Ross Sea. Since we had to alter course during the night due to ice conditions we had lost a few hours and our ETA for Cape Adare is now noon. We spent the time on deck or on the bridge watching as we approached the continent. Snow Petrels were doing their graceful flight ballet around the ship and keen photographers were making the most of their display. Many of our guests chose to stand on the bow as the Spirit of Enderby skilfully threaded its way through the scattered ice pack. The seas again remained amazingly calm so as we reached a larger area of open water the Zodiacs were launched for a cruise amongst the ice floes many of which harboured resting wildlife. We slowly made our way from one floe to another, some with Adelie Penguins performing their often hilarious antics, others with quietly resting Crabeater Seals. On one floe a group of almost 50 Southern Giant Petrels had gathered and were having what seemed like a conference. This is a most unusual occurrence and our cameras were very busy capturing the unique event. We also sighted the dorsal fins of surfacing Minke Whales who were making their presence known but keeping their distance. The atmosphere was soothing with the lazy swell of the ocean silently raising and lowering the Zodiacs and floes. One ice floe resembled a broken house with the lights still on as blue light of every hue seemed to radiate from its fractured windows. The scenery in every direction was so spectacular and unique that we really didn’t have words to describe it and so we just admired it and counted ourselves very lucky to have this experience. We then returned to the ship with appetites sharpened and sat down to a tasty pizza lunch.
Our journey then continued southward as we left Cape Adare bound for the ‘Barrier’ and Ross Island. Our EL decided to take advantage of the fine weather and gentle seas as well as the favourable ice conditions to advance our visit to the historic huts in McMurdo Sound. The plan is to then exit the Ross Sea by sailing north keeping as close as possible to the Victoria Land Coast. There are several more potential stops along the way such as Franklin Island if coastal ice conditions continue to improve. We expect to arrive at the ‘Barrier’ by Thursday evening.
This afternoon we viewed Part IV of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. The plot has moved forward with Oates reprimanding Scott over the ponies and Johansen reprimanding Amundsen over his premature start for the Pole. Both parties have now begun their treks for the Pole so we’ll soon see which leader has done the better job.
Our historian Dr. Stephen Hicks gave his third lecture on Scott’s Discovery expedition which stirred discussion on the learnings, if any, that Scott applied to his subsequent Terra Nova expedition. A ‘History Club’ meeting was suggested to discuss questions and controversies that arise as we examine other Heroic Age expeditions. There was a noticeable amount of exuberance at Happy Hour today no doubt brought on by the amazing sights we had experienced as we Zodiac cruised under the watchful slopes of historic Cape Adare. Tomorrow, we’ll be at sea as we continue towards Ross Island where further highlights await. Tonight we’ll sleep the sleep of exhausted explorers.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 14: Wednesday 23rd January
The steady hum of the ship’s two powerful diesel engines accompanied us during the night as we the travelled south through the Ross Sea towards the ‘Barrier’. Unlike the early explorers we have some inkling of what awaits us. The moderate seas are rocking us just a little bit more today which for some passengers is just fine since it meets their expectations for sailing in these high latitudes. After a hearty breakfast we viewed Episode V of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. Both Amundsen and Scott have ascended their respective glaciers, Amundsen the Axel Heiberg, and Scott, the Beardmore, and have reached the polar plateau. Amundsen has just outdistanced Shackleton and passed his ‘furthest south’ within 97 miles of the Pole. We eagerly look forward to the concluding episodes.
Our morning was interrupted in a most remarkable manner when an Antarctic Petrel was seen from the bridge huddled in a corner on the forward deck of the ship. Ornithologist Dr. Sarah immediately took the situation in hand and rushed down to collect the stranded bird which could not achieve flight from that position. She carefully carried it to the bar where we had an opportunity to examine it and give it a health check before releasing it back to its home on the open ocean. It was such a surprising and unique experience!
Our morning then concluded with Stephen’s history lecture on Shackleton’s ‘Nimrod’ Expedition. This expedition was very successful and included the new ‘furthest south’ by Shackleton, Frank Wild, Dr. Marshall, and Adams, the first ascent of Mt Erebus, and the discovery of the South Magnetic Pole by Douglas Mawson, T Edgeworth David and Alistair Mackay. Shackleton was greeted as a hero on his return to England and rewarded by King Edward the VII with a knighthood. Our afternoon programme began with the film ‘The Last Ocean’, an account of the effort to establish an extensive marine reserve in the Ross Sea. We are grateful to Kate for bringing this documentary about the Ross Sea region to our attention. Those who wish may acquire the film or DVD from Amazon, ITunes or the official website. There is also a large format book that can be purchased.
In a very informative final lecture of the day Rodney explained the myriad different types of ice that might be encountered in the Ross Sea. After separating ice into the two major categories of ‘sea’ (salty) and ‘land’ (fresh) he introduced us to the full range from ‘frazil’ to ‘grease’ to ‘pancake’ and from ‘brash’ to ‘bergy bits’ to ‘fast’. But wait- there’s more: New, multi-year, old, shelf, glacial, cap, push etc. We are now amateur glaciologists and will be looking very differently at those chunks of frozen water.
Rodney then announced that the ship was making good time despite sailing against a southerly breeze and that we expect to arrive at the Barrier by 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. This is a major highlight of our journey and ensures that a good number of us will awaken early with cameras and binoculars at the ready. We then headed off to the bar where we tested our memories on how many types of ice we could recall.
Day 15: Wednesday 24th January
The ‘Barrier’ – Ross Island
77⁰ 30’ S. 168⁰ E.
Many of us awakened early to see the Ross Ice Shelf, the ‘Barrier’ as it was called by Scott and the explorers of the heroic age. By 7:00 a.m we could see it dimly in the distance as Mother Nature had given us a thin bank of fog through which to view one of wonders of the natural world. The ramparts of the great volcano Mt Erebus were just visible on its lower slopes. The low cloud layer persisted so we cruised towards the east for a short distance along the ice shelf before turning around to head for Cape Bird and the entrance to McMurdo Sound. Our goal is to reach Cape Royds and Shackleton’s hut that he erected for his ‘Nimrod’ expedition in 1907. As we entered McMurdo Sound we encountered pack ice in 5+/10 density which means slowing down to gently push and crack our way forward. The bumping into the floes, both large and small, adds some drama to our journey making us recall the problems experienced by the early explorers. Ice remains the major issue for sea-going transport in the Antarctic and we are experiencing that first-hand. We had a close encounter with a pod of Orca at noon with several passing right beneath the ship as they propelled themselves powerfully with the speed of a torpedo. They are such amazing creatures. Suddenly people rushed across the ship to the starboard side as a handsome Weddell Seal was spotted having a zizz on a lazily northward traveling ice floe. He/she posed and camera shutters began snapping. Two solitary Emperor Penguins were also seen in the distance as we proceeded to our resting place for the night at the southern edge of Cape Bird. We had now reached 77⁰ S. Since the seas were calm and the wind non-existent the Captain decided we would spend the night near the shore of Cape Bird. It will be ‘early to bed and early to rise’ as we want to visit the historic huts tomorrow if possible starting with Scott’s hut at Cape Evans. We’ll see what the weather brings in the morning. Passenger Riekie felt optimistic this evening about our chances since passengers and staff helped her celebrate her birthday with a mostly on-key group rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Breakfast tomorrow is at 7:00 a.m.
Photo credit: S. Gutowksy
Day 16: Thursday 25th January
McMurdo Sound – Cape Bird
77⁰ 29’ S. 167⁰ 10’ E.
This morning we arose early anticipating a view of Cape Evans from the ship. However before we could even get to Cape Royds the ‘A’ factor of – ‘A’ for Antarctic - loomed large in the form of strong southerly katabatic winds coming off the slopes of Mt Erebus gusting as high as 40 knots. The wind put paid to any hopes of a safe landing today, and with the improved forecast for tomorrow we returned to our calm position of the previous night. Those who rose earliest in the morning did get some beautiful views of the lower slopes of Mt Erebus with the main crater summit partially hidden by wispy cloud in places coloured pink like cotton candy. Mt Erebus often creates its own micro-climate. Several hardy travellers ventured out onto the decks to experience the full force of the katabatic air flow – an experience they will certainly never forget.
After breakfast ‘The Last Place on Earth’ moved forward with the showing of Part VI. Amundsen reached the Pole in what appeared to be an easy conquest. Scott and his party were on the other hand bitterly disappointed on their arrival at the Pole to discover Amundsen’s tent containing a letter for Scott containing a message to deliver to the Norwegian King Haakon in the event he failed to return. With only one episode remaining things do not bode well for the British party.
Later in the morning Lisle, our birder ‘par excellence’ gave his presentation on ‘Birds, Birders and Birding’ an inspirational account of Lisle’s own birding career describing many amusing aspects of bird lore, not the least of which is its arcane terminology. Lisle also gave us helpful advice on birding equipment especially binoculars, cameras and clothing. A tasty lunch of Cornish pastry followed honouring Lisle’s home county roots in England.
Since Cape Bird had calm conditions a Zodiac cruise was scheduled for the afternoon. At 2:00 p.m. we launched the five Zodiacs and began a fascinating tour of the ice floes all the while moving towards the immense Adelie Penguin colony that resides on the bare coastal patch just south of the ice cap glacial edge. Most of the floes contained varying numbers of Adelies and we took advantage of their close proximity to satisfy even the most passionate of our birders. It was the ideal environment for viewing these comical little creatures. There were penguins porpoising all round us, leaping up onto the floes and enthusiastically diving into the sea in equal numbers. It was penguin heaven. We were able to get a good look at the Cape Bird Adelie Penguin colony and estimated the population to be as many as 30,000. Our cruise included the extraordinary experience of landing on an ice floe amidst the curious Adelies. Standing and walking on an ice floe in McMurdo Sound is simply amazing. Back at the ship to sate our ravenous appetites Ed and Lance, Olga and Kate presented us with a delicious dinner of John Dory or Rack of New Zealand lamb. For dessert we shared a piece of Corey’s birthday cake specially baked in the kitchen. The staff helped Corey celebrate her special day with a rousing tuneless rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. Dinner was followed by a ‘Movie Night’ complete with drinks and popcorn featuring the movie ‘The Big Year’ a heart-warming story that will certainly help boost the birder numbers among our passengers. Our patience today in waiting out the poor weather at the historic huts was amply rewarded in what became yet another extraordinary day in our journey through the Antarctic. It’s hard to believe that we have now crossed the half-way point of this adventure. We have seen and done so much. What more can lie ahead?
Photo credit: S. Gutowksy
Day 17: Friday 26th January
77⁰ 38’ S. 166⁰ 25’ E.
We spent the night at the entrance to McMurdo Sound where the seas were a little bit choppy however we were up early and curious to see what the new day would bring. The ship’s engines were humming by 4:30 a.m. taking us back past Cape Royds and on down another ten miles to Cape Evans where the weather forecast was more favourable. We had a couple of hours and Stephen gave us his fascinating and timely lecture on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. He filled in the gaps of the movie telling us about the ‘Worst Journey in the World’ a winter slog in darkness to Cape Crozier in search of Emperor Penguin eggs. Also we learned about the incredible survival of the Northern Party who lived through a terrible six months of privation holed up in a snow cave on Inexpressible Island. We now have more good reading to delve into on our return!
After the lecture Rodney announced that we would soon arrive at Cape Evans and that conditions were good for a landing – also that we would be spending the day, without any fixed time limit, visiting the hut and its magnificent surroundings. At 11:00 a.m. the Zodiacs began transporting passengers and staff to the shore and the hut was opened for our inspection. On passing through the doorway we realised immediately that we had entered a very special place. Built in 1911 it remains as Scott’s men might have left it when they returned to civilisation missing their leader and four companions. The restoration conservators have done an outstanding job in protecting the huts natural atmosphere down to the finest details including the smell of the hay in the stables which were managed by Captain Oates of the Royal Dragoons. We spent the day absorbed in polar exploration history and marvelled at the spectacular setting as we wandered freely over the nearby hills. The hill containing the memorial cross to the three men who perished during Shackleton’s Aurora expedition offered distant views of Arrival Heights and Castle Rock at Hut Point. Mt Erebus stood tall in magnificent watch over the landscape with steam gently wafting from the summit crater. Tomorrow, we plan to sail further south towards Hut Point although we are not sure how far the ice will allow us to travel.
However, before that occurred a second major highlight is in store with a visit scheduled to Shackleton’s historic hut at Cape Royds. We will sail northwards for about an hour to reach the ‘Nimrod’ hut and weather conditions are expected to be very good. If this evening’s clear view of the peaks of Mt Erebus and of the Royal Society Range across the Sound are any indication, then it will be another spectacular day in Antarctica. Our luck has turned and we are revelling in the weather, the history and the joy of adventure and discovery. We rise very early tomorrow 6:15 a.m. so it’s early to bed to sleep the sleep of contented explorers.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 18: Saturday 27th January
77⁰ 33’ S. 166⁰ 10’ E.
We were awakened to the sound of the anchor being raised as the ship prepared to sail from the calm harbour at Cape Evans the fifteen miles north to Cape Royds. Today we would visit Shackleton’s hut built in 1907 to house his team for the ‘Nimrod’ expedition. It was this expedition where he reached 88⁰ 23’ S. and was bestowed a knighthood by King Edward VII. Breakfast was set 6:30 a.m. since we wanted to get off to a quick start today. With Captain Dimitri’s guidance the ship nosed her way through some pack ice into Back Door Bay. Rodney, Sarah and Olga checked out the shore ice for stability and returned with good news. The ice was solid and we should prepare to set out after a landing briefing on the Cape Royds SPA (Special Protected Area). During the briefing Rodney advised that launch was dependent on a final check with the Captain on ice conditions. Whoa! During the twenty minute briefing the ice played a trick on us and moved in to block our approach. Safety being paramount our EL opted for Plan B and we set a southerly course towards Hut Point. Eventually we encountered the pack ice and found our way into the channel recently cut by the American ice-breaker Polar Star which we could see in the distance. We also could see Arrival Heights and Observation Hill which mark both the US McMurdo Antarctic station (‘Mac Town’ as it is also known), and New Zealand’s Scott Base just 2km away at Pram Point.
Wildlife was abundant with Adelie Penguins and numerous Orcas, several Minke Whales, as well as a Leopard Seal and Emperor Penguin – an exceptional couple of hours certainly. Eventually we had to turn back since the channel was getting narrower and we were catching up to the ice breaker. But before heading out the Professor Krohmov stopped against the ice and we all spent some time cavorting on the ‘fast’ ice and throwing a Frisbee brought along by Bruce and Wendy for just such an occasion. What a unique experience it was to be walking out on a vast flat expanse of firm white snow. We then cruised northward along the fast ice and made a turn eastward short of Butter Point and made another attempt to land at Cape Royds. This time the ‘A’ Factor was on our side and conditions had improved dramatically. It was calm, ice free, and warm with Mt Erebus looking down on us in all its glory while a pair of Minke Whales swam gently across the bay – an idyllic scene. We implemented the morning’s Zodiac plan and began to shuttle 16 people at a time onto the fast ice at Back Door Bay. Two Adelies welcomed us to their corner of Antarctica as we walked across the ice, over an ice-free black lava flow, and soon reached Shackleton’s hut tucked into the valley below.
The history of the hut struck people in different ways but everyone was moved by the experience of being in the very building that Shackleton and his team of explorers such as Frank Wild, Frank Hurley and Douglas Mawson once called home. Seeing Shackleton’s signature on the bed head made it all too real. It was an experience that will stay with us forever. The day was beautiful and many of us took advantage to walk out to view the nearby Adelie Penguin rookery. It is the southernmost Adelie colony in the world and a very large one that spreads out across the rocky promontory of volcanic lava. The Adelies were in fine form and their calls could be heard across the headland. The views across the Sound to the Royal Society Range were incredible. The time at Cape Royds passed swiftly and the last shuttle left at 6:30 p.m. so we swept out the hut, replaced the shutters and locked the door. We left Cape Royds with fond memories that will sit alongside those of yesterday from Cape Evans.
As if that wasn’t enough Rodney took advantage of the ideal conditions and invited us to take the infamous ‘Polar Plunge’. It was a challenge that many couldn’t resist. The splashes followed by shrieks of agony as the sub-zero temperature of the sea hit home capped off our successful induction as Antarctic explorers. The hot shower afterward never felt more welcome. What an amazing two days it has been!
Our sojourn in McMurdo Sound has come to a marvelous end and we are now making our way to Franklin Island and its enormous Adelie Penguin colony. It’s time to say Goodnight! And we’ll see what the morning brings.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 19: Sunday 28th January
75⁰ 15’ S. 167⁰ 40’ E.
After a well-earned sleep we awoke to a misty morning and ice-free seas. We had emerged from the pack-ice and were sailing at full speed towards Franklin Island, so named by James Clark Ross to honour his friend, John Franklin, then Governor of Tasmania. The prospects remained good for a landing and spending several hours amidst its huge Adelie Penguin colony.
Rodney gave a briefing on the landing procedure which would occur subject to a closer inspection of conditions on shore. However, although the beach was OK and the surf was modest the seas nearer the ship were turbulent due to conflicting tide and wind. This meant loading the Zodiacs would entail some risk. It was decided to delay our approach to the island for a while to see if conditions improved. We all enjoyed the interesting documentary Solid Water – Liquid Rock, a stunning explanation of the relationship between the ocean and the volcano – McMurdo Sound and Mt Erebus. We now better understand what is going on below the waves and within the active volcano and its crater. The vain attempts to descend into the violent depths of the crater itself defy belief. Soon after came the announcement that conditions had improved with the tidal change and we would indeed by landing on Franklin Island. We dressed hurriedly – time was of the essence.
Once on the shore we stared in silence at the sight of tens of thousands of Adelie Penguins carrying on all manner of activity in our midst. This certainly was nature at its purest, hardest and most intoxicating (there was a pungent aroma of life in the air). We walked freely and carefully through the colony stopping every few steps to observe penguin family life. There were many moulting chicks and food chases, that amusing yet so vital of penguin behaviours, were common. Franklin Island brought home to us what an unspoilt environment can produce. Existence here is simple, raw, yet also balanced and even in an odd way, caring. After two or three hours we returned to the ship a little chilled but with much to think about. An extended lunch buffet was enjoyed by all and we retired to savour our time in one of the world’s largest Adelie Penguin colonies. Being a Sunday our evening meal was a delicious roast of either New Zealand lamb or beef served with roast vege. Yum! Rodney then announced the unexpected decision to return to the ’Barrier’ and that we would have another chance to view the dramatic cliff edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. With arrival time due at 5:30 a.m. most of us headed for an early night looking forward to what tomorrow might bring.
Day 20: Monday 29th January
The Ross Ice Shelf aka the ‘Barrier’
77⁰ 30 S. 168⁰ 15’ E.
Many of us awoke very early before the 5:30 a.m. wake-up announcement – The ‘Barrier’, the intimidating white stop-sign that halted the southward progress of the early explorers, was in sight. Our return to the Ross Ice Shelf was prompted by a storm further north at Cape Adare as well as the possibility that we might enjoy a fog-free look at its fearsome crisp 150 ft. high edge. We were not disappointed. It was an awesome scene as the sharply sheared edge stretched endlessly both east and to Mt Terror in the west. It was biting cold on deck but that didn’t discourage those with cameras as their fingers slowly began to freeze with the excitement. Then just when it couldn’t get any better a huge pod of Minke Whales were seen making their way along the Barrier’s edge. Many wonderful photographs were again taken. We won’t ever forget what we were so privileged to experience this morning.
At 8:30 a.m. as we passed Cape Crozier and Mt Terror the Spirit of Enderby turned to starboard and headed north sailing towards Cape Adare. We have 300 miles to travel before we exit the Ross Sea so our day will be spent with our photos, library perusals and lectures and, of course, delicious meals and spirited conversation. Our days in the Ross Sea have been simply incredible, amazing, awesome…
It was also time to view the final episode of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. Despite heroic contributions by many on his team including Titus Oates supreme sacrifice, his polar party perished only 11 miles from One Ton Depot where they might have found life-saving provisions. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and as Amundsen poignantly remarked on learning of Scott’s death “In death, he wins”. The expedition was a Greek tragedy of the highest order. What might Shakespeare have done with this story?
In the afternoon Olga gave a very informative lecture on Cetaceans. These include species in the whale and dolphin families. We learned that there are many sub-types of whales such as Beaked and Baleen and further types within sub-types such as Minke, Humpback, Right, Sperm and many more. It was fascinating to learn that there are Sperm Whales that breed in equatorial waters but at different times of the year depending on whether the males come from the northern or southern oceans. Since winter occurs at opposite sides of the calendar the males of one hemisphere never meet the males of the other thus avoiding needless competition. Amazing!
The formal program was completed by Stephen’s last lecture about the heroic age of Antarctic exploration – Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. This also included a description of the expedition’s Ross Sea Party support expedition which was almost equally harrowing. These ‘forgotten men’ stayed in Shackleton’s old hut at Cape Royds and established depots out to the base of the Beardmore Glacier. These were intended for use by Shackleton for the final leg of his journey as he crossed the continent from Vahsel Bay on the Weddell Sea. Unfortunately Shackleton never arrived having been trapped in the notorious Weddell Sea ice pack. Three of the party perished which was a serious blow for the expedition. The Ross Sea party were eventually rescued by Shackleton with the arrival of the Aurora at Ross Island captained by John King Davis in February 1917.
This long and wonderful day in the Antarctic was topped off by a magnificent dinner of coq au vin with crème brulee for dessert. Tomorrow is a day at sea as we make our way north to Cape Adare. We hope the storm will have abated by the time of our arrival.
Day 21: Tuesday 30th January
Since we’re at sea it’s a good time to go shopping. Heidi opened the Heritage gift shop at 10:00 a.m. and business was brisk as it would be the last opportunity this voyage to pick up that special gift. The scarves and beanies were especially popular as well as Rodney’s book on the Sub-Antarctic islands entitled ‘Galapagos of the Antarctic’.
Olga then showed the film of a captivating lecture by Phillip Clapham on whaling entitled ‘Managing Leviathan in a Post-Whaling World’. Clapham gives an account of the wanton destruction of the world’s whale population over the past century as millions of whales of all species were hunted to the brink of extinction. We hope mankind i.e. the IWC will finally realize that such slaughter can only end badly not only for the whales but for the human race as well.
The documentary ‘Frozen Heart’, a life of Roald Amundsen, was shown as the afternoon’s opening activity. It reveals the tragic life of the great Norwegian explorer following his triumph at the South Pole. He could never settle down and live a more ‘normal’ life but kept looking for the world’s adulation, often at the expense of his personal life. His death in a plane crash while searching for the Italian dirigible pilot Umberto Nobile brought an ironic end to this giant of the heroic age. History was at the forefront today and Stephen then moderated the inaugural meeting of the ‘History Club’. Several pithy questions concerning Amundsen and Scott’s race to the Pole were on the agenda and spirited discussion ensued. Both sides of each question were analysed for which very few ‘right answers’ exist. However, our understandings of the facts around each question were certainly clarified. What remained as a variable are our interpretations of those facts and their impact on the expedition outcomes. Many questions remain for future meetings.
Happy Hour was kicked off by an Antarctic Wildlife Games program featuring identification of twenty-five of the species we have seen and placed correctly in a fixed pattern. This was an exciting test of our memories and knowledge of Antarctic birds and mammals. Roy was especially proficient and had a very good night indeed.
We’re now approaching Cape Adare. The Captain reduced power to only 1 engine in order to slow us down a bit. This would allow the storm at Cape Adare time to move on. However, the storm has also pushed ice up against our landing area and cut off access from around the Cape. This has considerably reduced our chances of visiting Borchgrevink’s hut, the first building placed on the Antarctic continent. We’ll have to see what the morning brings. We expect to arrive at Cape Adare at about 1:30 a.m. The seas are pretty rough at the moment so the best place for the next few hours will be in our bunks. See you in the morning.
Day 22: Wednesday 31st January
The sun was shining and seas were calm when we awoke this morning. We are sailing at full speed north on a course for the Balleny Islands since access to Cape Adare was blocked by 5km of the shifting pack ice. The first island of the group, Sturge Island, is 190 miles north-west of our current position. They are an extension of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Sabrina Island, the smallest of the group is an SPA and home to the only colony of Chinstrap Penguins on this side of the continent. There is also a colony of Adelie Penguins on the island. We expect to arrive at Sturge Island at 1:30 a.m. so it could be an early wake-up for some. Since we’ll be at sea today’s program features films and lectures. However, the Ballenys are known as a region rich in wildlife so we’ll be keeping a lookout for birds and ocean going mammals.
Our first movie, presented by Lisle, was ‘Ice Bird’, a documentary on Adelie Penguins that gave an excellent description of their life cycle. Unlike Emperor Penguins, Adelie Penguins breed in the austral summer. This explains why their colony at Franklin Island was so busy. Skuas and Leopard Seals are their natural predators.
This was followed by the film ‘90⁰ South’ produced by Herbert Ponting, a first-hand account of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. Ponting was official photographer on the expedition and had intimate knowledge of its conduct and wintered over with Scott’s team. The film is almost one-hundred years old but still quite entertaining and is an important part of the expedition’s record. It does however present a ‘heroic’ version, as compared to the Roland Huntford based film ‘The Last Place on Earth' .
Lunch today was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a large number of whales not too far from the ship. We changed course temporarily to get a closer look and were rewarded with whales spouting and surfacing in every direction. These were mostly Fin Whales, perhaps a dozen of them, but we were thrilled to observe a mature and rare Blue Whale, the largest creature on the planet, among them. It was an extraordinary highlight for us on what we thought would be a quiet ‘day at sea’. It proved that in the Antarctic one has to be ready for wonderful surprises. We certainly will be spending time on deck or on the bridge over the next couple of days as we cruise through this very remote island group.
After things had calmed down and we had enjoyed a delicious lasagne lunch, Stephen presented a lecture on expeditions of the post-heroic age period starting in 1928 with the Australian explorer and adventurer Hubert Wilkins, American Richard E. Byrd and up to the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Dr. Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1955-58. Stephen’s lecture was appropriately followed by a film documenting Byrd’s historic flight to the South Pole, with pilot Berndt Balchem, at the controls, in 1929. We are fortunate that both the Scott and Byrd expeditions were filmed in real time and we are still able to connect with this exploration history today.
Our menu for dinner included choice rib-eye steak so we should all sleep well – at least until the 1:30 a.m. wake-up call!
Everyone is excited about visiting the little-known Balleny Islands.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 23: Thursday 1st February
Balleny Islands: Sabrina, Monolith, Row (Chinstrap), Sturge, Buckle, Borradaile, Young
65⁰ 30’ S. 166⁰ E.
