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 Akademik Shokalskiy, crewed by some of the most experienced officers and sailors in the world and staffed by some of the most passionate and knowledgeable Guides. 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 includes The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell Island. 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 power house 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.
Akademik Shokalskiy is the sister ship to the Spirit of Enderby (Professor Khromov), they were both built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and being fully ice-strengthened they are perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and provides 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 combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. 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.
Day 1: 11th January
Passengers and staff gathered in Invercargill this afternoon at the Kelvin Hotel. This evening they met for a welcome group dinner and a briefing on the adventure they were about to begin.
Day 2: 12th January
Invercargill / Bluff (46⁰ S)
Following the welcome dinner the previous evening at the Kelvin Hotel the passengers assembled in the lobby for the morning activities. One could feel the excitement in the air as the voyage would soon begin.
Once everyone’s bags had passed inspection they were taken to the ship and placed in the specified cabins. The passengers then decided to either wander into town or visit the city Museum as it would be a couple of hours until lunchtime when we would gather back at the hotel. We were met at the Invercargill Museum by Lindsay, the curator of the Tuatara programme. He presented a very interesting film on the Tuatara, New Zealand’s most remarkable living creature. The film, together with Lindsay’s excellent commentary, explained the breeding program that has brought the dragon-like species back from the brink of extinction. Lindsay then brought us into the Tuatara living quarters and introduced us to ‘Henry’ and ‘Mildred’, youngsters at 117 and 86 years of age! He was most pleased to announce that after several decades of ‘courtship’ they now formed a happy couple. We then toured the Museum at leisure enjoying the various displays focusing on early life in New Zealand’s South Island.
We then returned to the hotel to enjoy our last meal on land for the next 30 days before being shuttled to the ship awaiting us at the port of Bluff. One final step was the verification of passports on board ship by the Customs Officer.
We departed Bluff at 6:00PM on Thursday. Weather was fine but a strong Westerly breeze brought on 3-4 metre swells. We experienced the strength of the Southern Ocean as we made our way to Stewart Island where a wonderful dinner would be served, The Spirit of Enderby continued to her evening destination, a quieter spot in the lee of Stewart Island, where we could enjoy the first of many superb dinners, tonight either salmon or lamb – Yum! After dinner we socialised in the bar with the Russian beer ‘Baltica’ a particular favourite. Gear was then stowed away and cabins organised for maximum efficiency. It had been a busy day and everyone was ready for a good night’s rest. Falling asleep to the steady sound of the ship’s generators we all looked forward to tomorrow’s visit to The Snares.
Day 3: 13th January
The Snares (48⁰ S)
The Spirit of Enderby travelled all night rolling in harmony with the strong seas. Many of us enjoyed being on the bridge and watching the ship make her way. By morning we could claim to have survived our first Southern Ocean experience. We woke to a fine day and within a couple of hours sailing made landfall at The Snares. This would be our first Zodiac experience. A briefing was held to describe the techniques for getting in and out of the Zodiacs. The use of special life jackets was explained and a drill was held for us to put on life jackets and climb into one of the lifeboats – the closest thing to the real thing in case of emergency. Later in the morning, in two separate shifts, the Zodiacs were deployed for a ‘cruise’ and we visited The Snares. The weather was beautiful, the seas were calm, and the unique Snares Crested Penguins were in fine form. Cameras were taking it all in. It was a wonderful start to our voyage and was a highlight of the day. In mid-afternoon our Expedition Leader, Rodney Russ gave a presentation on the Auckland Islands to prepare us for our next destination. Staff member Lisle, our bird expert, took us through the ‘quarantine’ process to ensure that no unwanted pests or seeds get a free ride to another island. This included a visit to the boot wash station and vacuuming any unwanted seeds, dirt etc. from our jackets and backpacks.
In the evening Lisle introduced us to his Birding Sessions where we identify as many different species that we have seen as possible. This included both birds and mammals. This will make us pay attention to our feathered friends and sea mammals as we visit the different islands and look on from the ship’s decks. In our first meeting we ticked 33 species off the list. It will get harder as time goes on. Sea birds are especially difficult to distinguish.
Our dinner tonight was a choice of Stewart Island blue cod or Enderby coq au vin. A tough decision but both were delicious. We were also lucky to be able to celebrate Sharon’s birthday. Ed and Max made her a scrumptious chocolate cake which served as dessert. All in all, it was another day in paradise.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 4: 14th January
Auckland Islands – Enderby Island (50⁰ S)
The Spirit of Enderby travelled steadily all night and by 5:00AM we had reached our next destination, Port Ross, a beautiful harbour of the Auckland Islands near Enderby Island. This safe harbour was discovered by James Clark Ross during his voyages to Antarctica in 1841-43. We realised something was different when we awoke. The ship was quiet and hardly moving. The 6:45AM wake-up call from Cruise Director, Faye reminded us that we had a big day ahead. This time the weather had taken a mild turn and there was some doubt as to what we could accomplish. After careful thought Rodney decided to give it a go and the Zodiacs were mustered for a trip to Sandy Bay on Enderby Island. Rodney gave a briefing on how best to enjoy the features of Enderby Island including the need to avoid Young Adult Male Sea Lions lest one be mistaken for a potential mate. With that caution in mind we all dressed for wet weather and soon we set foot on Enderby Island. Two groups were formed, one, to complete a circuit of the island and another, less demanding, to stay on the boardwalk and do a crossing of the island. Both walks were most interesting and conditions allowed everyone to feel better for the exercise and bracing fresh air. Different plants and Subantarctic flowers, including the beautiful red Rata were identified with the sighting of several White-capped Albatross either resting or on their nest. On our return to Sandy Bay we had ample opportunity to observe the many families of Hooker’s Sea Lion that had colonised the kilometre-long sandy beach. The fearsome huge bulls were carefully guarding their harem, sometimes numbering as many as a dozen females along with as many pups. Many of the younger ‘teenagers’ could be seen frolicking in the shallow offshore waters. It was a most unique experience to observe the social activity of these mammals in their natural habitat.
Photo credit: G. Tsidulko
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 5: 15th January
Port Ross / Auckland Islands (50⁰ S)
We left the calm of Port Ross in the early morning at 3:00AM and soon were exposed to the larger ocean. Most of us slept very well as we adapted to the movement of the ship. At 6:30AM we received word that we would soon be passing through the spectacular entrance to historic Carnley Harbour. Many of us gathered on the bridge in order to get a better view. The sunrise to the east (out the stern of the ship) was beautiful with slivers of rain sparkling when transfixed by the sun’s rays.
The many seabirds gave us a display of their flying prowess and cameras were deployed to catch some of the amazing swooping and diving as they made maximum use of the breeze. We were then surprised by the sight of two yachts in the distance at the entrance to the North Arm of the bay. They had taken refuge and would be staying put for the day. The shore and general outline of the main island of the Auckland Islands framed the scene perfectly in all directions. Unfortunately our intention to make a landing was thwarted by the weather conditions. As a result we decided to make our way immediately towards Macquarie Island, about 500 miles south. Lisle gave an exciting and very instructive lecture at 9:15AM on seabird identification. This was very useful since the subtle differences between species, especially of albatross, are difficult to detect. By 2:30PM we were on our southerly course sailing through the ‘furious fifties’. Many stood swaying on the bridge to enjoy the full experience of the Southern Ocean. In mid-afternoon Lisle appeared with a Common Diving-Petrel that had unfortunately collided with the ship during the night. We all spent time examining this little member of the petrel family from a rare vantage point.
Day 6: 16th January
At sea and Carnley Harbour, Auckland Islands (51⁰ S)
We were awakened at 6:45AM by Faye. During the night the Spirit of Enderby, also known as the Professor Khromov (named after a prominent Russian meteorologist) had made progress towards Macquarie Island but we still had several hundred miles ahead of us. The seas were a bit heavy with up to 8 metre swells and 35 knot winds slowing us down somewhat. It was a good day to catch up on some rest or to perhaps make use of the extensive library on board. Our EL, Rodney Russ, advised that conditions would improve as we got closer to Macquarie Island possibly by tomorrow morning. In the meantime the afternoon also provided an opportunity to edit and organise our photos. The Chefs and Natalia’s kitchen staff again did a magnificent job and we enjoyed an Italian dish of spaghetti bolognaise for dinner.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 7: 17th January
At sea, 35 miles from Macquarie Island (54⁰ S)
We awoke to calmer waters this morning which had given everyone a good night’s sleep. We were now only 35 nautical miles from Macquarie Island and estimated our arrival at about 12:30PM New Zealand time, which is 10:30AM local time since Macquarie is Australian territory. After checking with the Australian base manager our EL, Rodney decided to have a go at landing on the west side of the island on Hasselbrough Bay rather than the more normal eastern side at Buckles Bay. It was an exciting ride but the Zodiac drivers showed their expertise and with on-shore assistance all went smoothly as the passengers were transported from the ship. The rewards of Macquarie Island soon became obvious. Cameras were immediately in evidence as we were surrounded by Gentoo Penguins and elephant seals and seabirds of every description. Chris, the Tasmanian Park Ranger met us with his three assistants, and gave a brief explanation on the operation of the Base. We then broke into three groups and began a leisurely walk along the beach. Soon we spied groups of King Penguins and then Rockhopper Penguins were seen in the distance. Scavenging Brown Skua gulls walked amidst the Gentoos looking for a quick meal but the penguins always managed to fend them off. Southern Giant Petrels were observed cavorting nearby while groups of elephant seals were eyeing us, their curiosity aroused. We gave them a wide berth as they yawned and snorted warnings not to get too close. Our guides took us through the isthmus and on up the boardwalk steps to the lookout above the base. This gave a fabulous view of the entire western beach with its numerous penguin colonies, probably Royals. In the southerly direction was the Base, and the hills on the other side of the isthmus. The base offered us wonderful hospitality in the form of tea and scones which was most welcome after our bracing walk amongst the amazing wildlife. There would certainly be much photographic organising to do later in the evening. After changing into more comfortable clothing, and joined by our Australian friends, Chris, Murray and Rowena, we sat down to an excellent dinner of blue cod or sirloin beef prepared by our wonderful Chefs, Ed and Max. After dinner Lisle called a meeting of the Birding Group where several more species were ticked off the list including the Black-Browed Albatross, the Gentoo Penguin and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. An early night was then in order as we would continue our visit to this wonderful island in the morning.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 8: 18th January
Macquarie Island / Sandy Bay (54⁰ S)
How does one begin to describe the marvellous day we had at Sandy Bay on Macquarie Island’s east coast. We were awakened with the good news that the weather had turned in our favour and that landings would be possible at our chosen site. In addition the day would be calm, dry and the sun would shine. We were up at 6:45AM to make the most of it. A good omen was the sighting of some orcas from the bridge before breakfast. Our practice on the Zodiacs yesterday helped make us experts at Zodiac entrance and exit today. The calmer seas also helped and the expert driving of Rodney and Lisle enabled us all to start out on a good note. The scene we encountered on landing took our breath away. Such an assembly of Subantarctic wildlife was more than we could have ever imagined. There were penguins of every description, in groups of two or three or more strolling on the sand and carefully avoiding the elephant seals scattered along the beach. There were groups of ten or twenty having an impromptu conference, and masses of tens of thousands in the nearby rookery. Royal and King Penguins were present in great numbers but the Rockhopper and Gentoo species were also spotted. The frolicking of groups of Royal Penguins in the surf brought laughter and delight to all at the enjoyment they were having. Many of us chose to sit quietly and allow the animals to come to us as their curiosity was aroused. Elephant seals were plentiful and the mock aggression acted out by the young bulls was a subject of much attention as they reared their massive bodies and snorted and barked out their serious playful show of strength. Amongst all this were hundreds of petrels and skuas, terns, gulls and prions. We were able to wander at leisure and had several hours in which to soak in this magnificent spectacle of nature. The Aussie rangers from the base, Chris, Murray and Rowena, had joined us for the morning and were patient in answering our many questions. Their input added greatly to the value and enjoyment of our Macquarie Island experience. Alas, after four hours in this very special part of the Subantarctic we had to bid adieu as it was time to resume our journey south. Soon the Zodiacs had transported everyone back to the ship where a warm lunch was awaiting our whetted appetites.
Our EL then announced a special treat in that we would be sailing along the rarely seen western side of Macquarie Island on our continued voyage to the Antarctic. Many of us visited the bridge to view this side of the island, cameras to the ready. The clear skies and excellent visibility made it an experience to be savoured. The sighting from the bridge of a school of Pilot Whales drew a large crowd and set the tone for the next stage of our trip as we entered into the regions inhabited by many different whale species. We would have to process our already voluminous collection of photographs to make room for the equally exciting days ahead. Our journey to Cape Adare would cover another 1240 nautical miles of the Southern Ocean and our excitement about visiting the Antarctic became almost visible.
Photo credit: Y Mischina
Day 9: 19th January
At sea (56⁰ S) heading for Cape Adare
After a restful night we awoke to the sound of our ship’s engines powering our way south. After breakfast Rodney gave us a re-cap lecture on Macquarie Island. Together with the film describing the multi-year Pest Eradication Programme, these nicely completed our wonderful two day visit to this nature sanctuary. It was a great way to end the first stage of our tour of the Subantarctic Islands.
Today, and for the next three days, we will be making for Cape Adare in Antarctica. We have travelled a long way already but there is still much to be excited about during the weeks ahead. Cape Adare is where Carsten Borchgrevink’s ‘Southern Cross’ party spent the first winter on the Antarctic continent in 1899-1900. It is also host to the world’s largest colony of Adelie Penguins. We have not yet seen any of those cute ittle creatures and we are very much looking forward to our first sighting. This afternoon Rodney gave an introductory talk on Antarctica and the Ross Sea area. We were not far from the Antarctic Convergence where the cold Antarctic current meets the warmer water of the northern ocean. The air temperature will drop and everyone will have to change to cold weather clothing. Soon our breath will be visible. By tomorrow morning the difference will be noticeable. Lisle is eager to begin sighting the Antarctic bird and mammal species as are the many keen birders on board. Stephen is also about to begin his history lectures which will no doubt stir vigorous debate and prepare all aboard for their visits to the various historic sites within the Ross Sea region. With luck ice conditions will be kind and will allow access to many of them. Once again we have had a great day. There is so much more to come.
Day 10: 20th January
At sea (60⁰ S) heading for Cape Adare
As the ship ventured south through the night everyone enjoyed a good night of rest. The ‘furious fifties’ had given us a respite which was much appreciated. However we were aware that we would soon enter the ‘screaming sixties’, an infamous 600 mile band of the Southern Ocean. Today, January 20, 2017 is doubly important in Antarctic history. It is the centenary of Shackleton’s final rescue of his ‘Endurance’ expedition. One hundred years ago on January 20, 1917 the ‘Aurora’ party sailed from the Ross Sea, with Shackleton and the remaining members of his Ross Sea Support Party, north for New Zealand. The ship was under the command of Master John King Davis, perhaps the most capable of all Antarctic ship’s captains. The date also marks the 60th Anniversary of the opening of New Zealand’s Scott Base. The base was constructed to house Sir Edmund Hillary’s party of 23 men in support of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by British geologist Dr Vivian Fuchs. As we were in the ‘dead zone’ where no land is sighted for four days our activities were focused on our photo collections and observation from the bridge. Added to this of course were various lectures and films. The morning saw Stephen give his first lecture on ‘The Unveiling of Antarctica’. This lecture covered the early history of Antarctic exploration from the time of ‘terra Australis incognita’ to explorers Captain Cook, James Clark Ross and Wilkes, and Dumont d’Urville of France; finishing with the Challenger expedition of 1872-75.
Lunch today was a delicious seafood chowder served with fresh bread and a dessert of banana bread with caramel sauce – Scrumptious!
After lunch the passengers were issued their cold weather parkas as temperatures are due to begin dropping noticeably. We will be crossing the Antarctic convergence in a few hours which will have a significant effect on air temperatures. The afternoon activities consisted of Episode 1 of the film ‘The Last Place on Earth’ based on Roland Huntford’s book ‘Amundsen and Scott’. The day was capped off by an excellent lecture on ‘Expedition Photography’ by our resident photography guru, Lisle. He will be very busy sorting out photography issues before we arrive in the Antarctic and our souvenir photos will benefit greatly as a result. Our Chefs then worked their magic once more and we all enjoyed a fabulous dinner of lamb or turkey.
Day 11: 21st January
At sea (63⁰ S) heading toward Cape Adare
Temperatures were dropping steadily now as the ship made her way south battling a strong headwind. This slowed her forward speed to less than ten knots. However, we still expected to reach Cape Adare in good time. The wind was forecast to shift in our favour early tomorrow morning and the way was reasonably clear of ice. As we are still at sea today will be occupied with activities aboard ship. These included a stirring lecture by our historian Stephen Hicks on ‘The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’. Midway through the lecture an exciting announcement was made that our first iceberg had been sighted. It was still a couple of hours in the distance, about 18 miles, so we were able to finish the lecture. Immediately afterward the bridge was awash with passengers and cameras straining their eyes into the misty horizon for a glimpse of the icy giant. Eventually a form could be made out as the berg came into full view and passed quietly by a few kilometres on our port (left) side. It was a potent reminder of the environment that lay ahead. Needless to say many photographs were taken and a buzz of anticipation filled the air. The Iceberg Contest and prize was won by Sharon who not only predicted the time and date of its appearance but also sighted it before anyone else!