We were awakened at 1:30 a.m. by Rodney announcing that we could see Sturge Island off the starboard bow, our first view of the Balleny Islands. The group was discovered by British sealer John Balleny in 1838 while on a sealing voyage sponsored by the Enderby Bros of London, and a syndicate of investors after whom the islands are named. The brig Sabrina also gave her name to one of the islands. The group consists of the seven islands named above. We cruised closer to get a good view of Sabrina Island and its unique colony of chinstrap penguins as well as the massive stalagmite-like Monolith. It was Antarctic geography at its most spectacular. Cameras were firing furiously once again as the dawn light began to glow. The seas didn’t allow for a Zodiac cruise but the early morning light ensured high quality photographs since the ship had made its close approach.
We then witnessed the most extraordinary event as an Eclipse of the Moon was occurring, backlit by glacier-capped Sturge Island with the dawn light reflected off its lower ice cliffs. It was such an unforgettable scene to experience as our introduction to the remote Balleny Islands!
We spent the entire morning gazing at the islands as the ship made her way through the group using the straits that separate them from each other. We finally exited after passing Young Island and within a few hours we had re-crossed the Antarctic Circle, this time heading north. We had left Antarctica behind and were now making for Campbell Island, New Zealand’s southernmost territory. The Ballenys gave us a fond farewell with yet another incredible display from whales of several types including, Humpback, Fin and Blue species. Since the Southern Ocean was living up to its ‘screaming sixties’ reputation and given our wake-up during the night no films or lectures were scheduled and passengers caught up on rest, reading and photo editing.
With over six hundred miles to travel we will now spend three more days at sea with an ETA at Campbell Island’s Perseverance Harbour of Sunday evening, February 4th. We’ll use the intervening time to re-new our energies after an absolutely amazing visit to the bottom of the world.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 24: Friday 2nd February
After a good night’s rest we were eager to see what today would bring. After a hearty breakfast our bird expert Sarah gave a presentation on her inaugural field trip experience to the Sub-Antarctic Iles Kerguelen. They are under French administration and are located below the Antarctic Circle in the Indian Ocean between South Africa and Australia. Sarah described how she participated in scientific studies of albatrosses and sea elephants. This involved banding various birds and attaching GPS trackers as well as other sensors to temporarily determine their behaviour. The studies even extended to a psychological assessment of the albatross and correlating their breeding success accordingly. Often she had to hold the birds sometimes weighing 10-20kg while placing the bands. Wrestling with a sea elephant was more of a two person job. The terrain was extreme and a fine sense of balance if not mountaineering skills was certainly a pre-requisite for this assignment which helped launch her current career in expedition guiding.
This was followed by the showing of Part I of the film ‘Longitude’ with Part II shown after lunch. It dramatizes John Harrison’s development of the solution for determining longitude, at that time the Holy Grail of navigation. After several attempts he was successful in building an accurate chronometer that would retain its accuracy despite ocean tempests. He struggled for recognition but was eventually acknowledged late in life and won the £20,000 prize offered by the admiralty.
Capping off the afternoon polar historian Stephen described the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58) led by British geologist, Dr. Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand. The expedition was the last of the traditional private expeditions and was the first to achieve a crossing of the Antarctic continent thus realising Shackleton's goal for his 1914 Endurance expedition.
Everyone is better appreciating the vastness of the Southern Ocean as we have two more days at sea before reaching our last stop, beautiful Campbell Island. We expect to arrive in Perseverance Harbour the evening of February 4. It’s time now for another good night of rest. The sunset tonight was absolutely beautiful.
Day 25: Saturday 3rd February
At Sea – 367 miles from Campbell Island
Today’s advice is “one hand on the ship and one hand for you” as the furious fifties live up to their reputation. The library is getting a lot of use and photographs are being reviewed, discarded, edited and selected as the ‘best of the voyage’. Lectures are on hold until the seas calm themselves a little.
Amazingly Ed and Lance, Olga and Kate continue to serve up delicious meals at the appointed hour. Our dieting objectives are not easily met. We’ll hit the hay early tonight and with only one more day ‘at sea’ our anticipation to get up close to the Southern Royal Albatross of Campbell Island is rising. Our ETA is now less than 24 hours and is estimated to be 6:00 p.m. tomorrow evening. Let’s all enjoy a good night’s rest.
Day 26: Sunday 4th February
It’s been a roly-poly night as the Southern Ocean shows its character – we are in the ‘furious fifties after all. We now have 110 nautical miles to Perseverance Harbour and a calm berth. Our ETA remains about 6:00 p.m. as we are making good time despite the rough seas. It’s a day of restful activities in preparation to explore beautiful Campbell Island, New Zealand’s southernmost territory.
Our approach to Campbell Island was blessed with blue skies and the amazing outline of the various islands brought passengers to the ‘monkey deck’. We entered the calm waters of Perseverance Harbour and marvelled at the greenery and verdant hills that bordered the entrance. The quantity and variety of albatross and shearwaters flying in the harbour was amazing and our cameras were put to work once more.
As we turned to look behind us a spectacular rainbow stretched across the harbour, certainly a good omen for our visit. An albatross was even captured on camera just at the rainbow’s end. We dropped anchor on schedule at 6:00 p.m. and retired to the bar for a pre-dinner drink. Since leaving Franklin Island we had sailed over 1000 miles out of the Ross Sea, through the Balleny Islands and across the Southern Ocean to Campbell Island. We are looking forward to some vigorous exercise during the next two days. Sarah then hosted our traditional quiz night with 50 questions to challenge the pax on the lecture topics that had been presented so far. The winning team celebrated with bottles of wine at their table. We’ll all sleep well as the ship floats quietly in the harbour. Campbell Island has a lot to offer so we’ll have an early wake up tomorrow for 7:00 a.m. breakfast. Dobrij vyecher!
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 27: Monday 5th February
52⁰ 32’ S. 169⁰ 09’ E.
The night was calm and we all had a quiet slumber. The morning started out a bit wet but improved steadily as the squall moved on with the westerly breezes. At 7:15 a.m. Rodney gave an introductory lecture on Campbell Island history. This included the note that its discoverer, Captain Hasselborough, who also discovered Macquarie Island, was sadly drowned later here in Perseverance Harbour. A briefing followed where the options for the day’s activities were outlined. These include a ‘long walk’ of about 6 hours from Camp Cove out to Northwest Bay and back along Tucker Cove to the researcher huts at the wharf. The alternative was to join a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline looking out for rare Flightless Campbell Island Teal and sea lions. This includes a visit to the ‘loneliest tree in the world’, a Sitka spruce planted during the nineteenth century at Camp Cove. This site is noted in the book ‘The Lady of the Heather’, the story of a young woman exiled from Australia who lived in a nearby stone hut for many years until she mysteriously disappeared. In the afternoon the highlight is the easy walk up the boardwalk to Col Lyall Saddle with its spectacular view over Northwest Bay. Along the way are the dozens of nest sites of the beautiful Southern Royal Albatross which we can photograph at leisure from close range.
The ‘long walk’ option found 19 hardy souls who not only survived but had an amazing time exploring rarely visited parts of the island. Apart from a great day out one of their many rewards was the sighting of the rare Antipodean or New Zealand Albatross on the ground. Their 7-8 hour tramp removed all signs of cabin fever that might have been stirring.
The patrons of the Zodiac cruise were equally rewarded despite the occasional short-lived snow squall. The elusive Flightless Campbell Island Teal made several appearances that satisfied keen birders as well as the many Campbell Island Shags that posed proudly on shore-based boulders. The ‘loneliest tree in the world’ featured in a landing at Camp Cove that allowed passengers to ford a fresh-water stream and admire the Sitka spruce that has survived 150 years in the harsh sub-Antarctic climate.
Those who chose to travel the boardwalk up to Col Lyall Saddle might have had the best of it, also despite snow squalls and the occasional rise in altitude. However, albatross reside in high places to take full advantage of the wind. When your wings are 3 metres from tip to tip you can use a little help in taking off. Those who weathered the weather were treated to an intimate and truly surreal encounter with these magnificent creatures. It was as if they had invited us into their private living room. We spoke not a word and it was as if we were not there at all. They walked amongst us and went through all of their courting behaviours while we looked on in awe unsure if we should merely observe or whether we should take photographs. We did indeed take many photographs that will be treasured after we have left this incredible part of our planet! We fortunately had been on a loose schedule that allowed maximum opportunity to experience these special moments with the last Zodiac set for 8:00 p.m.
We completed another perfect day with a tri-fecta birthday party complete with balloons and bubbly, as Jeremy, Jessica and Helen each celebrated their passage into a new year. For Helen it was an especially important milestone. There was delicious cake for everyone. Yummy – thanks to Ed and Lance, Olga and Kate. Tomorrow is another day and some of us may be able to ‘knock Mt Honey off’ (to borrow a Kiwi phrase). Sleep well everyone.
Day 28: Tuesday 6th February (Waitangi Day)
At 6:00 a.m. ten keen climbers, with Mt Honey in their sights, were transported by Zodiac to the trailhead at the end of Garden Bay. By 10:00 a.m. led by Olga and Dr. Bruce they had attained the summit and were looking down on the Spirit of Enderby from 569m, almost a record for this ‘walk’. They returned by noon all in good spirits after their exhilarating outing. Albatross were seen nesting on the slopes and Campbell Island Snipes were also sighted.
The Col-Lyall Saddle drew 16 participants who separated into two groups, one that chose to take the boardwalk up to the higher levels led by Stephen, and the other that was content to hunt for snipe and other interesting wildlife at the lower levels led by Sarah. Sarah was successful with sighting of four snipe, one chick and one actually asleep and also a Yellow-eyed Penguin chick which was waiting patiently for its parent to return from a foraging excursion. It was a good walk of 4km up to Col Lyall Saddle with a brief blizzard to whiten up the landscape. Interestingly the albatross were almost non-existent compared with the previous afternoon. The morning is never a good time to sight albatross on land as they have departed early to forage on the ocean and return only in late afternoon to their nests and for their gamming rituals. The Zodiac cruise among the bays was equally popular and weather conditions were very good with the occasional snow squall. Sea lions were abundant as well as Campbell Island Shags and Pipits. An old rusted cauldron lying on the shore was investigated and determined to probably be from the homesteading days.
After two memorable days on Campbell Island the ship was fired up after dinner and the anchors were raised as we prepared to leave Perseverance Harbour. We now headed towards Bluff, 360 nautical miles distant. Rodney advised us to be ready for some ‘motion in the ocean’ as the wind had picked up in the ‘roaring forties’. He was correct (as usual) and we spent the afternoon moving carefully about the ship preparing for the end of our journey. Our ETA at Stewart Island is 6:00 p.m. tomorrow evening when we’ll share our final dinner together. What a wonderful journey it has been. We’re now dropping off our name tags, returning books to the library, exchanging photos, e-mail addresses and generally getting ready to face the ‘real world’ once again.
Photo credit: S. Gutowsky
Day 29: Wednesday 7th February
At Sea - Stewart Island, New Zealand
We slept as the two diesel engines hummed and the Southern Ocean lived up to its reputation. We are mostly hardened sea-dogs by now and, if not quite, the Port of Bluff is less than a day away. Tonight we’ll celebrate our voyage with a special dinner in the protective lee of Stewart Island. We’ll be celebrating the seventh birthday (a record) of the trip with Mick reaching another milestone today. Our ETA is 6:30 p.m.
The afternoon’s activities included a special presentation by the chefs, Ed and Lance, entitled ‘Saucery on the High Seas’. They revealed the magic that the galley staffs uses to produce our consistently delicious food, three times a day, despite sometimes very trying conditions. It was also time to face the music and settle our accounts generated over the past 30 days. We then gathered in the lecture room for the final group meeting of our voyage. Rodney described tomorrow morning’s disembarkation procedure. Three items of note – quarantine, checked bags in the hallway (blue ribbons for airport delivery and yellow ribbons for the Kelvin Hotel) and passports for customs clearance. Rodney then conveyed Captain Dimitri’s and the crew’s best wishes to the passengers and thanked his staff for their efforts in making this such a successful journey. He also acknowledged our Russian crew who had done such a fantastic job throughout our journey.
We then enjoyed a wonderful photographic ‘summing up’ of our voyage with an outstanding video prepared by Lisle and Sarah accompanied by an upbeat soundtrack. This brought a tear of emotion to many as we relived the highlights knowing that our journey was about to end. We then were able to obtain a copy of this memento of the voyage on a suitably named ‘memory’ stick.
Day 30: Thursday 8th February
Port of Bluff, New Zealand
The Spirit of Enderby engines roared to life at 5:30 a.m. for the last leg of our journey, from Stewart Island’s protective coast to the port of Bluff 25km away across Foveaux Strait. It was a fine morning and at 6:30 a.m. the Pilot boat came alongside and the pilot nimbly transferred to the rope ladder and climbed aboard to guide us safely into harbour.
They say all good things must come to an end and we must agree that we’ve had a unique and in many ways incredible series of experiences. From close-up encounters with rare forms of wildlife, to the magnificent and massive scale of land, sea, and ice-scapes, to moving visits to the historic huts of both Scott and Shackleton. We have been privileged to follow in their footsteps and may the grit of the polar explorers continue to inspire us to pursue our own seemingly impossible dreams.
In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton
17 January – 15 February 2014
Nathan Russ Expedition Leader
Helen Ahern Hotel Manager
Catherine Bone Naturalist and zodiac driver
Nigel Brothers Lecturer, Naturalist and zodiac driver
Lloyd Spencer Davis Historian and Naturalist
Scott Davis Photographer
Selva Dhanabalan Doctor
Ray Smith Chef
Nick Bruerton Chef
John Barkla government observer / DOC
Expedition Log written by Lloyd Spencer Davis with assistance from Catherine Bone
Day 1. Friday 17 January 2014
Against all the odds it seemed, here we all were in Invercargill, New Zealand, with our ship – the Akademic Shokalsky – tied up at the nearby port of Bluff.
The Shokalsky had become stuck in ice in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, on Christmas Day. An attempt by a Chinese ice breaker to rescue it had only made a bad situation worse, with the Chinese ship also becoming trapped in the pack ice. As the last of 2013 ticked by, the Akademic Shokalsky remained firmly mired in the thick ice and hopes of it reaching New Zealand on schedule for our expedition began to dwindle. An attempt to get to our ship by the Australian ice breaker, Aurora Australis, succeeded only in retrieving the passengers: the little ship sat stubbornly in its icy cocoon.
By the end of the first week of the new year, our prospects of going to Antarctica had looked pretty dismal. Then, miraculously, Antarctica had loosened its grip on our ship: cracks appeared in the ice and the Shokalsky picked its way to freedom, eventually arriving in Bluff on Tuesday 13 January, some eight days behind schedule.
We assembled at the Kelvin Hotel for dinner and a briefing by Nathan Russ, the expedition leader. It was as convivial a gathering of passengers as could be imagined: some old friends were reunited, many more new ones were in the process of being made. We were relaxed, we were excited. We were, without exception it seemed, in good humour.
Day 2. Saturday 18 January 2014
The morning began with checking in our bags, followed by a walk to the Southland Museum to get a foretaste of the Subantarctic islands and to learn about New Zealand’s ‘living dinosaur’, the Tuatara. There was time for some last-minute shopping for those who wanted it and time for a last latte for those who needed it. After lunch back at the hotel, we boarded a bus for the twenty-five minute drive to Bluff and our hastily prepared ship.
To be honest, the ship looked like it had seen better days. It seemed positively miniature compared to the luxury cruise ships that ply New Zealand’s coasts exuding expense with their spotless and chic all-white appearance. The Shokalsky, by contrast, wore its colours with a sort of gulag pride: a mixture of blue, white and rust. Yet, it would prove to be a comfortable ship that we would come to treat more as our home than a ship for the next month. Nathan had also been at pains to stress that the ship had undergone a rigorous inspection upon its arrival in Bluff and that it had come through its ordeal in Commonwealth Bay unscathed – which seemed a much more reassuring testimonial than having a white hull might have been.
We set sail at 4pm, right on schedule (a remarkable achievement given the circumstances and thanks to the sterling work of the crew of the Shokalsky, Heritage Expeditions and Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris). It was a glorious afternoon, full of sunshine and blue skies: many of us stood on the upper and outer decks as the ship cleared the heads at Bluff shadowed by the pilot’s vessel. As if on cue, an albatross flew close by. Foveaux Strait, a notoriously rough piece of water at the best of times and prone to even rougher fits in the worst of times, looked uncharacteristically calm. After the uncertainties of the preceding couple of weeks and the rain and cold of the preceding few days, the omens seemed especially good for the voyage that lay ahead of us.
The calm would prove short-lived. We travelled down the eastern side of Stewart Island so as to get some shelter from the winds that were building from the west. Time enough for dinner and for Nathan to announce that we would abandon plans to stop at the Snares Islands: the conditions would not permit the intended Zodiac cruise. We would try the Snares again upon the return leg. For now instead, we would batten down the hatches and make our way to the Auckland Islands: preferably in bed, he advised.
Day 3. Sunday 19 January 2014
Sea travel can get much worse than we experienced that night (think A Perfect Storm) – but it was bad enough for most of us. The wind climbed to over 30 knots and the sea conditions were very rough. We were literally tossed from one end of our bunks to the other, often being thrown against the bulkhead with force. In the morning there were the walking wounded and the non-walking wounded. Kurt had smashed his head in several places and required stitches. Jerome had dislocated his shoulder and was left wearing a sling and a grimace that only suffering through extraordinary pain can bring. Richard, our onboard QC, sported a black eye, as if one of his clients had turned on him and that client happened to be called Mike Tyson. Many of the rest of us lay confined to our bunks feeling none too well, a groan being just about all we could offer by way of conversation whether there was anyone there to listen or not. The Shokalsky was like a ghost ship with hardly anyone up as we continued on our way to the Auckland Islands.
For those capable of venturing out, Cape Petrels and various species of albatross had been pretty much our constant companions, while a pod of Hourglass Dolphins delighted for a short while as they surfed upon our bow wave. It was with much relief for pretty much everyone when we entered the calmer waters to the south of Enderby Island and eventually anchored at Port Ross Harbour at 7pm. The low lying islands that surrounded us were covered with the red of flowering Rata trees, a glorious sight, although, the way some of us felt at the time, they could have been covered in nothing but mud and they would still have been a welcome sight.
Day 4. Monday 20th January 2014
Blue skies greeted us in the morning and the mood on board was very buoyant. While we had slept, the Shokalsky had weighed anchor and travelled down to Erebus Cove where we would make our first landing at the site of the failed settlement of Harwicke. The Zodiacs ferried us across to a small bay with a rocky beach. From there we trooped up through the Rata forest to the small graveyard, where a white picket fence surrounded a small collection of half a dozen crosses and gravestones. The most poignant was for a child who had died on 22 November 1850, aged just three months. Her father had manufactured the gravestone from a wheel intended to sharpen his implements.
We retraced our footsteps before following another path, this time one that hugged the shoreline to the east. Brilliant green moss carpeted the boughs of the Rata trees and a kaleidoscope of fallen leaves in greens, browns, reds, yellows and golds made up the ground cover between the trunks of the trees. We seemed to be walking through a magical forest that could have been conceived by Disney. Our path ended at the twisted stump of a tree that had been felled one and a half centuries earlier. Known as the Victoria Tree, it was engraved with the words, ‘H.M.C.S. VICTORIA, Norman, In Search of Shipwrecked People, October 13, 1865’. It was essentially graffiti left by the men of the Victoria, under the command of W.H. Norman, when it had gone to the New Zealand Subantarctic islands to search for castaways from shipwrecks and to release such animals as pigs, goats, rabbits, geese, and guinea fowl to hopefully establish breeding populations that could provide sustenance in the event of any future shipwrecks. It is probably true to say that some of us felt a deal of sympathy for Norman and his men – despite not normally sanctioning either graffiti or the introduction of foreign species to such a precious environment. Our passage to the Auckland Islands had taught us that Norman had been right about at least one thing: shipwrecks in the Subantarctic islands were not so much a possibility as they were a certainty.
Back on the beach, many of us took photographs of the curve of the bay capped with the colourful Rata trees as we waited for the Zodiacs to take us back to the ship. It may have been a tough place to eke out a living in the 1850s, but as we stood there in 2014 with the sunlight warming us and the views enchanting us, it felt more like a Sunday picnic. However, as if to underline just how far we were from civilization – even in 2014 – and just how quickly lives could be put at risk, Wynona fell ill. We were pretty much at the outer limit for getting a medical evacuation to New Zealand via helicopter and the decision was taken to evacuate Wynona and her husband, Vernon, while we could.
That afternoon the ship moved around to Ranui Cove and while most of us went ashore, Wynona and Vernon were transported to Enderby Island to meet up with two helicopters that had been despatched from New Zealand. The waters of Ranui Cove were tranquil, save for the presence of a somewhat curious and bellicose sub-adult male Hooker’s Sea Lion. There we were able to see the living quarters and observation post that had been established in the Second World War with the intended purpose of keeping an eye out for German raiders and any other potential enemies that might seek safe harbour in the Auckland Islands. The living quarters were somewhat dilapidated but, even so, they seemed more like an idyllic tramping hut, as far removed as it was possible to be from the trenches and beaches of a war being fought elsewhere. And it pretty much was, as no enemy vessels were ever sighted from the observation hut that sat just below the highest point at Ranui, offering unsurpassed views of the entrance to Port Ross that we had travelled through the night before.
The track to the top of the hill followed a wire that was used for communication between the observation hut and the living quarters. The views from the top of the hill afforded a 360° panorama of the Auckland Islands. If the Subantarctic islands have a centre or heart, then surely we needed no other evidence that we were standing upon it than to look around. We made our way back to the cove, with tomtits flitting through the trees. John Bakla, the Department of Conservation observer on our voyage, pointed out an ancient little plant that was thought to be millions of years old, quite possible considering these volcanic islands were formed about 12 million years ago but rest on older granites and sedimentary rocks, some dating back about 100 million years. At the cove, Tui gathered in the trees, their calls as musical as any in the animal kingdom. Back aboard the Shokalsky, we moved over to anchor near Enderby Island’s Sandy Bay in preparation for the next day’s activities.
Day 5. Tuesday 21st January 2014
The day that greeted us was perhaps more typical of the Subantarctic islands than the previous one had been: drizzle, mist and howling wind. We landed on a kelp-covered rock platform at the southern end of Sandy Bay. Yellow-eyed Penguins congregated in small groups of one, twos and threes at this end of the beach – with some venturing into the surf and some trekking inland. They appeared unperturbed by the multi-coloured herd of photographers that stood on the banks of the bay, their motor drives going off like a battalion of Gattling guns that had somehow snuck into the Auckland Islands undetected by the lookouts at Ranui Cove. Further up the beach we saw fawn-coloured female Hooker’s Sea Lions and their pups which had formed into groups overseen by big dark brown bull Sea Lions.
We followed a boardwalk over to the other side of the island. It passed over and through low-lying shrubs that covered the hillside with a palette of autumnal colours – reds, golds, browns and greens – like some sort of tapestry. The vibrance of the ground cover was enhanced by the disparity with washed out skies and mist inhibited views. At a certain point we had to step off the boardwalk to go around a Southern Royal Albatross that was sitting on a nest within pecking distance of the wooden walkway. If the penguins were sanguine about our proximity and the sound of a thousand shutter actuations, this albatross seemed positively disinterested in our presence. The contrast between its white feathers and the dark background made for great portraits, encouraging even more clicks of the shutters.
On the western side of Enderby, the wind didn’t just batter us, it blew some of us off the path and even blew one or two of us over. We sat for a time taking in the wild vista as best we could. Waves crashed into the rocky platforms below while wind and rain lashed at us atop the steep cliffs. Following the path a little northwards, we stopped on a flat area that afforded a view of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross hunkered down on their nests on a narrow ledge.
At this point the party split, with some of us returning down the boardwalk to observe the Sea Lions and penguins at Sandy Bay, while the rest of us opted for a longer walk around the circumference of Enderby Island. Initially the path took us through fields of megaherbs looking like something out of Jurassic Park. Once we entered the tussock, the going became considerably harder. But we were rewarded with fine encounters with Sea Lions, penguins and Auckland Island Shags. After a brief stop for lunch, the weather improved and the sun made an appearance for the first time that day. More Yellow-eyed Penguins and Hooker’s Sea Lions provided excellent photographic opportunities, but we also encountered many of the brilliantly coloured Auckland Island Parakeets looking like they would be more at home in Australia than a windswept Subantarctic island. We saw Brown Skuas feeding their young and a Giant Petrel seemingly pretending to nest under a Rata tree. Auckland Island Teal sat beside what appeared to be a small creek, and some of us were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Auckland Island Snipe as they scurried out of our way. The Pipits on the other hand, seemed attracted to us, seeking us and then darting about. The walk ended on the northern edge of Sandy Bay where we had to negotiate our way through large slumbering male Sea Lions. Many of us spent the next hour or so simply sitting on the dunes watching the soap opera unfold in front of us as Sea Lion mothers, pups and bulls went about their business, which invariably entailed growling at or biting one another.
Once back on board the Shokalsky, we headed down the eastern side of the Auckland Islands and rounded the immense cliffs of Adams Island. Wandering and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross were among the many big-winged birds that tailed us out to sea. Ahead of us lay the open ocean and, further ahead still, Macquarie Island.
Day 6. Wednesday 22nd January 2014
Rare and favourable conditions (a following sea) pushed us rapidly towards Macquarie Island. Many stayed out on the decks, cameras at the ready, observing the albatross and petrels that accompanied us for parts of the journey. The first serious session of lectures occurred on this leg, with Nigel giving a beginner’s guide to the identification of all those birds flying about the ship and an introduction to Macquarie Island, a place he and Catherine had lived on for long periods of time. John told us about the botany of the Subantarctic islands and Felicity gave a rundown of the geology of Macquarie Island. To make sure the ‘at sea’ days were even more memorable, the chefs, Nick and Ray, kept a constant stream of beautifully prepared and presented meals coming out of the galley, including a delicious cake to celebrate Joan’s birthday.
Day 7. Thursday 23rd January 2014
We arrived at the northern end of Macquarie Island in the early morning and anchored in Buckles Bay. The sea was a glassy calm. Deep blue, it contrasted perfectly with the lighter blue of the sky, with just the odd little cloud to disturb what otherwise would be a perfectly colour-coded vista. The long swathe of green that was Macquarie Island stretched from left to right like some sort of irregular racing stripe. Most noticeable was the bump of Wireless Hill which sat at the far northern end and looked for all the world like some sort of green-clad version of Ayers Rock poking up from the sea, as if to emphasize that Macquarie Island really should belong to Australia. Despite this, Felicity’s lecture of the day before had clearly demonstrated that from a geological point of view it was more Kiwi than Kangaroo. At its base sat the Macquarie Island Station buildings that housed the staff that live on the island.
Despite the apparent calm, the swell was deemed too great to land passengers safely so Nigel went and picked up four Macquarie Island field staff, who joined us on the Shokalsky as we headed down the length of the island to Lusitania Bay. There we launched all five Zodiacs and cruised close inshore to the King Penguin colony, which contained an astonishing number of birds. Literally hundreds of thousands of King Penguins were seemingly packed cheek-by-bill onto the beach and up a cleft in the valley. In the midst of them sat three large rusting metal cylinders: the digesters used by Joseph Hatch’s men from a time when it was deemed not only profitable but also ethically permissible to boil penguins to extract their oil. They sat there like a scar on the landscape – a monument of Man’s inhumanity to other creatures and disregard for the environment. A small group of Rockhopper Penguins was visible standing on the rocks at one end of the beach. Giant Petrels – of both the dark and white colour morphs – paddled lazily out of the paths of the Zodiacs, but by no more than was necessary. Meanwhile all about us, King Penguins, the odd Royal and Rockhopper Penguin, and cormorants swam by as unconcerned by our presence as it was possible to be.
If the wildlife extravaganza that was Lusitania Bay was impressive, we were about to be treated to more. After returning to the Shokalsky, we headed north for a landing at Sandy Bay. For some this would be the highlight of the whole trip. It was a wildlife lover’s Mecca, a photographer’s paradise. Elephant Seals arranged themselves along the stony beach like small groups of logs discarded by the tide – but logs that seemed to find it necessary to belch and snort and argue with their neighbour at every opportunity. White-faced Royal Penguins, with their crazy bright yellow hairdos, and the more regal orange-accented King Penguins tramped past the seals, turning the beach into a penguin highway. It was impossible to stay 5 metres from the animals as the guidelines suggested. If one sat down, they literally walked right up to you. It was not uncommon to look about and see a penguin investigating another passenger closely, then to look down and realise that a King Penguin was pecking at your boots.
Up a walkway, there was a dense colony of Royal Penguins where, from a lookout, we had an excellent view of their behaviour, which often seemed to mimic that of the Elephant Seals in the way they treated their neighbours and fellow penguins. At the northern end of the beach there was a small colony of King Penguins – well, small by Lusitania standards anyway – where some penguins could be glimpsed with eggs. It is doubtful there was a single person who wanted to leave when ‘time’ was eventually called and we were shuttled reluctantly back to the ship.
Day 8. Friday 24rd January 2014
We left our anchorage off Sandy Bay to return to Buckles Bay by 7.30am. Fortunately the conditions were now favourable for a landing and two hours later most off us were ashore and being given a guided tour by the station staff. Green tussock adjoined the stony shore and one had to be careful where one walked because Elephant Seals enjoyed lying in the vegetation and surprisingly, given their size and penchant for making disgusting noises backed by even more disgusting breath, they were not always easy to notice. We climbed a walkway that afforded excellent views over the northern parts of Macquarie Island. Then it was down to Hasselborough Bay on the western side of the island where we got to spend time with a group of Gentoo Penguins, a few moulting King Penguins, the odd tern and some boisterous Elephant Seals.
Afterwards, we were invited into the mess room of the station where we were treated to some of the best scones you’ll ever find south of the Subtropical Convergence and north of it too! A photo of a hirsute Nigel, taken in 1976, looked down at us from the mess wall. On our way back to the Zodiacs we walked past the remains of more of Hatch’s digesters. These were a timely reminder, if any of us needed it, that places like Macquarie are best left to the animals and plants that belong there and that we humans, should we live there at all, are best to concentrate on cooking scones rather than penguins.
We bade farewell to Macquarie Island at 1.30pm and pointed the bow of the Shokalsky south towards the Ross Sea and Antarctica. An hour later and Macquarie had completely disappeared into the mist on our stern. Lloyd gave a lecture on how crested penguins are bizarre enigmas of the biological world, something most had already figured out from their experiences of Royal Penguins on Macquarie Island.
Day 9. Saturday 25th January 2014
For those of us with sensitive stomachs, the mere thought of spending the next four days or so at sea in the notoriously inclement Southern Ocean on a small ship – which if it had any stabilizers at all were apparently missing in action – had been a daunting prospect. We needn’t have worried. The weather gods were kind to us and once again we had a following wind. The tail wind of 25-35 knots helped the ship make good time and, even if rolling about a bit, the journey was more comfortable than we really had a right to expect. Joan gave a lecture on the history of Macquarie Island while Nigel talked about the effects of human impacts on the island. This was followed by a film about the eradication of introduced pests from Macquarie, particularly the cats and rabbits. Later Scott gave a lecture on digital photography and JJ started a ‘community collage’ on the wall of the bar using the printed outputs from our own efforts at digital photography.
Day 10. Sunday 26th January 2014
In a move that received universal approval, the cooks opted to forgo breakfast and have instead a Sunday brunch at 10.30am when they produced a memorable meal of pancakes and eggs benedict. Again it was a day of lectures to fill the spaces between looking at the waves (since leaving Macquarie, there had been just the odd Black-browed Albatross, petrel, prion and Cape Petrel accompanying us). Joan talked about the early discovery of the Ross Sea and Cape Adare. Felicity followed up with the geology of Antarctica. Geir gave an insightful lecture that provided a lot of detail about Amundsen’s successful attempt to reach the South Pole, and Nigel followed up by demonstrating the importance of zooplankton, such as krill, to Antarctic ecology. As if to underline Nigel’s message that the big creatures of Antarctic waters can only exist because of the bounty provided by the small creatures, a krill-eating Fin Whale came right alongside the port side of the ship about 6pm. This was one of the few whale sightings so far.
Day 11. Monday 27th January 2014
At 5am the first iceberg was sighted, with Grace winning the competition to guess when that would occur. Two hours later and we were at 66°S and encountering scattered bergs, big and small, and even the occasional snow squall. The Antarctic Continent felt palpably nearer.
Wiebke gave a lecture about whales – interrupted when Nathan announced our crossing of the Antarctic Circle. Afterwards, Lloyd gave a lecture about the Northern Party, Cape Adare and the first ever detailed study of penguins by Murray Levick. Levick went on to found the Public Schools Exploring Society, which aimed to “provide young people with an intense and lasting experience of self-discovery in wilderness environments”. During this talk Tony (one of our passengers) was invited by Lloyd to share his experiences as the first non-public school boy to go on one of its expeditions.
In the afternoon, Nathan gave a compulsory briefing about environmental guidelines and regulations for visiting the historic huts in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. This was followed by a lecture from Nigel on the wildlife to be seen at the ice edge. A lone Chinstrap Penguin was sighted on a small berg. While Chinstrap Penguins do not breed in the Ross Sea as such, this one had probably travelled from the not so distant Balleny Islands to our west. Speaking of intrepid travelers, Joan gave a lecture on Scott’s Discovery expedition that demonstrated the bravery of the men involved and just how remarkable were their achievements.
Although satellite imagery showed that the Ross Sea was clearer of pack ice than anytime Nathan had known over the previous 20 years, at this stage the Shokalsky was pushing its way through a light band of sea ice. On the ice could be seen the occasional Crab-eater Seal, while Colgate-white Snow Petrels and Antarctic Fulmars welcomed the ship as it made its way into the Ross Sea. That evening we were entertained in the bar by Wiebke (stage name: Vebka) as she played guitar and sang a suite of her original songs that had just been released on CD. Felicity joined Wiebke for a ‘sing-along’ as they sang some old favourites in remarkably good voices while the rest of us joined in to varying degrees with voices that were sometimes not as musical. It may have been a consequence of the G&Ts, but by then it did not matter and a fun evening was had by all who attended.
Day 12. Tuesday 28th January 2014
We had been heading for Cape Adare in moderate seas, with 15-20 knots of wind coming from the south and a dull, completely overcast sky. The prevailing conditions and all the data the Captain and Nathan had available suggested that a landing there would not be possible and that we would be best to try further down the coast so we changed course and headed instead for Cape Hallett.
We settled into another informative lecture from Joan – this one on Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition and later watched a film about Amundsen and the Fram which was provided by Geir.
This part of the Ross Sea was remarkably clear of ice and only one or two small bergs were sighted during the day. At 5.45pm we passed to the east of Possession Islands – spectacular pinnacles and towers of rock. This may have been near the ends of the Earth, but it looked like some computer-generated imagery from Middle Earth. At 11pm we got close to Cape Hallett, but it turned out to be as close as we would get as ice had been pushed into the cove, blocking our access. However, nights do not come much more beautiful than this one. There was an eerie stillness to the ice-encrusted water and the sun – more glow than bright light – highlighted its gently undulating surface. Behind, the cliffs and massively pointed peaks that surround Cape Hallet provided us with a wonderful first-glimpse of the Antarctic Continent as we eased our way further south.
Day 13. Wednesday 29th January 2014
By now we were almost at 76°S with a brisk southerly wind and complete cloud cover. Nigel noted what might be the most southern record for an albatross when a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross cruised by unexpectedly. Scott imparted his tips on how to improve wildlife photography, while Lloyd gave an account of The Worst Journey in the World using the words of Apsley Cherry-Garrard to underscore just how tame was our journey in Antarctica compared to the deprivations suffered by Cherry-Garrard, Wilson and Bowers. It was enough to almost put some of us off our dessert at lunchtime.
After lunch, Joan regaled us with tales of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party and Felicity, in anticipation of our seeing Mount Erebus, talked about volcanoes associated with the Antarctic. If we needed even more to get us in the mood, after dinner there was a screening of an episode from the BBC’s Frozen Planet. As we continued our way south towards Cape Royds, we encountered the Antarctic Bee, a converted tugboat, heading north.
Day 14. Thursday 30th January 2014
At 3am, the Shokalsky arrived at Cape Royds but the winds were too strong to contemplate a landing so we proceeded onwards to Cape Evans, where we anchored half an hour later. By 5am we were ashore for our first Antarctic landing and what a place to begin! A cold 20 knot southerly wind could not deter the sense of wonderment to be standing before the very hut used by Robert Falcon Scott and his men when they had marched to the South Pole just over a century beforehand. Behind sat the smoking cone of Mount Erebus, the one constant in this area of shifting ice and snow, and humans that come and go. The sea lapped much closer to the hut than one might have expected from photos, because this was such an unusual season in which all the sea ice had broken out, leaving a small stretch of black sand beach a few metres wide being all that stood between the hut and the Ross Sea. This was waterfront property in a way that perhaps its original inhabitants had not experienced.
The hut itself had recently been carefully restored by a team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust and it looked pretty much as solid and as secure as when it had been built. We were allowed in only a few at a time and only after our boots had been given a thorough clean to remove dirt, stones and penguin guano (while Adelie Penguins do not breed that far south, a few were hanging out on the beach where we landed). Inside it is as if time has stood still. If Scott himself had walked through the door, it seemed like we should only have been surprised by his survival, not by his being there. It seemed like he and his men had just left; that we were the ones who had gone back in time. The sense of being in some kind of church or hallowed place was accentuated by the natural light filtering through the windows. There were no artificial lights nor anything to say we were in the 21st Century save for ourselves. Everyone spoke in whispers.
Attached to the main part of the hut were the stables where Oates, especially, had looked after the ponies. At the far end of the stables, a skeleton of one of the dogs lay still chained up, parts of its skin preserved in the dry cold, as if it had continued to wait for Oates even though he’d said he’d be some time. In that sense, Cape Evans was more abandoned graveyard than church as the spectre of death hung over it. It wasn’t just the dead dog. It was there in the emptiness of the stables and the beds, it was there in Scott’s sleeping bag that lay turned back still awaiting his return, It was also there in the cross that sat upon the nearby hill in memory of two members of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party who had lost their lives when attempting to get from Hut Point to Cape Evans and one who had died even earlier on the way to Hut Point. And another five Antarctic explorers – it hardly needed repeating – had never made it to the Cape Evans hut either. Somewhat incongruously – because it is essentially a creature of the snow and ice – an Emperor Penguin wandered over the black lava headland behind the cross to Mackintosh, Hayward and Spencer-Smith as if to highlight what it took to live in this environment. Many of us sat there photographing it, aware that it belonged there and we did not. The Antarctic is no place for the unadapted or the ill-prepared, we now knew that with certainty.
By 8.30am we were back onboard and steaming out to sea. A landing at Cape Royds was still not possible so we headed to the ice edge in search of wildlife. McMurdo Sound was so clear of ice that we were able to travel further south than would be normal be possible and at 4.45pm, we arrived at the ice shelf and our maximum southerly position for the whole trip of 77.54°S. At the ice edge we saw Adelie Penguins and Weddell Seals, and the Captain brought the ship up close to three obliging Emperor Penguins that were quite happy to pose for photographs even with the Shokalsky looming over them. They were less sanguine about a Leopard Seal that popped its head out of the water to investigate them however. Minke Whales and a couple of Killer Whales were also seen before we travelled across to anchor offshore from McMurdo Station at 8pm.
Day 15. Friday 31st January 2014
McMurdo Station is the support base for the American Antarctic programme in the Ross Sea. It was established and essentially maintained by the US military (Navy), so it was especially appropriate that we went ashore in four groups in an operation controlled with military precision. Exactly fifteen minutes apart, our groups were guided through the town-like McMurdo to the science hub, the church, the air traffic control, the store, and the coffee shop: the latter for a welcome coffee and freshly-made cookie.
Initially it had been planned that we would travel by vehicle to nearby Scott Base, the headquarters of the New Zealand Antarctic programme, but after returning to the Shokalsky for lunch, it was announced that the ice in front of Scott Base had just that morning broken out sufficiently to allow for a Zodiac landing there – a rare event indeed. The Captain parked the Shokalsky against the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf a few hundred metres opposite the green buildings of Scott Base. Emperor Penguins and Minke Whales were feeding under the ice and coming up nearby to catch their breaths before going back in search of whatever was there.
Once ferried across to Scott Base in the Zodiacs, we were again divided into groups for guided tours, albeit this time with more casualness as personnel with names like ‘Grumpy’ took us to the store, the hut used by Sir Edmund Hillary, and finally to a luxurious mess, with scones to rival those from Macquarie and an expresso machine. Heaven for some. We were no sooner back aboard the Shokalsky than a pod of Killer Whales came swimming up the lead of open water, right in front of Scott Base. Disappointingly for some, we were unable to go over to them as we had an appointment with those Antarctic Heritage Trust members who were now in the process of restoring Scott’s Hut Point hut as they had at Cape Evans. As it turned out, our insistence of keeping to the schedule was thwarted by the controllers at McMurdo who insisted that we move away from the area while the supply ship, The Green Wave, berthed.
Eventually we were allowed to anchor on the northwestern side of Hut Point and visited Scott’s Discovery Hut at 8pm. The hut was largely bare of its original contents as they had been removed by the Antarctic Heritage Trust workers so that they could be properly catalogued and conserved over the coming winter at Scott Base. In the meantime, two workers from the Trust were repairing the structural aspects of the hut. They pointed out the ‘kit-set’ nature of the way the hut had been designed. Joan gave a potted history of the comings and goings in the hut: for although it was used mainly for storage by Scott during his initial expedition (when the men had lived on the Discovery moored alongside the hut) it was used for shelter at significant times by some members of all the expeditions that were to follow during the Heroic Age. A cross was erected by Scott’s men in 1902 at the very end of the point to honour George Vince, who became disorientated in a blizzard when returning to the ship, slipped down the cliff and drowned.
Late that evening a large party of us went back onshore at McMurdo to climb to the top of Observation Hill. The views over Scott Base, White and Black Islands, Mount Discovery, the Royal Society Mountain Range, McMurdo Sound and McMurdo itself were breathtaking in every sense of the word. Some of us had expended so much oxygen on the way up that it really was a case of needing to suck in air. Perhaps ‘inspiring’ views would be a better word?! We celebrated midnight up there beside the memorial cross erected to commemorate the deaths of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans. Carved into it were the words from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses, “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” It seemed as fitting a eulogy as could be imagined under the circumstances. As we made our way back to the Zodiacs on the landing beach at McMurdo, an Emperor Penguin padded its way down a gravel road. If the Emperor at Cape Evans had made us look out of place in that environment, here it was the Emperor Penguin itself that looked out of place: a beautiful creature seemingly somewhat bemused and befuddled before a backdrop of machinery, buildings and disturbances to the landscape that we humans have a knack for creating. This was not so much March of the Penguins as it was evidence of the march of so-called ‘civilization’.
As we climbed the steps up the gangway of the Shokalsky for a well earned rest, some of us could be forgiven for wondering whether there was no place on the planet not touched by the hand of Homo sapiens. Whether you thought that was a good thing or not probably depended upon whether you preferred the penguin at Cape Evans or the one at McMurdo.
Day 16. Saturday 1st February 2014
We left McMurdo in the early hours of the morning and steamed up to Cape Royds, arriving there at 3.15am, to find that the conditions were worse than those we had encountered two days earlier with the wind blowing at 35-40 knots. The Captain took us out to sea again and we waited. By 7.30am a dramatic change occurred and with the wind down to a paltry 5 knots, we anchored gratefully on the south side of Cape Royds. Even then, the amount of ice in the bay posed some problems for a landing. However, the ice also offered an unexpected bonus: two Leopard Seals were hauled out, side by side, on the largest of the ice floes, while a third was cruising the shoreline looking for penguins. It had snowed overnight and the normally dark lava rocks of Cape Royds were partially covered with a white coating that made the outlook especially picturesque. It was a winter wonderland, except that this was summer. No matter, we traipsed through the snow to Shackleton’s Hut with a spring in our steps.
Once more there were the obligatory line-ups as only eight persons could be in the hut at any one time. Many chose to sit and watch the Adelie Penguins in the nearby colony before coming to the hut. Although it was overcast, it was bright and clear with visibility easily extending across the sound to the base of huge mountains. It was immediately apparent that Shackleton had a good deal of taste when it came to selecting real estate. The setting for the hut was as picturesque as any could be in Antarctica or, for that matter, anywhere. It was nestled beside a small frozen lake with the penguins breeding beyond and further out across the open water of McMurdo Sound could be viewed the regal and hence aptly named, Royal Society Mountain Range.
The inside of the hut itself was more homely than Scott’s had been. Socks hung from a line drying. Leather and canvas boots sat beside the stove. Light from the windows streamed onto the beds. A framed pair of photographs of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra looked down from one wall. In the shelves there were Sunlight Soap, Colman’s Corn-flour and tins of roasted mutton and Irish stew. While Scott’s hut at Evans had seemed dark and cavernous and sprinkled with death, this one seemed cosy. If given a choice there’d be no choice: this would be the hut nearly everyone would pick to stay in. We left the hut with a good deal more reluctance than even the degree of anticipation with which we had arrived. One of the Leopard Seals was still stretched out on the floes when we returned to the landing spot, so Nigel and Catherine took the Zodiacs in for some close-up views of the innocent looking killer.
We departed Cape Royds at 2pm and arrived at Cape Bird three hours later. The light was gorgeous – dark and ethereal. To the left were the sheer ice cliffs of the Mount Bird Ice-cap and the land here too, had received a dusting of snow. Only in the penguin colony itself was the snow mostly gone, so that it showed up as a dark brown swatch of colour in what was otherwise a largely whitish landscape. There was open water right up to the penguin colony and the push-ice had largely gone from the beach, but the steepness of the beach, the 1.5 metre surf break and the scattered lumps of ice along the beach made for a tricky landing. The Northern Colony at Cape Bird is home to some 60,000 pairs of breeding penguins and it seemed like just about every one of them was walking along a pathway near the beach – a sort of penguin highway and with much more traffic than the one we had encountered on Macquarie. It was impossible not to be enthralled by these iconic creatures of the Antarctic. As well as the black and white adults, there were a lot of large chicks near to fledging, many sporting a top-knot of down. We set about either photographing the penguins to our hearts’ content or simply observing them. Further down the beach towards the ice cliffs, a Weddell Seal lay hauled out trying to sleep, its head within hearing distance if not pecking distance of the cacophonous penguins. If their noise bothered the seal, it did not show any signs of that. It seemed as uninterested in its surroundings as we were interested.
We would have gladly stayed there for hours more but suddenly we were called back sooner than expected. The swell had increased and we needed to evacuate the beach while we still could. The Zodiac drivers did a sterling job getting us back to the ship in a heaving sea without getting too many of us wet or too much of us wet. Nevertheless, as we set sail at 8.30pm, many of us were very sad to go. It is hard to pick favourites in an expedition full of delights but, if forced to, Cape Bird would be high up on just about everybody’s lists.
Day 17. Sunday 2nd February 2014
We arose at 3am for a cruise along the face of the Ross Ice Shelf. The Adelie Penguin colonies on the eastern end of Ross Island, at Cape Crozier, were clearly visible in the background, backlit by the sun. The irregular cliffs of the Ross Ice Shelf with their regular, straight-as-a-die flat tops were relentless and it seemed, never ending. We cruised along them for one-and-a-half hours and they still stretched as far as the eye could see and truth be told, much, much further than that too. It is a journey that names like Scott and Shackleton, Amundsen and Pennell have made, but very few Antarctic travellers of the modern era get that opportunity, be they scientists or tourists. We passed by a small piece of ice covered with penguins and then, as if to emphasize that this untouched and seldom travelled part of Antarctica belonged exclusively to the penguins and whales, a group of three Minke Whales surfaced briefly between us and the ice shelf. We left it to them and headed north: destination Franklin Island.
We passed by the western shores of Franklin Island at 11am. The blue skies and fluffy white clouds made it all look rather benign, but even from one kilometre away we could see from the heavy surf break onto the black sand beaches that conditions for landing were unsuitable. Much of the island is covered in a large ice cap that ends in steep cliffs, but at the south-western end the exposed volcanic cliffs revealed a large colony of Adelie Penguins breeding at their base. We headed on towards the Drygalski Ice Tongue until our progress was slowed somewhat at 4pm at 75.41°S, 165.55°E when we encountered pack ice. This eventually halted us altogether an hour-and-a-half later when we were not far from the southern side of the Drygalski Ice Tongue. At this point we were treated to an impressive hunting display by a group of Killer Whales which spy hopped from one ice floe to another in search of prey.
Lloyd had given a lecture on penguins and Wiebke gave one on filmmaking but this was interrupted, first by power failures and then by the excitement evinced by the Killer Whales. Undaunted by our failure to reach the Drygalski on its southern side, we retreated to the east to get to more ice-free conditions, intent on taking the Shokalsky to the northern side of the ice tongue and on to Terra Nova Bay. Ray and Nick had prepared a Sunday roast of lamb and chicken followed by banoffee pie – a delicious way to end the day.
Day 18. Monday 3rd February 2014
We were woken at 7am to check out the Drygalski Ice Tongue as we sailed by its indented edge. Its cliffs of ice were more gnarled and tortured looking, with less regular geometric shapes than those of the Ross Ice shelf had been. Bergs that had been carved off the glacier floated nearby. After breakfast we headed over to a blue berg with four Adelie Penguins resting on its rounded and irregular curves. We circumnavigated the berg twice for the sake of the photographers onboard and then at 9.45am we began our journey towards Inexpressible Island.
Unfortunately the closer we got to the island the rougher the sea conditions became and it was clear the area was being subjected to katabatic winds exceeding 50 knots. The wind chill was exceedingly cold even though the temperature was a relatively mild -8°C – or at least it would have been mild without the wind. From the warm confines of the ship’s interior it seemed hard to fathom how the members of the Northern Party could have possibly coped with spending a winter there in a snow cave with few provisions. As a consequence of the wind, we continued on to the unoccupied German station of Gondwana at the base of Terra Nova Bay.
At 2.30pm we landed on a small sandy beach amongst 10 nonchalant Weddell Seals. We were free to wander over the moonscape-like rocks where to the left sat the neat orange buildings of the German base. A moulting Emperor Penguin and a recently fledged Adelie Penguin sat as awkwardly as each other on the rocks of a nearby headland. Skuas swooped and dive-bombed those intent on walking over the ridge to the right to get a view of the Korean base that is being constructed – a scar on the landscape in front of the symmetrical and perfectly formed Mount Melbourne. We left the beach three hours later and took a Zodiac cruise along the nearby Campbell Glacier. An Emperor Penguin on a small iceberg posed for more photographs than most of us will ever have taken of ourselves during our lifetimes. The light, the penguin, the setting: it was all perfect. If a picture can tell a thousand words, then that penguin had just produced the avian equivalent of War and Peace.
We motored back to the region of Inexpressible Island to find that the katabatic winds still persisted. During the night we would take our little ship backwards and forwards as we waited and hoped for the winds to drop.
Day 19. Tuesday 4th February 2014
By 8am, the call was made by Nathan that we could wait for the winds to abate no longer. Sadly, we left the unvisited Inexpressible Island on the horizon as we turned for Cape Hallett. We encountered a 40 knot southerly and rough seas, but as the day wore on the wind dropped, the seas calmed and conditions became merely foggy. We settled into our ‘at sea routine’ with lectures from Nigel on seabird by-catch, and Joan on Scott’s race to the pole, to complement the one Geir had given earlier about Amundsen. That evening Wiebke and Felicity entertained us again with their singing in the bar, with Wiebke performing memorable covers of songs by Janis Ian and Ed Sheeran as well as her own songs.
Day 20. Wednesday 5th February 2014
By 6am we were a little over a nautical mile from Cape Hallett, but the ice that had prevented us from landing there on the way down was even more impenetrable. We opted instead for a bitterly cold Zodiac cruise along the pack ice edge in winds that had increased to 25 knots by the time it was over at 9.30am. We did see the odd Adelie Penguin resting on the ice and for those in Nigel’s Zodiac there was a slightly tense moment when we became completely hemmed in by the pack ice and the thought of doing a ‘mini Shokalsky’ entered our heads. However, Nigel deftly manoeuvred the craft and we pushed our way to freedom and the very welcome hot showers aboard the real Shokalsky. Actually, that is something that deserves recording somewhere, and here is as probably as good as anywhere. The showers on the Shokalsky were excellent with plenty of really hot water and enough pressure to take your skin off if you weren’t careful.
The decision was taken to press on to the Possession Islands but unfortunately, the landing conditions there were also unworkable. There was nothing else for it but to continue on to Cape Adare with the slightly uncomfortable feeling in our stomachs that the Antarctic Continent was simply not going to let us get close to it again. We rounded the spectacularly severe Downshire Cliffs about 5pm and were blown away (literally and figuratively) by the truly magnificent sight of Cape Adare. It had what Leon Uris might have called a ‘terrible beauty’. It was windswept, cold and barren and – save for a small spit of flat ground (Ridley Beach) that jutted into Robertson Bay – it was a place of verticals. Stretching from the point we had just come around was a large 180° arc of sheer cliffs, mountains and glaciers. The winds were coming down from those mountains and glaciers at between 30 and 40 knots. It was easy to appreciate why Scott’s Northern Party had effectively been marooned here on Ridley Beach: there was really nowhere else one could go.