After lunch many of us viewed Episode 2 of The Last Place on Earth. This series is gaining interest as Scott completes the selection of men for his party and the ‘Terra Nova’ sets sail for the Antarctic. The remaining 4 episodes will be filled with drama no doubt and will fuel much debate on the merits of both Scott and Amundsen. After a rest and for some, a cup of tea, Grigory our mammal expert, gave a most informative talk on his favourite topic, Caetaceans (Whales & Dolphins). Everyone gained much knowledge about these amazing lords of the sea. With luck we would encounter a few of these species during the coming days of our journey, possibly ‘Killer’ Whales (Orcas) and perhaps Humpback Whales and Minke Whales. If Grigory gets his wish we might even sight a Blue Whale, the largest creature to ever inhabit our planet. To finish off this busy day Yulia, our Assistant Cruise Director, gave a lecture on Russian 101. Many of us yearn to communicate with members of our crew and housekeeping staff. Now that we know the basic greetings and courtesy phrases, this will become possible – with practice of course.
One of the last events of the day was the placing of scientific buoys on the Southern Ocean. These will transmit environmental data for research studies from various points as they drift over their lifetimes.
The day’s formal activity having ended many retired to read up on the history of the Ross Sea or to ascend to the bridge to implement the photography tips from Lisle’s lecture. There are beautiful, effortless bird-ballet movements outside the bridge that would make striking photographic subjects – now, if we can only catch them in motion, swooping and diving as they do!
Day 12: 22nd January
At sea (66⁰ S) bound for Cape Adare
Temp -1⁰ C – Seas calm
This morning we awoke to an amazing sight as icebergs could be seen in every direction, of all shapes and sizes. At 8:33AM an event of great significance occurred when the Spirit of Enderby crossed the Antarctic Circle at 66⁰ 34”. A rousing cheer was raised on the bridge and several hardy souls were poised forward on the bow in order to gain priority. The Antarctic Circle defines the northern limit of the sun’s ability to shine for twenty-four hours. This will now be our situation and we must remember to go to bed even though we may be tempted to go on for a few more hours! We then gathered in the bar to enjoy a cup of mulled wine while our Expedition Leader took everyone through the traditional ceremony of the Antarctic Circle Pledge. This is our personal commitment that we will advocate for the protection of the precious natural environment of the Antarctic in our lives now and following this expedition. We were then invested with the ‘Mark of the Penguin’ on our foreheads as a symbol of our new status.
Shortly afterward an advisory was called out over the ship’s radio “Whales have been sighted from the bridge!” Two different whale sightings occurred, one a Humpback Whale and the other, a Minke Whale. The excitement rose and cameras were deployed along the ship’s starboard side. This unforgettable event was then followed by a more relaxing hour as Stephen presented his third lecture on the history of Antarctic exploration – a presentation on Robert Falcon Scott’s first expedition on the ship ‘Discovery’. Each of his lectures builds on the preceding one while the series will cover expeditions up to and including the Crossing of Antarctica in 1955-58. Many icebergs floated past as our ship progressed on its journey south, with Captain Dimitri skilfully guiding the ship safely through the spectacular scenery. At 1:30PM we had 280 nautical miles left to reach Cape Adare and our arrival time on the Antarctic continent was estimated at approximately noon tomorrow if the favourable weather conditions continue to hold.
Our afternoon activities began with the chance to get some ‘shopping therapy’. The ship ‘shop’ opened for a couple of hours where passengers could purchase a wide variety of souvenirs of their journey. These included fine merino wool shirts, a wonderful collection of Antarctic and wildlife based books, and postcards, maps and posters. There will be many lucky recipients of gifts from Heritage Expeditions’ Spirit of Enderby once our passengers have returned to their home base. We then retired to the lecture room and enjoyed Episode three of the film based on Huntford’s book, Scott and Amundsen. Opinions are starting to be cast in stone as to which leader was the most capable or was Scott simply ‘unlucky’?
We finished the day with a ‘quarantine’ check as we are entering the Antarctic Treaty region and plan to land on the continent tomorrow. It is important that exotic flora or fauna do not get inadvertently transported into the Antarctic from external sources. All in all, it was another very full and worthwhile day of sailing through the ‘dead zone’ of the ‘screaming sixties’. We look forward tomorrow to entering the ‘silent seventies’ while tonight there will certainly be photographers up on the bridge taking advantage of the long days.
Photo credit: G. Tsidulko
Day 13: 23rd January
At sea (72⁰ S) 58 miles out from Cape Adare
The day rose clear and cold. Antarctic Snow Petrels were swooping and diving, skimming the ocean swell about the ship. Seas were moderate and it had been a night of smooth sailing. The plan for today is to land on Ridley Beach at Cape Adare, weather and ice permitting. Mother Nature always has the final call in these endeavours. We will see the state of local conditions as we approach the beach before we know if a landing will be possible. This will be at about 11:30AM. Many passengers spent time on the bridge and up higher on the ‘monkey deck’ taking in the full view as the continent began to reveal itself through the mist. A spectacular vision awaited. The horizon was a solid mass of high peaked snow-covered mountains framed by the blue sky above and the frothy white-capped Southern Ocean below – Magnificent! Mt Sabine and Mt Minto were particularly outstanding with their 3700 metre plus height. We were now less than 20 miles from Cape Adare. A pod of Beaked Whales appeared on our port bow near the ship but disappeared quickly. We were treated to a beautiful blue-sky day with sunlight that brought out the best of the incredible scenery. As we made our way to Cape Adare we gazed in wonder at the ice floes that surrounded our ship and then at the massive ‘bergs’ of Iceberg Alley seemingly in repose against the skyline of Cape Adare and the mountains of the continental interior behind. Many braved the bitter wind standing at the bow or on the top deck to get the best vantage point. With 24 hour daylight there will be much opportunity for outstanding and unique photography. While on the bridge we observed Adelie Penguins passing by on their icy platforms or even leaping out of the water as they swam by. Minke Whales made several appearances and a variety of petrels and other Antarctic species flew about the ship. There were two sightings of seals basking in the sun’s rays as they lay each on their private floating bed of brash ice. Alas, a landing at Cape Adare was not possible due to the accumulation of ice around the landing site of Ridley Beach.
However, as we will be returning via this route in a few days another opportunity may present itself. Our alternate plan will be to continue into the Ross Sea to examine the Possession Islands for a possible landing. These were first discovered by James Clark Ross in 1842 and are a site of considerable historic interest. There is also a large colony of Adelie Penguins on the main island. They are approximately four hours away and it may be necessary for us to utilise the perpetual daylight to effect a landing and we were advised to be prepared should that be the case. Before that we enjoyed a hearty dinner to prime us with some energy.
Conditions were near perfect for a Zodiac cruise. The islands and icebergs around us were stunning in the twilight. The peaks of the Admiralty Range of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains were visible in the distance. At 8:30PM the first group of passengers was taken out for an hour’s cruise around the shores of Possession Island. The scene was magical as masses of Adelie Penguins socialised on the shores and up into the furthest heights hundreds of feet up the cliff-tops! Their comrades gave us a continual display of their swimming prowess and antics, ‘porpoising’ all around us and making a mockery of our attempts to photograph them in the air. It seemed too soon that we were heading back to the ship not realising that it was getting near 10:00PM as the 24 hour daylight regime had arrived. That would take some getting used to! The outing was a wonderful ending to a day of amazing vistas as each new view seemed to surpass the last and our voyage was not yet at its mid-point!
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 14: 24th January
Ross Sea, Cape Hallett (73⁰ S)
We awoke (if we hadn’t spent the night admiring the scenery from the bridge) at 6:30AM to an announcement by our EL that it was a glorious morning and that we were now entering Edisto Bay and heading for Cape Hallett. Soon many of us were out on deck enjoying bright sunshine and perfectly clear air. In a few moments the ship was gliding through the ice floes, gently pushing them aside. Patterns of fresh new ice that had formed overnight decorated the clear cold water. Majestic Mt Herschel glinted on the shoreline with a glacier leading to the Polar Plateau nearby. It was an excellent start to our day and we had not even eaten breakfast! On closer inspection the ice around Cape Hallett prevented a landing at the site of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) joint New Zealand/USA base of 1956-1973 but the stunning views more than satisfied our interest. On exiting the bay we again headed south and made for Coulman Island about five hours away. Our ship’s Captain Dimitri and the Expedition Leader then decided to take a route that had never been open previously. This was to sail through the passage between Coulman Island and the continent rather than pass by the island’s eastern side. We spent the day admiring the placid waters reflecting the island’s cliff-face, strewn with ice in all shapes and sizes. Some of the floes carried lone Adelie Penguins. In one case a Leopard Seal was spotted having a lounge in the sun. The ship pushed them aside as we stood outside on the decks and at the bow. One hardy fellow, young Matt, our Heritage Expeditions’ Enderby Trust scholarship winner, wore shorts and jandals until he went back to his cabin only to re-emerge having put on a pair of socks! It was a stunning day of sunshine and calm waters that turned the Ross Sea into an Antarctic wonderland. We also learned that in the Antarctic, distances are much further than they seem. The scale of the continent is such that the experience of our warmer climes makes us ill-suited to judge distances as it seemed to take forever to reach and pass Coulman Island. On the west coast we could see the opening to the mighty Tucker Glacier that leads up onto the Polar Plateau at 10,000 ft. of elevation. Two other glaciers fed their ice to the sea further south, the Mariner Glacier and the Borchgrevink Glacier that fittingly exited into Lady Newnes Bay named after the patron and sponsor of the first party to winter over on the continent at Cape Adare. Eventually, we were back into the ice pack which took another hour to traverse before we were back in open water.
Just after dinner an announcement was made that a rare Emperor Penguin had been sighted on a passing floe. We quickly gathered our cameras and were out on deck recording this rare opportunity to see one of nature’s most fascinating creatures.
Our target destination is Terra Nova Bay, about 150 miles distant, where we hope to make a landing tomorrow. We expect to arrive at about mid-day. This bay is the site of three Antarctic research bases, those of South Korea, Italy and Germany (Gondwana). Having had a big day from our early morning start at Cape Hallett we were ready for a good night’s rest, looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 15: 25th January
Terra Nova Bay / Inexpressible Island (75⁰ S)
The day dawned clear, bright and crisp but soon the sun would warm the air. The announcement came that conditions were ideal for a landing at the island made famous by Robert Falcon Scott’s ‘Northern Party’. The party, led by Captain Victor Campbell, was initially Scott’s Eastern Party and was sent to explore the area around the Bay of Whales and King Edward VII Land. However, on arrival they found that Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, had already placed his base ‘Framheim’ at that location. Although Amundsen invited Campbell to join him there, Campbell felt uncomfortable and declined. On returning to Cape Evans and reporting this turn of events to Scott he was given a new assignment to explore the areas further north on the western side of the Ross Sea near Cape Adare. His party became stranded when the relief ship Terra Nova was unable to reach them and they had to spend another winter in an ice cave on Inexpressible Island (re-named after their ordeal) surviving on the seals and penguins that they could kill. On emerging from the cave in November 1912, and in very poor health, they then walked over 200 miles from Inexpressible Island to Cape Evans. It was a miracle that any of them survived. The site of the ice cave is now marked by a humble plaque commemorating their incredible experience. On arrival Rodney led us to the site of the original ice cave. The island is composed mainly of granite with boulders of all shapes and sizes strewn across the landscape. There is a large Adelie Penguin rookery nearby and the antics of the penguins provided entertainment for all. One had to beware of the nests of the skua gulls as they are very protective and more than once they let us know if we were getting too close. There were also several Weddell Seals ashore lounging on the rocks. They seem not to mind sleeping on the hard rocky shore and patiently allowed us to take copious photographs. One of the day’s highlights came during the second visit in the afternoon with the discovery of two Emperor Penguins holding court far above the water line. Many spent over an hour admiring their calm demeanor as they stood calmly for our close inspection. The hills of Inexpressible Island provided ample terrain for those with a tramping inclination. Both the morning and afternoon groups gave it their best and covered many kilometres at various altitudes on the island. The view of the Priestley and Reeves Glacier’s exit to the Ross Sea was spectacular and will be a fond memory etched into the minds of those who ventured to climb the ridge.
We then returned to the ship having had a great day of exercise and enjoyed a well-earned meal of rib-eye steak or monkfish. With appetites satisfied and muscles spent, a sound sleep was now the priority. The ship was anchored in the bay for the night and tomorrow would find us ready to continue our voyage in the majesty of Antarctica.
Photo credit: G. Tsidulko
Day 16: 26th January
Terra Nova Bay / Gerlache Inlet (75⁰ S)
Once again we awoke to a clear calm blue-bird day. Some of us felt the effects of yesterday’s exhilarating walks on Inexpressible Island but no doubt we will find new energy and be keen for today’s activities. There are two bases at this location, the Korean base, and the nearby German summer base, Gondwana, while the Italian base is a short way to the southern end of the bay.
We were called to the starboard gangplank at 9:30AM and the Zodiacs were ready to ferry us to our landing spot on the beach at Gerlache Inlet. Sea conditions were benign and everyone made an easy landing which, for most of us, also meant setting foot for the first time on the Antarctic continent! This was one of the most significant moments of our voyage. It was a warm day by Antarctic standards and we broke into two main groups, one a smaller party that went for an extended walk up a distant hill while the remainder were encouraged to go for a free-spirited wander. The highlights other than the striking natural scenery included the tidy German Antarctic base and, just over the rise to the north, the much larger Korean base. One had to be careful not to approach too closely to any of the numerous skua nesting sites as mom and dad skua were keeping a close watch for intruders and would swoop menacingly with a sharp ‘squawk’ at anyone who got too close. We quickly learned to identify their warning signs, a wing display and then the shrieking calls. We enjoyed the almost balmy morning weather but the Zodiacs were due at 12:30PM since there was a possibility of visiting the Italian base in the afternoon. This was confirmed as we ate lunch and excitement was again in the air.
At 2:45 and 3:15PM two groups would be taken to the base named ‘Mario Zucchelli’ after the foremost Italian Antarctic scientist and first Director of the base when it was established in 1986. It lies at 74⁰ 41” S. We were met by three base personnel, Marco, a twenty year veteran and the base Director, Matthew, the base medical officer, and Paolo, the IT Manager. They showed us the hospitality for which they are famous and guided us on a very interesting walk throughout the base premises. Afterwards we were served coffee and biscuits and had the chance to chat with the base scientists and staff. Italy also joint operates an inland base. We then posed for photographs with our hosts which will be a reminder of their warm welcome.
Finally we returned to the ship and retired to the bar before enjoying a delicious dinner prepared by our Chefs Ed and Max. A special treat this evening was the celebration of Elizabeth’s birthday with a song led by the HE staff in fine voice. It also meant that we all shared in a delicious birthday cake. Yum!
The ship then departed southward immediately for our next destination, Franklin Island. Another highlight awaited as we soon passed, on our starboard side, a famous geographical feature, the Drygalski Ice Tongue. This massive tongue of ice extends 70km into the Ross Sea and is 40km wide – what a fitting way to top off another superb day in the Antarctic!
Day 17: 27th January
Ross Sea / Franklin Island (76⁰)
The ship dropped anchor at Franklin Island in the early morning hours after a smooth journey south. The island takes its name from Sir John Franklin, governor of Tasmania who was a friend of James Clark Ross, who discovered the Ross Sea in 1842. The conditions were ideal for a landing and our EL, Rodney declared it a go with an early 6:00AM wake-up call. After a briefing on the site features the excitement mounted quickly for our visit. There is a huge Adelie Penguin colony on the island which will be the main subject of interest. We were advised to be especially careful not to disturb the birds as they are in the midst of raising and feeding their chicks. The Zodiacs leave at 8:00AM. Dress warmly!
After landing with waterproof boots and pants as suggested we made our way around the shore to the beach and bins where we deposited our life jackets. Then it was time to get out the cameras and go for a wander into the most amazing penguin colony. As far as the eye could see there were Adelie Penguins in all stages of development but mostly in the ‘raising a family’ stage. The fluffy little creatures with ravenous appetites were either sleeping contentedly or chasing their mothers (or any adult penguin who would listen) for a feed. Everyone took their own approach to explore this amazing gathering of life in the wild. We spent several hours in a relaxed and close-up examination of the behavioural traits of these wonderful creatures.
There were several Weddell seals resting among the throng as if nothing else mattered. They posed patiently for photographs. Skua gulls flew continuously over the throng looking for any opportunities for a feed. It was nature at its purest and was a lot to take in. But after returning to the ship a few hours later we all realised what a privilege it had been to live such an exhilarating experience. We were ready for lunch and a restful afternoon ourselves. Episode 4 of The Last Place on Earth took us a bit further with the story of the Scott-Amundsen 1911-12 race to the pole. Meanwhile the ship was heading still further south towards Ross Island.
Later in the evening we arrived within sight of the southern sentinels of the continent, Mt Erebus and Mt Terror, so named by Ross after his two sturdy ships. Very soon we could make out Cape Crozier, named after the commander of the HMS Terror, and the impenetrable ice ‘Barrier’ that blocked Ross from continuing further south, as it did us today. It was an awesome sight to watch the turbulent Ross Sea beating up against the mighty Ross Ice Shelf as it has done for centuries with none the victor. Since it was getting late despite the bright sky many decided to catch up on sleep and prepare for what the next day would bring. It had been full-on since 6:00AM and it was a most rewarding day indeed.