Cape Adare is the site of the largest Adelie Penguin colony in the world and while many of them it seemed had crammed into every spare space on Ridley Beach, it was amazing to see just how far some of them were prepared to climb up the cliffs and mountainside in order to breed. The huts of Carston Borchgrevink (whose expedition was the first to overwinter in the Antarctic), with the dilapidated remains of the Northern Party’s hut nearby, were clearly visible on the far side of the spit of beach, completely surrounded by penguins. We anchored on the eastern side of Ridley Beach and there was much excitement amongst the passengers in anticipation of our landing at such an historically significant site. Unbeknownst to most of us, a Zodiac bearing Nathan, Scott (the photographer) and John (the DOC observer) landed them on the beach and they got to see the huts and photograph them. However, upon their return, Nathan deemed the swell on the beach to be too dangerous and he took the decision to cancel the proposed landings for others.
At nearly midnight when conditions had improved, we were woken and offered the consolation of a Zodiac cruise along the ice-encrusted shore of Ridley Beach. Virtually every vantage point was packed with fledgling penguins seemingly building up the courage for their first swim. Flocks of adult penguins porpoised to and from the beach, with one or two jumping into the Zodiacs – perhaps in the mistaken belief that we represented some hitherto unseen black ice berg or, better still, dry land. The chicks that did venture into the sea, flapped their flippers frantically, sitting high in the water, not yet used to their new environment. That was Ridley Beach really: the sheer number of penguins onshore, the frantic nature of those in the water, the smashing surf, and the shifting ice. It was chaos, but from our perspective, an enjoyable chaos to behold. On the way back to the ship we circled an ice berg shaped like Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe with a group of Adelies and one out-of-place Emperor Penguin nestled into what would have been the tongue of the shoe.
Day 21. Thursday 6th February 2014
The day dawned reasonably fine but still the conditions were deemed not suitable for a landing. At 11.45am we took to the Zodiacs and had a memorable cruise that took in large ice bergs, Killer Whales and most spectacularly of all, a Leopard Seal leaping onto an ice floe and catching a terrified and slow-moving fledgling Adelie Penguin chick. The seal then proceeded to slap its unfortunate victim from side to side and as far as we could tell, devour most of it.
Although we theoretically had the whole day up our sleeves to wait for a landing (the Captain wanted to depart by midnight), Nathan took the decision that the deep and persistent southerly swell was not likely to allow conditions to improve sufficiently in that time and that we had better set sail for Campbell Island – over 1,100 nautical miles away – and have more time to play with in the Subantarctic islands. At 2.30pm we set off, leaving the Antarctic in our wake with just its Snow Petrels to accompany us. By 5pm we had reached 70.53°S and encountered our first albatross: one of the Light-mantled Sooty kind.
Day 22. Friday 7th February 2014
Our way was largely clear, except for a band of ice we encountered for some 15 minutes or so at 9am when at 67.57°S 169.57°E. Seven-and-a half hours later we crossed the Antarctic Circle. We began to see our first Cape Petrel – after many days absence – and other more northern seabird species such as Sooty Shearwaters, White-headed Petrels, Mottled Petrels and Antarctic Prions.
In the morning, Lloyd gave a lecture about seals that featured his son Eligh as a Weddell Seal pup, and Joan gave a lecture that featured much of what the Americans had done in the Ross Sea following the Heroic Age. In the afternoon it was Nigel and JJ’s turns to inform, with the former explaining why population monitoring was important and how to do it, and the latter telling and showing us about her project on faces of the Southern Ocean. The day was finished off with a screening of Ponting's film The Great White Silence, which was filmed during the Terra Nova Expedition and originally released in 1924, before being restored and re-released three years ago by the British Film Institute.
Day 23. Saturday 8th February 2014
This turned out to be a day given almost completely to the Southern Ocean. By 7am we were already at 64.40°S and making good time as we headed more or less due north in 25-30 knot westerly winds. The sea was rough, the sky dull and overcast.
The rough conditions meant that the morning’s lectures needed to be postponed and most took to their bunks or the library. In the afternoon Bob Mossel entertained us with stories of his travels through Papua New Guinea and his epic walk (Bob was the first person to walk across Australia). By 6pm the seas and winds had moderated slightly. The evening film was an episode (summer) from the Frozen Planet.
Day 24. Sunday 9th February 2014
The rough conditions persisted, but we were making good time and averaging about 11 knots. By 7am we were at 59.11°S and still on a trajectory close to due north. Over the course of the day, the 15 knot westerly increased to 40 knots. Again we missed out on the sun with complete cloud cover present for the whole day. By 7pm we had moved a whole two degrees further north, despite the turbulent seas. Nigel had been able to deliver his lecture on the life histories of albatross and petrels in the morning, but the worsening state of the sea in the afternoon had caused the cancellation of Felicity’s lecture. Once more an episode of the Frozen Planet occupied the evening film slot.
Day 25. Monday 10th February 2014
We were greeted by the same dull cloud cover when we got up in the morning. Now at 54.45°S, however, it was joined by misty rain. We had been seeing seabirds consistently but in relatively small numbers. That all changed at 4.45pm when we encountered a vast flock of feeding seabirds at 52.30°S. It contained thousands upon thousands of Sooty Shearwaters, at least five species of albatross and Cape Petrels. The photographers amongst us had a field day and the ship circled the area several times to allow us to take it all in, whether we were using a camera or not.
A film about the rat eradication programme on Campbell Island – the largest undertaken anywhere in the world – had been screening when we came across the feathered feeding frenzy. It was not long before we got to see the real thing. At 5.10pm we had our first glimpse of Campbell Island and a bit over a couple of hours later we had entered Perseverance Harbour, with excellent views of the island and its wildlife on both sides of the ship, as we travelled to our anchorage. Some commented that the rugged hills covered with stunted vegetation reminded them of Scotland. By 8pm we had come to rest and soon after that we were celebrating Curtis’ birthday with a cake made for the photographic enthusiast by Ray and Nick in the shape of a camera.
Day 26. Tuesday 11th February 2014
After a briefing, we ventured ashore at 9.45am, landing at Beeman Cove amongst a cluster of disused buildings that had once been used primarily for the meteorological station that had been maintained there since 1958. Nathan led a group of 14 on a hike to Northwest Bay (the ‘long walk’) while the majority of us ascended a boardwalk that took us some way up Mount Lyall to a group of breeding Southern Royal Albatross (the ‘short walk’, albeit, some commented it was longer than they imagined a short walk to be). The ‘long walkers’ had a magnificent day, also encountering many albatross, but seeing the Campbell Island Teal and the Campbell Island Snipe as well. The highlight for some, however, was the group of big adult male Elephant Seals they came across on the beach.
The rest of us had a more relaxed day, observing the Australasian Pipits and the albatross. To be sure it was windy and misty but that somehow added to the atmosphere – this was the Subantarctic after all. An albatross sitting on a young chick received the most attention, with many sitting and waiting patiently for an hour or more just to get a glimpse of the fluffy white bundle and the opportunity to see it being fed by its parent. Higher up the boardwalk were large tracts of the purple-flowered Pleurophyllum speciosum or Campbell Island Daisy as it is often called, a megaherb native to Campbell Island and the Auckland Islands. They looked both incongruous and stunning in the mist, as if some gardener had planted a field of these flowers in the most unlikely of places. Unfortunately the mist and cloud prevented views down onto the beaches on the western side of the island, but many of us sat for a while at the top of the cliffs just to experience the full force of the wind on our faces. This was the Subantarctic after all!
The ‘long walkers’ ended their journey at 5pm when they were picked up from Tucker Cove. This was about the same time that those ‘short walkers’ who had remained up on the boardwalk were treated to displays between the albatross that involved much clacking of bills and head bobbing. A group of Hooker’s Sea Lions entertained us as we boarded the Zodiacs at Beeman Cove and by 7.15pm we were all back aboard the Shokalsky. After a hot shower we adjourned to the bar, where an auction was held of items brought by the passengers. This was to raise funds for the Last Ocean – a coalition of organizations battling to have the Ross Sea made into a marine protected area. Considering where we’d been, it seemed like an especially appropriate cause and with Lloyd acting as auctioneer, we managed to raise over $3,000 USD and have the odd laugh along the way even though the objective of the auction remained a very serious matter.
Day 27. Wednesday 12th February 2014
Three of us were scheduled for a hike up Mount Honey departing at 6am, but a quick look out the porthole revealed a dense low fog and total cloud cover. The hike was cancelled but at 9.30am we all boarded the Zodiacs and cruised the shores of Tucker Cove and Camp Cove. This afforded us excellent views of cormorants, teals and a Giant Petrel eating greedily from a dead Sea Lion. A bunch of Sea Lions that were very much alive seemed to enjoy tailing the Zodiacs and leaping from the water acrobatically. Mike, Ray and Wiebke did their best to capture the underwater action with Go-pros, while those of us with more conventional cameras concentrated on the above water images.
We had a brief landing to inspect what is known as the Loneliest Tree in the World. The Sitka Spruce is the only tree on Campbell Island (the island is otherwise covered in low-lying shrubs and bushes). For many years it was used as the source of Christmas trees for those living at the nearby meteorological station. It is thought that the tree was planted by Lord Ranfurly, the onetime Governor General of New Zealand, when on an expedition to the island in 1907. An inquisitive (and some might say aggressive) Sea Lion initially blocked our return to the Zodiacs but we were soon back aboard the Shokalsky for lunch.
After lunch many of us jumped at the chance to go back up the boardwalk to see the albatross. It was even mistier than the previous day but the albatross were more active too, with some walking right up to us as we stood or sat on the boardwalk. It is only when they are literally within spitting distance that one can truly appreciate their enormous size. It is a wonder they can fly. But fly they can and the albatross put on an aerial display for us to rival that of any air show. Further down the boardwalk a few of us were lucky enough to see and even photograph the elusive Campbell Island Snipe and a Yellow-eyed Penguin with a chick. At 11pm the Captain ordered the anchor to be raised and we began our journey to the Snares Islands, the place that had been the first of this voyage’s proposed destinations, but which had to be abandoned because of the foul weather soon after we had left Bluff nearly a month earlier.
Day 28. Thursday 13th February 2014
The conditions approaching the Snares this time could not have been more different. We were travelling comfortably northwards in a light southerly breeze with a moderate southeasterly swell. By 7am our position was 51.25°S 168.36°E. Nigel gave a lecture about the Sooty Shearwaters on the Snares and one on ways of mitigating seabird by-catch in fisheries. Nathan gave a lecture introducing the Snares Islands and Scott completed the series by giving a workshop on how to use Photoshop and the like to enhance digital images.
At 7pm a pod of Killer Whales tracked us for 30 minutes (or was it us tracking them?), streaking towards the ship through the waves before coming right alongside. Oftentimes they could be seen quite clearly under the water, swimming close to the hull of the Shokalsky and looking up at us. With Lois and John both having birthdays, there were plenty of celebrations in the bar that evening and cheese platters all round before dinner.
Day 29. Friday 14th February 2014
Daylight at around 6.30am revealed that we were within striking distance of the Snares Islands, with the silhouette of Broughton Island nearby. The skies were filled with massive numbers of Sooty Shearwaters and petrels as they made their morning exits from their burrows onshore.
Despite extremely gusty winds, the sea conditions allowed us to undertake a Zodiac cruise up the eastern coast of Snares Island. We were able to get in really close to the rocky shore, drifting in the still waters of inlets where we got terrific views of New Zealand Fur Seals, Hooker’s Sea Lions, and Snares Penguins. We were even able to see some of the small land birds, such as Fernbirds and the beautiful black Snares Tomtit. We also saw one lone and presumably quite lost Fiordland Penguin. Where the sea met the rocks, attractive gold-coloured kelp swayed gently in the currents. The only place it did not was at the so-called ‘penguin slide’, where the comings and goings of thousands of penguins keep the rocks free of kelp as they somehow managed to scramble up an astoundingly steep slab of rock en route to their nests. From their own pedestal-like nests perched on the sides of the cliffs, Buller’s Albatross looked down at us. Of all the places we’d been on our remarkable voyage, the Snares Islands seemed the most pristine. The islands positively dripped with wildlife. It was a delightful way to end the voyage. We left the Snares at 10.30am and by 2pm, with Stewart Island in sight and sunshine all around, we assembled on the bow of the Shokalsky for a group photo.
Nestled in the lee of Stewart Island, we gathered eagerly in the lecture room as Scott played a short film of the journey made by Wiebke, then a long slide show of his stunning photos, followed with a marvellous collection of photographs taken by the passengers. Every one of them had captured beautiful, beautiful memories: moments to treasure from a journey that we’d all taken together and which had, in virtually every way, exceeded our expectations. The chefs had prepared a delicious roast as a farewell dinner and it was washed down with wine and cheers and a lot of good spirits of the non-alcoholic kind.
Day 30. Saturday 15th February 2014
In the early hours of the morning, the Shokalsky had been met by the pilot at the entrance to Bluff Harbour and escorted to its berth on the high tide – so that when we awoke, we found we were tied up exactly in the same place we had departed from on the 18th of January.
It proved to be a quick and orderly disembarkation. A final breakfast with bags packed and left outside cabins so that they could picked up and transported where they needed to go. A customs and immigration check. Then it was time to say goodbyes to all the newly made friends, crew and passengers alike, before boarding the bus for the city and lives that would be hard pressed to seem as exciting as the previous 30 days.
Voyage 1370 on MV Spirit of Enderby/Professor Khromov
Click here for Species List
Noon position: Latitude 45o 47.21’ Longitude 170o 47.26’
Positions are taken from the Deck Log Book
Air temperature 18oC
Concerning readings for air temperature, the thermometers outside a Bridge Port chart room window, are alcohol and mercury filled. For all readings, these are only an approximation. When the sun is out the thermometers receive direct sunlight. Unless mentioned readings need to be reduced by about 2oC and in some instances probably more. A reasonable approximation can be gained from surface water temperature.
On our way at last, with 50 of us about to experience magnificent Subantarctic Islands followed by the wonders of Antarctica, in the Ross Sea region south of New Zealand. We arrived yesterday in the Scottish city of Dunedin and stayed overnight in the Southern Cross Scenic Hotel, meeting up for the first time over dinner.
It rained in the night and the morning was cloudy and calm. Expedition staff members Katya and David assisted with luggage and we soon boarded our ship the Spirit of Enderby, which had arrived in port yesterday following the completion of an expedition to sub-Antarctic Islands. At 10am as we were fare welled by the somewhat reduced Taieri Pipe Band, which today consisted of three drummers, a guitarist, accordion player and a piper (many members were on holiday). The ship departed on schedule and with the pilot on board, proceeded up the channel towards Port Chalmers and the open sea. On the way out of the port we passed the large passenger liner Celebrity Solstice; which was visiting Dunedin for the day. The pilot left us at 11.35am as we passed Taiaroa Head with its Royal Albatross colony, and headed south past a largely treeless landscape.
Rodney, who founded Heritage Expeditions over 25 years ago, assembled everyone in the lecture room where we were introduced to the expedition staff and received the all-important safety briefing. After lunch the abandon ship alarm (seven short, one long) was sounded three times and a compulsory lifeboat drill was held. We then spent a few minutes in our allotted lifeboats while the engines were briefly started.
At 4pm we again assembled in the lecture room for a final briefing of the day. This covered Zodiac inflatable boat travel, followed by an introduction to New Zealand’s Snares Islands, which lie south of Stewart Island. The lounge area with the Globe Bar seems to be a convivial place to get to know our shipmates. In the evening, chefs Bobby and Lindsay provided an excellent meal in the Ice Culture Restaurant, with venison or Thai curried fish offered for the main course.
Noon position: Latitude 48o 24.33’S Longitude 166o 36.44’E
Air temperature 19oC
During the night the sea became moderately rough and although we woke to a fine day, conditions were not suitable to do the planned Zodiac cruise. We did however have excellent viewing of the Snares Islands situated about 209km south-west of New Zealand.
The island group was discovered by Captain George Vancouver from the vessel HMS Discovery in 1791. The main island is named North East Island and the second largest is Broughton Island, which was named after Lieutenant William Broughton, commander of HMS Chatham. To the south-west is a group of five small islands known as the Western Chain; each with a Maori numeral name. Until 1830 the islands were visited by numerous sealing parties from Australia, which almost wiped out the New Zealand Fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) colonies. Despite their rugged rocky coastlines, no ship wrecks have been recorded.
This morning we had excellent viewing of white lichen encrusted sea cliffs of mica-rich granite, topped by stunted vegetation with two ‘tree daisies’ - the pale green Olearia lyalli and the darker green Brachyglottis stewartiae. Numerous seabirds sighted included Snares Crested Penguin, Sooty Shearwaters, Buller’s and Salvin’s Albatross. A south to south-west swell came up and when lunch was held at 1pm a course change was made to help both chefs and diners. As the sea was becoming rough, lectures were cancelled and most preferred to remain in their cabins. A course change was again taken to enable enjoyment of the evening meal and most retired in the early evening.
Noon position: Latitude 50o 30.46’S Longitude 166o 16.75E
Air temperature 17oC
When struck by large swells during the night, the Spirit of Enderby bucked and shook occasionally requiring a further change in direction. This took us 33 nautical miles west. Rodney said that in over 100 visits to the Auckland Islands he had never had to make so many course changes here. At 7am we anchored off Port Ross, opposite Sandy Bay on Enderby Island, the most northern of the volcanic Auckland Island group, formed 16-24 million years ago. The sea was now considerably calmer, despite a persistent 25 knot westerly.
We had an excellent view of the island with its stunted vegetation and to left and right of Sandy Bay, cliffs comprising volcanic columnar basalt encrusted with white and yellow lichen. These cliffs rose above an intertidal platform. After breakfast we assembled in the Lecture Room where Rodney gave an excellent introduction to the natural and human history associated with the Auckland Islands and suggested we should read some of the books available. We then made our lunch and prepared for the first landing on the expedition.
Before departing we were required to vacuum our clothing to prevent unwanted seeds being distributed on the island and to disinfect our footwear with ‘Virkon’. The Zodiac operation began at 9.15am and we landed on the rocky, kelp-covered shore platform, above which was a small collection of huts owned by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.
Rodney pointed out a castaway ‘finger post’ which provided directions to an early supply depot. He then gave an interesting commentary on the large colony of New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lions on the beach. Large bulls guarded their harems and a large number of pups were congregated in creches. Apart from one early squall of hail and rain, it was a nice sunny morning. This added to the pleasure of taking the 45 minute walk across the west side of the island by way of an excellent walkway.
The windswept vegetation had a variety of plants in flower including young Southern Rata with red flowers, Casinia vauvilliersii with white flowers and the small endemic mauve and white Gentiana cerina. Unfortunately the large yellow-flowered megaherb Bulbinella rossii had finished flowering by this time. Beside the walkway we were privileged to have an excellent view of a nesting Southern Royal Albatross with other magnificent birds scattered over the landscape and either resting or in flight. On the west side of the island, Katya led many of us to see a Wandering Albatross chick and Rodney took others to search for an endemic Auckland Island Snipe (Coenocorypa aucklandica) with some of us fortunate to see one. Rodney then led 33 of the party on a five hour trek around the island. The party was rewarded with observing Snipe, a few Auckland Island Teal (Anas aucklandica), Red-crowned parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), and fortunately no domestic animals. The removal of rabbits and other introduced animals has led to a dramatic recovery of flora and fauna in this beautiful place.
Back at Sandy Bay a few enjoyed lunch in the Rata forest, where in the peaceful shaded environment they observed Bellbirds, Tui and the endemic Auckland Islands Tomtit. All had the pleasure of viewing at close quarters the sea lions and Yellow-eyed Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome).
By 5pm we were back on board after a superb day of natural history and dramatic scenery. In the evening Katya discussed bird sightings, this enabling an update to our Southern Ocean Species List. Many continued relaxation in the lounge where the library provides a good selection of titles.
Noon position: Latitude 50o51.30’S Longitude 166o02.88’E
Air temperature 9.5oC
During the night while at Enderby Island, several Giant Petrels apparently visited the ship. By 6.45am we were anchored in Carnley Harbour with Adams Island visible to port. It was a rather bleak morning with low cloud, a light nor-west and light rain; not unusual for the region. After breakfast we anchored inside the entrance to the North Arm of Carnley Harbour. About 20 of us headed ashore in Zodiacs to the inspect remains of the Grafton wrecked in 1864 and also remnants of a rock hut named Epigwaitt, an Indian word meaning ‘house by the sea’. Here survivors from the Grafton eked out a miserable existence for 18 months and even constructed a boat to facilitate rescue. Apart for four ‘ribs’ from the hull, little remains of the ship and only the rear wall remains of Epigwaitt. After constructing a boat with improvised tools Captain Musgrave along with two others reached New Zealand then returned to collect the other two men.
As we stood in dripping, open Rata forest with a ground cover of nettles, ferns and other plants, Rodney narrated events concerning the wreck of Captain Musgrave’s ship and the later rescue. This was in many ways comparable to other great open ocean voyages such as Captain Bligh’s voyage in the Pacific and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s voyage in the James Caird to South Georgia in 1916. The Grafton rescue was in stark contrast to the wreck of the Invercauld on the other side of Auckland Island and we left with perhaps a better appreciation for the conditions the Grafton crew experienced. Also of interest on this adventure were female sea lions, two Auckland Island Shags, a Tui and various marine shells including blue mussels, limpets and pipis.
Before lunch David gave his first lecture entitled ‘Bleak Outposts in Stormy Seas’. This general lecture followed Rodney’s introductory lectures and focused on the exploitation of seals and penguins, shipwrecks and castaways, attempts at farming and scientific expeditions. There are several good books describing the privations of the castaways in particular. At 1pm we departed for Macquarie Island. As we left Carnley Harbour, we were treated to the impressive sight of a ‘raft’ of hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters. Cloud was now lifting and rounding the mouth of the harbour we viewed waterfalls and streams cascading over grassy slopes and cliffs formed by volcanic eruptions.
Course was set at 230o with 341 nautical miles to go before we reached Macquarie Island about midnight (ship time) Sunday evening. For those on the Bridge many seabirds including Wandering, Gibson’s, Salvin’s, Shy and Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross were seen. One of the greatest and most beautiful pleasures when at sea in these regions is seeing a large albatross gliding on air currents and sweeping low over the waves with a wing tip almost brushing the surface. We can all now appreciate Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ along with the comment by ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy who stated ‘I have seen the Albatross’.
Other species seen today included Yellow-eyed Penguins, Northern Giant, White-headed, White Chinned, Storm, Diving and Cape Petrels, Red-billed Gulls, Auckland Island Shags, Brown Skua and one South Polar Skua which was seen in Carnley Harbour. Mammal sightings included a Sei Whale and a small pod of Hour Glass Dolphins. Also seen today and identified by two fins, was possibly a sleeping Basking Shark, measuring about three metres long. New Zealand Blue Cod or Moroccan Lamb (on plates) helped round off an excellent day. Chefs Bobby and Lindsay with help from Natalia, Albina and the ship staff have done an excellent job looking after our daily needs.
Noon position: Latitude 53o18.6’S Longitude 161o26.28’E
Air Temperature 12oC
We enjoyed a blissfully calm sea last night and at 9am today were over the Emerald Basin and about 4300m of water. We have now completed about half our sea miles to Macquarie Island. Many enjoyed a restful morning in the library/lounge including at 10.30am an excellent brunch with fruit, bagels, smoked salmon, bacon and all the trimmings. With the calm sea some of us enjoyed time at the bow enjoying good viewings of albatross gliding above the waves with an occasional wing beat to maintain speed. Although there was some high cloud, the sun shone determinedly and it was a very pleasant change to being inside. On the Bridge the Officer on Watch is always very helpful with any questions concerning our progress. One bird which made an early appearance this morning was the beautiful Southern Fulmar.
At 12.30pm Steve presented his lecture ‘Ocean Wanderers: Southern Seabirds’. The information given will be very useful in the days ahead and make more meaningful the sightings and records of new species seen and recorded in our logs. Steve’s lecture was followed by Rodney’s introduction to Macquarie Island and Australia’s Station, with reference also made to his beautiful book, ‘Galapagos of the Antarctic: Wild islands south of New Zealand’ compiled with biologist Aleks Terauds. Two further books worth reading on this subject are ‘Castaway on the Auckland Islands’ by Thomas Musgrove and ‘Wrecked on a Reef or Twenty Months in the Auckland Islands’ by Francois E. Raynal. The lectures were followed by scones and other delectables along with tea or coffee in the restaurant.
By 4pm the sea was rising a little and low cloud had appeared. This did not prevent an interesting debate over an albatross sighting however. Katya using binoculars noticed the yellow eyes and a debate on the Bridge was duly settled with identification of a Campbell Island Albatross. After dinner the bird observation discussion included five albatross species and numerous petrels including the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. One cetacean seen may have been a Beaked Whale and Katya identified a Royal Penguin. By 9pm Macquarie was visible on the horizon below a band of apricot sky interspersed with streaks of pale grey cloud. Rodney contacted Macquarie which is now about 34 miles away and it was interesting to hear field parties checking in, their plans for tomorrow and to receive the weather report. The rest of us prepared for an interesting day tomorrow and wrote diaries.
Noon position: Latitude 54o 34.16’S Longitude 158o 55.96’E
Air temperature: 12oC
About midnight (ship time; Australia two hours behind) we dropped anchor at Buckle’s Bay and today were blessed with superb weather. To greet us were King Penguins swimming and calling beside the Spirit of Enderby. At 8.15am it was a warm 7.5oC outside with the promise of a fine day. At 9am Rodney collected six personnel from Australia’s ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions) Station. Activities began with a briefing by Rodney at 9.30am. Before he could begin however, he was advised he was late. Unbeknownst to him, the minute hand on the lecture room clock had been advanced to catch him out, which caused much amusement amongst the group. Rodney enjoyed the joke and we settled down to the business of the day.
We were introduced to staff from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service – Richard the last winter-over Officer in Charge; Cameron a rabbit hunter; Maria the station chef; Andrew of the Meteorological Bureau who advised, we may possibly have no rain, possibly sunshine and possibly wind; Paul a summer Ranger and Simon a summer scientist.
We began the landing at Sandy Bay at 10.30am. From the swell there was reasonable surf on the beach and at times Rodney and Dan were in water up to their chests steadying the Zodiacs. Once ashore Richard outlined further instructions and we were then left to enjoy ourselves. Many were soon taking photos of grunting, moulting Southern Elephant Seals, which lay like large brown logs of wood, occasionally grunting like pigs or hippos, along with younger animals, which resembled large grey slugs. An excellent board walk took us to the large Royal Penguin colony. This was a hive of activity with commuting, sleeping, fighting and the preening of chicks, some of which were clustered in crèches. The noise from the birds was extraordinary and the odour left a lot to be desired. A juvenile Brown Skua, perhaps three weeks old, was also seen along with scattered penguin eggs taken by adult birds to feed Skua chicks. Also of interest was the extent of flora rejuvenation since rabbit eradication.
Taking care not to slip on kelp and maintain a five metre distance from wildlife, a short walk enabled us to view other elephant seals and the King Penguin colony a little further on. Here many birds were moulting and some chicks were like large rugby balls covered with brown down. These penguins although emitting a different call, were noticeably quieter. We passed an old hut linked to the early days of ANARE, but links to the sealing era have now been swallowed by sand. All too soon it was 2.30pm and time to return to the ship and Lindsay’s superb fish chowder, breads and salad for lunch. In conversation with Richard, some of us learned that last year on 333 days, rain exceeded 2mm a day and that 50,000km has been covered by hunters in two years of rabbit eradication with many covering 20-30km by foot per day.
The ship now relocated to Buckle’s Bay and in preparation for landing a short briefing was held at 3.45pm. After surfing in a Zodiac through a channel devoid of kelp and alighting on a boulder beach, we were split into groups, each being accompanied by an ANARE Station staff member. From here we saw a Gentoo Penguin with a pair of chicks, then took a track past elephant seals sprawled among clumps of course Poa anua grass. There we joined the excellent board walk with viewing platforms, leading to the top of a rocky ridge known as the Razorback. The ridge provided an excellent view north towards the Station and across the isthmus to the west side and east from which we had come. We were fortunate to view Light- mantled Sooty Albatross, Giant Petrels and a few Redpolls, which arrived independently many years ago.
The walk along the coarse grey sand beach on the west side of the isthmus was interesting. Here we saw a number of Gentoo Penguins and at least 50 Giant Petrels, including a White Morph. Rocks were covered with bright yellow crustose, a salt-tolerant lichen. The tour then continued to the Station where very hospitable staff provided scones, tea and coffee. The Postmaster was kept busy selling stamps and postcards, proceeds from the latter making a contribution to those affected by the Tasmanian bushfires. Some of us enjoyed meeting the Station Leader Narelle Campbell and the Station Doctor John Cadden. After ‘smoko’ (afternoon tea) we were shown around some of the buildings including one of the oldest, a ‘donga’ (sleeping quarters). Iron ‘try pots’ used to render blubber from elephant seals and steam digesters used for rendering penguin oil showed links to the island’s sealing days.
By 8pm it was time to say goodbye to our hospitable hosts. After a brief detour to view Rockhopper Penguins, we were soon back aboard the ship. After a quick shower and a drink in the Globe Bar it was time for a sumptuous dinner at 9pm. All agreed that we had been very fortunate to have such a beautiful, albeit long day, with something of interest for everyone.
Noon position: Latitude 55o28.35’S Longitude 160.0584oE
Air temperature: 13oC. Water temperature (until stated otherwise, refers to surface): +7oC
Today well rested, we had quite a different start compared to yesterday. Heavy fog had descended when Rodney made his 6am announcement. This meant we were unable to take the planned Zodiac cruise further south at Lusitania Bay to view the extensive King Penguin colony with rusting steam digesters in the centre of it. Course was then set for Antarctica and by 8.15am we were doing 10.9 knots and heading south-east to Longitude 180o66’ near Scott Island in the outer Ross Sea. A recap meeting held in the lounge gave an opportunity to recall our wonderful day yesterday. Everyone, including those who had visited the island before, had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Many spoke about how much they appreciated being able to get so close to the wildlife and amazement at the recovery of vegetation. Others paid tribute to the expedition staff with special recognition given to Rodney, Dan, Katya and Steve, along with the dedication and hospitality shown by the ANARE Macquarie Island Station personnel.
There were light-hearted moments, particularly with remarks about elephant seals; the largest seal in the World:
“I did not expect to find a clone of my boss, and such a big mouth! I took a photo.”
“Makes you want to go on a diet.”
“Their personality defined three words for me – Fart, Belch and Snort.”
“I now know what an Elephant seal’s breath is like.”
“Elephant seals have come to bed eyes.”
Other comments of note included:
“My highlight was seeing Rodney ‘arse up’ in the surf!”
“The Royal Penguin colony reminds me of Beijing.”
Expedition staff briefly outlined aspects of interest with David speaking on Macquarie Island history, Steve on penguins, Katya on seals (fur and elephant) along with Rodney on Conservation issues. The fog gradually cleared by mid-afternoon and was gone by 4pm, yet only one seabird was reported. We will soon pass over the Antarctic Convergence (a temperature and salinity boundary of the Southern Ocean) about 90 nautical miles south of Macquarie. The sea temperature will then fall and we should observe more oceanic birds owing to the upwelling of nutrients, plus new species as we move further south.
At 3.30pm Rodney outlined plans for the second stage of our expedition. This was very informative and great interest was shown in three satellite photographs showing ice conditions, particularly one received from his office this morning. Several key events will be marked over the coming days, including the Convergence; first iceberg, Antarctic Circle crossing (Latitude 66o34’S) along with the pack ice, before we enter the Ross Sea proper. Later in the day discussions continued in the bar and lounge, an excellent facility for using a laptop, reading an e-book, browsing the on board library books (carefully reorganised by David and Bernd), or to discuss the expedition. The evening meal was up to the usual high standard with chicken and pasta or lamb shank with kumera (New Zealand Maori sweet potato) mash.
At the regular bird identification meeting, yesterday’s sightings included four species of penguins. Rodney thinks Heard Island is the only other locality where these are all found together. Sightings also included Wandering (Exulans) and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and six species of petrels plus an unidentified whale seen during ‘bar time’.
Noon position: Latitude 59o06.2’S Longitude 166o12.3’E
Air temperature: +9oC [Light rain-drizzle] Water temperature: 6oC
After a very calm night and complete darkness between 2 and 3am, we rose to a fine day with scattered cloud and an outside temperature of 7oC. At 7.25am a Right Whale was sighted near the bow by Maxim the Second Mate. During the night our run was 52.8 miles with an average speed of 13 knots. About 10am three Minke whales were sighted. These were named after a scientist named Meincke and the name means ‘winged whale with sharp snout’. Steve, wearing a special penguin hat, gave another of his interesting and informative presentations. This was entitled ‘Penguins: feathered fish or flippered fliers?’ He mentioned the last camera he owned was a Kodak Box Brownie received when aged about 10 with no film in it and paid a tribute to many who lent excellent photos for his lectures. We received numerous facts including the origin of the name penguin; perhaps from the Welsh ‘Pen-Gwyn’, given to the Great Auk extinct since 1844 and that 30-40% of penguins change their partners in the first year; this no doubt contributing to a divorce rate of 90%.
After ‘retail therapy’ (shopping) was concluded, many made their way to the Bridge to participate in bird and whale-watching. Small flocks of 5-10 Antarctic Prions darted erratically above the gentle swell around the ship, followed by a much larger flock of about 50 seen later in the day. Following lunch there were still a few birds about in the intermittent light rain. David and Vicki reported the unlikely sight of a truck tyre floating past. In the afternoon David discussed exploration of the Ross Sea region from Ross in 1841 to Borchgrevink in 1899 as a lead in to the start of the ‘heroic-era’. This lecture was followed by Katya who talked about the various families and species of cetaceans. Statistics quoted for whales taken in the 20th century were 725,000 Finn, 360,000 Blue and 200,000 Humpback whales.
At 6.10pm we crossed Latitude 60oSouth and entered waters governed by the Antarctic Treaty (1959). Rodney told us that last September the sea ice extended to this point. The bird and whale sightings were recorded and more of each category may be repeated in the next few days. During the evening we pushed through a north to north-west swell which rocked us to sleep.
Noon position: Latitude 62o 34.35’S Longitude: 172o41.2’E
Air temperature: 7o Water temperature: +5o
After another comfortable night, we continued in an easterly direction and at 8am were doing 12.3 knots and over 4600m of water. Overnight Rodney had received an updated satellite map which he said showed dramatic changes in the Ross Sea ice conditions which will happily be to our advantage. During the morning the first part of ‘The Last Place on Earth’, a film based on Roland Huntford’s controversial, well-researched and well-written book on Scott and Amundsen was screened. David then gave a lecture entitled ‘Antarctica Unveiled’ in which he discussed Robert Falcon Scott’s National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-1904 with the emphasis on scientific and geographic achievements.
We are still waiting for the sight of our first iceberg, although Toni and others claimed to have seen one at 10.30am which turned out to be a hoax. At 3pm Katya talked to us about the three families of Pinnepeds (Seals) – True Seals or Phocids; Eared Seals or Otariids and the walruses. In Antarctic waters we expect to see the Crabeater (most numerous), Weddell, Leopard and perhaps the Ross Seal. At 4pm there was great excitement when the ghostly shape of the first (albeit weathered) iceberg appeared on the horizon. Alec was closest to the time in the competition predicting this momentous event. Soon afterwards the blows of two Fin Whales were seen as they passed us at a good pace. Katya suggested they were perhaps feeding near the surface.
When we crossed the Convergence there was a dramatic drop in the noon surface water temperature of 5oC to 3.5oC. Rodney gave an excellent presentation on the Antarctic Treaty and the usual convivial hour was spent in the lounge and bar. For dinner Lindsay’s samosa starter was followed by a tasty Indian dish of lamb or chicken curry accompanied by fresh vegetables. By 8pm fog over the sea indicated we were still crossing the Convergence and by 9pm the water temperature had dropped to 3oC.
Noon position: Latitude: 66o12.42’S Longitude: 179o43.62’E
Air temperature: 3oC Water temperature: 2oC (Antarctic water is generally accepted as -1.86oC although depending on the region there are variations)
Our ship rocked occasionally in the night and the cabins were noticeably cooler, but we woke to find that the fog had left us and at 8am the air temperature was 2oC. This afternoon we expect to cross the Antarctic Circle at 66o33’S and ice is not far away. In the morning Katya gave a very useful presentation on photography, outlining important aspects relating to the camera itself and also for the photographer. She covered points such as composition with the two thirds rule, along with perspective, motion direction, to watch the horizon and to think before you shoot.
Light snow was falling by 11am when we were each issued with a handsome blue insulated jacket for the colder conditions we would soon experience. By 1pm we were almost due east of the Balleny Islands, just north-north-west of Cape Adare. At 2.15pm and rugged up in our newly issued jackets, we assembled on the bow. With light snow falling, Rodney dispensed a mug of mulled wine to each of us and we prepared for the signal from the Bridge that we had indeed crossed the Antarctic Circle. On hearing the ship’s horn, Kayta awarded each of us the ‘Mark of the Penguin’ this being a rubber stamp applied to the forehead. Rodney then read the following:
“By anyone’s standards this event is an auspicious occasion, as very few people have crossed the Antarctic Circle by ship. So on this occasion we want to both celebrate the occasion and acknowledge its importance. Today each one of us joins a unique group of explorers that have gone before us, not only showing us the way, but giving us the courage to follow and to make our own destiny. We follow explorers such as James Clark Ross, Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Sir Douglas Mawson, Richard Byrd, Sir Edmund Hillary and others who pioneered new routes south of the Circle. Today we acknowledge them and their efforts.
Crossing the Circle also carries with it responsibility. A responsibility that those explorers who went before us took seriously which is part of the reason that we are here today. They advocated for the protection of these lands and wildlife that inhabited them, ensuring that future generations would have them to enjoy. So today as we cross the Circle, I would like each of you to take this vow and receive the ‘Mark of the Penguin’ as evidence that you have crossed the Antarctic Circle and have taken the pledge which I am going to ask you to say after me.
Having endured the privations of the Roaring Forties, the rigours of the Furious Fifties and the ice-strewn waters of the Screaming Sixties to cross the Antarctic Circle, pay homage to those early explorers who have not only shown the way, but have demonstrated what it means to advocate for the continued protection of Antarctica and its wildlife and history. I [put own name] hereby pledge that in accepting the ‘Mark of the Penguin’ will, until I take my last expedition, advocate to everybody, even those who will not listen, the importance of the Antarctic and its wildlife and history.
Would you please step forward and receive the ‘Mark of the Penguin.”
The ceremony now over, some of us lingered on deck to enjoy the freshness of the weather before retreating inside. We then continued south on a heading of 181o.
Part 2 of the ‘Last Place on Earth’ was screened and by 4.30pm pieces of ice had started passing the ship. These small pieces became larger ‘bergy-bits’ which with the swell, rose up and down in unison to the sea’s orchestral accompaniment. Soon there were larger ice floes, some having the most beautiful blue hues, along with patches of brown algae beneath which nourish the krill.
The ship was no longer on auto-pilot with Daniel the helmsman hand-steering on instructions passed from Maxim (Max) the First Officer. Now in the ice, the birdlife changed and included several new species such as Antarctic Petrels, Southern Fulmar and the beautiful Snow Petrel. These were joined by other petrels, prions, albatross and a Southern Giant Petrel. Mammals seen included one Minke Whale in the morning and four Crabeater Seals in the afternoon. We passed Scott Island a few miles to port but were unable to make it out through the icy haze surrounding the ship.
A sumptuous meal included a sushi starter along with blue cod and chips, followed with the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ to Natalia who then cut her cake. After the festivities many returned to the Bridge to watch the passing ice parade.
Noon position: Latitude: 68o18.79S Longitude: 178o36.38W
Air temperature: 10oC Water temperature: 2oC
We enjoyed a comfortable night with the ship in open areas of water (polynas) at times as we skirted the northern ice edge. We crossed 180o briefly then re-crossed. At 8.15am we were at 68oS and 179oW. Light snow fell in the night and sightings of wildlife included more Crabeater Seals, Adelie Penguins and a Minke Whale. We were now following a course determined by the ice floes while enjoying the brisk fresh air in bursts of bright sunshine which made sunglasses a necessary accessory. Many of us took advantage of the bow and ‘flying bridge’ where we had good visibility. Toni sighted another Minke Whale and some ‘porpoising’ Adelie Penguins were observed. On the Bridge it was interesting to watch Captain Zinchenko studying the ice with his binocular and radar, occasionally relaying a course change to the Helmsman and manually adjusting the throttle for one engine.
Many of us saw Part 3 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’ and by 11am we were in loose pack ice with the water as calm as a millpond. The calm sea gave us the opportunity to study two large icebergs as we slowly passed between them. At noon the air temperature was a balmy 10oC and we were moving slowly through the ice at 5.5 knots on a course of 104o and a little later at 148.5o. We helped ourselves to lunch today and at 3pm enjoyed Steve’s informative lecture presented with his usual good humour, entitled ‘Frozen Garden - Antarctica’s coolest secrets’. He showed numerous beautiful images and supplemented these with key information from his research. Given our present position, the lecture was very timely.
Back on the ‘flying bridge’ interesting sightings included a Southern Fulmar and a Snow Petrel – the latter alighting on the sea, presumably to forage for food. Another pair of Snow Petrels were heard calling as they flew overhead. By 6pm several icebergs, some of them tabular varieties, were seen on the horizon and as we pushed our way at 4 knots through the floes, they appeared to grow larger as each hour passed. After dinner we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Thomas, a member of the German film crew. The daily summary of wildlife sightings listed several Emperor and Adelie Penguins, Snow Petrels, Southern Fulmar, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, two Minke Whales and many Crabeater Seals. We were now in 24 hour daylight and had much pleasure watching the passing parade of icebergs. Carolyn and Ian were amused to see three seals (possibly Crabeaters) endeavouring to board an ice floe, only to change their mind when the Spirit of Enderby pushed past. An unnamed photographer was overheard to say “I got a great shot there!” only to have pointed out that the lens cap was still on the camera!
Noon position: Latitude: 69o29.95S Longitude: 177o44.44W
Air temperature: 7oC (here on, mercury thermometer readings also); Water temperature: 2oC
We enjoyed another comfortable night, lulled to sleep by the semi-regular bumps from floes against the hull. Those with good cameras have already obtained some beautiful images including one taken by Lyn of an Antarctic Petrel running over the water surface before taking flight and one of a Snow Petrel taken by Katya. The Snow Petrel had taken a fish that appeared to be too large for it, and although it was not known if the fish was eaten, the bird was later seen rolling on snow and preening itself.
Rodney held a briefing before Part 4 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’ where he outlined the current ice situation, explaining that a problem with the ice map is that it is usually 24 hours old when received on the ship. At that point we were on a south-south-east course towards open water and managing 4.8-5 knots abeam of Cape Adare. A strong south-south-east wind of up to 35-40 knots was blowing along the west side of the Adare Peninsula and further south, so we may have to head straight to Ross Island and attempt our other landings later as we tracked north.
Just as some of us sat down to lunch, Katya announced a Ross Seal was off the port bow. This led to a rapid exodus from the dining room, where we were rewarded with excellent views of this beautiful seal. The animal displayed features such as its bulbous throat with stripes and Alec managed to obtain images of the head and whiskers with his long lens. Although the ship was close, the seal was apparently undisturbed and merely gave us a glance before it settled down to continue its rest. This was a rare sighting of a Ross Seal which because of its preferred habitat in the pack-ice is seldom seen. These animals can attain a length of 2.4m and a weight of 200kg.
David later gave his lecture entitled ‘Icons of Exploration’ to an appreciative audience. This talk focused on the work of countries active in the preservation of historic huts. As a forerunner to our site and hut visits, there was an emphasis on work by the Antarctic Heritage Trust. He then touched briefly on his own field work and research during three expeditions to Cape Adare 1982-2003. In the afternoon as we entered a large area of open water with scattered floes there was a sighting of an unidentified whale. At 5.15pm we passed Latitude 70o South.
For the evening meal our chefs provided a superb Sunday roast with a choice of lamb or chicken, roast potato, parsnip, fennel, broccoli, peas and corn on cob. A fine trifle rounded out the tasty meal. During dinner we struck open water on a south-west course for Beaufort Island at the entrance to McMurdo Sound. The ship was again on auto-pilot and our speed picked up to 10.15 knots. In the evening Katya showed her excellent slides of the Snow Petrel and Rodney confirmed that the Ross Seal we had seen today was an adult. He mentioned that he had only seen between 10-20 Ross seals before so today’s sighting was quite rare. He also advised that New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Key, is presently visiting Scott Base.
‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ was the featured movie shown in later that evening and it attracted quite a good crowd. Those who chose to stay out of deck however saw a Minke Whale blowing and breaching close to the ship and a few penguins surface feeding. Around 11pm we were again confronted with ice floes and once more our speed had to be reduced while the Captain considered the best route through leads in the ice.
Noon position: Latitude: 71o21.32S Longitude: 179o14.84E
Air temperature: 4oC (alcohol); 3.5oC (mercury)
Water temperature: 2oC
The fog which enveloped the ship overnight was gone by morning, but the sun had also disappeared. Although floes were reasonably concentrated, the ice appeared to be thinning as we made our way towards Beaufort Island which lies just north of Ross Island. This morning we saw a variety of birds including numerous Adelie Penguins and the occasional Emperor Penguin. The biggest excitement however was the sighting of our first Weddell Seal. Those not out observing wildlife viewed Part 5 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. By lunch time we were about mid-way down the Adare Peninsula, although it was too far distant to be seen. Our next significant seal sighting was made by Lyn who spotted the second Ross Seal of the voyage.
At 3pm Katya gave another of her quality lectures, this one entitled ‘The World of Contrasts – Antarctica and the Arctic’. This well-illustrated presentation focused on the physical differences and natural and human history of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. As the day wore on we sighted our first Leopard Seal with Katya saying “this must be a record – all four seal species in one day!” On hearing this comment David swiftly replied with “I presume this gives the seal of approval for wildlife sightings?” Later we enjoyed seeing seven Crabeater Seals on one floe with another two nearby, followed by a second sighting of a Weddell Seal. Throughout the day we watched the beautiful formations of ice glide past until we were once again in open water at 71o44.12’S; 178o36.41’E. The second engine was then engaged and we continued southward at a steady 12 knots.
There was a lively gathering in the bar as we celebrated leaving the ice, and after the social hour we dined on steamed mussels followed by either blue cod or belly pork and a desert of apricot crumble. After the bird and mammal discussion, a few of us went to the Bridge where we enjoyed observing several Antarctic Petrels as the evening wore on and looked forward to finally landing in the Antarctic.
Noon position: Latitude: 74o21.33’S Longitude: 173o42.09’E
Air temperature:-2oC (alcohol);-2.5oC (mercury)
Water temperature: +1oC
We had a fairly comfortable night, but in the morning the ship was rolling a little and the sea scattered with white horses. There were just a few Antarctic Petrels hovering above the ship and Rodney commented on the low numbers of the Southern Fulmar. The open sea was a nice change from the ice we looked forward to visiting the historic huts of Shackleton at Cape Royds (1908) and of Scott at Cape Evans (1911-12). The sea was fairly rough at times and when the ship buried the bow in the troughs of big swells, large waves broke over the foredeck and Bridge windows. It was interesting to see how the two special rotating, heated glass discs on the Bridge windows maintained clear viewing even when this happened. Several Antarctic Petrels and a Snow Petrel circled the ship and Florian from the German camera team photographed a Minke Whale surfacing in foaming water near the bow.
In the morning Part 6 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’ was screened, but many lay low, finding the cabin bunk the best place to be and there was not a large attendance at lunch. At 3pm David presented his lecture ‘A Charismatic Hero’ which focused on Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-1909. He covered achievements of the expedition which whetted our appetites for a hoped visit to Shackleton’s hut. The Antarctic Heritage Trust summer party apparently departs from Cape Evans tomorrow.
By mid-afternoon the sea calmed a little and the sun tried to break through the cloud cover. At 5pm Rodney presented an important mandatory lecture on preparation for landings in Antarctica. This mostly focused on IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) which was formed in 1991 to promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private-sector activities in the Antarctic. The lecture was followed by a complimentary ‘Russ Sea Roughy’ cocktail during enthusiastic participation in the Antarctic Quiz with Rodney acting as Quiz Master. Gary’s birthday was celebrated over dinner and he was asked where the Irish flag was. We had the regular bird and mammal discussion at 9pm in brilliant sunshine as we looked forward to what promises to be an interesting day tomorrow.
Noon position: Latitude: 77o 27.14’oC Longitude: 165o59.75E
Air temperature: 12oC (mercury) 15oC (alcohol)
Water temperature: +1oC
Rodney roused us at 5.15am and soon many were on icy decks enjoying the magnificent vista before us. To Port were the volcanic peaks of Mt. Terror 3230m, Mt. Terra Nova 2130m and Mt. Erebus 3794m, with Abbott Peak 1793m and Mt. Bird 1800m on the skyline. Gazing at the sunlit slopes where the DC10 aircraft went down 34 years ago, reminded us of that tragic day when people left their homes hoping to enjoy the majesty of the Antarctic landscape and did not return. Numerous icebergs were scattered across the ocean and far beyond we could make out the Transantarctic Mountains with the Royal Society Range west of Ross Island prominent. To Starboard the steep volcanic cliffs on the east side of Beaufort Island were varied shades of brown to yellow ochre, grey and black. As we rounded the southern end of the island, the Adelie Penguin colony could be made out on talus slopes along with the edge of the ice cap that is prominent on the west side.
Attired in our insulated jackets, warm headwear and gloves we made the most of the bright sunshine in the brisk cold southerly. This is what we had come for. There was plenty of scope for photography and wildlife including a Minke Whale and Weddell Seal. The Captain took the Spirit of Enderby through a narrow belt of floes past the south end of Beaufort Island to open water as we continued south past Cape Bird towards Wohlschlag Bay north of Cape Royds. By 9.45am we were passing Cape Bird where the New Zealand biological field station (formerly the Harrison Laboratory) is located. Off the bow Mt. Discovery (first climbed in 1959) was outstanding while to the west, there was good viewing of the Bowers and Wilson Piedmont Glaciers, the Ferrar Glacier, the location of the Taylor, Victoria and Wright Dry Valleys and the peaks of the Transantarctic Mountains.
At 1pm Rodney called us together in the lecture room for a pre-landing briefing. We were now positioned off Cape Barne and had excellent views south to the Delbridge Islands off Cape Evans. With a sense of great excitement we were shuttled to Black Sand Beach about a mile north of Cape Royds. A thirty minute walk over a ‘lunar landscape’ with the grey volcanic rock feldspar crystals sparkling in the bright sunlight, soon had us passing a US field station. From here Dr David Ainley’s group is monitoring the southernmost Adelie Penguin colony. We grouped near the green New Zealand refuge hut at the edge of the ASPA (Antarctic Specially protected Area). With only 40 allowed in the ASPA at any one time (including eight in the historic hut) we were able to enjoy views of the environment and the southernmost Adelie Penguin colony.
When we arrived at Shackleton’s hut erected in 1908, we went through an elaborate boot brush process before approaching the entrance along a vinyl mat. Actually visiting this place we had all read and heard so much about made history come alive and was quite a unique experience, even for those few who had been here previously. It was interesting to see the extent of restoration by work teams from the organisation responsible for preservation, the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT). Even timber used for a replica external door was weathering and appeared similar to Baltic pine elsewhere on the hut. About 5pm we began walking back to the beach. Some of us enjoyed a spell on a knoll with great views of the Western Mountains and Pearl proudly unfurled China’s national flag. Our chefs again produced a sumptuous dinner with very fine lamb and Chatham Islands monkfish, then after a further briefing we prepared to land at Cape Evans.
We landed at a site outside Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut from which he left for the Pole on 1 November 1911. At this time the great Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen was already well on his way to the South Pole; this being his only visit to Antarctica. This fairly large hut was later occupied in 1911-13 and by the Shackleton Ross Sea Party in 1915-17. The AHT has undertaken considerable work on this hut which is undoubtedly the most important historic hut in Antarctica. We landed about 9pm to be greeted by a young Weddell Seal loafing in snow outside. The ASPA here is similarly restricted to 40 although the much larger hut could have 12 at any one time. On entering the porch we proceeded to walk quietly about the interior where David explained aspects related to the occupancy by Scott’s party in 1911-1912 along with Ross Sea party members in 1915-1917 and features in the adjoining annex and stables.
Some of us visited the Trust’s summer complex which included a purpose-built conservation laboratory and there met Artefact Conservation Manager Lizzie Meek and three members of her specialist team. Others enjoyed a short walk up Wind Vane Hill to the Memorial Cross erected in 1917. This commemorates the loss of Mackintosh, Hayward and Spencer-Smith the previous year. As with Shackleton’s hut, each person gained something special from their visit. This may have been a memory of a famous photo by Herbert Ponting and viewing his photographic darkroom; quietly playing Waltzing Matilda as a lament on a harmonica (Andrew) in Griffith Taylor’s cubicle; posing beside the beds once occupied by Irishmen Tom Crean and Patrick Keohane (Gary) or enjoying the peaceful ambience with subdued lighting from a small window above Scott’s bed. Toni said she felt the presence of someone close to her. Brian who had visited the hut previously said “as soon as I saw the wardroom table the hair came up on my neck – it made a difference being one of the last in the hut”. Valerie from Canada also on her second visit remarked “when I saw the (recreated) bulkhead, I felt that any moment I could look over my shoulder and think someone was coming in”. Such is the effect a visit to Scott’s Terra Nova hut has on people.
By 11pm we were back on board after an extraordinary day blessed with the most perfect weather. Discussions about all we had seen today continued long into the night.