Photo credit: G. Tsidulko
Day 18: 28th January
The Barrier (77⁰ 30’ S)
Our journey south ended at 77⁰ 30’ S. thwarted by the sea ice that had refused to leave McMurdo Sound. This was a very unusual ice condition for this time of year confirming yet again that Mother Nature will have her way. We then turned and began heading north for Cape Adare where we hoped to make a landing, ice and surf permitting, sometime over the next 48 hours. The swell was a bit heavy today so lectures were postponed in the interest of safety and comfort. These would be delivered once the swell abates.
Today was spent catching up on our rest, our reading, our diaries, or organizing our many photos. Of course it was always possible to climb the decks to possibly get that one special picture of Antarctica or its wildlife. There was even an intensive game of 3D-scrabble underway in the bar. Other games and challenging puzzles were also occupying the passengers. Here’s to good conditions as we expect to reach Cape Adare tomorrow afternoon.
Photo credit: Y. Mischina
Photo credit: G. Tsidulko
Day 19: 29th January
At sea and heading for Cape Adare (75⁰ S)
We had a good night’s rest and continued to make our way north. The seas were calm and today’s programme included two lectures and Episode 5 of the film ‘The Last Place on Earth’ based on Roland Huntford’s book ‘Scott and Amundsen’. In the morning Rodney gave a most interesting talk on the Antarctic Treaty System as it relates to tourism in the Antarctic. He described the 12 articles that make up the treaty and then outlined how these help (or not) with the regulation of Antarctic tourism. He also gave us his view of what the future may hold in this growing activity. Many questions and much discussion ensued. This was followed by our polar historian Stephen’s fourth lecture in his history of Antarctic exploration series and covered Ernest Shackleton’s ‘Nimrod’ expedition of 1907-09 which earned Shackleton a knighthood as well as the Royal Geographic Society’s special Gold Medal. Our visit to within a stone’s throw of Mt Erebus, our sighting of the Drygalski Ice Tongue and the ‘Barrier’ itself all resonated with the expedition’s major accomplishments. During the afternoon we viewed Episode 5 of The Last Place on Earth as Scott and Amundsen make their way onto the polar plateau. The excitement builds as the drama unfolds! Our day was far from over however.
After dinner our EL announced that we were approaching Cape Adare and we would examine it to see if a landing would be possible. When we went up to the bridge it was a scene from nature at its most primitive and powerful. We had returned to Antarctica’s ‘Iceberg Alley’. The ship was carefully threading its way through a maze of massive icebergs which were slowly receding into the mist behind us. The winds were blowing at 30-40 knots. Gazing into the ocean mist ahead we could see more icebergs floating in the storm tossed sea. It was a scene from some primeval era of the planet. With great caution born of his many years of experience the captain steered the ship around the headland and soon we found ourselves in relatively calm waters, free of ice, and out of the severe winds. We had entered Robertson Bay. After a few minutes we came into view of historic Ridley beach where Carsten Borchgrevink and his party spent the first Antarctic winter night. The bridge was packed with onlookers, cameras and binoculars close at hand. Soon the little wooden hut became visible to the naked eye dwarfed by the mountainous background. A major objective of our journey had been achieved. It now remained for our expedition team to determine if a landing was possible. Our EL decided that as the daylight was beginning to wane it would be best to wait until morning before making a final call as to what it would be possible to do safely and with most benefit to our passengers. With that we retired to our cabins for a good night’s rest within the more quiet and placid confines of Robertson Bay.
Day 20: 30th January
Robertson Bay and Cape Adare (71⁰ S)
Our wake-up call came early as the EL advised of sunshine and a possible landing on Ridley Beach. The one obstacle was a new Antarctic phenomenon for us to experience – a fierce katabatic wind that was blowing down off the mountainous terrain of Cape Adare. As we struggled our way around the outer deck we felt a definite rise in the air temperature from yesterday evening bringing with it the more familiar aroma being swept off the huge Adelie Penguin colony residing on the beach. This is the largest colony of its kind with a population estimated at over 1,000,000 residents. There in the middle of it all was Borchgrevink’s hut of 1899, shrunk to a tiny edifice amidst the grandeur of the Cape Adare geography. The abatement of the katabatic wind which we were awaiting was not to be but the magnificent scenery of the Cape, the hut and the great mountains such as Mt Minto and Mt Adam to the west, both well over 10,000 ft., was more than sufficient compensation.
With that, the Spirit of Enderby set her course to the north-west making for the Balleny Islands one of the most remote areas on the planet. These promise to offer a variety of wildlife such as Chinstrap Penguins, whales and seals in addition to re-introducing us to the albatross family. We expect to arrive there by noon tomorrow. In the meantime, Stephen gave us his history lecture #5 ‘Scott and Amundsen - The Race to the Pole’. This lecture, coming in conjunction with the film ‘The Last Place on Earth’ which relates the same expedition, gave added grist to the mill for debating the merits of the two very different strategies taken by the leaders as they sought polar glory.
In the afternoon we learned all about the newly agreed Marine Protected Area (MPA) for the Ross Sea. Grigory was closely involved with this successful effort to declare over 1.2m sq. km. as subject to regulation under the CCAMLR convention. We can only hope that species such as the Antarctic Tooth-fish and krill, and indirectly whales, will benefit from this and similar agreements.
Towards the end of the afternoon we had reached latitude 71⁰ S. as we headed north to the Balleny Islands. Our visit there tomorrow holds much promise as the islands are a source of extraordinary bio-diversity.
Day 21: 31st January
At sea making for the Balleny Islands (69⁰ S)
Last night and this morning we continued making our way toward the Balleny Islands, a series of islands inside the Antarctic Treaty region. Before noon we were in sight of Sturge Island, the first of the islands, at 66⁰ S. We had re-entered the ‘screaming sixties’ and the seas and ice confirmed we were indeed in the Antarctic. But once we were protected from the easterly winds the sea calmed and amazingly the low cloud lifted and we were treated to magnificent views of the island’s ice protected shoreline, interrupted by impressive glaciers, piedmonts and ice tongues. The entire length of the island was covered by a white blanket of wispy cloud with azure blue patches decorating the sky overhead only just hiding the peak of Mt Russell, its highest point. As we left the island behind Lisle spotted two Humpback Whales on the port side. Many of us quickly ascended to the bridge and outer decks where we were able to photograph the whales blowing and cavorting in the ocean waters below. The afternoon also saw the concluding episode of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. The finale, despite being well known, left many feeling sympathy not only for Scott but also for Amundsen. Did Scott, by his death, come out as the winner in this tragic contest of the heroic age?
Towards the latter part of the afternoon we came upon three unique islands of the Balleny group. These were Buckles, Sabrina and Chin-Strap islands. Beautiful rock formations and brilliant icebergs with the sunshine highlighting the scene captured everyone’s attention with the monkey deck a favourite vantage point. A Zodiac cruise will require the seas and wind to relent somewhat so the EL made the decision to stand by and see what the morning would bring. An evening within sight of these islands will top off what has been a wonderful day which included several whale sightings and the return of the albatross. We would sleep well tonight.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 22: 1st February
Balleny Islands – Sabrina, Buckles and Chinstrap (67⁰)
We slept well in the lee of Buckle Island and awoke to the first day of February. Our hopes to launch a Zodiac cruise were set aside as, to coin a phrase, it was a ‘swelly’ morning, making it too risky to use them to gain the shore. We trained our eyes and binoculars on Sabrina Island and could clearly see the large penguin colony that inhabited even the highest ridges. The ability of penguins to climb steep slopes is amazing. We concluded it must be because of the outstanding views these sites provide the residents. Chances were very good that Chinstrap as well as Adelie Penguins co-exist in this colony. We had much to look forward to this morning as our route northward took us past Borradaile Island and along the coast of Young Island. This had given us an excellent look at the entire Balleny group together with our magnificent views the previous evening of Buckle, Sabrina (an SPA – Specially Protected Area under the Antarctic Treaty) and Chinstrap Islands. As we were reminded, more people have climbed Mt Everest than have visited the Balleny Islands. Our course today will take us out past the Antarctic Circle (66⁰ 34’ S) and on toward our next destination, New Zealand’s beautiful Campbell Island. The bird life and especially the return of the albatrosses will be an exciting highlight of this leg of our journey with Campbell Island being the major site of the nesting grounds for the Southern Royal Albatross.
Excitement reigned in the bridge after breakfast as pods of the ocean’s major predator were sighted near the ship. Orcas of the Type ‘C’ species, in groups of three or four were sighted at various distances from the ship. The estimate was that 15-20 were in our midst including young and mature whales. It was cameras to the ready as we flocked to the decks to observe their incredible swimming power as they outdistanced the ship with ease. It was another highlight to our trip and capped off our visit to Antarctica, this most remote part of our planet.
After lunch and as we left Young Island, the last of the Balleny’s, we enjoyed and learned from the special documentary ‘The Last Ocean’. This and a history lecture by Stephen on Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ expedition completed the day’s scheduled programme. It was of special interest to learn that one of our passengers has a special connection with this storied expedition. Doug Graham’s great-aunt, living in England as a girl, used to play on and around the original James Caird before it was restored and placed in its present location at Dulwich College.
A special ‘formal’ dinner was held this evening to mark the crossing of the Antarctic Circle and the success of our journey to the Antarctic. A jovial time was had by all as we celebrated the occasion and looked forward to our next stop, historic Campbell Island. The Birding Club has so far had an outstanding voyage with almost a 100% rate on eyeing targeted species, both birds and mammals. This, while we still have the species rich Campbell Island to explore!
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 23: 2nd February
At sea making for Campbell Island (64⁰ S)
Rougher seas overnight and early this morning but we have adapted to shipboard conditions and we are sleeping well. We have now left the unique polar region of 24 hour daylight. We are now at 64⁰ S and steadily making our way due north. At a rate of 10mph and the distance to Campbell being 800 miles we should arrive in late afternoon on February 4, winds and weather permitting.
The day was focused on learning with two lectures and the film ‘Longitude’ on the agenda. Grigory gave a fascinating talk on one of his favourite topics ‘Sub-Glacial Lakes of Antarctica’. This opened our eyes in terms of the large number of these lakes and the fact that many of them are inter-connected. He explained the key research projects underway to better understand their characteristics and impact on the surrounding ice environment. In the afternoon Stephen gave a most interesting lecture on the Fuchs-Hillary ‘Crossing of Antarctica 1955-58’. This expedition finally completed the ‘last great journey’ and generated significant publicity and controversy which continues to occupy historians 60 years later. It also marked the end of the large privately funded expedition style of the ‘heroic age’.
During the evening those of us who were out on the bridge before turning in were witness to a most spectacular sunset from 10:00PM to 10:30PM. Hopefully, everyone will experience at least one of these magical moments before we arrive in Bluff.
Day 24: 3rd February
At sea (57⁰ S) Making for Campbell Island
We awoke to find the ship making good progress north and a temperature of +7⁰ C. which means we must have crossed the Antarctic Convergence, the wavy line where the warmer waters of the northern ocean meet the cooler water from Antarctica. We would spend another day at sea and expect to arrive at Campbell Island tomorrow night about 10:00PM. The seas and winds are normal and quieter than might be expected in the ‘furious fifties’. People are getting their photographs organised and preparing for the many opportunities we will encounter at Campbell Island. We all made a good start by attending Lisle’s excellent and most amusing presentation ‘Birding 101’. After being introduced to Lisle’s childhood he showed us why he is so passionate about the avian family. His goal of turning us all into either ‘birders’ or perhaps ‘twitchers’ shows great promise of being realised. We will all look at birds differently after this trip. We also have finally learned how to shop for a good pair of binoculars!
Later in the morning Rodney introduced us to Campbell Island, a place that he knows very well having personally participated in the revival of its natural environment. Rodney outlined the history of the island, its pastoral leases and the effects of visitors who brought cats and rats and sheep which particularly damaged the beautiful floral paradise that Sir Joseph Hooker (of James Clark Ross’ expedition) had described in 1841. In more recent times New Zealand operated a meteorological station which has now been fully automated. Fortunately a major multi-year effort was undertaken in 2001 to remove the rats, the sheep and cats having been removed earlier. This was successful and the island is now free of introduced pests and animals. Everyone on board eagerly anticipated encounters with several unique yet abundant species of flora and fauna. These include various megaherbs and sub-alpine plants including the beautiful Pleurophyllum speciosum and tussock grass Poa foliosa. There are 6 species of albatross that nest on the island including the beautiful Southern Royal and the endemic Campbell Albatross. With their return from near-extinction the New Zealand Pipit and Campbell Island Flightless Teal can be seen as well as Rockhopper and Yellow-eyed Penguins. Eager birders should achieve many new ‘ticks’.
The afternoon agenda was also kept busy with another ‘ship-shop’ and a historic documentary film ‘Foothold on Antarctica’ that described the Advance Party Expedition of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (CTAE) into the Weddell Sea which established Vivian Fuchs’ base ‘Shackleton’ on the coast at Vahsel Bay in February 1956. The day was topped off with The Antarctic Quiz organised and developed by Will and Emily. Sixty tough questions including one based on recognizing 10 different National anthems and one based on ten different animal sounds narrated by David Attenborough made it a difficult challenge indeed. Great fun was had by all even though a few protests were lodged. In the end Team Krohmoff won with 41 pts out of a possible 60 on a closely fought contest. Their team took their name from the Russian name of our ship “Professor Khromov”. We have one more night and day at sea and look to sleep in the sheltered confines of Perseverance Harbour tomorrow night.
Day 25: 4th February
At sea (54⁰ S) making for Campbell Island, 155 miles away
It’s 1:00 AM and the call came out from Lisle at the bridge. The Aurora Australis had made an appearance in the now darkened night sky! Awake - all those who want to observe one of the planet’s most beautiful phenomena! Many of us spent hours on deck staring in awe at the illuminated sky while sheets of green danced across the sky. Our journey had given us yet another opportunity to count our blessings at the marvels we have experienced.
Faye, our Cruise Director, gently woke us in the morning since many had only had a few hours sleep after enjoying the night’s light show. This morning our EL advised us the day’s programme would be on hold and to be “rigidly flexible” since the seas were hitting us on the beam due to our course for Campbell Island. We will arrive at about 11:00PM based on current conditions. Due to the heavy swell our lectures were put on hold today. This left time to add some pictures of albatross to our collection. The conditions were ideal and the birds did not disappoint. The lords of the air gave us a magnificent display of their aeronautic prowess. It was wonderful to watch as they flew in pairs or solo down until their wing-tip would brush the sea only to then glide effortlessly through the trough of the wave and then they would circle and repeat the manoeuvre. Many of us attempted to capture them on our cameras as they sailed past. It became a game but eventually with patience and practice we became more proficient and most will return home with good albatross photos. Sharon was undoubtedly our champion having taken many stunning photographs.
The sun shone all day and the Southern Ocean was at its ‘furious fifties’ best. We will all remember this day on the sea which the gallant Spirit of Enderby shrugged off as ‘just another day in the office’. Tomorrow we will awake in the calm of Perseverance Harbour at Campbell Island.
Day 26: 5th February
Campbell Island (52⁰ S)
Last night we slept like baby seals in the arms of Perseverance Harbour. The morning was a bit drizzly and there was some breeze but the front would move through during the day. We had one more ‘quarantine’ to perform as Campbell Island is ‘pest-free’, one of the largest such areas in the world. Breakfast was at 7:30AM since we had a very busy day ahead. After breakfast we gathered for a briefing where our EL explained the plan for the day. There were several options including a ‘long’ walk (12km), a Zodiac cruise through the island’s bays and historic sights, and an afternoon walk to the nesting sites of the Southern Royal Albatross or a combination of these. The weather forecast from our experienced EL was for improvement so it was all go.
Those with energy to spare chose the long walk while others chose to do the Zodiac cruise in the morning and the albatross walk in the afternoon. It all worked out perfectly with the sky clearing and the winds abating. The cruise around the bays revealed birds such as Antarctic terns, several species of gulls, and Northern Giant Petrels. The sea lions were especially welcoming as they frolicked around the Zodiacs and kept our cameras clicking with their ever-changing poses. The long-walkers were not disappointed, returning with some hints of well used muscles but were well rewarded with sightings of sea-lions and rare crested penguins. The board-walkers also had a great afternoon topped off with their visit to the largest nesting colony of Royal Albatross on the planet. There were multiple sightings of the rare Campbell Island Snipe. Sharon brought back excellent photos of the small long-beaked bird. The beautiful megaherb Pleurophyllum speciosum was in flower and its purple carpet formed the backdrop for many photographs. It was a true feast from Mother Nature which we were very fortunate to enjoy in such benign conditions.
Our evening dinner was made complete with a dessert of fine cheeses and crackers complemented with good wines and juices from the bar. It was a wonderful way to stretch our legs as our journey exited the furious fifties with its days at sea, and entered its final week. The good news is that we have another day tomorrow to more fully enjoy this special island and the natural wonders it has to offer. With all the fresh air we inhaled during the day we will certainly sleep well tonight.