Noon position: Latitude: 77o16.120S Longitude: 166o12.30E
Air temperature:-08.50C (Merc)-1(Alc) [at 08.15 -0.3oC bridge computer – not always on]
Water temperature: +1.4oC
This morning Rodney called us at 7.20am and we surfaced to a most beautiful morning with bright sunlight and a light breeze creating a ruffled sea. With no icebreaker having arrived to cut the channel essential for access to McMurdo Station, we enjoyed a cruise along the edge of the fast ice which was broken up by wind, wave and tides. At about 8am we reached what would ultimately be the furthest south for this expedition at 77o38’S. Along the ice edge we saw pods of Orca along with some Minke Whales. In the distance we could see Observation Hill which has the Memorial Cross to Scott and his four men who died in 1912, Cape Armitage below and on Crater Hill, the Meridian wind farm which has greatly reduced the need of diesel fuel to run the generators for both Scott Base and the US McMurdo Station. Part 7 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’ was screened and we gradually made our way north past the Delbridge Islands, Cape Evans and Cape Royds toward Cape Bird where the New Zealand research summer station is located.
Following a briefing we were landed in beautiful weather on the beach near the southern colony of Adelie Penguins. Here two glorious hours were spent observing and photographing adults and chicks. By 3.45pm we were underway for the Ross Ice Shelf. We had a good view of the Cape Bird field station, Beaufort Island and again of the volcanic peaks seen yesterday morning. Karen was ecstatic. “I got a wonderful photo of a whale – but it was just a fluke!” she said. Soon after 8pm we neared Cape Crozier where we could make out snow patterns which indicating the path of violent winds sweeping over the landscape and also the location of the ‘rock igloo’ to right of The Knoll. This was built by Dr Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard during the famous ‘worst journey in the world’ in July 1911. We could also make out the large Adelie Penguin colony, where a message post from Scott’s Discovery expedition (1901-1904) still stands.
It was however the vast floating Ross Ice Shelf which is the area of France that attracted our attention. We were now positioned at 77o25’S 169o24.9’E. This huge feature butting against Ross Island at Cape Crozier has a series of ice ‘canyons’ where in comparative shelter, Emperor Penguins can breed on the sea ice in winter. The face of the 50m ice shelf appeared to have been sculpted by a giant artist’s pallet knife while below the sea was a beautiful turquoise colour. There was a sucking and crashing sound from the wave action beneath the over-hanging ice, while a few ‘growlers’ (water-worn pieces of ice barely on the surface) floated by. From the ‘monkey deck’ or ‘flying bridge’ as it is known, a shout of “thar she blows!” was heard, as a pair of Orca briefly surfaced.
Rodney gave us some fascinating facts about the ice shelf, such as the average thickness is 330m or 1100ft to 700m or 2300ft and about 1/7th is below the surface. He also told us the story of its discovery in 1841. We pondered what it must have been like for the early explorers who trudged for weeks or months on end, over this great white ‘desert’. At 9.15pm we turned north for Franklin Island about 90 nautical miles away. What a day!
Noon position; Latitude: 75o59’S Longitude: 167o52’E
Air temperature:-5oC (both thermometers)
This morning we arrived off the east coast of Franklin Island on another glorious morning and minus 2oC at 6.15am. Our position was 76o09.46’S, 168o18.69’E. After breakfast Rodney introduced the island and its history. The latter included the naming by Ross after Sir John Franklin, then Governor of Tasmania. By 8.30am we were ashore at the Adelie Penguin colony, enjoying a further photographic opportunity with adults and chicks about three to four weeks old (some moulting), Skuas and a Weddell Seal. David was particularly interested in the evolution of the coastal geomorpholgy, while Dan compiled a map of the area. On the ice cliff along the back shore we saw weird freeze-thaw formations and ponds along the edge of a melt-water stream. Even Alec’s Polar Bear stuffed toy named Con (after Scott’s family nickname), enjoyed being photographed with a penguin as he lay on the cold, stony surface. Con who was born on the Equator (Singapore) had previously visited the Arctic. Off-shore were several icebergs, one of which had a tunnel and another was a beautiful deep blue, indicating old ice. By 10am we were back on board and en route for Terra Nova Bay and Inexpressible Island. We spent the rest of the day logging photos and viewing the film ‘Ice Bird’, a Natural History New Zealand production on the life cycle of the Adelie Penguin.
Before dinner the 2732m volcanic cone of Mt. Melbourne came into view as we neared the west side of the Ross Sea. The volcano is not active although there are areas of warm ground and fumeroles near the summit. Preparations were then made for a possible landing in the morning on Inexpressible Island.
Noon position: Latitude 74o44.96S Longitude 164o15.6E
Air temperature: +1.5oC (Alc. & Mec)
Water temperature: +1oC
With the exception of a few of us who spent the night enjoying magic views from the ship, the remainder were woken by Rodney on the PA at 2.30am. Thirty minutes later we were in the lecture room for a briefing on our landing on Inexpressible Island. There was little time for much else as the area is notorious for the sudden arrival of the katabatic wind that can become quite violent. By 3.30am the landing operation was underway and soon most of us were assembled on an area of large granite boulders, in preparation for a walk of about one and a half kilometres to the site of the ice cave we had come to visit. This is beyond doubt, the holy grail of historic sites associated with Scott’s last expedition. Here six men comprising the Northern Party were incarcerated for nearly 200 days, including the 1912 winter. A beautiful sunrise was appreciated along with the interesting hike over undulating glacial moraine. Along the way we encountered eight Weddell seals. One of these had a beautiful silver-grey pelt with white and dark grey blotches and was vocalising as if singing, while another was described by Katya as “chirping like a bird”. This means of communication is also used when in the water. We also saw a few Adelie Penguins from the nearby colony, South Polar Skuas, interesting rocks of various colours and at least three species of ‘crustose’ lichens with black lichen being the most prominent.
It was a great thrill for us to arrive at the site of the cave which had ablated away within the last five decades. A bamboo and some seal bones were visible along with the four Antarctic Treaty plaques (English, Russian, French and Spanish) and a much weathered earlier wooden plaque placed a few decades ago. Many of us climbed an adjacent low hill from which men of the Northern Party perhaps kept watch for their ship which never arrived to pick them up because of the heavy pack ice. Very interesting moraine debris exhibited weathering from freeze-thaw, salt action and foliation. From the top we enjoyed a magnificent view down to Evans Cove and back to Hells Gate Moraine, including the Priestley Glacier named for Raymond (later Sir Raymond) Priestley, a geologist with the Northern Party and the earlier Shackleton Nimrod expedition at Cape Royds. The Terra Nova left a cache of food and equipment including a Nansen cooker on the moraine in 1913, although this was removed a few years ago by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, to ensure preservation. It seemed incredible that the Northern Party had to drag their supplies from Hells Gate to the site of the ice cave, then after roughing it for over six months, trekking down the coast, only to receive news of the loss of the Polar Party.
With the sky turning dark to the south, we were all back on board by 6am. Soon the weather had turned and two days of bad weather from the south-east was forecast. Many had a couple of hours rest and during breakfast a group which would charitably be called a choir, launched into “Advance Australia Fair” over the PA system. By 10am we were approaching the site of Germany’s small occasionally occupied summer station named Gondwana located at Gerlache Inlet. The Captain was continually watching the radar and echo sounder as we navigated several bergs and ‘bergy-bits’ through the murk with only brief views of land ahead. With snow driving in from the south, Rodney and Katya set out to check the possibility of making a further landing, but decided that conditions made it too hazardous. We then moved on and with wind and seas getting up, we were asked to keep clear of the Bridge where the Captain and officers were busy with navigation. This request was possibly what led to the snow fight on deck, which took place between a combined Australia/New Zealand team versus English passengers, with the main instigators being Vicki and Lyn. Brian G declared the Anzacs the winners!
During the afternoon David gave his presentation ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ which focused on Scott’s ill-fated 1910-1913 expedition including reference to the Northern Party along with the expeditions of Norway’s Roald Amundsen and Japan’s Nobu Shirase. In the evening the bird and mammal list was postponed until tomorrow and the amusing Australian movie ‘The Castle’ was screened. And so another great day with Rodney and Heritage Expeditions had come to an end. What an adventure!
Noon position: Latitude 73o52.85’S Longitude 171o14.7’E
Air temperature: +1oC (Alc and Merc)
Water temperature: +1oC
Our day began with a dramatic change in the weather. The Spirit of Enderby rolled a little in the night however by morning we were 240 miles from Cape Adare and the wind and sea were gradually easing. At 10am the Natural History New Zealand production of ‘Solid Water, Liquid Rock’ was screened. This excellent production filmed by renowned Dunedin photographer Max Quinn centred on Mt. Erebus. The DVD was followed by David’s final lecture covering the ‘heroic-era’ entitled ‘Fortunes and Misfortunes’. His presentation focused on the generally little known Shackleton Ross Sea Party of 1914-1917 during World War I, with reference to several Australian expedition members David was privileged to have known. By 1pm we were over 500m of water and far to the west could be seen rugged Coulman Island, with two peaks of 940m and 640m, along with talus cones formed by debris from steep rocky cliffs above. In 1902 the Discovery expedition left a message post here and an Emperor Penguin colony is also on the island. With the sea much calmer and a fine day developing, the crew took the opportunity of opening and washing Bridge windows. A relaxing day with an opportunity to read, play cards or attend documentaries and lectures unfolded. As the afternoon continued the sky cleared to a pale blue with light scattered cloud and Victoria Land to the west became much clearer. The second documentary screened for the day was ‘The Last Ocean’. This programme concerned the harvesting of tooth fish (popularly termed ‘Antarctic Cod’) in the Ross Sea and concern for the species future, including the need for further knowledge on the physiology and a possible Marine Reserve.
At 5pm we enjoyed an interesting lecture by Rodney entitled ‘Pelagic Whaling in the Ross Sea 1923/24-1932-33’ when we learned that in the 1930/31 season alone a total of 2482 Blue and 310 Fin Whales were taken with a total of 2908 whales from the Ross Sea. Rodney mentioned that he had been privileged to meet and interview several New Zealand whalers for an oral history university project and that he had never seen a Blue Whale. After dinner Katya showed her video with recordings of Weddell Seal vocalisations she recorded yesterday.
Despite a thin veil of evening cloud, we admired Mt. Herschel (3335m) and Mt. Minto (4165m), both named by Ross in 1841. Doing a creditable 13.26 knots, we passed the Emperor Penguin colony on Cape Roget, the Possession Islands (two of which had a volcanic pillar at one end) and later Cape McCormick where a few Giant Petrels paid a visit. As the evening proceeded, the Adare Saddle at the head of Robertson Bay came into view followed by Adare Peninsula, with its high snow covered peak of 2083m at the south end and the Downshire Cliffs. Much further along the peninsula could be seen Hanson Peak (1256m) named after the 1899 expedition biologist Nicolai Hanson.
The sea was beautifully calm and the evening too nice not to spend even a brief spell on deck or the Bridge enjoying the magic vista unfolding before us. With pack ice appearing to the west and north-west as shown by the satellite map, our course was altered to open water with speed reduced slightly to 12.27 knots. High hopes were held for a landing in the morning.
Noon position: Latitude71o46S Longitude 173o48’E
Air temperature: 20oC (Alc); 14.5oC (Merc)
Water temperature: 0oC
At 02.40am in the morning Rodney announced that after two hours of trying, it would not be possible to land at Cape Adare. Although disappointed, we had had some warning that this may be the case as the satellite ice maps showed that last year had been an extremely heavy year for sea ice in the Ross Sea. Cape Adare is well known for severe weather and ice conditions with the ice foot along the shore sometimes even preventing access to the beach. Such conditions were well known to the early expeditions of Borchgrevink and Campbell and indeed in more recent decades, a reason why comparatively few parties have landed by sea. However we were lucky enough to experience a calm sea and a fine day as we headed south-east for about 10 hours to access the track we had when we first entered the ice on the way south. Rodney said it would take about 9-10 hours to cover 107 nautical miles, after which we would turn north en route to Campbell Island.
At 10am a full theatre enjoyed the Paramount production ‘With Byrd to the South Pole’. This told the story of USN Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctica from 1928 to 1930. His ships were the City of New York (a wooden sailing ship named as a compliment to the city fathers) and Eleanor Bolling (a small steamer named after Byrd’s mother). This expedition established a base they named ‘Little America’ at the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf. During the expedition Byrd made an 18 hour flight of around 1600 miles in a Ford Tri-motor named Floyd Bennett to the vicinity of the Geographic South Pole.
The DVD was then followed by Katya’s very interesting talk on the ‘Evolution and Adaption of Marine Mammals’. Katya focused on Cetacea and Pinnipeds (Eared and True Seals). We learned how the cetaceans evolved from a species of toothed carnivore around 53mya then diverged and split following the opening of the sea around Antarctica. The Pinnipeds appear to have evolved around 20mya with an ancestral animal found in the Northern Territory of Australia. Many interesting aspects of adaption considered anatomy, physiology, thermoregulation and echolocation.
We returned to the theatre at 3pm for Part One of ‘Shackleton’ starring Kenneth Branagh. This excellent production focused on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition Weddell Sea (Endurance Party) of 1914-16. At the conclusion of the viewing, Bernd presented a summary of Frank Hurley’s career and drew attention to books in our ship-board library. After an excellent dinner of either oxtail casserole or cod the bird and mammal list for the day was discussed. Numerous Adelie Penguins, Giant Petrels (including a ‘White-morph’ seen by Lyn) and a few Snow Petrels were recorded.
About 8.25pm we encountered heavier ice so had to begin a rather erratic course as the Captain directed the helmsman to manoeuvre through leads. Rodney announced that the wreck of the missing Canadian Twin Otter aircraft was found today. It appears the aircraft may have flown into a mountain during bad weather, 56 miles south of the Beardmore Glacier. A beautiful sunset developed around midnight with a horizon of gold, merging into orange, mauve and finally a dark purple. Numerous Adelie Penguins were seen in the water and on floes along with a solitary seal, that Pearl said “poked its head out of the water”.
Noon position: Latitude 71o09.92’S Longitude 179o20’W
Air temperature: 3.6oC (Merc); 4oC (Alc)
Water temperature: +1oC
This morning we passed by a large moulting Emperor Penguin in an area with heavy ice floes. Rodney pointed out that there had been little movement in the ice since a week ago so the ice belt may be in this area for a while yet. The sea was very calm throughout the morning with just a slight ripple from an almost negligible breeze. At times it was quite foggy although this cleared after a while, leaving a heavy cloud cover. Adelie Penguins and several Snow Petrels obligingly appeared, enabling the bird enthusiasts to capture further images before we left the ice floes. At 10am Part One of the outstanding documentary ‘Life in the Freezer’ narrated by Sir David Attenborough was shown, and then our history lecturer David gave his presentation entitled ‘Douglas Mawson – Stalwart of the Heroic Era’. This was of particular interest to the Australian contingents, some of whom were very knowledgeable on Mawson or had a connection with the family. Afterwards we sat down to Lindsay’s excellent seafood chowder with fresh buns for lunch.
During the afternoon some people took advantage of the calm sea to enjoy circuits of the deck, while others opted for the ‘vertical’ workout on the stairways. With the excellent food and beverages on board it is important to work off a few kilojoules! The second part of ‘Shackleton’ screened at 3pm was well attended, while others enjoyed seeing a pod of Orca near the ice edge, along with a flock of 20-30 Snow Petrels with several resting on an ice floe. There was also a pair of Minke Whales near the ship with Neil obtaining an excellent photograph. The bar was well patronised in the evening and we enjoyed the usual sumptuous evening meal preceded with antipasto, before attending the bird and mammal sighting discussion. At 9pm we were at 70o15’S 176o42.78 W and treated to a passing parade of magnificent icebergs and ‘bergy-bits’. One berg seen to Starboard resembled a fairyland castle with another almost identical iceberg seen later to Port, while a further two resembled a large ship and a rhinoceros. Far to the east an enormous tabular berg hovered on the horizon.
Noon position: Latitude 68o53.0’S Longitude 177o36.4’W
Air temperature: +1oC (Alc); +0.9oC (Merc)
Water temperature: +1oC
Part 2 of ‘Life in the Freezer’ was screened this morning, then at noon Steve gave an excellent presentation he called ‘Licence to Krill – Antarctica’s Web of Life’. In his lecture the significance of phytoplankton (diatoms) and zooplankton (e.g. a euphasid popularly termed krill) was explained. He particularly emphasised the significance to other animals in the ocean along with flying birds and also the role of climate and ocean circulation.
By 1pm we were heading in a north-westerly direction and Rodney considered it would not be long before we left the ice. During the afternoon we saw two Crabeater Seals as a swell was beginning to create larger openings in the floes. We returned to the lecture theatre in the afternoon for Part One of ‘Longitude’. This documentary concerned the 40 year struggle to win a £20,000 prize to prove a mechanical clock was the solution for accurately measuring longitude.
During the afternoon Katya alerted us to an iceberg with beautiful deep blue colouring nearby, which began a discussion about differing colours. Firstly, snow appears white because air trapped between ice crystals making up the snow scatter, reflecting all wave lengths of sunlight back into our eyes. This is seen by us as white, however compacted glacial ice from which many icebergs are derived, retain small ice bubbles which scatter light, allowing the penetration of sunlight deep into the ice. Ice crystals absorb six times as much light at the red end of the spectrum as at the blue end. Since the ice absorbs most of the red light, only the blue end of the spectrum is reflected back at us to see. The best viewing is normally very old multi-year ice, although under certain conditions including with no sunlight present, the observer can also be rewarded. The deck soon had a number of keen photographers braving the cold temperatures. We were still in the ice during the evening, although going by the movement of the ship after dinner, open water was not very far away.
Day 23. Thursday 31 January – Southern Ocean
Noon position: Latitude 65o71.8’S Longitude 177o45.2’E
Air temperature: +3oC (Alc) +2.4oC (Merc)
Water temperature: 0oC
After a comfortable night we woke to a calm sea with an occasional prion flying above. At 00.30am Paul sighted Scott Island to the west and compiled a quick sketch. We had not seen this elusive island on the voyage south and Paul had captured this glimpse between the sun setting about an hour earlier and imminent sunrise. He also completed a sketch of Haggitt’s Pillar, another feature of volcanic origin. This morning Steve reported passing a beautiful berg consisting of old glacial ice, and seven Humpback Whales were reported. Brian G said the blows, with one whale breaching with its head out of the water, were a magnificent sight. Rodney suggested we must be crossing the edge of the Continental Shelf where whales returning from breeding in the Pacific come south to feed. Although we had left the ice, there was still much to enjoy.
We continued to travel at about 12.5 knots and had around 848 nautical miles to run before our expected arrival at Campbell Island on the 3rd of February. More whales including Humpbacks and two Fin Whales were sighted during the morning but with a cold wind blowing, not many ventured out on deck. After the opening of the Sea Shop, which enabled us to purchase various mementos as reminders of this remarkable expedition, the final episodes of ‘Life in the Freezer’ were screened. The sea was a little rough, keeping many in their cabins as we headed into a broadly spaced swell on a north-west track. Birds seen included Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Antarctic, Mottled and White-headed Petrels, Shearwaters (perhaps drawn to scraps stirred up or left by feeding whales) and South Polar Skuas. The last penguins, notably an Emperor and some porpoising Adelies were also seen.
This afternoon photographer Herbert Ponting’s film donated by Brian G under a new title ‘90 Degrees South’ was screened. This excellent film was introduced by Scott’s Second in Command Lieutenant Edward Evans (later Admiral then Lord Mountevans) and Herbert Ponting. The photography of the Terra Nova and wildlife was particularly impressive. We had a very enjoyable evening in the bar with a ‘Whodunnit’ contest organised by Steve, where passengers had to identify a staff member linked to a particular experience. This provided much amusement, but details are perhaps best left out of this record! After dinner the bird and mammal sightings were recorded and the rest of the evening was spent playing cards or relaxing.
Noon position: Latitude 61o06.95’S Longitude 174o34’E
Air temperature: +6oC (Alc and Merc)
Water temperature: +2oC
The good ship Spirit of Enderby rocked and rolled a little in the night, but the day began with reasonably calm seas and light rain. At 9am we had 573 nautical miles to run before reaching Campbell Island about lunchtime on Sunday. With occasional large sheets of spray coming over the bow, this area was closed for the morning, as was the ‘monkey bridge’. During the morning we turned the passageway on Level 3 into a bowling alley using a ball made from gloves and paper cups as pins. Brendon emerged the victor of this bowling contest. Later Lyn and Vicki had a quoits competition throwing the tops from small rubbish containers over paper cups. Now that showed initiative! Later the second part of ‘Longitude’ was screened and during the afternoon Katya gave an excellent presentation entitled ‘Marine Mammals and Sound’. This focused on how sounds are produced, the unique process known as echolocation and how various mammals such as whales react to these sounds. One example given was of two Humpback Whales communicating from opposite ends of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the evening the wind came up and chefs Lindsay and Bobby along with some willing helpers did a magnificent job preparing and serving dinner. Rodney told us about problems being encountered by ships on the Antarctic Peninsula, with one having Bridge windows damaged and a large cabin window being broken on another. One ship was forced to turn back when faced with terrible weather just 13 hours out of Ushuaia in Argentina.
By early evening the wind from the north to north-west quarter began gusting to 30-35 knots and we were advised to stay away from the Bridge and if out and about, to “keep one hand on the ship and the other to oneself”. As the seas became rougher we looked forward to seeking shelter in the lee of Campbell Island. These conditions certainly gave us a good understanding of the experience of mariners in the 1800s who were wrecked on the rugged coastline of Auckland Island.
Noon position: Latitude 57o12.27’S Longitude 171o53.17E
Air temperature: +9oC (Alc and Merc)
Water temperature: +5oC
We certainly rock n’ rolled last night and at some stage, we passed over the Convergence. The wind was true to form and many of us did a ‘dance’ on the bed, as we went from one end to the other and back again, for much of the night. Chairs and bags waltzed up and down the cabin floor and cupboard doors opened and shut in orchestral fashion. Katya said she found a camera memory chip which she lost three weeks ago! This morning the skies were clearing and with the wind subsiding, so most of us managed to catch up on some sleep. Once the sea was a little more benign it was good to be out in fresh air on the deck. A fine sight was a pair of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross gliding above the waves while at the same time, maintaining distance between them. Most of us took advantage of a rest today and few decided to have lunch.
At 4.30pm Rodney gave a presentation on Campbell Island ahead of our proposed landing tomorrow. This lecture outlined both the human and natural history of this volcanic island, along with his own personal reminiscences of extensive time spent there. The human history focused on early scientific Antarctic and Subantarctic expeditions, whaling, farming (initially 2000 Leicester-Merino sheep, 8 cattle and 2 horses), the World War II Cape Expedition, former manned meteorological station (closed 1995 and replaced with automated system) and pest eradication since 1990. The natural history information included reference to Rodney having discovered on his first visit, the Campbell Island Flightless Teal in 1975 on La Dent Island when this small bird was thought to be extinct. The island is also important for the breeding or presence of several species of Albatross, the endemic Campbell Island Shag and very important species of ‘megaherbs’ that have flourished since the pest eradication programme.
Light rain fell during the evening and the bird and mammal meeting reported for the last two days, observations of six species of Albatross and the departure of various Antarctic species. Also of interest was a New Zealand Fur Seal sleeping on the surface with one flipper and the tail flippers raised. The seal appeared to remain asleep for some time after the ship had passed and then woke and swam away.
Noon position: Latitude 53o16.98’S Longitude: 169o38.92’E
Air temperature: 10oC (Alc) 9.5oC (Merc)
Water temperature: 8oC
The ship’s speed slowed to 6-7 knots overnight due to a strong northerly wind. By the time we started the day however, the ship was rolling under westerly conditions. At 9am we still had 78 nautical miles to go with arrival at Perseverance Harbour scheduled for about 4pm. Many seabirds were now about the ship and we had excellent views of albatross soaring on the breeze. The sea gradually calmed with the ship giving an occasional roll. Nevertheless many enjoyed a chance to rest up before our proposed landing. Some sighted what we thought was a Rockhopper Penguin far from home (or was it ‘Happy Feet’?) The prions with their characteristic brief flapping of wings and short glides were also of interest. Steve did a fine job of assisting in the galley and making a stir-fry for lunch. Others including Dan have helped with peeling potatoes or during rough conditions, by clearing tables and serving meals.
At 2.30pm with only 16 nautical miles to go, Campbell Island began to appear through the mist. Far to Port we had views of Jacquemart Island; one of several volcanic rock stacks named Le Boote; and Mt. Dumas (499m). These are just a few of several landmarks with French names given at the time of the French Expedition which called here in 1873 and again in 1874, to observe the Transit of Venus. As we neared Campbell Island, many seabirds were apparent with sightings of albatross, the Campbell Island Shag, Antarctic Tern, Cape Petrel and Yellow-eyed Penguin. We also noticed large purple and brown jellyfish ranging in size from dinner to bread and butter plates around the ship. By 4pm we had entered Perseverance Harbour with lava flows visible on wave washed cliffs and hillsides clothed in grass and Dracophyllum scrub. As we anchored in 28m of water, Rodney called us to the lecture room for a pre-landing briefing and by 4.45pm we began to go ashore.
We landed on a slipway upon which a rubber mat had been placed, and once assembled Rodney led the way along a board walk past the New Zealand Meteorological Service buildings past Beeman Hill, to the site of the Southern Royal Albatross colony. Here scattered over the landscape are around 7,000 birds on nests. Also of interest were magnificent flowering Pleurophylum speciosom with clusters of bright purple flowers and very tame Campbell Island Pipits, with one landing on Margaret’s head while another took a fancy to David’s feet. Unfortunately a front came through as we walked and with the rain, a strong gusting wind. A number of the group decided to turn back, while others including Bernd enjoyed reaching the junction to the new board walk where we could observe two albatross on nests barely a metre away. In spite of the weather change, the visit to the albatross colony was very satisfying. Rodney was able to tell us that probably all the birds were sitting on eggs which should hatch in about one month. After fledging, the one-year old birds depart and do not return from the sea for three to five years. On return, the adolescent albatross develop their relationship with a partner they choose for life. Today we saw young birds pair bonding with some elegant hovering over the partner on the nest, then landing and greeting by ‘bill-clappering’ as the wonderful pair-bonding process took place. The chick when hatched eventually returns to the locality to nest and have young. Steve told us that this has enabled species such as the Campbell Island Albatross to develop in isolation. We were indeed privileged to witness this important part of their life cycle.
On return to the landing a few had the pleasure of seeing a pair of large Yellow-eyed Penguin chicks that emerged from bushes, along with a pair of New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lion females that were most interested in the gallery of human faces staring down from the landing. Back on board a hot shower never felt better! While many of us exchanged our individual experiences in the bar, our chefs did a great job by making dinner (lamb or chicken curry) available by 9.15pm. Later in the evening a presentation was made by Ann and Andrew to Brian Gofton. An elaborate art work created by Andrew in the form of a scroll with red wool tie awarded the ‘Wooden Spoon Award for Meritorious Service in Fellow Passenger Stirring’. About 20 attended the impressive ceremony.
Noon position: Latitude: 52o33.035’S Longitude: 169o09.011’E
Air temperature: 10.9oC (Merc); 11.5oC (Alc)
Water temperature: 10oC
Marieke roused us at 6.50am and we rose refreshed from a good night’s sleep to a beautiful calm morning. After breakfast Rodney announced plans for the day. As conditions were good, about 20 opted for the return walk to Col Lyall and a further opportunity to view the magnificent Albatross, Pleurophyllum and other aspects of nature on this wonderful island. Others preferred to catch up on expedition records and the take one of two Zodiac rides to various historic sites around Carnley harbour. It was interesting to see crew take part in a lifeboat drill when the two lifeboats were lowered.
Three Zodiacs operated by Katya, Steve and Marieke with 18 passengers on board left at 10am with the second cruise scheduled to depart at noon. There was a notable sighting of a flock of around 50 Shearwaters near the former meteorological station buildings, along with female sea lions amongst the kelp which extends a short distance offshore around the coastline. The first stop was at Camp Cove where we enjoyed photographing inquisitive sea lions, one of which breached totally from the water. At the head of the bay we landed on a small beach with shells of Blue Mussel and Limpet along with a few small top shells amongst the Ulva (sea lettuce). An historic rock wall of basalt boulders and a rock ‘jetty’ were nearby and what appeared to be flint (perhaps ship ballast) was amongst beach material. We walked up a slope and there standing proudly all alone was the only visible remnant of the old farm homestead, a Shacklock Orion coal range in amazingly good condition. We could not get over the extent at which non-indigenous plants had taken hold. The ubiquitous clover, docks and Paspallum, all of which appear on New Zealand farms, along with various grasses, were well established with the occasional Bulbinella rossi scattered throughout. Of great interest was a large black Giant Petrel that appeared to have a nest nearby. From the sea we could observe where the thick Dracophyllum merged with tussock grass higher up the slope, and part of a fence line used when plans were being made to remove sheep. Rodney was involved in this work.
The next stop was Camp Cove where we photographed a pair of well-developed Red-billed Gull chicks with an adult. We walked over undulating wet ground to view the ‘loneliest tree in the world’. This Spruce, featured in the Guinness Book of Records, with its dark-green foliage, appeared to be flourishing, while a nearby stream was an indication of the high annual rainfall. Katya led a group to try and find the house site of ‘The Lady of the Heather’ although on this quest they were unsuccessful. We departed just as light rain set in and were treated to a great display by several inquisitive sea lions. On the return to the Spirit of Enderby we passed Garden Cove where Black-backed Gulls and the Campbell Island Shag were seen, and at Venus Cove we made out the site of the camp where the Transit of Venus was observed in 1874. By 11.30am we were back at the ship.
Those who re-visited Col Lyall were also pleased with their visit and the opportunity to obtain further photographs in better conditions, enhancing future memories of the expedition. Apart from a little rain at the start of the walk, conditions were good at the top. On the way back one group saw a female sea lion with a pup suddenly appear from bushes beside the board walk. It was remarkable to see the sea lions about 200 feet above sea level. Some commented that the landscape of pale yellow-brown tussock grass, olive-green Dracophyllum and grey, lichen encrusted rock outcrops on slopes about our anchorage reminded them of parts of Otago in New Zealand’s South Island.
At 2.10pm while we enjoyed leak and potato soup, the anchors were raised and preparations made for departure from Perseverance Harbour. By 2.40pm we were on our way from Campbell Island and within ten minutes we were again in the open sea. During the afternoon our insulated jackets, Zodiac life belts and any gumboots were handed in to Marieke. For those of us on the ‘monkey-bridge’ there were excellent views of albatross, Giant Petrel, Cape Petrel and the occasional Campbell Island Shag in the bright sunshine. It was fascinating to watch each of these birds appear to handle the air pocket behind and along the sides of the ship differently. David was amazed at what he achieved with his ‘point and shoot’ but said he had yet to capture an albatross. Although the sea was up and causing the ship to roll, we were very satisfied with our opportunity to take just a few more bird photographs. Once again the Captain altered course so we could enjoy an uneventful evening meal which this time was a buffet. The bird and mammal report meeting followed, after which most of us retired to our cabins and made sure all was secure for the night.
Noon position: Latitude: 48o06’S Longitude: 49o69’E
Air temperature: 11oC (Alc)
Water temperature: 10oC
We were now on the final leg to New Zealand. Yesterday 30 knot winds were forecast from the south-west and due to this the ship rolled most of the night. By 8.15am we had just 150 nautical miles to run. The morning was spent very quietly with not many out and about. At 1.20pm Rodney advised that a course change was being made, so we could make our approach to Bluff in the lea of New Zealand’s Stewart Island. Fortunately this eliminated some of the roll and enabled us to attend to packing. The Bridge advised that last evening we rolled at one stage to 55o. By 6pm we were near The Traps, a series of rocky outcrops at sea-level named by the great navigator James Cook. Stewart Island was clearly visible to Port by 7pm and at 8pm we could also see the outline of New Zealand’s South Island with just 36 nautical miles to go. We were now at Latitude 47o13.0 S and Longitude 168o24.8’E.
Our chefs with help of Natalia, Albina and the staff produced what can only be described as an outstanding sumptuous farewell dinner. Antipasto with prawns, salmon, hummus, olives, salami and pastrami for an entrée, followed by a superb meal with salmon, glazed and baked ham (carved by Bobby), roast turkey, chicken and lamb, a selection of gravies, salads, a superb selection of roast vegetables and a beautifully presented desert selection consisting of pavlova, chocolate caramel tart, along with chocolate-cinnamon cheese cake. Many of us dressed especially for the occasion and Rodney looked splendid with his South Georgia tie while Bernd had a fine bow tie and penguin badge. Many of the ladies including Marieke, Elizabeth and Pearl wore dresses for the first time on the voyage. When chef Lindsay appeared, both dining rooms gave a cheer. Numerous photographs were taken and birding enthusiast Alec managed to secure a photo of each person holding Con in various poses with bottles or food. Katya called us together for our last bird and mammal sighting discussion. Of great interest was the news that Katya on the day we sighted the first iceberg may have photographed a Blue Whale. Further confirmation will be sought on this matter. Altogether we made sightings of 74 bird species and 15 mammals.
Our final meeting in the lecture room began with the screening of Katya’s photographic power-point presentation and was followed by Gary’s movie; they had worked very hard to ensure we were able to have the ‘premiere viewing’ tonight. Rodney then spoke and the expedition staff also contributed, expressing thanks to all of the passengers along with sadness that the expedition was drawing to a close. Katya arranged for us to receive a copy of the two presentations later in the bar and this provided an opportunity to also exchange photographs and have a final drink together. A late night for some of us was a fitting finale to proceedings.
Noon position: Latitude 46o35.51’S Longitude 168o20.09’E
The Pilot arrived on schedule at 5.30am and all too soon we were tied up at Bluff, on a cloudy and still morning. At 6.15am Marieke played a special birthday song for Dan, recorded by a mixed ‘choir’ in the office last evening. Dan who was by this time getting ready for breakfast was surprised and highly amused by the lyrics. With the final breakfast over, we completed packing, cleared New Zealand Customs and Quarantine and said our final farewells as we prepared to disembark. Bobby who was also leaving the ship today has been hard at work in the kitchen, preparing a wonderful selection of cookies. At 8.25am, following a group photograph on the wharf, the group bid a sad farewell to the staff and boarded the coach for Invercargill. And so our expedition which travelled 2240 nautical miles had ended.
David our history lecturer and compiler of this Log, very much appreciated the assistance given by all passengers on the Spirit of Enderby. They are welcome to visit him in Oamaru and be shown Antarctic related historic sites linked to Captain R.F. Scott, the North Otago Museum and the Forrester Art Gallery.
South to Antarctica Jan-Feb 2012
Thursday 12th January 2012: Invercargill
Expeditioners from various points of the globe converged on Invercargill to begin a journey south to Antarctica in the footsteps of the great explorers, Sir Douglas Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. The travelling companions met over dinner in an Invercargill Hotel, all in excited anticipation of their four weeks together. Meanwhile at the Port of Bluff, the expedition ship the Spirit of Enderby was being bunkered and provisioned with supplies for the 4,000km return trip to the Ross Sea. Eighty people eat a lot in 30 days, so it was all hands on deck to move the mountain of supplies on board and safely stow them in the deep holds of the ship.
Friday 13th January 2012: Bluff
After breakfast our bags were security checked and loaded onto a truck to be taken to the ship. To wet the appetite for the southern adventure, we made our way to the Southland Museum and enjoyed the informative Roaring 40's display on New Zealand's Subantarctic islands. Lunch was enjoyed at the hotel before we boarded the coach for the trip to the Port of Bluff. Upon arrival we boarded the Spirit of Enderby, and were directed to our cabins to be reunited with our luggage. After meeting the remaining Heritage staff who would be joining us on the trip south, we enjoyed an afternoon settling in and exploring the ship. During the afternoon we received introductory briefings on ship safety and zodiac travel. These were followed by an emergency muster drill where we donned life vests and spent a short time in one of the ships lifeboats. Late in the afternoon we congregated in the Globe Bar for pre dinner drinks and a chat before sitting down to a delicious first meal aboard. A sign of the good things to come! From the weather forecast, conditions in Foveaux Strait looked pretty rough due to a strong easterly, so we waited at the dock for it to ease slightly before setting off. The ship slipped out with the tide after midnight when most were tucked up asleep. Sailing south past Stewart Island gave some protection from the wind and swell but the rocking was soon to build.
Saturday 14th January 2013: At Sea
The wind continued to strengthen overnight and given its southerly origin it was unlikely that we would be able to zodiac cruise at the Snares Islands. Our Expedition Leader made the decision to bypass the Snares on the southbound journey in the hope that the weather would be kinder on the way home. The ship's course was duly changed and we headed for the Auckland Islands. The dedicated birders were up on the bridge from the early hours spotting numerous seabirds as the wind and swell picked up. Royal, White-capped and Salvin's Albatross soared around the ship untroubled by the wind that was causing us so much discomfort. Sooty Shearwaters, Diving Petrels, White-chinned Petrels and Fairly Prions were just some of the species spotted from the ship as we travelled south. The Southern Ocean gave us a taste of what she is capable of with the swell reaching 6 metres with 40 knots of wind. Many on board took this time to get familiar with their bunks while waiting for their sea legs to catch up with them. The doctor diligently undertook house calls to relieve much of the suffering from the dreaded "mal de mer" and reminded us of other great seamen, such as Lord Nelson and Sir Peter Blake who suffered similarly. A reasonable gathering of sturdy sailors enjoyed a lovely meal produced by the chefs in somewhat challenging conditions.
Sunday 15th January 2012: Enderby Island
We awoke early and found ourselves in the sheltered waters of Port Ross at the northern end of the Auckland Island group. Despite disrupted sleep there were many bright faces at breakfast eagerly anticipating a day on Enderby Island. After breakfast, a briefing about the day further heightened the excitement of visiting the island's natural wonders including flowering mega herbs and rare wildlife. Wet weather gear was donned, lunches packed and boots washed before boarding the zodiacs for the short ride ashore.
Once all in the group had been safely delivered to the research station, we set off along the boardwalk towards the western cliffs accompanied by Auckland Island Tomtits and Pipits. Nesting Southern Royal albatross gazed at us as we gradually made our way across the centre of the island. The fields of Bulbinella Rossii stalks on the western side of the island indicated how impressive the landscape would have been earlier in the season when the plants were in full bloom. Purple balls of flowers were still found on some of the Anisotome Latifolia bushes and the pink and white flowers of the Gentians were bright spots of colour amongst the lush ground cover.
Along the western cliffs we admired the nesting Light-mantled Sooty albatross amongst the Auckland Island shags. One group went down to enjoy the delights of Sandy Bay where they spent some quality time with the Hooker's Sea Lions and Yellow-eyed penguins. Those who were keen to stretch their legs and explore more of the island continued north following the coast around the perimeter of the island. Nathan, our fearless Expedition Leader took the lead as he scouted ahead for any troublesome Sea Lions, while the rest of the party followed in loose groupings. Along the way we stopped to enjoy the cliff top views and take photographs making the most of the wonderful light when the sun came out in between a few rain squalls.
The terrain varied from easy on the grassy sward to challenging through the tussock grasses. We meandered past a small group of Northern Giant Petrel chicks who were starting to lose their down in preparation for fledging. Many heard or caught sight of Red-crowned Parakeets and Banded Plovers, but only a few got a glimpse of the elusive Subantarctic Snipe as it darted amongst the foliage. Some time was spent surprising and dodging feisty sub adult Sea Lions who were a little too interested in what we were doing. Many Yellow-eyed Penguins were spotted around the coast nervously travelling to and from nesting areas or just hanging out with other teenagers near the sea edge. The scenery was ever changing and dramatic. The southern Rata in full bloom gave an intense contrast between the redness of its flower and the grey and squally skies. Some people took time out from the coast to explore the interior of the amazing Rata forest which provided a peaceful refuge from the wild world outside. Upon our return to Sandy Bay, time was spent watching life within the Sea Lion harem. Young pups could be seen grouping together as their mothers went out to sea foraging. Males were continually sparing around the edges and recent mothers stood protective guard over their new offspring.
Finally it was time to return to the ship having had a sublime day ashore experiencing blue skies and sunshine as well as some rain and cloud. Back on board, the bar was lively and full of chatter as we swapped stories of the day. After another delicious dinner and we all faded fairly early as a result of all that fresh air and exercise.
Monday 16th January 2012: Enderby Island
We stayed at anchor overnight in the sheltered waters of Port Ross, and awoke to a calm and quiet ship. After breakfast we were told that one of the Expedition Staff had to leave the ship due to a medical problem, so the Spirit of Enderby remained in Port Ross while the logistics of a medical evacuation were finalised.
We made the most of this opportunity to land at Erebus Cove and see the remains of Hardwick Settlement. Originally established as a whaling settlement in 1849 by the Enderby Brothers whaling firm, ships arrived from England with skilled tradesmen and their families with the intention of establishing a settlement that would service the whaling industry as well as farm the surrounding lands. The enterprise ended in failure within three years due to the scarcity of whales in the area, poor farming conditions and alleged mismanagement of the settlement by Charles Enderby the Lieutenant Governor of the Islands. Towards what was the main part of the settlement we found the "Victoria Tree", which had the name of the ship Victoria and its captain inscribed in the trunk. The Victoria was a supply ship that visited the area a number of years after the settlement was abandoned, to search for ship wreck survivors who may have ended up on the island. Today all that remains of the settlement are some remnants of buildings and a small graveyard amongst the Rata forest.
Late in the afternoon a long range helicopter from Invercargill swooped in with a replacement team member and took the ailing staff member back to New Zealand. The Spirit of Enderby weighed anchor and we set off towards Macquarie Island.
Tuesday 17th January 2012: At Sea
Today is the centenary of Scott's arrival at the South Pole, so this was uppermost in our minds as we gathered for breakfast. After a recap of our visit to the Auckland Islands, newly arrived expedition staff member and company founder, Rodney Russ, gave a talk on the history of the area including its phases of discovery, exploitation, settlement, shipwreck and restoration. We then reviewed the wildlife seen during our visit. Although the ride was a little bumpy, the ship was still travelling at eleven knots and many had started to get their sea legs. The birders kept us abreast of the variety of birds visiting the ship throughout the day which included the Southern Royal, Gibson's Wandering, White-capped, Salvin's and Buller's albatross as well as an assortment of petrels including the White-chinned and Cape Petrels, Grey- backed Storm Petrels and many prions.
Helen, the team member who gave the introduction to Macquarie Island was well qualified for the task. She spent five years living and working there as a field researcher and ranger. Her introduction to this incredible little island in the middle of the Southern Ocean covered natural and historical features and prepared us well for the landing tomorrow. Arrival at the island presents the opportunity for sending mail to the folks back home, so the bar did a brisk trade in postcards. These kept many people entertained for the rest of the afternoon and for those that didn't get enough of the Sea Lions on Enderby Island, a screening of 'Sealion Summer' was arranged.
Later in the evening the bar opened and we enjoyed a few drinks before another delicious dinner. Many retired early to their bunks to be rocked to sleep on the southern seas, dreaming of our arrival at Macquarie Island.
Wednesday 18th January 2012: Macquarie Island
It was a leisurely start to the day due to the different time zone of Macquarie Island. We ate breakfast in the lea of the Island while zodiacs were launched to pick up our five ranger guides from the station at Buckles Bay. Once aboard, they gave a briefing prior to our first landing as the ship sailed south the short distance to Sandy Bay. Although nice and calm on shore, the swell out at the ship made for a challenging disembarkation into the zodiacs. Once ashore everyone soon forgot the challenges of the gangway as they were soon surrounded by the local inhabitants of Sandy Bay.
A welcoming committee of King Penguins stood on the beach to greet us as we stepped ashore. Bree, one of the ranger staff, gave a few final instructions and then we were free to wander among the groups of curious King and Royal Penguins and the few less welcoming, moulting Elephant Seals. Soon everyone was widely dispersed across the beach where we spent several hours experiencing what we were told was typical Macca weather -a bit of rain and wind.
Due to their vast size, the Elephant Seals were the most obvious residents on the beach. The young males were packed into tight moulting groups - hard to believe that these are only small seals compared to the fully grown adult males! By sitting quietly most people had some great close-up encounters with the King Penguins who often came up for a peck of our boots. They seemed as fascinated by our presence as we were by theirs. The King Penguin breeding colony at the northern end of the beach was jam packed with breeding birds incubating eggs. They cradle their eggs on their feet against the skin of their brood patch for eight weeks. The other penguin inhabitants of Sandy Bay were the Royal Penguins. These penguins are endemic to Macquarie Island as this is the only place they breed. Adult birds travelled up and down from the beach along a creek line to their inland colony. For us it was a less challenging walk along a boardwalk which went up the bank and along a ridgeline to the colony, passing some severely rabbit-damaged patches of Pleurophyllum hookeri and tussock along the way. The penguin colony itself was busy with adult birds and creching chicks mixed in together. It's a very noisy place, but well worth the visit to see the antics of this energetic penguin. Brown Skuas put on a good aerial display above the colony making the most of any opportunity to get a meal. All too soon it was time for everyone to head back to the ship for a warming late lunch.
The Ranger staff came aboard and joined us for dinner where they particularly enjoyed the fresh vegies and fruit they said they really missed whilst living on the island. A pod of Orcas delighted us as they appeared a number of times during the afternoon and evening while the ship was stationed off shore. Claudia, a budding documentary maker on the island, entertained us with a world premiere of her documentary on the Macquarie Island Pest Species Eradication Program (MIPEP) which documents the work undertaken over the last two years on the island.
Thursday 19th January 2012: Macquarie Island
We awoke on the Eastern side of the isthmus of Macquarie Island in Buckles Bay. The wind was blowing from the west but the conditions were looking very good for another landing. Following breakfast and a briefing we prepared for a visit to the Australian Antarctic Division Research station.
Shore conditions were quite good for our arrival at the beach where we split into groups of ten and were taken on a tour around the isthmus and station by one of the ranger staff. A hot cup of tea and a chat to one of the locals in the station mess gave us a bit of insight into station life. Along the beaches we got to see more of the local wildlife. Today we added Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins to our list as well as the Macquarie Island Shag and many more King Penguins. We were lucky with the weather yesterday, but today it was brilliant, with lots of blue sky, light wind and no rain. As we walked around the island we had to watch out for Elephant Seals that lay half concealed in the tussock. It is hard to imagine that it could be difficult to miss two tonnes of flesh lying there, but you can easily step a little too close to them, creating an uproar of growling, belching and snorting.
We spent a pleasant few hours walking the coastline, learning about the history of the island and present day life. It was an incredible and rare experience that we will not forget. Fulfilled with our morning's activities we jumped back into the zodiacs and returned to the ship for some lunch before starting to cruise down the island. In the afternoon we were treated to the exceptional sight of Lusitania Bay, the nesting and living quarters for some 250,000 King Penguins. From 2kms out at sea it looks rather like a boulder beach, but close up it is wall to wall birds. Ever curious, many of them came out to meet the zodiacs as we made our way towards the colony. Ironically, the digesters that were once used to render oil from their ancestors in the 19th century still stand in the middle of the colony. It's a sobering reminder of the exploitive mind-set that operated in the past on many of these Subantarctic outposts. We spent an hour cruising close to the colony watching all the action in the water and on land. Back on the Spirit of Enderby after a well-earned drink and a delightful dinner, the evening was spent sharing stories and downloading photos. It had been a memorable day thanks to the fantastic rangers and inhabitants of Macquarie Island.
Friday 20th January 2012: At Sea
Calm seas resulting in a good night's sleep saw most people up and about for breakfast. There was little wind and a following sea which pushed us along at a rapid twelve knots. The day's activities started with a recap of our visit to Macquarie Island where we reflected on the island's history and amazing animals. Then we all became focussed on the adventures ahead. It was time to make our bids in the iceberg tipping contest. The rules were set - the first 'berg must be seen with the naked eye and it must be larger than a London double decker bus as it passed abeam of the ship. With a flurry of anticipation everyone chose their preferred date and time. All picks had to be in by dinner time so there was little time for deliberation! Down in the lecture theatre we viewed a film based on the book by Tim Bowden, 'Silence Calling', which documents the first 50 years of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. This provided us with an interesting insight into how things were done in Antarctica's most recent history.
After lunch we were given an opportunity to contemplate an amazing feat of survival as we watched a documentary featuring modern day explorer Tim Jarvis. In this expedition Jarvis attempted to replicate the physical exertion and conditions experienced by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson during the tragic sledging trip undertaken into Eastern Antarctic in 1912.
Continuing with the Antarctic theme, Rodney gave us a lesson on 'Ice', preparing us for what was to come. We learnt much about the terminology used to describe ice formations on land and at sea. He also gave us an overview of the ice conditions that commonly occur in the Ross Sea and presented a current ice map for the area. Following this talk many adjourned to the bridge to keep our eyes peeled for the first bit of white stuff on the horizon. Everyone was keen to start using their new found knowledge with some even requesting 'bergy bits' in their Gin and Tonics! We retired replete after another great dinner served by the tireless galley crew.
Saturday 21st January 2012: At Sea
Again we were grateful to awake to a calm sea. The day kicked off with the first episode of 'The Last Place on Earth', a re-enactment of the race to the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen, the very expedition we are retracing. Later in the morning we learnt the important points on "How to identify a whale" as conditions for perfect for whale spotting.
The ice map was studied much more intently and with more understanding thanks to Rodney's excellent lecture yesterday. The bridge became a popular hang-out throughout the day as the earlier lecture seemed to have motivated a few whales to put in a brief appearance. Minkie's ahoy! Light snow started falling which provided the material for the construction of a small snowman out on deck, causing quite a bit of excitement for those unused to such a thing. Outside temperatures began to drop a few extra layers were needed for those adventurous enough to take a turn around the deck.
After lunch there was a flurry of shopping in the port side mess when the sea shop opened. Books, cards and souvenirs were snapped up as people underwent a bit of retail therapy. Rodney then gave a lecture entitled 'The ships they sailed to the Ross Sea 1773 - 1917'. In this talk he provided a good comparison between the vessel that is transporting us south to those that went before.
The first ice berg had still not been seen, and the stakes were getting higher for those with time slots coming up overnight. In the bar before dinner the idea was hatched for the first ever 'Enderby Choir'. Members discussed song selection and practices were scheduled for the days ahead.
Sunday 22nd January 2012: At Sea
We were awoken at 4:15 this morning to the announcement of the arrival of the first iceberg. A few keen folk leapt out of bed and ran out on deck in their pyjamas as others struggled in their cabins to don suitable attire for the occasion. Seasoned campaigners and others who preferred to pretend this was all part of their dreams, rolled over and went back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that there were likely to be a few more bergs where we were going. The winner of the competition to guess the time of arrival of this first berg was later awarded a bottle of 'Oyster Bay' chardonnay.
After our early wakeup call, we were rewarded with a sleep-in, followed by a leisurely brunch complete with Eggs Benedict, muffins, French toast and all the usual goodies which kept us going throughout the day. Polar travel certainly does give one an appetite!
Late in the morning we continued on with another episode of the Scott - Amundsen race. Attendance was low today as people found it hard to tear themselves away from the bridge and the unfolding iceberg spectacular. Following lunch, Nathan gave some good tips to the budding photographers on board. The timing for this lesson couldn't have been better as the newly schooled pupils came out of class and got straight to work. Helen's talk on the seals of the region attracted a lot of interest as people wanted to be able to distinguish between the different species we now began to see in greater numbers.
After dinner we assembled on the foredeck just before 10pm to mark the crossing of the Antarctic Circle at latitude 66.34 degrees. Wearing our newly issued super warm Antarctic jackets and with cups of mulled wine in hand we were inducted into the special fraternity of travellers who have crossed the Antarctic Circle by sea. We took this moment to remember those early explorers such as Sir James Clark Ross, Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, Sir Douglas Mawson, Richard Byrd, Sir Edmund Hilary and others that pioneered new routes south of the circle. In line with their aspirations for the protection of these lands and the wildlife that inhabited them, we pledged an oath that we would all do that within our power to protect and conserve this incredible part of our planet for the enjoyment of future generations. We were then duly stamped on the forehead with the Mark of the Penguin signifying our membership of this elite club. Afterwards, all eyes looked south towards the Ross Sea, and the excitement continued to build.
Monday 23rd January 2012: At Sea and into the Pack Ice
We woke to yet another calm day. At this point we were beginning to wonder about the Southern Ocean's dreaded reputation, but none spoke of it, thinking it best not to tempt fate. Breakfast was followed by another gripping instalment in the 'Race to the Pole'. As we entered the much awaited pack ice, all eyes were peeled for the seals, whales, penguins and other bird life that we have waited so long to see. Later in the morning Rodney raised some interesting questions regarding the Antarctic Treaty System which focuses on Tourism and the future use of Antarctic. The first Emperor Penguin was spotted early in the day from the bridge, causing great excitement among the group. Many Adelie Penguins and Crab-eater Seals were seen on the ice as we delicately wove our way through some massive ice flows. Numerous sightings of Minkie whales rewarded the dedicated fauna watchers out on deck.
After lunch Nathan briefed us on the IATO code for visiting this part of the world including our responsibilities during shore visits. 'Life in the Freezer' was then screened providing some great images of this last great wilderness on earth. This film invoked some sobering thoughts as we returned to the bridge after dinner to look out for wildlife and contemplate the scenery.