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Photo credit: L. Gwynn
Day 27: 6th February
Campbell Island Perseverance Harbour (52⁰ S)
The morning call from Faye came at 7:15AM and our second day on this beautiful island had begun. The programme was similar to yesterday with minor variations as the numbers would be different on the different activities. The wind had died down and the bay was calm. Many chose the option of a day on Col Lyall with its boardwalk access to the fabulous Southern Royal Albatross nesting sites. They were not disappointed.
There was also an in-depth Zodiac cruise of the bays and this time there was success in the sighting of the elusive Campbell Island Flightless Teal (called a duck by some). Several sightings and photographs were reported of the Campbell Island Snipe, also an endangered species and fortunately on the rebound. There were eight passengers plus two staff who opted for the ascent of Mt Honey. A reasonably benign climb in good conditions, it became somewhat trickier in the deepening mist and continuing drizzle that set in after a brilliant start. After being given an enthusiastic send-off by a pair of energetic sea lions we marched with our leader, Grigory, onward and upward. There is no strong track to follow once one has navigated the more trodden mud-bowls and crossed the many streams up to the tussock area. Route finding then became more important and our leader, taking dead aim, enabled us all to ‘summit’, applying the philosophy of ‘leading from behind’ due to the eagerness of some in the group to snag a Campbell Island ‘first’. Grigory did a great job to ensure that we kept together so no one would lose their way – not an impossibility in the conditions. Many of the group then transferred at the wharf and immediately took on the Col Lyall boardwalk one more time. Others chose to return later after drying out. The weather favoured those who went early in the afternoon and who doubled their enjoyment of that spectacular walk. Dinner was set back an hour to allow maximum enjoyment of the day and frequent Zodiac shuttles were run from the ship to the island wharf. We were all grateful to our EL for this excellent ferry service that allowed everyone to enjoy the final day of at Campbell Island to the utmost.
Tonight at 11:00PM we set our course for Stewart Island with an estimated travel time of 36 hours. We will savour our final days at sea.
Day 28: 7th February
At sea (50⁰ S) heading for Stewart Island
We awoke after a restless night at sea. The Southern Ocean had decided to give us a farewell experience of its ‘rocking and rolling’ nature. This continued throughout the day which gave us all an excuse for an afternoon nap. Reading and photo organising were the order of the day. Things eased during the afternoon and the bright sunshine coaxed several hardy passengers on deck for some fresh air and a final chance to photograph the beautiful albatross.
By tomorrow morning we will have anchored in the lee of Stewart Island where we must prepare for the end of our journey – and what an amazing journey it has been.
Day 29: 8th February
Stewart Island (48⁰ S)
Everyone enjoyed much calmer seas overnight since the EL and captain agreed to modify our course slightly. Although adding a bit more distance it eased the passage considerably. By morning we were in the lee of Stewart Island and its out islands. This was our last complete day at sea and the weather turned out fine with high temperatures of 10⁰ C., little wind, and clear blue skies.
There were administrative tasks to attend to such as returning our borrowed gum-boots and our life-jackets. Three more events completed the morning activity. First off was a very interesting documentary film of the project to rid Campbell Island of its introduced rat population. This multi-year effort was completed in 2003 and involved a complex process of bait trials, geographic selection, and logistical challenges over the island’s often difficult terrain and weather conditions. Its great success will encourage similar projects on even larger islands and possibly in worldwide locations. The film was followed with a presentation by Rodney on ‘Heritage Expeditions – Behind the Scenes’. We were all interested to learn how the ship is maintained in prime running condition with both annual check-ups and a major inspection every five years. Our Russian crew are also very experienced and some have been with Heritage Expeditions for over a decade. The presentation included an entertaining video made on-board by Sherry of the techniques employed by the Chefs in the galley when seas are high. Ed and Max, together with Natalia and Olga, have not missed a beat in providing us with tasty meals, three times daily, despite sometimes very difficult conditions. Ed and Max joined us to field many questions and provide insight on how they make it all happen. All the passengers greatly appreciated their efforts behind the scenes. The morning was rounded out by our medic Dr Roger who presented on his research into the differences experienced between men and women following surgery for tonsillectomy. ‘Gender Wars – An Inflammatory Situation’ brought forth several conclusions. The most startling was the difference between genders of their sensibilities to certain types of pain. Needless to say, Roger’s talk did raise a few questions!
The afternoon hours gave an opportunity to settle our accounts and to admire the outstanding views of the east side of Stewart Island. We then gathered for a wrap-up of our adventure into the Ross Sea over the Southern Ocean with a briefing on the final day’s departure programme and acknowledgements to the excellent contributions to our trip from Captain Dimitri and his crew. We then enjoyed a beautifully prepared photographic record of our voyage prepared by Yulia and Lisle. This was based on photographs taken by them, with contributions from passengers, over the past 30 days. The video quickly reminded us of the special journey we had just completed. Copies were then made available to everyone. This will be followed by a copy of the Expedition Log post voyage that Stephen compiled daily as the trip progressed from our departure from Bluff, thirty days ago, on January 12.
A special celebration dinner was held on our last night together aboard the Spirit of Enderby and Ed and Max did themselves proud. A tasty soup puree followed by Rack of Lamb or Braised Salmon were on the menu. These were topped off by a beautiful dessert and cheese plate in the bar. Apparently the socialising went on for some time thereafter. It would be an early wake-up call of 6:45AM the next morning since everyone would be heading outward from the ship to various points north from Bluff onwards.
Day 30: 9th February
Bluff, Southland New Zealand (47⁰ S)
Our ship, the ‘Spirit of Enderby – Professor Khromov’, our home and safe haven for the past thirty days, sailed smoothly into Bluff harbour on a calm and beautiful morning shortly after 6:00AM, slightly ahead of schedule. The sea was like a pane of glass, a mirror reflecting the clear bright sunrise while the pilot boat quietly guided her to her berth. It was an early start to the day for everyone since all bags needed to be tagged red, green or white depending on destination and placed in the corridors for loading and transport. A final group photograph was taken before boarding the coach for a ride either to the airport, the hotel, or other location in Invercargill. It was fond farewells all around and the new friendships we had made were evident in the many smiles and best wishes and hugs. Staff stood at the entrance to the bus and waved one more time as the bus drove from the wharf leaving the ship and crew to prepare for her next voyage. A tear or two might have been shed for the wonderful month we had experienced together, almost as a family.
Once on terra firma and on the way to Invercargill there are two strange sensations that we all might have felt. First was the sight of farms, fences, roads, trucks and especially trees. Where had all this been for thirty days? We had literally been taken out of the ‘real world’ and it was a bit of a shock to suddenly see it all again. The second experience was the sensation that the ground was swaying, or was it us? Our bodies still thought we were at sea! Perhaps we had become sailors after all. We had learned much during our time in the Antarctic. The voyage is now over but will always be with us. We inhabit a wonderful world. We must take care of it!
The ‘Best Journey in the World’ had come to an end.
Click here for the Species List
Day 1—Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Port of Bluff
On an unusually warm afternoon, after an unusually warm morning spent visiting Invercargill’s Southland Museum and doing some last minute shopping (don’t forget your mittens), we left our hotel and went by coach to meet our ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, where it cut a crisp blue and white figure amid the timber piles and aluminium smelter at the Port of Bluff. Forty-eight brave souls climbed the gangway and began exploring the ship that would be our home for the next 34 days. The general consensus was that no one knew Invercargill could be so hot, and, before leaving port, we decided to celebrate with a group steam bath in the lecture room as our Expedition Leader and founder of Heritage Expeditions, Rodney Russ, introduced the staff, explained basic safety procedures, and issued a harrowing warning about the dire consequences of flushing toilet paper. Perspiring in only the most fetching manner, we listened carefully as our Cruise Director Julia Mishina took us through some crucial information about life on the ship, including what time the bar would be open, and we met our international team of lecturers, Agnes Brenière, Samuel Blanc, Grigory (Grisha) Tsidulko, and Marcus Thomassen, our all-important all-star chefs Connor Arcus and Matt Crouch, our government observer Ceisha Poirot, and general minion, Maggie Shipstead.
After the harbour pilot came aboard at 1700, we struck out for the Southern Ocean, and most of us took to the outside decks to enjoy the breeze and sunshine. Later, regulations required that we take a quick break from the fresh air to don life vests and climb inside the lifeboats for a roll call. Suitably horrified by the close quarters in those little orange capsules, we adjourned to the bar to drink to freedom, and those on the bridge set our course for the Snares Islands. We then had our first taste of Connor and Matt’s sublime cooking, followed by a delicately smouldering sunset over Stewart Island before bedtime. All was well, until…just as everyone was nodding off, the ever-considerate Southern Ocean set the ship to rolling.
Day 2—Thursday, February 4, 2016
Six o’clock came too quickly or too slowly, depending on whom you asked. Many spent a sleepless night sliding up and down the bunks, and a few of our number were paid a visit by the seasickness fairy. The Southern Ocean was apparently unmoved by our desire to take a Zodiac cruise around the Snares, as a strong north-westerly wind made conditions impossible for launching the boats. A group of us watched from the bridge as dawn broke slowly through the fog and the craggy, spooky shapes of the islands materialized. Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters came streaming off the islands and rafted up in groups in the white-capped water before flying out to sea—an amazing sight.
As we left the Snares and set out for the Auckland Islands, we were blessed with seas that could have been much worse and even some sunshine. An escort of seabirds swooped around the ship. Down in the lecture room, Rodney gave an introduction to the history and biology of the Auckland Islands, including the astonishing fact that the crew of the Grafton and the crew of the Invercauld were wrecked on the main island at the same time without detecting one another’s presence. We went below again a bit later for our mandatory biosecurity briefing, and then conscientiously adjourned to the bar to do vacuum cleaner battle with any stowaway seeds that might have attached themselves to our outerwear. (The battle was made particularly epic by mounting seas and an increasingly rolly battlefield.) Mercifully, we arrived before dinner in the shelter of Erebus Cove and were able to eat and (more importantly) sleep at anchor in calm waters.
Day 3—Friday, February 5, 2016
The wind kicked up overnight, gusting as high as 40-50 knots in the early hours of the morning and sending whitecaps scudding across our safe harbour. Not to be deterred, we repositioned to Sandy Bay, launched the Zodiacs, and motored to shore amongst a frolicsome welcoming committee of swimming New Zealand Sea Lions. We landed on the beach and climbed up to the huts manned by DOC researchers, who were preparing to do a post-mortem on a female Sea Lion that had died during the night and now lay in state on the beach beneath an overturned wheelbarrow. (The wheelbarrow was to keep away eager-to-assist Skuas and Giant Petrels; cause of death was later determined to be shark attack.) Male Sea Lions chased groups of females around the beach and the grassy sward adjacent to the huts while Yellow-eyed Penguins peeped out of the bush and waddled up the beach.
Some of us opted for the long 12km walk around the periphery of the island, while others were content with a trip up the boardwalk to the very, very blustery western cliffs, which were being battered by massive seas. All had the opportunity to walk a little way along the cliff to see a nesting site of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. One grey fluffball chick was visible gazing placidly out over the raging water, patiently awaiting the return of a parent with a belly full of regurgitated squid. The ‘long walkers’ had many a close encounter with Sea Lions, New Zealand Fur Seals, Yellow-eyed Penguins, Skuas and Giant Petrels. Other birds spotted included shags, cormorants, Southern Royal Albatross both on the nest and on the wing, Tomtits, Red Polls, Pippits, Dotterels, parakeets, and flightless teal. We traversed lovely grassy open spaces populated by snoozing Sea Lions and curious penguins, squished across spongy peat and moss, negotiating seemingly endless stretches of tussock grass that made us fall down, and, as a special treat, Rodney guided us through a tract of Rata forest. The sun broke through the clouds and light fell amongst the twisted trunks as we made our way along, highlighting the colours of the forest: the vibrant green of the stilbocarpa’s bowl-like leaves, the paler green of the moss that grew thickly on branches and the ground, the electric fuchsia filaments of the Rata trees’ fallen flowers where, in places, they carpeted the forest floor and filled the stilbocarpa bowls. Unusual woodland creatures — Yellow-eyed Penguins and New Zealand Sea Lions — watched as we passed. After a final long march into strong wind and through unhelpful tussock grass, the long walkers were zipped back to Shokalskiy and reunited with their fellow passengers with plenty of time to spare before the bar opened. We raised anchor and made the short trip down to Carnley Harbour in Auckland Island proper to enjoy dinner and a good night’s sleep in protected waters.
Day 4—Saturday, February 6, 2016
After breakfast, we headed out of our cozy harbour towards the open sea, passing amongst swirling clouds of Sooty Shearwaters. Once our course was set for Macquarie Island, about thirty-six hours’ sail away, the sea conditions turned out to be better than predicted, although there were still plenty of impressive swells for the wave watchers on the bridge. A quiet day passed on board as we caught up on sleep, read, ventured on deck for a bit of birding, and enjoyed, as always, the culinary offerings of Connor and Matt. In the afternoon, there was a screening of the documentary The Silent Calling, a history of the Australian Antarctic program. The film highlighted the difficulties of establishing bases in such a wildly inhospitable environment, offered the suggestion that Aussie polar scientists spend most of their time partying in silly costumes, and provided some interesting glimpses of pre-eradication Macquarie Island. After a record number of spills during a rocking and rolling cocktail hour, we had dinner (duck dumplings! profiteroles!) and settled in for our best attempt at sleeping at sea.
Day 5—Sunday, February 7, 2016
Another day dawned on the ever-dynamic Southern Ocean as we continued our course to the southwest. After breakfast we had the first of our staff lectures when Samuel talked about seabirds. Some characteristics shared by seabirds, we learned, are their long lifespans, low breeding success, pelagic lifestyles (spending >70% of time at sea), and the long distances they travel for food and/or migration. Otherwise, seabirds come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from the majestic great albatrosses to the tiny prions and Wilson’s Storm Petrels, and they exhibit varied behaviour in their nesting, feeding, and socializing. Grisha followed up with an introduction to the cetaceans of the southern hemisphere, taking us through many species of whales and dolphins, from the familiar (Humpback Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins) to the unusual (Southern Right Whale Dolphins, rare and varied beaked whales). Apart from a group of Dusky Dolphins spotted in Bluff, it’s been a cetacean-free trip so far, and we’re all anxious for the first sighting. After an Indian-inspired lunch in a dining room that felt at times like a malfunctioning carnival ride, many of us retreated to our cabins for a bit of horizontal recuperation, though those who ventured on deck were rewarded with visits from many curious seabirds (prions, Black-browed Albatross, Shy Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross —which, of course, we all now recognize thanks to Samuel). Periodic doses of sunshine turned the white-capped water a brilliant ultramarine. Macquarie Island came into sight around dinnertime and we anchored at Buckles Bay, our bow pointing towards the isthmus that is home to the scattered structures and fuel tanks of the Australian Antarctic station. After Rodney’s introduction to Macquarie, we went to sleep in sheltered waters, visions of King Penguins dancing in our heads.
Day 6—Monday, February 8, 2016
Macquarie Island runs on Australian Eastern time, so we had the advantage of an early start. Breakfast was at 7:00 ship’s time (5:00 local), followed by a briefing and then the next instalment of Biosecurity Vacuum Fest 2016. We welcomed the Macquarie rangers aboard and sailed for Sandy Bay. Despite a chilly rain, we all landed without a problem and, after a few instructions from Ranger Paul, were let loose to wander amongst thousands of King and Royal Penguins. A smallish contingent of moulting sub-adult Elephant Seals was also ashore along with quite a few ever-watchful, ever-hopeful Skuas and Giant Petrels. The tall and elegant King Penguins were delightfully inquisitive; those of us who plopped down on the charcoal-grey sand and sat still for a minute usually found ourselves surrounded by new friends who sometimes took a curious nibble at our boots or packs. Our roaming zone was defined by an enormous colony of Royal Penguins (shorter, rounder, and jauntier than the Kings, with rakish yellow feathers above the eyes) to the south and a colony of Kings to the north. In between was a rocky pool where penguins paddled and sub-adult male Elephant Seals alternately lazed around and practiced fighting by smashing their chests together, raising tails, and releasing some spectacular groans from their wide-open pink mouths. Near the end of our time ashore, the sun miraculously emerged from the mist, treating those remaining on the beach to beautiful light on the electric green hillsides, clear blue water, and brilliantly white penguin bellies.
After a late lunch and quick briefing, we relocated to Buckles Bay and, after landing, split into groups for a tour of the Australian station. Despite the occasional sand lashing from gusty winds, we all had a chance to see Gentoo and King Penguins, Elephants Seals snoozing amongst the tussock, the super cool amphibious Lark vehicles used to unload resupply ships, and the sinister digesters on the beach where sealers and oilers of the past boiled down huge numbers of animals. We also were treated to tea and scones in the station mess and climbed the two hundred step boardwalk up Razorback for a vista of the isthmus (in case the beach wasn’t windy enough). The wind made for an exciting transition from Zodiac to gangway, but we all got safely back on board thanks to Samuel and Connor’s skill at driving and heaving humans. After a late dinner to end an exhilarating day, we all collapsed into our bunks as the anchor was lifted and the course set for Antarctica.