Tuesday 24th January 2012: At Sea
We continued to travel through the pack ice overnight and experienced a bit of rocking as the ship navigated between the flows. Those who were up early were rewarded with the sight of a couple of Pilot Whales playing around the bow of the ship. On deck, gloves and beanie had become necessary as the icy winds were quick to draw away body heat. The ship continued picking her route south, looking for the open water that lay beyond the line of ice.
The day started with another fix of the 'Race to the Pole' followed by a lecture on the world of penguins. Who would have thought there were so many species of these intriguing birds? After lunch Rodney presented a lecture on the 'The Unknown South Land' which detailed the very early discoveries and exploration that contributed significantly to the world's understanding of Antarctica and set the stage for later exploration.
Antarctic and Snow Petrels now escorted us south, constantly playing in the winds created by the ship as they cruised past the windows. These two beautiful bird species make the continent their home. In the late afternoon we gradually escaped the clutches of the pack ice and marvelled at the skill of the crew in picking our way through the veritable maze of ice. As we enjoyed a pre dinner drink the swell started to pick up as we headed deeper into the clear water. Dinner became a lively affair as we hung onto plates as the ship started to rock. The Captain now set a course straight for Cape Adare, where we hoped to land in the morning.
Wednesday 25th January 2012: Cape Adare
A magnificent sight greeted us as we struggled up the stairs after an early wakeup call at 6am. The sun was shining in a bright blue sky as we gazed across at Cape Adare and the Downshire Cliffs. Mt Minto, a 5,100m colossus to the south, was capped with wispy cloud but the rest of the cliffs were clear. Massive tabular icebergs were strewn along the lands edge with many grounded on a shallow bank to the north. The pack ice looked thick and forbidding - an impressive first view of the Antarctic continent.
The wind had now picked up to around 50 knots and the spray from the swell whipped up to the bridge windows. The ship's captain and his crew stayed very focused as they carefully navigated us north, looking for an opening that would allow a landing at Borchgrevink's hut. Alas the ice was too dense so we made our way north west, skirting around the ice edge before continuing south. Cape Adare is the site where the first buildings were erected in Antarctica and where the first team of polar explorers wintered over on the continent. It is also the home to the largest Adelie Penguin rookery in Antarctica
Another episode of the 'Great Race' was featured before a lively lunch which saw everyone holding on to the water jugs. With lectures cancelled for the afternoon, it was time for most to enjoy a siesta in their cabins. Some hardy sailors still made it to pre-dinner drinks before heading down to dinner prepared under trying circumstances by our fantastic chefs.
Thursday 26th January 2012: Ross Sea
Conditions remained rough as we awoke on Australia Day. However, there was a good turnout at breakfast as most had well and truly got their sea legs. Still a bit too rough for lectures, so most took refuge back in their bunks, while others spent the morning up on the bridge watching the spray from the bow fly up over the windows. The ice had been building up on deck as the temperature dropped down to minus 8 degrees outside. Some of the crew had to head outside to remove as much ice as they could to trim the boat back down to its normal size.
After lunch the Italian resupply ship 'Italica" was spotted on the horizon, heading north from Terra Nova station. The captains exchanged pleasantries over the radio as the large orange and white ship slipped past. During the afternoon sea conditions improved, so Rodney continued his account of Antarctic history with descriptions of the events leading up to the Scott-Amundsen era. Tomorrow we would arrive in McMurdo Sound and all looked forward to experiencing this historic region.
Friday 27th January 2012: Cape Evans
A wake up call at 3:15 am roused a few who were treated to the sight of Orcas around the ship in the beauty of an Antarctic morning. We steamed past Franklin Island with its beautiful ice cap and several piedmont glaciers cascading down its cliffs. We slowly sailed on down the west side of Ross Island and had our first clear sight of Mt Erebus. Erebus stayed with us all day as we waited for the winds to die down so we could land at Cape Evans and take our first steps on the continent.
As is often the case in Antarctica in the summer, the winds dropped off in the early evening, finally giving us the opportunity we had been waiting for. At 8pm in calm sunny conditions reminiscent of a lazy Sunday afternoon, we boarded the zodiacs and landed near the doorstep of Scott's Terra Nova Hut. It was a very humbling experience to step onto the Antarctic continent for the first time and this feeling only increased as we visited the hut from which Scott's team made their attempt on the pole. It was to be an attempt from which five would never return.
While ashore we met a team of carpenters and metals conservators lead by New Zealander, Al Fastier, who have been working over this and previous summers on restoration of both Shackleton's and now Scott's huts. These projects, funded by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, aim to protect and conserve both the huts and their contents for the benefit of future visitors. The team was very generous with their time and were happy to discuss their work and show us around the hut. We also had the good fortune to meet Scott's grandson, Falcon Scott, who is working as part of the restoration team. The workmanship and dedication of these people is amazing and is clearly evident in the results they have achieved. A restoration expert in metal from Australia proudly told us how they recreated the complicated flues throughout the hut with only the remaining pieces and the old photos to guide their work. A furniture maker from Wellington NZ told us how they fixed the famous ward room table celebrated in Ponting's photo of Scott's 43rd birthday. The kitchen was a treasure trove of old tins and packets whose faded labels gave us a glimpse of the culinary possibilities of the time. Who could forget the aromas of seal blubber, hay and pony poo detected as we went through the stables to see where the expedition's ponies were housed? One stable still contained dried out Emperor Penguins and a crate of eggs. Another had a bicycle mounted on the wall and a Husky skeleton still chained to a post. There was much here to fuel our imagination about the life of an early Antarctic explorer. We reluctantly returned to the ship after an extremely pleasant evening ashore.
Saturday 28th January 2012: Fast Ice and Polar Plunge
Cape Royds was in sight as we awoke this morning. We had hoped for another landing, but the wind just wouldn't play the game as it kept up a steady pace all night. Instead we cruised further south to the ice edge where a channel was being cut by a Russian icebreaker that the Americans have in service. It was cutting out a channel in the fast ice to allow the refuelling tanker clear access to the base. It was intended to stay in action to keep the channel open so that the resupply ship, which was running a few weeks late, could get in when it arrived. We were entertained by lots of wildlife as we cruised down this channel. Many Orca were spotted frolicking in the leads left by the ice breaker and the ever present Adelies could be seen in good numbers along the ice.
After testing the edge of the fast ice with the bow of the ship, it appeared to be capable of holding 50 pedestrians for an afternoon walk. So with the bow of the ship firmly nosed into the fast ice we were transferred across to stretch our legs. The ice surface was surprisingly dry and covered with fine powdered snow. A few Adelie Penguins walked up to the crowd trying to work out what species we were. As we returned to the ship an Emperor penguin popped out on the ice right next to us, giving everyone a great view.
After our break on the ice it was time for the annual meet of the Spirit of Enderby Swim Club. Eight brave souls leapt into the minus 8 degree water from the gangway while the doctor stood by with the defibrillator, which fortunately wasn't needed. They didn't spend a lot of time splashing about and some nearly walked on water!
Later that day an attempt was made at landing on Cape Royds but the sea conditions made this too dangerous to proceed and we sailed on.
Sunday 29th January 2012: Cape Royds and Cape Byrd
A beautiful sunny morning greeted us as we stepped out on to the bridge after breakfast. Mt Erebus had again escaped from its shroud of cloud and the surrounding snow covered slopes are gleaming. The strong winds which prevented us from landing at Cape Royds however, were still with us. We adjourned in a sombre mood to the lecture theatre for the final episode of the 'Great Race' knowing that there wasn't going to be a happy ending.
By the afternoon the wind had dropped and permission was granted for us to make a landing on a beach to the north of Shackleton's hut. With great excitement we boarded the zodiacs and we were soon stepping ashore again. To reach the hut we headed south along a series of ridges covered in loose black scoria and rocky outcrops of volcanic origin. It was a pleasant way to reach Shackleton's Hut nestled down in a valley out of the wind. This hut was erected during the Nimrod expedition in 1907. From this location Shackleton's team achieved the furthest distance south at the time, were the first to reach the Magnetic South Pole and undertook the first ascent of Mt Erebus. This is a much smaller hut than the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans, but similarly full of original artefacts, painstakingly restored by the team working for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. We returned to the ship for lunch and headed towards Cape Bird to investigate whether the landing was now clear of sea ice.
As we approached Cape Bird the wind dropped off almost completely and the water took on a glassy shine as we were treated to clear blue skies and sunshine. Some Orca were spotted off the bow making the picture even more perfect. The ice had cleared out allowing us to go ashore and visit the 27,000 nesting pairs of Adelie Penguins. Conditions were ideal for capturing their antics on our flash cards as we lounged around in the evening sunshine. This species is clearly thriving despite the attention of murderous Skuas and the recent colder conditions. Scattered throughout the colony were sunbathing Weddell Seals, untroubled by the mass of birdlife around them. All too soon it was time to return to the ship and relax at the end of yet another perfect day.
Monday 30th January 2012: En Route to Terra Nova Bay
Everyone slept very well after the busy day yesterday, despite our overnight voyage turning into a tortuous exercise in ice evasion for the Captain and crew. It became evident that continuing to head towards the ice shelf would start eating into the precious time left for exploring other locations in the Ross Sea. The decision was therefore made to change course and head North for Terra Nova Bay.
After breakfast a documentary on Mt Erebus was screened in the lecture theatre. 'Solid Water and Liquid Rock' explored the underwater marvels below the ice shelf at the foot of the mountain, and then showed the attempts to sample gas from the lava lake in the crater of the volcano above.
As we travelled north we watched 'With Byrd at the South Pole' which documents Byrd's expedition to Antarctic where he undertakes the first flight to the South Pole in 1930. In the late afternoon we entered Terra Nova Bay with Mt Melbourne to our north glistening white in the afternoon sunshine. In calm, glassy water we headed towards Inexpressible Island with the hope of doing an evening landing. Following dinner we donned our polar outer wear and prepared for a trip ashore to visit the site where Scott's northern party were forced to winter over in a snow cave when the Terra Nova failed to return for them due to difficult ice conditions. It was a truly remarkable feat for the six men to survive this ordeal, living off seals and penguins, while enduring extremely harsh and crowded living conditions. We spent the evening in sunshine amongst the granite boulders observing the seals relaxing on the ice edge. After visiting the plaque locating the site of the ice cave, many climbed the surrounding ridgelines for views inland and along the ice edge. After a couple of hours ashore the wind began to strengthen, giving us a taste of how quickly conditions can change here. A rapid departure was now effected as the ships horn hurried us back to the ship.
Tuesday 31st January 2012: Terra Nova Bay
Early this morning we passed the Italian base, Terra Nova, but weren't able to visit, as the 'Italica' which we had seen previously was in the bay and the station crew were busy packing up for the trip home. Nestled low down on the slope, the bright blue coloured station commands an impressive view out over Terra Nova Bay to Mt Melbourne in the north. We came closer to the shore to get good views of the ice cliffs of the Campbell Glacier as we worked our way along the bay.
On the northern side of Terra Nova Bay is the little German summer base of 'Gondwana'. The base hadn't been used this summer, so we decided to make a landing and explore the area. We piled into the zodiacs and landed in a beautiful bay north of the station buildings. Again the geology stood out as we wandered around the rocky terrain. We enjoyed great views out to sea from the ridgelines and a few seals on shore near the landing kept many occupied. It was a great morning ashore for our last landing in Antarctica.
As the ship cruised north we watched another episode of 'Life in the Freezer' followed by '90 Degrees' and Ponting's original footage and account of Scott's expedition to the South Pole.
After dinner the crowd gathered for the inaugural performance of the Spirit of Enderby Choir. The performers arrived looking very fetching in sparkles and bow ties. They started with an acapella version of 'My Bonny Lies over the Ocean' to warm up. They then launched into a cleverly crafted tune especially written for the voyage entitled 'In the Land of the Adelie'. The performance ended with an old ABBA favourite, 'The Winner Takes it All'. Enthusiastic calls for an encore were rewarded when everyone joined in on a reprise of the new voyage song. This set the tone for a fairly late and high spirited night in the bar.
Wednesday 1st February 2012: At Sea
Breakfast today was a sedate affair. This could have been due to people catching up on some rest after the hectic expedition pace of the last few days or to the enthusiastic celebrations following the choir's first performance the night before. Either way we eased gently into the day with another episode of 'Life in the Freezer'. This was followed by a lecture from Rodney on "Pelagic Whaling in the Ross Sea" where he covered the early history of whaling in this area and reflected on the current situation with the exploitation of Tooth Fish today.
After lunch we viewed an episode of the Blue Planet series called 'Frozen Seas' where the frozen worlds of the Arctic and Antarctic are compared. In these environments the annual freeze and retreat of the sea ice governs the pace of life. Later in the afternoon we attended a lecture on the "Ethics of Whaling" where the arguments and counter arguments often used in the debate were presented. This sparked some lively conversations which continued on into the evening.
Thursday 2nd February 2012: Back into the Pack Ice.
The morning found us picking our way delicately through the pack ice once again. Fortunately there were some good open leads so we made good progress. After breakfast we started to watch the first episode of 'Longitude', a two part dramatization of how the first reliable measurement of longitude was determined changing navigation in the seas forever. The lecture was paused after 20 minutes however as there was an announcement on the intercom offering a zodiac cruise amongst the ice bergs.
Three zodiacs were launched and half the group set off towards the icebergs. With the sun out, the magnificent range of blue colours against the stark white was magical. Flat topped tablular bergs with cracks and caves rolled in the steady swell. A broken down berg with a sharp pointed pinnacle looked very reminiscent of Bruce's birthday cake. We wove our way through the ice flows getting another few hundred photos. Then it was back to the ship to pick up the second group for their turn. The ice had now moved around a bit but we could still manoeuvre through. A Leopard Seal was spotted up on an ice flow so we motored over to have a closer look. Alert and watchful, he tolerated the visit and another large number of photos were taken. We completed the trip and returned to the ship just in time for lunch. What a grand last look at Antarctica before heading out of the pack ice!
After lunch Episode One of 'Longitude' was shown in its entirety, leaving people looking forward to the next instalment. Sea conditions were quite calm, so everyone looked forward to a restful night.
Friday 3rd February 2012: At Sea
As day dawned the ship had begun a steady roll, but it wasn't too bad. We just needed to hang on while moving around. Most people had adapted to the movement, so there were very few who still suffered from sea sickness. After breakfast we watched the conclusion of 'Longitude', and then had a recap of the time spent in the Ross Sea. It was good to go over what we had achieved in the twelve busy days spent in Antarctica. There was so much history to ponder, and lots of images of wildlife and amazing scenery to take away with us. Rodney suggested some good books for further reading which will enhance our understanding of the historical sites that we have visited and the people who spent time there.
After lunch, we watched the film 'Endurance' which details the journey of Shackleton and his men in their failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. This was yet another chapter of amazing endurance during the early exploration of these southern climes. Later that afternoon there was a talk on the Seabirds of the Southern Ocean. It was a timely introduction to the bird rich zone we were about to enter in the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands and had the keen birders out on deck straight afterwards. The ship continued to rock quite a bit, so drinks and dinner required a bit more coordination than we had needed for a while, but the motion was not unpleasant and lulled everyone to sleep.
Saturday 4th February 2012: At Sea
The wind and seas abated overnight and our ride became much calmer. We have crossed the Antarctic Circle again and so officially have left the frozen continent behind us. As we journeyed north both the water and air temperature were rising. Our Expedition Leader Nathan, gave a talk about ship operations, where he explained various design and mechanical aspects of the ship, catering, food and medical supplies as well as many other features that people have asked him about during the voyage.
After lunch we watched a documentary called 'Encounters at the end of the World' which follows a group of scientists working and living in Antarctica. Later in the afternoon for something completely different, Rodney talked to us about the Russian Far East. He painted a very appealing picture of this remote region and no doubt some future travel plans were hatched after seeing some the amazing sights this unique area has to offer. Over dinner that night we counted ourselves fortunate in having had yet another great day sailing on the Southern Ocean. We retired to our cabins wondering how long our luck would last.
Sunday 5th February 2012: At Sea
The new day found us all feeling "ship shape". Following a delicious breakfast, the sea shop was opened to give everyone an opportunity to buy mementos such as books and fluffy toys as enduring reminders of our trip. Later we headed down to the lecture theatre for the final episode of 'Life in the Freezer'.
After lunch Nathan gave an introduction to Campbell Island in which he highlighted the many different things we were likely to see there. After so many days at sea we were very keen just to see land again, let alone walk on it! Later in the afternoon we watched a documentary detailing the rat eradication programme on Campbell Island. All the rats were finally eradicated from the island in 2001 after being there in massive numbers for close to 200 years. At the time this was the most difficult pest eradication programme ever attempted worldwide.
Monday 6th February 2012: Campbell Island
Directly after breakfast we watched a short documentary 'The Impossible Dream' which tells the story of the finding and steps towards the recovery of the Campbell Island Teal which was presumed extinct from the island. Rodney, being the one who first rediscovered the Teal on Dent Island, gave a first hand introduction and more background to the film.
As midday approached, all eyes scanned the horizon waiting for our first view of Campbell Island. Finally we saw it, wrapped in fog, so we couldn't fully appreciate its charms as we approached Perseverance Harbour. Once we started travelling down the harbour the swell dropped away and we were treated to glimpses of seals and penguins in the water and seabirds in the air. We dropped anchor just off shore from the old Met station which includes a collection of buildings and a little wharf area. We saw researchers on island and radio contact was made.
After lunch we landed at the wharf where we briefly met the seal biologist, and then started up the Col-Lyall boardwalk. A trip to the island wouldn't be complete without a few Sea Lion interactions on the way. Everyone took their time and enjoyed the slow assent to Col-Lyall Saddle taking photos of the vegetation as it changed on the way up. The ever present Pipet was very welcoming and seemed to particularly like being the centre of attention. The island's megaherbs were lush and showed few signs of the impact of sheep grazing in the past. Pleurophyllum speciosum still had many purple flowers on display as we approached the saddle along with other species such as: Bulbinella rossii, Anisotome latifolia, Pleurophyllum criniferum, Pleurophyllum hookeri, Hebe benthami and Gentianella cerina which were at various stages of flowering and seed delivery. The real highlight up on Col-Lyall was the colony of Southern Royal Albatross where everyone had ample time to sit with birds that were incubating their eggs. As the day wore on, some younger birds came in from sea and landed on the island in small groups to participate in their elaborate and beautiful dances. Eventually we tore ourselves away, as many of us could have sat for hours, but the aroma of dinner cooking lured us back to the Spirit of Enderby. On the way back down, a few Yellow-eyed Penguins were spotted in amongst the vegetation and down at the wharf a pair of Campbell Island Teal were spotted at the water's edge. Many spent the last hour on the island watching the teal foraging along the shoreline. It was an incredible day on an incredible island. That evening we entertained the three grateful seal biologists who came aboard for a nice hot shower and a dinner far better than they had enjoyed in ages.
Tuesday 7th February 2012: Mount Honey and Tuckers Cove, Campbell Island
For ten fit and energetic people there was an early wakeup call at 5:30am so they could get an early start on the climb up Mt Honey, the highest peak on the island at 569 metres. They were deposited by zodiac on the shores of Garden Cove and Rodney led the troupe on their ascent through the thick vegetation while Arend brought up the rear.
Meanwhile back on the ship most got up at the usual time for breakfast. It was a clear day in Perseverance Harbour and we could make out a lot more of the surrounding landscape. The wind had picked up a bit from yesterday with some strong gusts channelling down through the harbour. This was not enough to deter us from the trip ashore however, so we again boarded the zodiacs and landed at the wharf. Nathan then led the way across to Tuckers Cove and up the creek line to the old coast watchers huts. Across the cove we could see where the homestead once stood during the days when sheep were farmed on the island. It was slow going with the dense tussock growth and occasional surprise encounters with Sea Lions, but a good stretch of the legs and opportunity to see a bit more of the island. For those who were happy to brave the wind and spray, we then took the zodiacs up to Camp Cove to have a quick look at the 'World's Loneliest Tree'.
After our jaunt to Camp Cove the zodiacs were dispatched to collect the Mt Honey climbers who were patiently waiting back at Garden Cove. No doubt most were secretly grateful to be sitting down for a rest after such a challenging climb. Their trek up towards the peak started off on a narrow track through the Dracophyllum which opened out into thick tussock. There were a few muddy bogs to negotiate along the way and a few ups and downs, but they were rewarded as they climbed higher with great views over the island. As they got higher, the ground was covered with brilliant megaherbs most of which had just finished flowering, though some still had beautiful and strange looking flowers.
Up here they found more colonies of Southern Royal Albatross who sat patiently on their nests while others took to the sky. A few were engaged in beautiful courtship dances and displays. The climbers sat for a short time watching this rare and fascinating behaviour. Then they looked skyward at the peak and could delay the final assault no longer. Up they went, scrambling, clambering and slipping until they reached the summit. Once there, the wind made it difficult to stand up, but at least it kept the cloud at bay so they could enjoy the wonderful views. The descent was a much quicker affair and all made it safely back to Garden Cove.
As soon as everyone was back on board we weighed anchor and set out for the Snares Islands. Lots of sea birds escorted the ship away from the ruggedly beautiful coast of Campbell Island. The swell had picked up, so we were rocking and rolling once again, but it had now become so familiar everyone took it in their stride.
Wednesday 8th February 2012: Snares Islands
The rolling swell had stayed with us all night and made it slightly challenging as we packed some of our gear in preparation of arrival back in Bluff. Before lunch Nathan ran through the procedures for disembarkation once we arrive in Bluff and this brought home to us that our expedition is drawing to a close. Accounts were settled after lunch as we bounced our way towards the Snares Islands. Late in the afternoon their rocky cliffs were spotted jutting out above the horizon. The air was full of Bullers Albatross and Cape Petrels wheeling around the ship. A big swell was running making the rocky outcrops look pretty dramatic.
Three zodiacs were launched for a quick cruise around the southern end of the island. We quickly learned that the gangway was no place for indecision as the first groups were loaded. The boats bounced across the surface towards a cove around corner, where the cliffs were lined with nesting Bullers Albatross. Snares Crested Penguins could be seen high up on the rock face and a few New Zealand Fur Seals were spotted lounging around on the steep lower slope. The kelp was reminiscent of a grass skirt swaying along the bottom of the rock face to the rhythm of the swell.
We then followed the coast back around to the south, investigating some more secluded coves and caves before returning the first group back to the ship. The swell was still quite lively as we changed over to the second group, but now most knew the drill and quickly got aboard the bobbing zodiacs. After the second group were safely aboard, the ship headed up the east coast of the islands. Everyone agreed that it had been an invigorating end to our day. There was a lively atmosphere in the bar and dining room as we shared our last delicious dinner together. Good food and good company - a fitting finale to an incredible journey.
Thursday 9th February 2012: Bluff
Our 4,300 nautical mile journey ended on our return to the Port of Bluff, New Zealand. After breakfast and immigration formalities, we bade farewell to the Spirit of Enderby and boarded the bus to start the journey home. It was time for farewells as the group dispersed and headed off in different directions. The trip has been a great success. We are some of the lucky few to have journeyed so far south and experienced so many incredible places. May our memories linger, and our stories and photographs encourage others to help preserve this very special part of the world.
THE LAND OF THE ADÉLIE
Penguins they waddle and Ele seals sleep
Albatross fly over oceans so deep
From the Aucklands to Macquarie where the rookeries are
And the light mantled sooties come from afar;
From Campbell to the Snares we set gumboots down
On the pebbles where the sealers stepped
Digesters were engines for boiling down penguins
The sealers took seals and the whalers the rest.
We'll tell you a whale of a tale
Of how we set sail
On the Spirit of Enderby
With the Russ's and Co
Ever southward we go
To the land of the Adélie
When you're a seal it's a pretty tough life
You'll fight like an ogre to win you a wife
A penguin is cute and they have a good deal
Would you rather be the penguin or the Leopard seal?
We boarded the zodiacs like heroes will
And luckily nobody took a spill
If the rocking ship was hard to take
The ice shelf will be a thrill.
Here's to the beer and the Pinot Gris
Here's to the finest of company
Just lie in your bunk or look out your door
It feels like heaven or more;
Now many things are lost at sea
I lost my breakfast, I lost my tea
I lost my Antarctic virginity
Aboard the Spirit of Enderby.
Chorus x 2
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" I am so sorry it has taken me this long to write to you all and thank you for the most extraordinary experience of my life. I traveled with Samuel, Agnes, Helen, David, Andrew, Connor, Matt and Dr Pat and Leanne of course, to the Ross Sea back in February this year. My husband James and our friends (it was their honeymoon) have not stopped talking about our time on board the Akademik Shokalsky - the pancake ice, sun dog, seals, whales, penguins (Royal, King, Adelie, Yellow-Eye and even Emperor), pack ice, southern lights, katabatic winds, albatross....
Though for me the historic huts were the absolute highlight. (I made Helen and Samuel promise to drag me up the beach to see them even if I was half dead). I can't tell you how I felt standing at Cape Adare, Cape Evans and Cape Royds. It was the fulfillment of a lifetime's ambition. I only wish my father were alive today so I could have the pleasure of telling him about it. He took me to Annascaul far to the west of Ireland when I was a small girl to show me Tom Crean's pub 'The South Pole'. He was fascinated by the Scott and Shackleton stories having grown up in the 1930s when both men were the epitome of heroism. I wish I had paid more attention then, but you never do when you are young. He died many years ago and would have been completely astonished if he had had even a glimmer of a notion back in 1970-something that his little girl would one day stand where those great men once stood.
Probably the most mind blowing thing for me though was being able to get to 'Inexpressible Island' - thank you thank you Samuel and Capt Igor - in a tiny break in the weather. I have a dear friend who went to a very good school during the 1940s. The school principal was none other than Raymond Priestly. She met him many times and describes him as a courteous, kind and very intelligent man. You should have seen her face when I told her that I had actually stood by the slope where his ice-cave had been dug 100 years ago. I can't tell you how thrilled she was to see my photographs.
So the upshot is that I have caught the Antarctic bug good and proper. Do you remember our fellow passenger J.J. , Leanne? She told me that some people catch it and if they do it's incurable. I have it. "
" I travelled on the “Ross Sea Antarctic Cruising: In the Wake of Scott & Shackleton” expedition in Feb 2017 and can’t speak highly enough of the experience I had. Our Expedition Leader, Samuel, was exceptional. His open, clear communication, vast knowledge of the areas we went to and good humor at all times made for a wonderful trip. The other staff were equally as good. Having staff aboard that have been involved in Antarctic research and preservation meant we were able to share in their vast experiences and have our attention brought to items that one would otherwise simply overlook. The wildlife we experienced on the trip, both animal and plant, was amazing, and experiencing so much of the wildlife at very close proximity is something I’ll cherish. Thanks to the staff and crew for making such an excellent experience. "
" We truly believe you guys are one of the best travel companies we have ever dealt with regards to what places you go, what you offer in the expedition, your values and ethos, the quality of the ship, and above all else, the exceptional professionalism, experience, humour and quality of the staff. "