Day 7—Tuesday, February 9, 2016
On the first day of the big crossing to Cape Adare, the Southern Ocean continued to give us substantial wind and seas. Conditions were too rough in the morning for lectures, so we all laid low and tried to make up for some of the sleep we’d missed overnight. The wave watchers on the bridge saw some massive swells sweeping up from behind the ship and some beautiful bursts of sunlight through the clouds. King Penguins were spotted swimming off the ship — a reminder of where we’d come from and also of the incredible distances travelled by Subantarctic animals.
In the afternoon, with a heavy mist typical of the Antarctic Convergence zone outside, we watched a brief documentary on the AUS$28 million rodent and rabbit eradication project on Macquarie Island. After the systematic dispersal of poison bait by helicopter eliminated the vast majority of pest animals, the project moved into its final phase as hunters with dogs scoured the island to make sure every last rabbit was gone. They lived in huts out on the island for 27 days at a time, returning to the station for only three or four days a month, and in two years, they found only fifteen rabbits. The project was declared a success in 2014.
At cocktail hour during the evening a competition was opened for which passenger could guess closest to the day and time we’d spot our first iceberg. We were approaching the ice, but the ice was also drifting towards us. After another delicious meal (beef bourguignon or fish pie) prepared by the ever-intrepid Connor and Matt in their teeter totter of a kitchen and a gorgeous sunset that even included a rainbow, we headed for bed on subsiding seas.
Day 8—Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Wednesday dawned less ferociously than Tuesday, and after breakfast the powers that be decided the time was right for some lectures. Samuel kicked things off with a talk about penguins. (Factoid: the deepest recorded dive by a penguin was an Emperor Penguin to 564m! Vocabulary word: when penguins slide and paddle along the snow on their stomachs it is called ‘tobogganing’.) Next up was the ever-illuminating Grisha, who explained how Arctic and Antarctic animals are adapted to thrive in cold climates. (Think fat and fur and also some remarkable behavioural strategies like the Emperor Penguins’ mass huddles). After lunch, Rodney gave an overview of the Antarctic Treaty with an emphasis on tourism, and then we commenced a screening of the first part (of seven!) of The Last Place on Earth, a dramatization of Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole. Sea conditions remained pleasant and the sky relatively blue throughout the day, and there were some magnificent pink fluffy clouds on display at sunset. Life at sea was treating us well.
Day 9—Thursday, February 11, 2016
We were awoken slightly earlier than usual by the dulcet tones of Rodney on the intercom, letting everybody know that our first iceberg had been sighted. As we emerged into the bright light of a blue sky morning, we were greeted by the sight of not one, not two, but three tabular icebergs off the starboard side. And what a sight! Astonishingly enormous and starkly beautiful, the icebergs showed new faces as we passed them, revealing sheer ice cliffs, spectacular caves and eroded towers.
Agnes gave a lecture on albatrosses: creatures of legend, fascinating wild animals and our frequent companions at sea. Our afternoon lecture ‘Amundsen: How and Why He Stole the Pole’ was courtesy of Marcus, who is on loan to us from the Fram Museum in Oslo. Marcus shared many photographs, drawings and lantern slides from the Amundsen South Pole expedition as well as videos of the Fram Museum’s recreations of life at the expedition’s camp, Framheim. It was difficult to fault the Norwegians’ planning and efficiency, although we were all be grateful not to have been one of their sled dogs. The gruelling quest towards the end of The Last Place on Earth continued in the late afternoon, followed by happy hour in the bar and another stellar dinner from Connor and Matt. This in turn was followed by a gentle (and ever later) sunset, followed by either peaceful sleep on the very slightly rocking ship or a contemplative wait for the expected very early morning crossing of a certain special line of latitude.
Day 10—Friday, February 12, 2016
A momentous event! Just before 1:00am, we crossed the Antarctic Circle, 66°34’S, the line below which the sun never sets in the southern summer. Very few people cross this line by ship, and a small crowd gathered on the bridge to mark the occasion. After a few more hours’ sleep, the occasion was marked again after breakfast with mulled wine in the bar/library as Rodney reminded us of the rich history of exploration in the region and administered the following vow:
“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, I 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 promise I will, until I take my last expedition, advocate to everybody, even those who will not listen, the importance of the Antarctic and its wildlife.”
Later in the morning, those who had mentally committed to the privations and rigors of The Last Place on Earth retired to the lecture room for a screening of part three. Things were looking decidedly Antarctic out there today, as we travelled through a heavy mist and light snow for most of the day. A few Minke Whales made fleeting appearances, and two Humpbacks passed very close to the ship and were seen by those lucky enough to be on the bridge at the right moment. After lunch some retail therapy was available in the bar/library, as Julia opened the Sea Shop, and tempting wares were on offer. Everything from t-shirts to hand warmers to photo books to plush penguins was closely scrutinised.
Next on the agenda was a lecture/briefing by Rodney on the history of exploration in the Ross Sea (he knew we needed such a lesson when we expressed ignorance of Nobu Shirase, the leader of the 1912 Japanese expedition) followed by a general briefing on our plans, hopes and dreams for our time in Antarctica. The current ice map, which Rodney shared with us, looked decidedly light on ice, which will hopefully increase the odds of ticking off our wish list of landings in the Ross Sea. Nothing is for sure, but there is much to hope for and dream about during our last sleep at sea.
Day 11—Saturday, February 13, 2016
We were finally there! We actually, really and truly were now in Antarctica. After some rolling at night as we pushed through quite a bit of ice, we found almost miraculously excellent conditions for a landing on Ridley Beach, site of a hut from the 1899 Norwegian British Antarctic Expedition led by Carsten Borchgrevink and a ruined hut from Scott’s 1911-1914 Terra Nova expedition, as well as the world’s largest Adelie Penguin colony (although this time of year the population is not at its peak). Our landing site was amongst push ice and penguins, with a stunning view across the bay to Mt Minto, its summit wrapped in cloud. A tabular iceberg full of blue caves floated on the water. We all had a chance to photograph penguins and to venture inside the hut. Currently the artefacts left by the Borchgrevink expedition are in the care of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, as they are scheduled for restoration and will be returned at the end of the process, but with the aid of our torches we could see graffiti left on the bunk ceilings, including a beautiful ink portrait of a young woman’s profile.
After a nice long time on the beach and in the hut with mild temperatures and little wind, we returned to the ship and assembled a crack team of mountaineers who wished to climb the 350m ridge at Cape Adare itself and seek out the grave of Nicolai Hanson, a young biologist on the Borchgrenvik expedition. Rodney pointed out that Hanson must have had a sense of humour to make it his dying wish to be buried in such an inhospitable and difficult-to-access site (especially since he died in October), and as we climbed the very steep rock and snow, we were all grateful not to be dragging an occupied coffin along with us. Adelie Penguins turn out to be crack mountaineers themselves and would occasionally fall in with our queue as we ascended. We continued to pass groups of penguins camped out on the sheer and exposed slope almost all the way to the summit. Some mountains have timberlines, but ours had a penguin line, one witty climber pointed out; at the very top, there were no more penguins, just wheeling Skuas scolding us for trespassing.
Once all were reunited back aboard, we raised anchor and set a course for Possession Island, which was discovered by Sir James Clark Ross in January, 1841 along with its close neighbour, Foyn, landed upon, and claimed for Queen Victoria. The islands have special significance on this trip, as amongst our group are Ross’s great-great-grandson James Ross, his wife Sara and their niece Philippa (great-great-great Granddaughter of Sir James Clark Ross). Although conditions weren’t workable for a landing, as the sun dropped low behind conical Mt Herschel and cast a glow over the ice, Rodney and Samuel took the Rosses for a (freezing) sunset Zodiac cruise. Although the family wasn’t able to replicate their forebear’s landing, they did manage to scramble out onto an ice floe and unfurl the family crest for a photo op. We lingered for another hour to enjoy the gorgeous light and landscape and then set a course for the Bay of Whales.
Day 12—Sunday, February 14, 2016
Looking outside, you would never have known we were in Antarctic waters today. The sun shone in a blue sky, and the Ross Sea maintained a nearly flat calm. Only the occasional iceberg on the horizon and the decidedly chilly breeze on deck gave away our latitude. Lectures were plentiful (sadly, whales less so), and we heard an account of the life and Antarctic explorations of James Clark Ross from Samuel, learned the secrets of sea ice from Agnes (new vocabulary word: polynya, meaning ice hole, or an area of open water amid otherwise closed ice) and were educated by Grisha about the need for a Marine Protection Area in the Ross Sea and the process by which one might hopefully be established. The Rosses treated us all to a toast of New Zealand sparkling wine in the bar, which was a lovely occasion to celebrate the accomplishments of their illustrious ancestor and our trip in his wake thus far. Other amusements included a delicious lunch of chicken curry and the screening of part four of The Last Place on Earth. Groups of beautiful all-white Snow Petrels made appearances around the ship in the evening. They have become the favourites of the wildlife spotters on the bridge. Conditions remained smooth as we went to bed, heading ever southward in our sleep.
Day 13—Monday, February 15, 2016
At Sea, Arrival in the Bay of Whales
We started the day with two special talks from members of the Ross family. James Ross spoke about Sir James Clark Ross’s personality and family life, and Philippa Ross shared her passion for the protection of the Ross Sea and her work to establish a non-profit organisation dedicated to the health of the oceans. After lunch, Samuel spoke about icebergs and explained how they are formed and why we don’t go too close to them. (For those who missed it: because at any moment an iceberg might calve or topple over, possibly crushing us or possibly generating dangerous waves.) We also watched Ice Byrd, a film made shortly after Richard Byrd’s successful 1929 flight from his Ross Sea base, Little America, to the South Pole and back. Although the old-timey commentary bordered on the silly, the aerial footage taken by the expedition’s cinematographer was well worth a few overwrought similes. After two days of semi-miraculous weather, heavy fog closed in as we approached the Bay of Whales, so Rodney and the captain decided that we would remain ten or so miles away from the ice shelf overnight and hope for better visibility in the morning.
Day 14—Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Bay of Whales, At Sea
Our wake-up call came early this morning, as Rodney got on the P.A. at 5:40 to announce that we were underway again and heading into the Bay of Whales with hopes of setting a world record for the southernmost ship ever. Conditions on the bridge, he added, were “quite spectacular.” Indeed they were! A band of white light on the horizon separated low grey clouds from a dark sea. Mist rose off the water and loose ice floes clumped to starboard. The ship took on a white patina as frost collected on the decks and rigging. Those who ventured outside agreed that it was indeed cold out there. Snow Petrels glided around the ship as slowly, the Ross Ice Shelf rose into view. Soon we were close enough to get our first good look at the sheer face of the ice cliff and the brilliant hues of blue and aqua cut in with all the white. A small cluster of Adélie Penguins stood at the edge, and two more groups were visible in the distance. Carefully, carefully the captain nudged the bow southwards into the bay, inching closer and closer to the ice until the GPS read 78°43.971’S. A new world record! Thanks to the shape of the ice shelf, we were able to edge out the former southernmost ship, the yacht Arctic P, by a matter of metres. We had a very southerly breakfast, did one more loop to see if we could improve on our record (we couldn’t), and then headed back out to sea as the fog closed in again.
The rest of the day was spent fairly quietly, as most of us wanted to catch up on some sleep. Marcus gave a follow-up lecture to his first presentation on Amundsen with a more detailed account of life at Framheim. Incidentally, the section of ice where Framheim was built calved long ago, delivering the cleverly designed Norwegian camp to a last resting place somewhere on the ocean floor. The location of Framheim is, in fact, currently open water. There was also a screening of the documentary The Last Ocean, which makes a powerful argument against commercial fishing in the Ross Sea region (note to all: don’t buy ‘Antarctic Toothfish’ or ‘Chilean Sea Bass’) and advocates for the establishment of a Marine Protection Area, a goal that has so far sadly gone unrealized. The Last Place on Earth continued on. Those expeditioners still making the journey with Amundsen and Scott have certainly learned a thing or two about stamina! Calm seas for sleeping.
Day 15—Wednesday, February 17, 2016
At Sea, Arrival at McMurdo Sound
The bridge was the place to be today as we made our way along the Ross Ice Shelf towards McMurdo Sound. At times the shelf fell off the horizon and we could see only open water, but during the late morning we hugged it closely and took a good look. The scale of Antarctica boggles the mind. In the early afternoon, Marcus gave us a talk on Robert Falcon Scott’s controversial tragic-but-heroic 1910-1912 Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, and it was a treat to see so many extraordinary photographs by expedition photographer Herbert Ponting. As we approached Cape Crozier, the faint outline of Mt Terror appeared, rising from Ross Island ahead and coming into crisper and crisper focus as the day progressed. The whale reconnaissance team on the bridge had an exciting moment when 3nd officer Dimitri spotted a large pod of Orca directly ahead. The first group passed well out to starboard; the second group split neatly around the bow, and those bundled up and standing outside up front were rewarded with a very close encounter. Our whale expert Grisha, out shooting ID photos with his long lens, estimated we saw approximately thirty individuals.
Later we passed Mt Erebus (with a thin tendril of smoke rising from its crater) and Cape Royds and in the evening, as the sun dipped toward conical Mt Discovery and the Transantarctic Mountains, we arrived at our anchorage just off McMurdo Station. The golden evening light was so beautiful that even the sprawling and unlovely American base looked . . . well, sprawling and unlovely, but in the most flattering possible light!
Day 16—Thursday, February 18, 2016
McMurdo Station, Scott Base
Base day! After an early start we landed in groups beside McMurdo’s ice pier and were met by our American hosts. We visited the National Science Foundation’s chalet-style headquarters (with a very nice deck looking out towards Mt Discovery), swung through the Crary Laboratory and the Chapel of the Snows, saw some of the meteorological and communications offices, had a cup of tea in a Quonset-hut-turned-coffee-shop-and-wine-bar, and, of course, hit the gift shop. After we had washed the dust of civilization off our boots, Connor and Matt treated us to a lunch of hot soup and chocolate chip muffins before we headed back to civilization again, this time to New Zealand’s Scott Base.
The kiwis were gracious enough to pick us up at the landing spot in vehicles and drive us over the saddle to their Antarctic home, an interconnected collection of buildings all painted a cheerful cucumber green. Our guides took us around outside, and we looked out over an endless-seeming sheet of ice and snow. Distant clumps of structures and vehicles marked the ice runways, and closer in were dozens of dark, inert lumps on the ice which turned out to be resting Weddell Seals. Inside, we toured various rooms in which science happens, a large storage space for field gear, the canteen and bar, and an extremely pleasant lounge overlooking the ice. After a pass through the shop, we returned to the ship for dinner.
Some suspense lingered as we went to sleep, since Rodney had given instructions to the crew to wake him if the wind dropped below five knots so that we might mount an expedition up Observation (Obs) Hill, a steep and barren volcanic cone at the far side of the station. Would the wind drop? Would we venture bravely out into the cold in the wee hours?
Day 17—Friday, February 19, 2016
No, the wind did not drop overnight, and, at anchor, we slept without interruption. We woke to brisk wind on a very cold morning, cold enough that ice began to form on the surface of the sea around the ship. In groups of eight, we landed at our now-familiar spot beside McMurdo’s ice pier and walked up the dirt road to Discovery Hut. The hut, which was of Australian design and has an overhanging veranda, was built by Scott’s 1902 expedition but was used mostly for storage and as a theatre rather than for accommodation. Later expeditions, including Shackleton’s Nimrod and Imperial Trans-Antarctic expeditions, took further advantage of the shelter. Given the hut’s relative accessibility, its artefacts have been somewhat picked over, but still there was much of interest inside. We all learned some new things, such as that on top of a mummified seal is not a good place to set one’s backpack and also that being outside on a windy -22°C day gets cold quickly. (This is something Scott and Shackleton and their men must have known very well, and a day like today can only deepen our respect for what they endured.) Most of us walked up to the nearby cross placed as a memorial to seaman George T. Vince, who slipped on an area known as 'Danger Slope', but few of us lingered. At the end of the morning, the staff did linger, however, on the freezing, misty sea when the Zodiac fuel line iced up. We stared longingly at the Shokalskiy (so close, yet so far) until Rodney, a snowman after driving Zodiacs all morning, fixed the problem and became our hero.
Lunch was a welcome opportunity to warm up and refuel before the long-awaited climb up Obs Hill. Some of those who raised their hands at the morning briefing found that their enthusiasm had frozen and cracked during the first landing, and attrition winnowed the numbers down to a hardy eleven plus staff. Rodney marched us through McMurdo at a good clip, and we scrambled more or less straight up the dusty, rocky 230m slope with few rest stops. From the summit, we took in a magnificent view of McMurdo, Scott Base, the ice shelf, the Transantarctic Mountains, and Shokalskiy at anchor in McMurdo Sound. We paused only long enough to snap a few photos before we began the scramble back down to the ship to join our compatriots for tea and (stronger) drinks that have never tasted so good.
We finished the day with a cruise along the ice shelf in hopes of encountering wildlife, although what we found was mostly new sea ice in various stages of formation. The sight was both beautiful and interesting: a perfect illustration of Agnes’s sea ice lecture, as we passed through frazzle into small and delicate pancake ice that resembled floating masses of translucent jellyfish to larger and more solid pancakes to young ice on its way to being next year’s sea ice. In areas, the pancake ice took on a yellowish-brownish tinge from the phytoplankton that grows on it and forms the basis for the Antarctic food chain. As we passed into open water, we headed for Cape Royds, where we would anchor and spend the night.
Day 18—Saturday, February 20, 2016
Cape Royds, Cape Evans
The weather gods smiled on Akademik Shokalskiy and its denizens this morning, a smile that translated into a 5:00am wake-up call from Rodney so we might take advantage of the perfect landing conditions. We came to shore on a flat sea and made our way up a gentle slope past a smattering of sunbathing Weddell Seals. Ice gave way to black lava rock and gravel as we continued uphill and over undulating terrain until we found ourselves looking down upon Ernest Shackleton’s hut from his 1908-1909 Nimrod expedition, nestled into a rocky hollow and kept company by Adélie Penguins and circling Skuas. Inside the hut, socks and trousers hang on lines, bunks are made with varying degrees of tidiness, and provisions line the shelves. It was easy to imagine Shackleton and his men clustered around the stove or resting in their bunks. Outside, we made the most of an extremely beautiful bluebird morning. The penguins agreed to be photographed, as did the Transantarctic Mountains across the water, and Mt Erebus even sent up a plume of smoke for us. After a long stay onshore, we returned to the ship for brunch and raised anchor to make our way the short nine miles to Cape Evans.
Refuelled with scrambled eggs and croissants thanks to Connor and Matt and briefed thanks to Rodney, we got back in the Zodiacs landed just a stone’s throw from Scott’s Terra Nova hut, and what an absolutely spectacular afternoon we were given. The sky remained blue; the wind remained non-existent; Mt Erebus kept sending up a steady plume of smoke; a Weddell Seal obligingly spent hours snoozing and posing for us just behind the hut; Adélie Penguins clustered on the hillsides, and four moulting Emperor Penguins held court on a high ridge. (Fortunately, they imposed no limits on the number of photographs they were willing to sit for.) Of course, the highlight of the visit was the hut itself, a haunting relic of Scott’s intrepid and stalwart party, long gone but still remembered. On such a stunning day, no one was in a hurry to get back to the ship, and everyone had ample time to explore the stables and living areas, shine torches into Ponting’s darkroom, examine the poignant wall decorations (dogs, horses, women), and imagine Scott sitting at his desk or lying in his bunk. The last stragglers returned to the ship after a solid four hours onshore and a very memorable day.
As we steamed away from Cape Evans, the water turned glassy flat, reflecting pink clouds and the white face of Mt Erebus, and we had another chance to marvel at the beauty and various shapes, sizes, and colours of pancake ice. We approached a very large and unusually positioned iceberg around the time most passengers were drifting off to bed, and those night owls who lasted until midnight were treated to a golden sunset over an icy sea.
Day 19—Sunday, February 21, 2016
Our lucky streak continued, here on the good ship Shokalskiy, and we had excellent conditions for another lovely morning ashore. (Not as excellent as yesterday, perhaps, but still gentle by Antarctic standards.) We landed at Cape Bird amid a colony of Adélie Penguins and downhill from a weather station and group of green huts belonging to the New Zealand Antarctic Program. The sky was overcast, the wind light, and most passengers enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the icy shore, taking in the penguin scene. This year’s remaining chicks, still downy, swarmed any passing adult hoping to be fed.
Other expeditioners (presumably those who didn’t mind being dive-bombed by Skuas) preferred the high road up along the glacial moraine. The far end of the beach opened onto a magnificent view of the glacier, and there were a few icebergs kicking around as well, crewed by Adélies. The big news was that a lone Emperor Penguin was hanging out on the beach. While we photographed our hearts out, it gazed out to sea, shuffled amongst the Adélies, and occasionally pointed its beak and called skyward. Unlike the slightly scruffy Emperors we saw yesterday, this one wasn’t moulting and we had ample opportunity to admire its sleek beauty.
We were at sea for the afternoon and early evening, arriving at Franklin Island around dinner time. Well-fortified by the chefs, we queued up again at the starboard gangway and set out in the Zodiacs for a night landing. Night, of course, in such a high latitude is relative, and from the time we landed until the last Zodiac out at 22:30, the island was bathed in golden light as the sun dipped towards (but not below) the horizon. Fresh snow covered Franklin’s beach and high ridge and long icicles dangled from the glaciered cliffs. We had yet another chance to visit with Adélie Penguins and Weddell Seals and another lone Emperor made the scene, surrounded by a crèche of hopeful, hungry Adélie chicks. The sight of so many chicks onshore this late in the season is increasingly poignant, as their chances of survival are increasingly small. But the opportunity to see the workings of nature (harsh as they may be) in a pristine environment is a privilege not soon forgotten.
Day 20—Monday, February 22, 2016
Terra Nova Bay
After a quiet morning at sea, we anchored in Terra Nova Bay not far from the new South Korean base, Jang Bogo, which was completed in 2014. The Koreans graciously agreed to host a visit, and when we went ashore in the early afternoon, we were met by the station’s doctor, Dr Kim, who would be part of the eleven man overwintering team accompanied by several Weddell Seals. He led us up a dirt-and-gravel road to the station’s main building, a bright blue, angular, highly modern-looking metal structure that he called the Antarctic bluebird. Our tour took us around the outside of the main building and power plant and we also saw two helicopters resting in the shadow of the spectacular Campbell Glacier and some small modular structures, also blue. A football goal stood nearby, partially buried in snow. Although we’d expected to be very cold on this landing, we found ourselves in the sunshine and well sheltered from the katabatic wind. As our guide led us up a hill towards a white tower built for atmospheric readings and our ultimate goal of a frozen lake where Skuas nest, some of us experienced the now foreign sensation of being too warm. We descended again and took a look at the Korean jetty and a dive Zodiac that was out on the water near the glacier before returning to our landing site and the ship.
The anchor was raised and we set out for Inexpressible Island, where Scott’s Northern Party was forced to overwinter in a snow cave. The conditions at Inexpressible are inexpressibly unpredictable, as very high katabatic winds can come up in a matter of minutes, with the potential to trap landing parties ashore. Though the wind dropped enough around 22:30 for Rodney to brief those who wanted to land, it came back up again before we could even put on our layers, rendering conditions too dangerous for a landing. The would-be landers convened on the bridge and were consoled by the site of a full moon skimming the tops of the northern foothills. We went to bed ready to try again at any hour if the wind dropped.
Day 21—Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Alas, the wind only continued to rise overnight, and by breakfast time we had to give up on the possibility of a landing at Inexpressible Island. (As patches of ice were forming on the water amongst the whitecaps, a few of us might have been secretly relieved to have stayed snug in our bunks anyway!) So we set off again, northbound, passing craggy Cape Washington and running alongside a gorgeous coastline of (surprise!) glaciers, icebergs, and snow covered mountains. Downstairs we watched the documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice by Anthony Powell (who was spotted hanging around the Scott Base gift shop when we visited and was pleased to sign DVDs), which offered insight into the experience of wintering over at McMurdo and Scott Base. Marcus gave us part one of a lecture on Shackleton, focusing on his role in the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovery expedition, led by Scott. Later in the afternoon Grisha gave a talk about sub-glacial lakes, a fascinating area of ongoing scientific inquiry that has teams from the UK, U.S., and Russia using various means to drill through kilometres of ice to get to hidden pockets of liquid water underneath. Throughout the day we passed through large expanses of pancake ice, and the view from the bridge was a mesmerizing vista of gelatinous-looking water undulating slowly with the swell. At times we passed quite close to the ice edge, and some lucky passengers spotted more Emperor Penguins and two Beaked Whales.
Day 22—Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Cape Hallett, Cape Adare
We all received an early wake-up call this morning, as Rodney wanted to alert us to some extreme natural beauty happening off the bow. Those who heeded the call found themselves gazing over a broken field of sea ice as sunrise made the snowy Transantarctic Mountains blush pink while a full moon hung above the peaks. We lingered for forty-five minutes until the Antarctic day had fully dawned (well, the ship lingered while some of us returned to bed) and then set a course for our old acquaintances, the Possession Islands.
Antarctica gave us another beautiful sunny day, optimal for watching the coastline pass from the bridge or deck. What was completely open water on our way down to the Bay of Whales eleven days ago is now interrupted in places by expanses of sea ice that runs the gamut from translucent pancakes to thick floes. As we pushed through the heaviest ice, watchers on the bow spotted Crabeater and Weddell Seals, Adélie and Emperor Penguins, and many traces left on the floes’ snowy tops by both: deep chutes made by scooting seals, penguin footprints with the marks of dragging tails between, and narrow chutes where penguins had tobogganed along on their bellies. We had hoped to make a second landing at Cape Adare, but the ice was too dense for us to even get close, let alone safely drive the Zodiacs. Since there were a few spectacular icebergs nearby, it was decided that we would cruise around them and take a closer look before saying our official goodbye to the continent. As we approached two large tabular icebergs, Grisha, standing at the bow, spotted the blows of a large group of Orca feeding near the ice. We approached slowly and were fortunate enough to have an extended encounter as some of the whales passed close alongside the ship and others, their dorsal fins making a circle above the water, demonstrated a feeding behaviour in which they corralled a group of fish and stunned them with tail slaps. After a slow loop around to give everyone a good look at these amazing animals, we left the whales to their business and set our course away from the Antarctic continent and towards the Balleny Islands.
Day 23—Thursday, February 25, 2016
At Sea, Arrival in the Ballenys
Today was a sea day, and we kept busy with lectures and screenings. Marcus started things off with a talk on Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, in which a new furthest south was set but hopes of reaching the pole had to be abandoned in favour of keeping the polar party (Shackleton and three other men) alive. The photos of the huts at Cape Royds and Hut Point have special meaning for us now that we’ve been inside them. Later in the morning we had a Ross Sea debrief. Rodney drew one of his excellent whiteboard maps for the occasion (the Ross Sea, with an inset of Ross Island), and looking at his rendering of our route and many landings, it was difficult not to feel a sense of accomplishment. We’ve been so lucky with sea and ice conditions, and the wish list we set out almost two weeks ago has been almost entirely ticked off. Agnes took us through the bird species we’d seen in the Ross Sea which included the South Polar Skua, Adélie Penguins, Emperor Penguins, Lesser and Greater Snow Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrel and the Southern Giant Petrel. Samuel then talked about Sir James Clark Ross and sea ice. Grisha presented an overview of the marine mammals we have encountered Crabeater and Weddell Seals, Minke, Humpback and Orca Whales and, for a lucky few, Arnoux’s Beaked Whale. Marcus then finished up with a whirlwind tour of the heroic era of exploration focusing on Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton.
After lunch it was movie time. First, we screened The Worst Journey in the World, a dramatization of the three-man mid-winter trek undertaken from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier in order to collect Emperor Penguin eggs and eloquently chronicled by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in a book of the same title. Next up was Solid Water, Liquid Rock, a documentary about Mt Erebus, although the screening was cut slightly short when a group of Humpback Whales appeared and drew most of us to the bridge or bow. By this time, Sturge Island, the southernmost in the Balleny group, was in view on the horizon, a forbidding mass of rock and ice. After dinner, we cruised up the eastern side of the island, admiring the overhanging ice cliffs and witnessing, at one point, an avalanche into the sea. As the waters around the Ballenys are poorly charted, the captain headed for deep water where we could safely drift during the night.
Day 24—Friday, February 26, 2016
Breakfast was at 6:30 this morning safely off of Sabrina Island, site of the only colony of Chinstrap Penguins in the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean. There had been a bit of an ice situation in the wee hours, but Rodney and the captain sorted it out while the rest of us were in dreamland. We split into two groups for a Zodiac cruise out to Sabrina, a very rugged ice-covered volcanic protrusion where Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins stood on a snowy slope and Weddell Seals did their usual thing on the shore while Cape Petrels circled up near the top of a black spire. Despite snow, swell and ice, both groups got their chance to admire this harsh and rarely visited island and its inhabitants.
While lunch was being served, the staff made a quick reconnaissance mission to Borradaile Island to investigate the possibility of a landing. Ultimately, going ashore was ruled impractical, as it was a long, cold run to the island and the narrow beach was guarded not only by a belt of push ice but also by eleven Weddell Seals that we decided not to disturb. We exited the Antarctic in truly scenic fashion as we sailed along the west coast of Young Island, the northernmost of the Ballenys. Under a blue sky, cloud snagged on the island’s high ridge and poured down over a slope of rock and ice, revealing bits and pieces of cliffs and glaciers and forming a rainbow behind the ship. Orcas fed near the coast and we passed an iceberg so stunning that we doubled back to give it another look. A pointed crown of ice, its shallowly submerged middle glowing bright aquamarine and its summit was circled by a flock of Snow Petrels. Even the blasé Russian sailors were spotted out on the back deck having their photos taken against the magnificent backdrop. Then, as Cape Ellsworth fell behind the stern and we passed through a few final belts of push ice, dark clouds gathered on the horizon, a fittingly sombre sight as we left the Antarctic and set our course for Campbell Island.
Day 25—Saturday, February 27, 2016
It was an extremely quiet ship today as a sizeable swell was hitting us right on the beam and some of us were struggling to regain our sea legs. Conditions were unsuitable for lecturing, so we passed the time in our own ways: reading, perhaps, or catching up on sleep, or reflecting on our time in Antarctica, or begging the sea to stop moving around so much. (It didn’t listen.) Those heroes in the kitchen, Connor and Matt, put out three delicious meals despite the distinctly unhelpful motion of the ocean and the bar remained tended and attended despite the near impossibility of keeping a glass or bottle upright. The good news, as we moved into warmer waters, was the slow return of our seabird entourage. Today those keeping vigil in the bridge had had their first sightings of Black-browed and Wandering Albatross as well as Sooty Shearwaters, Giant Petrels and Antarctic Prions. There was also a morning sighting of rare Hourglass Dolphins, which briefly rode our bow wave before peeling off to attend to dolphin business. Otherwise, the day proceeded quietly as we made our way north through the Southern Ocean.
Day 26—Sunday, February 28, 2016
Those hoping for a better night’s sleep were, for the most part, disappointed, as we still had a good roll going on. But the mood on board (at least among those who emerged from their cabins) remained stalwart and cheerful. Although conditions were still a bit too washing machine-like downstairs for lectures, for those with stout constitutions there was a screening of Longitude, a mini-series based on the book by Dava Sobel about the development of a means to calculate longitude at sea. In the afternoon, we screened Blackfish, a powerful and disturbing documentary about Orca whales in captivity that triggered protests and eventually a policy change at the Sea World parks, which have announced their intention to phase out captive Orca programs. Bar time was well attended and offered only a few minor spills for excitement, and dinner was another feat of skill and daring by the chefs. The sea was slightly more cooperative around bedtime than on the past two nights, but we were still looking forward to a couple nights at anchor at Campbell.
Day 27—Monday, February 29, 2016
At Sea, Arrival at Campbell Island
Our last day at sea before Campbell Island dawned quite stormy, as heavy rain and occasional hail fell on a dark, white-capped sea. Two intrepid lecturers with excellent balance offered morning talks in the rocking and rolling auditorium: Marcus on the history and purpose of the Fram Museum in Oslo, and Grisha on the recovery and possible recolonization dynamics of the Gray Whale. After lunch the sun peeked out, and watchers on the bridge took in a scene of deep blue waves and streaming white foam against which the occasional passing albatross cut a clean silhouette. The officers on watch had opened one of the bridge’s front windows, and it felt like the height of decadence to lean against a warm radiator with a fresh sea breeze in our faces. Antarctic jackets were collected and thanked for their service. (Salt stains and the occasional whiff of penguin guano suggested they’d been put to good use.) The swell persisted right until the last minute, when we turned to port and entered the shelter of Perseverance Harbour. For those watching on the bridge, our arrival was an impressive piece of seamanship, as the night was very, very dark, the wind was high, and the island couldn’t be seen until we were right on top of it. But thanks to radar and GPS and good old Russian know-how we made a safe anchorage around 23:00 and fell into a good night’s sleep on beds that remained mercifully stable.
Day 28—Tuesday, March 1, 2016
The day began in a blustery way, here at Campbell Island, with whitecaps on the harbour and the occasional rain squall blowing through. Groups of Sooty Shearwaters were out on the wing and the water, as were gulls and albatrosses. Armed with miniature candy bars, juice boxes, and a will to succeed, a group of twenty five intrepid passengers plus Rodney, Maggie, and Ceisha put ashore at the dock at Beeman Cove to do ‘the long walk’. This was much more than a seven hour stroll over varied terrain and elevation, starting with some tussock and grassland, edging along a rocky inlet, climbing up onto a plateau of sphagnum moss and up still further to a cliff overlooking the rugged and gorgeous west coast. (A dry landing did not necessarily ensure a dry hike, and the long walkers negotiated many a gully that fell somewhere between the very muddy to the bottomless morass scale.) From the cliffs, the small, craggy isle of Dent (French for ‘tooth’ —it looks like a tooth) was visible. Southern Royal and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross glided overhead. We made our way along the cliffs through tussock grass and then down a stretch of trail Rodney described as “a wee bit overgrown” and necessitated clinging to tussocks and dracophyllum branches as we descended through a steep gully. We emerged onto the pebble beach of North West Bay (where a Sea Lion greeter was waiting) and settled down to have lunch in the sunshine. A Campbell Island Teal, a member of a flightless duck species endemic to the island group and once thought extinct, paddled in the shallows. More dramatic, blustery scenery awaited after lunch, and the route passed close to many nesting Southern Royal Albatross, a few of whom were kind enough to stand up and offer brief glimpses of their new, fluffy white chicks. After a few more ascents and one long final descent, we reached Camp Cove, site of the ‘world’s loneliest tree’ (a Sitka spruce planted in the early 1900's) and were picked up by Samuel and Connor.
Those who opted not to take the ‘long walk’ spent the morning Zodiac cruising Perseverance Harbour and after lunch made an ascent up a boardwalk through tussocks and dracophyllumand megaherbs to Col Lyall, a favourite nesting spot of Southern Royal Albatross. Some birds offered glimpses of their chicks as they preened and fed them, and others were observed soaring overhead and landing to gam. Gamming is essentially an albatross hangout session and is how younger birds find their eventual mates. While gamming, the birds might point their bills to the sky and call out, spread their wings, preen themselves and each other, clack their bills, and exhibit other nuanced behaviours that add up to an elaborate and charming dance. All were reunited aboard Shokalskiy for a delicious dinner and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep at anchor.
Day 29—Wednesday, March 2, 2016
If yesterday began in a blustery way, today began in a misty one. We all laid low for the morning in hopes that the sky might clear. Those looking for stimulation had the option to watch a film about the massive effort that went into eradicating rats and mice from Campbell and another about the (related) story of the rediscovery of the Campbell Island Teal. The teal was, from the early 20th century, thought extinct due to predation on eggs and chicks by Norway rats, but in 1975 a small population was discovered on Dent Island, which had never been infested by rats. A portion of that population was removed for the purposes of captive breeding, and after the successful eradication of rodents from the main island, the teal was reintroduced there in 2004 and has been thriving ever since.
The fog lifted somewhat after lunch, and our three options were laid out: a steep climb up Mt Honey, the highest mountain on the island, a return visit to the boardwalk at Col Lyall, or cozy relaxation in the bar/library. Only four hardy souls plus Rodney and Maggie signed up for the Mt Honey attempt, and although fog made pushing for the summit a bit pointless, they were consoled by the opportunity to recline in the tussocks and watch a magnificent albatross show as fifty or sixty birds soared and gammed in groups of up to nine individuals. More soaring, gamming, and nesting was on display up Col Lyall, although the mist remained fairly heavy. The bar/library was certainly home to some tea-fuelled gamming as well, though precious little soaring. After dinner, we reluctantly left the shelter of Perseverance Harbour and set a course for a return visit to the Auckland Islands.
Day 30—Thursday, March 3, 2016
At Sea, Auckland Island
Sea conditions left something to be desired this morning, but those who attended the screening of the New Zealand television dramatization of the saga of the Grafton, which wrecked in Carnley Harbour on Auckland Island in January, 1864, felt we had little to complain about. The crew survived for nineteen months on the island under punishing conditions, at which point they gave up on rescue and decided to enlarge the ship’s dinghy and sail for New Zealand. Three men spent six harrowing days on stormy seas before reaching Stewart Island. They raised money and found a ship willing to take them back to retrieve their remaining two companions. Oddly enough, another ship, the Invercauld, was wrecked with nineteen survivors on Auckland Island at the same time the Grafton men were living ashore, but the two crews never encountered each other. Only three of the Invercauld’s nineteen survived long enough (one year and ten days) to be rescued by a passing Peruvian vessel. In the afternoon we came into the shelter of Port Ross, at the northern end of Auckland Island, within sight of our old friend Enderby Island. The day was warm and we went ashore at the site of the short-lived Hardwicke Settlement, established in 1849 as a British colony and whaling station and abandoned just over two years later. From the landing site, a boardwalk led up past what was once a castaway depot to a small and poignant cemetery containing the graves of a handful of settlers and mariners, including two infants and the second mate of the Invercauld. A different track led through the Rata forest to the Victoria tree, a twisted, moss-covered stump that bears a carved message that Her Majesty’s Colonial Ship HMCS Victoria had stopped to look for castaways in October, 1865 captained by Norman. Bellbirds serenaded us from the leafy canopy, and two Sea Lion pups tussled in a den under some ferns where their mother had left them. When time came for us to leave, several adult Sea Lions nosed and swam around the Zodiacs, sending us off.
A giddy scene ensued in the bar/library (more bar than library in this instance) as we had a special cocktail hour with signature drinks on offer and festive attire requested. The theme of the festive attire was something that reminded people of Antarctica. While, for most of us, the clothes we’ve been wearing for more than a month would do the trick, some standout passengers really took the bit and ran with it. Peter M adopted a figurative approach to a penguin costume with a dapper tuxedo, while Judith (the eventual prize winner) took a delightfully literal one. Sally and Josephine were lovely glossy black seals, and Dr Cam interpreted the Antarctic landscape with long black underwear, a white towel cape and a neon green balaclava. Rodney stepped in to offer a trivia challenge between rounds of drinks and to express disbelief at the few remaining gaps in our knowledge. General merriment ensued and carried over to dinner.
Day 31—Friday, March 4, 2016
Auckland Island, At Sea
We made another landing at Auckland Island this morning which was to be the final landing of the trip, and it was a good one. On calm waters and under a mild sun, we landed at Ranui Cove, site of a hut once occupied by our fearless expedition leader for three months but now only home to a few stray bottles and 1970’s newspapers. Bellbirds sang in the trees and a handful of female Sea Lions watched curiously from the shadows as we headed up a track through the Rata forest to a high lookout hut that was manned by coast-watchers throughout World War II. Just above the hut, on a hilltop clearing, we paused to bask in the sunshine and take in the panoramic view as Rodney turned in a slow circle and pointed out the various islands, peaks and points of interest.
We descended at our own pace. There was a bit of excitement when a Sea Lion cow unexpectedly charged Sara Ross, pinning her against a tree. She handled the startling situation with characteristic grace while government observer cum Sea Lion wrangler Ceisha stepped in, using her backpack as a shield, to gently dissuade the animal from biting anyone as the stragglers filed past. The Sea Lion almost certainly had pups stashed nearby and was only acting from protective instinct. We assume she was happy to see the last of us!
After lunch at anchor, we set off for an overnight sea journey and another try at the Snares. In the meantime, Rodney offered an informal talk on what goes into running Heritage Expeditions (keyword: permits) and also described the trips he runs in the Russian Far East, a part of the world that attracts few tourists (partly because it is difficult to access…again, keyword: permits) but offers extraordinary scenery, wildlife, and cultural encounters. Then it was time for bar, dinner, bed, and dreams of Polar Bears.
Day 32—Saturday, March 5, 2016
Snares, At Sea
We weren’t about to let a little mist and rain and a mounting swell stop us from snatching a close look at the Snares Islands. After a slight delay in hopes the cloud might lift, the first group was whisked away at 8:00 with Rodney, Grisha, and Agnes driving the Zodiacs. After enjoying a late breakfast, the second group followed at 9:30. Such a grey day lent the islands a mysterious, wild aura that was heightened by the massive numbers of seabirds circling in and out of the mist above the boats. After a quick passage alongside sheer cliffs densely occupied by nesting Buller’s Albatross, we were conveyed (excitingly!) through a tunnel in the rock and emerged into a protected cove. New Zealand Fur Seals watched us from the rocks as Sea Lions swam behind the boats. The islands are honeycombed with seabird nests, so no landings are allowed, but we cruised slowly through coves and shallows lined with the tree daisy species Olearia lyallii and Brachyglottis stewartiae and motored into several coastal caves. Everyone got a good look at groups of endemic Snares Crested Penguins as well as the endemic Snares Island Tomtit. Only the first group saw the islands’ endemic Fernbird, but everyone had the chance to get torrentially rained upon. As the swell kicked up, the second group was happy to see the Shokalskiysteaming towards them, and after one last leap from Zodiac to gangway, all were safely aboard for the final leg back to the South Island. The afternoon passed quietly as seas remained rough until we came into the lee of Stewart Island, which brought a welcome calming effect. We anchored at Lord’s River on the eastern side of Stewart Island for dinner, which coincided with a lovely sunset and then headed out once more into the night.
Day 33—Sunday, March 6, 2016
It was a beautiful final morning at sea. We had blue sky, warm temperatures, calm seas, avian companions, and even some Dusky Dolphins riding the bow wave. Jason Hosking, New Zealand Geographic’s Photographer of the Year who was with us on this voyage as his grand prize was provided by Heritage, offered us a look at some of his work down in the lecture room, including some stunning images of Tuis and Gannets, as well as landscapes and cultural shots and a sneak peek at his photos from this voyage. Samuel followed with a lecture on his experience spending fifteen months at the French Base Dumont d’Urville in East Antarctica. He gave us an excellent insight into the camaraderie among those who wintered over, Samuel’s work with birds (including the Emperor Penguin), the extreme harshness of the climate and the beauty of the landscape.
After lunch, while everyone took turns visiting Julia in the office to pay that 35-day bar tab, a convention of hundreds albatrosses appeared. In the light winds, they mostly sat on the water, though some flew short stretches before settling again. A fishing boat was visible in the distance, but there was most likely something in the water (probably squid) for them to eat. Species spotted included Buller’s, Salvin’s, Shy, Southern and Northern Royal Albatrosses as well as Giant Petrels, Cape Pigeons, White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters. Although it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the beautiful afternoon outside, the sacrifice was worthwhile as we assembled for one last time in the lecture room. Rodney thanked the staff and passengers for their enthusiasm, their adventurous spirits and their willingness to get wet and cold whilst braving the Zodiacs and gangways. Everyone was united by a common desire to experience a part of the Antarctic that few will ever see and a curiosity about one of the world’s most remote places—its beauty, its harshness, its wildlife. He felt that spending five weeks together on a ship to experience this was a rare privilege.
A festive spirit prevailed in the bar and at dinner passengers and staff dusted off their best outfits (the ones without penguin guano), and Matt and Connor outdid themselves to concoct an eight course meal from diminished supplies. While we devoured the cheese course and a dessert buffet, a purple and pink sunset closed our last day at sea.
Day 34—Monday, March 7, 2016
The harbour pilot came aboard in the 6:00 darkness as we entered Christchurch’s Port of Lyttelton. One last breakfast was served as we came alongside at 7:00, and then we dispersed to pack up those pesky last odds and ends and McMurdo gift shop items now straining the seams of our duffels. After New Zealand Customs and biosecurity officers came on board, everyone filed dutifully through the bar/library, passports in hand, attested that boots were clean and no souvenirs had been collected from anywhere other than gift shops. At last the ship was cleared for entry; the Russian crew collected the luggage, and we filed down the gangway one last time, not to board Zodiacs but a waiting coach instead. We seized the opportunity for a group photo with Shokalskiy, and there were more than a few damp eyes as the staff lined up for goodbyes and the passengers filed onto the coach. Then it was over and our shipboard family scattered for distant destinations, armed with thousands of photos and videos to share with audiences (willing or not) of friends and family. The Shokalskiy would by the end of the day be emptied out and bound for her home port of Vladivostok. Meanwhile, albatrosses will continue to circle the Southern Ocean, the sea around Antarctica will freeze and the days there will grow shorter. The Emperor Penguins will return to breed and life on that harsh and distant continent will continue without any trace of us, as though we had never even been there at all, which is how it should be. Best wishes to everyone for all your future adventures.
Captain: Dimitry Zinchenko
Chief Mate: Aleksi Zinchenko
Nathan Russ (Expedition Leader; coordinator lectures and landings)
Agnès Breniere (Cruise Director; Zodiac driver)
Lieutenant Ross Hickey RNZN (NZ Government Representative/Department of Conservation Representative)
Dr Lesley Cupit (Expedition Medical Adviser)
Don McIntyre – (Lecturer and guide)
Samuel Blanc (Lecturer – ornithology; bird list; expedition DVD; Zodiac driver and guide)
Dr David Harrowfield (Lecturer – History; on-shore historic site interpretation and guide; compiler of the Expedition Log)
Connor Arcus – Chef
Frank Widmer – 2nd Chef
Day 1-2 Sunday 11 January – Monday 12
Invercargill, Bluff, at sea
11 January Anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s death
12 January Mike and Mary’s 30th Wedding Anniversary celebrated
Noon position: Latitude 46o35.5’South; Longitude 168o20.13’E
Positions and other data are taken from the Deck Log Book
Air temperature: 14oC
Yesterday we arrived in New Zealand’s southernmost city Invercargill and settled in the Kelvin Hotel. It was a century since the Ross Sea party on the Aurora of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917, arrived at Cape Evans on Ross Island Antarctica.
Late in the day light rain began and it was far from warm. In the evening we met Expedition Leader Nathan who is also Operations Manager for Heritage Expeditions, Cruise Director Agnès and Lecturer David, who made us very welcome. Amongst us was Mary, with not only a sailor’s hat but an inflatable penguin named Charles Enderby. Over a sumptuous dinner Nathan gave an outline on plans for the next few days, along with present and expected future weather and possible ice conditions.
The following morning we were treated to a fine sunny morning and were greeted by David, Samuel and the ship manager Max. Our luggage was loaded into a truck for conveyance to the Spirit of Enderby. The ship is also named Professor Khromov (1904-1977) after a prominent Russian meteorologist during the former Soviet Era.
David then escorted many of us on a short walk to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery. Here we met Lindsay Hazley, Curator of Tuataras and Photography, and began our visit viewing the fabulous Roaring Forties theatre presentation. Lindsay who has been with the museum 42 years then guided us to the Tuatarium.
A reptile from an otherwise extinct linage, the oldest known bones of a true Tuatara date back just 34,000 to 100,000 years. Today the live on 32 islands, mostly around New Zealand’s North Island and Cook Strait and in five mainland wildlife sanctuaries. We were most interested in the oldest Tuatara named Henry who is estimated to be over 110 years old. Some of us touched his leathery-looking skin and were surprised to see how soft it was.
From here we visited the Subantarctic Islands gallery which had many fascinating relics linked to ship wrecks and the castaway era. Examples included a wooden punt made by survivors from the Derry Castle wrecked in March 1887 and who lived in huts made from tussock grass, also a pair of seal skin slippers made by survivors from the wreck of the barque Dundonald in March 1907. A small display which included an oak rum tub (still with aroma) from Captain R.F. Scott’s ship Terra Nova; a Nansen sledge, an All-sky camera once used at New Zealand’s Scott Base Antarctica, and an interesting selection of geological specimens. Nearby were items linked with the sailing ship and whaling eras. An interesting exhibit focused on conservation of two parts of a waka (Maori canoe) hull in tanks with the liquid maintained at 18.5oC. There was certainly much to see. At 12.15 we boarded a coach for the Kelvin Hotel where we enjoyed a further excellent meal, before David ushered us onto a coach which delivered us to the Spirit of Enderby.
About 20 minutes later, we drew up alongside the ship where we were greeted by Nathan, Agnes and other staff, then shown our cabins in which our possessions had been placed. We had Devonshire scones and a glass of black currant juice, tea or coffee for afternoon tea and after meeting with a Customs officer, surrendered our passports and familiarised ourselves with the ship. We departed soon after 3.30 p.m and by 4 p.m. the Takatimu 2 which collected the Pilot had left and we entered Foveaux Strait on our way to Stewart Island, with the ship now gently rolling.
At 5.15 p.m. we had our first briefings in the Lecture Room. Nathan began by introducing the staff each of whom gave a brief resume of their background. Agnès then acquainted us with various important details including use of the vacuum toilet system, the Sea Shop along with other aspects. Nathan resumed the briefing with reference to all-important signals for Emergencies and Abandon Ship. Matters such as appropriate dress and types of landings expected – dry/wet/very wet, the tag system, appropriate dress for wearing during the abandon ship, immersion suits and two types of life jackets, one for use with lifeboats, the second for Zodiac travel.
At 6.30 p.m. all heard seven short and one long blast, three times from the ship’s horn and participated in the lifeboat drill. The lifeboat used depended on whether our cabin was on the port or starboard side of the ship. We were off Stewart Island until 8.30 p.m. and after dinner at 7.30 p.m. the Captain headed south past Lord River and Port Pegasus with 60-65 nautical miles to travel to the Snares. Agnès then opened the bar before dinner where staff attended to our needs. The sea was calm and a few sea birds including Salvin’s Albatross and Stewart Island Shags were present.
At 7.30 we were treated to an excellent meal prepared by Connor and Frank, with two main choices of beef rump or salmon. The Russian crew schedule their meals around the ‘watches’ so as not to coincide with ours. Their chef on our voyage is Angelique.
With a course change, the sea was a bit bumpy. We rolled a little and most opted to have an early night.
Don McIntyre’s definition of adventure is – “you don’t know the outcome”.
Day 3 Tuesday 13 January
Noon position: Latitude 48o10.15’South; Longitude 166o37.6201’East
Air temperature: 16oC Water 20.5oC
Birthday of Ros E. celebrated.
Most of us enjoyed calm conditions last night and rested well. The maximum wave last night was four metres. At 6.30 a.m. we were on a course for the South promontory of North East Island with Broughton Islands and the south-east. The Snares Islands have a highest point of 152m, cover 328 hectares, a mean annual temperature of 11oC and an average rainfall of 1200mm per year. The position of the islands is 48o01’S and 166o35’E. Sea birds were beginning to appear and this morning we saw Buller and Salvin’s Albatross, Common Diving Petrel, Cape Petrel (Pintado) and Sooty Shearwaters or Titi as known to Maori, who harvest chicks for food, once a year.
Before breakfast we had a good view of the Snares and being on the north coast and away from the westerly, we had ideal conditions for a Zodiac cruise. Nathan summoned us all to the lecture room for a briefing at 7.45 a.m. where he gave an excellent introduction to the Snares. This covered discovery by Vancouver on 23 November 1791, the subsequent sealing era which decimated the population, details of the geology (granite), botany and ornithology. The Zodiac operation using five boats each equipped with four-stroke 60 h.p. engines began at 8.20, with us setting out for two hours on the water. With exception of the scientific parties from University of Otago and National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) no landings are permitted.
Cruising off-shore, we enjoyed excellent views of the rocks, some with nice colouration, the zoning of vegetation adapted to salt-laden air with Olearia lyalli the tall ‘tree daisy’ prominent in places. Other plants included the smaller ‘tree daisy’, Cook’s ‘scurvy grass’, a shore hebe and large tussocks. The many birds that were seen included spectacular rafts of Cape Petrels and Snares Crested Penguins, along with Common Diving Petrels, Brown Skua, Buller and Salvin’s Albatrosses, Giant Petrels, the small black Snares Tomtit, Back and Red-billed Gulls. Two Australian Tree Martins were sighted, however the Sooty Shearwaters, the most prominent bird species on the Snares, with a calculated 2.7 million pairs (1971), had mostly flown before dawn.
We enjoyed excellent viewing of numerous New Zealand Fur Seals with an estimated 40-50 seen. Showers came and went and we entered several large caverns exposed to the sea, where the swell created a deep booming sound. In Ho Ho Bay we glimpsed the huts of the research station established in the 1960s. One of the best highlights however was an excellent view of the famous ‘penguin slide’ with large numbers of Snares Crested Penguins commuting over granite, the surface worn smooth by millions of webbed feet perhaps over hundreds of years. We were amused to see birds about to enter the water, then change their plan, slide in the process and with the next incoming swell, take advantage of this to enter the water. Some penguins which become stranded in the kelp, managed to extricate themselves remarkably quickly. As Nathan said, why go to the trouble of marching up a steep rock slope when there are much easier places for access. Penguins were calling and from nests on adjacent headlands, the guttural, braying calls of Buller’s Albatross could be heard.
We returned to the ship by 10.30 a.m. after having enjoyed a very special outing in rarely experienced calm conditions. It was an excellent way to begin the away from ship aspect of our expedition. Our chefs Conner and Frank produced a very fine lunch of bacon and egg pie with fresh salad and later most of us took time to enjoy our photographs or to rest; the sea now being a little lumpy with the occasional large roll. Not long before 12.30, five dolphins were seen and were thought to be Dusky dolphins.
At 4 p.m. Nathan held an important briefing covering quarantine measures as part of our preparation for tomorrow. Then taking turns to use a vacuum cleaner, we carefully examined our field rig, back packs etc to remove any possible bio-hazard such as seeds. The chefs produced a fine dinner with a choice of rolled roast pork served on apple mash or chicken breast with such tasty delights as thyme roasted beetroot and garlic asparagus with lemon beurre blanc. This was followed by a desert of apple and pear strudel with ice cream and custard which rounded off the meal beautifully. Most of us retired early with the promise of a calm sea offering a good rest.
Day 4 Wednesday 14 January
Enderby Island (Auckland Islands)
Birthday of Howie celebrated
Noon position: Latitude 50o30.419’South; Longitude 166o16.653’East
Air temperature: 14oC Water 11oC
We were treated to a calm sea last night and this morning the anchor was lowered at Port Ross around 4 a.m. Port Ross is named after the famous English Arctic and Antarctic explorer James (later Sir) Clark Ross who visited here in November 1840. Originally it was named Rendezvous Harbour by the French expedition led by Dumont D’Urville. Before breakfast many were out on deck taking photos of the sunrise. As the sun ascended higher, the columnar basalt cliffs along the south side of Enderby Island, presented a spectacular sight.
With a busy day ahead we had an early start. A Southern Lakes French Squirrel helicopter arrived to transfer eight drums of fuel ashore as part of an emergency supply and for use during the aerial census of Hooker Sea Lions and Albatrosses for the Department of Conservation (DoC). The helicopter can make the flight from Invercargill airport to Enderby Island in less than 2½ hours.
Those of us who were unable to attend to quarantine measures last evening carried this out after breakfast and at 7.30 a.m. we assembled in the lecture room for Nathan’s excellent introductory lecture to the Auckland Islands and an outline of the two walks planned for the day. With help from the chefs we made up a packed lunch to take ashore and prepared for an interesting day on Enderby Island.
The ship to shore operation began by 9.30 a.m. and we were landed on a shore platform of volcanic conglomerate rock with huge waving fronds of D’Urvillea kelp either side of the narrow channel we had entered. Once ashore many of us changed from our gumboots to hiking or tramping boots and Nathan gave us a further brief talk on the two walks for today. Simon, a researcher on the Hooker’s Sea Lion, also spoke and mentioned that the decline of the species which began in the late 1990’s is continuing. This season about 300 pups have been born at Sandy Bay with a further 1400-1500 on Dundas Island, the main breeding location.
We all set out walking north from Sandy Bay at around 10 a.m. and before long we came across a Yellow-eyed Penguin on the boardwalk. Beside the trail were the remains of two Southern Royal Albatross and two birds were seen on their nests some distance away. The botany was very interesting with some of the Southern Rata having rich crimson flowers. The white flowering Cassinia, (also prolific in New Zealand) and at least three species of Gentian with one, Gentiana cerina, a beautiful deep mauve, had become established on large cushion plants. Of the megaherbs Bulbinella rossii had finished flowering although the occasional one had a little of the rich orange flower head remaining. On the north side of the island the pink and white flower of Anisotome latifolia was prolific. There was a place for everything. Ferns grew where branches joined trunks and seedlings of Rata and Dracophyllum and numerous other plants had found a home on cushion plants.
On reaching the north coast where only a light breeze was blowing, we went a short distance along the cliff top and were treated views of nesting, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross with chicks and a pair demonstrating precision flying. Other birds present included Auckland Islands Shag and Red-billed Gulls. Those participating in the long walk around the western end of the island, now left us as they prepared to enjoy an extension to the wonderful natural history experience that Enderby Island provides. The short walkers then headed back to be treated to a pair of Yellow-eyed Penguins on the boardwalk and enjoyed time observing the Hooker Sea Lion community on the beach below the grassy sward. Most of the pups were together while large Brown Skuas watched from a distance. Near the DoC huts, some of us observed Karen, a vet from Massey University, carrying out a post- mortem on a two week old pup which may have died from starvation.
We had been extremely fortunate to have a fine, mostly sunny, day and those on the long walk were also rewarded with many interesting sights. The bird life was prolific and included Red-Crowned Parakeets, Tomtits, Auckland Islands Snipe, Auckland Islands Teal, Brown Skua, Arctic Tern, Giant Petrels with well-developed chicks, Yellow-eyed Penguins and the Double Banded Plover. Also seen were fur seals and fine displays of Anisotome and Gentians. The Derry Castle Reef with those who drowned buried in the vicinity was a poignant reminder of the wreck of the ship in March 1887. The Sandy Bay castaway depot was found by the survivors to contain only a jar of salt. Associated with this tragedy is the wooden punt, which we viewed in the Invercargill Museum and Art Gallery.
By 7 p.m. the bar/library was a busy place. We all considered the day had been first class and with good weather again expected for tomorrow, everyone was in high spirits. A species of bird photographed by a passenger and bird enthusiast during the long walk was deemed to be an Australian vagrant named the ‘Pectoral Sandpiper’. Everyone got something out of the trip – Robbie who had returned with a mass of bidibid seeds providing camouflage to a glove, decided to change her name to ‘the walking seed pod’. Ginny decided the wildlife and fresh air was something she will long remember and Lyspeth had found a perfect small Paua shell and was intrigued with the mother of pearl colourings. With a busy day expected tomorrow most decided on an early night while others remained on deck to enjoy the Subantarctic sunset.
Day 5 Thursday 15 January
Musgrave Inlet and North Arm of Carnley Harbour (Auckland Islands) – Zodiac cruising
Noon position: Latitude 50o47’South; Longitude 166o03’East
Air Temperature: 11oC Water 10oC
We enjoyed the a calm sea last night and at 6.30 Nathan came on the intercom advising a Zodiac cruise would take place this morning. Steep rock cliffs were topped by thick rata forest and the anchor was dropped at Musgrave Inlet in 34m although we drifted to 37m. By 7 a.m. we were enjoying a beautiful soft light on the hills of Auckland Island, as the sun rose. Most of us took advantage of the opportunity for an early morning ride and five Zodiacs were used. Our travel began on the north side of the inlet below magnificent basalt cliffs with huge boulders along the water’s edge which was fringed with thick kelp. Penguins could be heard calling In scrub and we had excellent viewing and probably the best we will have on the expedition, of Rock Hopper Penguins. These were perched in small groups on large boulders, many with a grey coating of algae. The morning was still and only marred by low strato-cumulus clouds.
At 7.15 we crossed to the other side of the inlet and entered an amazing volcanic amphitheatre in which the top had collapsed, leaving a surrounding cliff edge fringed with Rata, other trees and shrubs. Two strange, long moss covered bundles of roots hung from the cliff edge and we could see why the place attracted those fortunate to visit here. On one expedition a passenger was so inspired by the setting, that apparently some opera singing took place. Much of the rock appeared to be volcanic ash and tuff with beautiful colours of ochre, brown etc. although there appeared to be some conglomerate with rounded water-worn cobbles at a lower level.
As we exited the cavern a small flock of terns passed overhead and Nathan then led us to another cavern which had amazing whitish streaks on the roof as a result of leaching of minerals from the volcanic rock. As we continued around the shoreline a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and a Campbell’s Albatross were seen and we noticed that the Rata tree buds were beginning to open out. The canopy of the Rata resembled a giant cauliflower with the interlocking tops each having a rounded surface. A lava plug was visible on a hill top and an old glacial cirque was nearby.
Soon after 10 a.m. we were off the entrance to Carnley Harbour with 57m of water. Layers of volcanic rock with scrub and grasses were of interest as were a number of Sooty Shearwaters. Andre the Bosun was at the bow and released the brake on the anchor in case this had to be lowered. We now made our way up the harbour and while doing this Don McIntyre gave an excellent commentary from the Bridge. The landscape was of great interest and on the end of Grafton Point a ‘finger post’ was pointed out. These assisted castaways to locate small huts containing emergency supplies such as woollen suits, food and matches.
The sun was out and conditions excellent for viewing albeit from a distance many points of historical interest. We also saw two survey vessels that were undertaking a survey for Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) of the coastline. These were the Tranquil Image a 24m long boat and the other the Star Key at 19m.
We rounded Musgrave Point and stopped opposite where the small topsail schooner Grafton was wrecked during a storm on 3 January 1864. Captained by an American named Thomas Musgrave, the schooner had been to Campbell Island for the purpose of following up reports of silver-bearing rock. They were unsuccessful and when passing Adams Island, bad weather had blown the ship up Carnley Harbour where it was wrecked in North-Arm. After managing to make it ashore, a small rock hut was erected in the Rata forest above the beach. Named Epigwaitt after the Indian word for ‘dwelling by the sea’ (also referred to by Musgrave as ‘near the great waters’), the five men lived here for 12 months until Musgrave with two others set out seeking rescue, leaving two men behind. They reached Stewart Island from where Musgrave mounted a rescue operation on the Flying Scud and on 15 September 1865 he rescued the other two men.
Today many of us landed to examine the remaining timber of the Grafton and also to view the rock hut, now surrounded by nettles. Of the original four walls only one remains standing and a few bottle fragments and timber from the ship are all that remain. The Rata and Dracophyllum forest was quite open and tracks had been made by wild pigs. Some of us also had an interesting walk over natural iron-stained boulders and cobbles along the beach, amongst which were shells of blue mussel, limpet and other molluscs. Along the back beach hebes and grasses then merged with Rata and Dracophyllum. The Rata forest here was reasonably open.
Today lunch was at 1 p.m. and the Captain then began our journey of around 360 nautical miles to Macquarie Island. Soon after 2 p.m. the weather changed with heavy overcast, rain and a busy sea with whitecaps created by a strong North-east wind. In the meantime Nathan advised us to secure our cabins as the sea may become rougher.
At 4 p.m. the lecture programme got underway with Samuel giving his first lecture enentitled ‘Seabirds of the South Ocean’. This was a very useful lecture as there are several bird enthusiasts on board and most people are interested to know the different species. Samuel focused on aspects concerning the biology and ecology, time spent at sea (about 70% of their life), distances travelled, the age of many along with distinguishing features.
The bar manned by staff opened as usual at 6 p.m. with convivial discussion on the day activities and at 7 p.m. we returned to the Bar/Library for a recap on our Auckland Islands visit. Dinner was at 7.30 p.m. with the choice for the main being porterhouse steak or Chatham Islands blue cod. We then retired for an early night.
Day 6 Friday 16 January - at sea
Enroute to Australia’s Macquarie Island
Noon position: Latitude 53o38.323 ’South; Longitude 160o47.016’East
Air temperature: 11oC Water 10oC
Barometer – 926hp (was 1005hp early today).
With a following sea, we enjoyed a nice comfortable night with the ship occasionally rolling. At 7 a.m. we were on a course direct to Macquarie Island and over 3859m of water at the Emerald Plateau. The origin of the name is obscure. A ship named Emerald reported in 1821, what may have been a green iceberg, with this leading to the naming of an ‘island’. The present name followed although who this is attributed to is uncertain.
The ship was making a comfortable 12 knots with 193 nautical miles to go. The rain had ceased however a light fog was present and the sea still had a rumpled surface with the occasional large white horse. The few sea birds about were a Wandering Albatross; White-chinned Petrel and a prion. The barometric pressure is falling and Nathan mentioned a front is expected to pass over Macquarie Island early afternoon.
We assembled in the lecture room at 9.30 a.m. when Bob screened the Television New Zealand Intrepid New Zealand documentary (courtesy of DoC) on the re-enactment of the survival of the five men from the wreck of the Grafton. After a journey of 280 nautical miles with five nights at sea, Musgrave and his two men reached Stewart Island in their modified ship’s boat named The Rescue. The boat was abandoned and has not been seen since. With New Zealand disinterested in a rescue, Musgrave then organised a rescue boat and his other two men were collected 37 days after being left. Musgrave made a return trip to the Auckland Islands and later New Zealand decided to place castaway depots on the Auckland Islands and at Campbell Island.
Agnes and Lesley had the Sea Shop open and many of us took the opportunity to purchase post cards, a map of the Auckland Islands and other merchandise. The sea however was beginning to get a little on the rough side and at noon the barometer had taken a steep dive as we came under the influence of a frontal system. We continued to make good time and by noon were about 12 hours ahead of schedule, with 80 nautical miles to run to Macquarie. The east-north east swell had really moved us along nicely.
Macquarie Island is located on the Australian/Pacific plate boundary and is formed of rocks from the earth’s mantle. Many of the rocks are iron and magnesium rich and are termed ultramafic. They have been formed about six kilometres under the mantle and pushed up. At 3 p.m. Don gave an interesting introduction to the early history, the establishment of the Australian station and conservation measures undertaken for Macquarie Island. This lecture was followed by Samuel’s second lecture concerned with penguins. Samuel mentioned there are now 19 penguin species and he acquainted us with many interesting facts. One of these concerned the largest penguin the Emperor with the male estimated to cover 40,000 km during trips on the sea ice during its lifetime, when he is also calculated to lose eight years of his life from fasting.
Several birds have been about however an unusual sighting was made at 3 p.m. when a Dark Faced Kermadec Petrel was spotted. Two Bottlenose Dolphins were also seen.
The weather at Macquarie has not been particularly good. To 9 a.m. 42.4 mm of rainfall was recorded. At 6.30 p.m. we had 12 nautical miles to travel and the front had passed. Nathan who has been in contact with the Australian stations said we can expect an easterly swell from behind and 20 knots of south to south-west wind. We were also reminded that the station operates two hours behind New Zealand.
Most of us took advantage of completing post cards for mailing at Macquarie although these will not reach their destination until perhaps April or May. Dinner this evening was postponed to 8.30 to enable galley staff to have better conditions for preparing and serving our meal. By then we were expected to be in the lee of the island and hopefully in calmer waters. The meal was up to the usual high standard and the Southland roast shoulder of lamb with roast vegetables followed by a delightful and nicely presented vanilla panacotta with melon and pineapple sauce was excellent. We then called it a day with hopes for better weather tomorrow.
Day 7 Saturday 17 January
Macquarie Island – Buckle and Hasselborough Bays
Noon position: Latitude 54o32.298’South; Longitude 158o57.921’East
Air temperature: 10oC Water 9oC
Captain Dimitry placed the ship in a “holding pattern” and during the evening, six return traverses were made from Buckle’s Bay to Lusitania Bay. Apart for the occasional roll due to the south-westerly swell, we had a fairly comfortable night and this morning got up to find a bleak day which did however show some sign of clearing. The top of the island was shrouded with mist and we could see large waves breaking all along the coast. It has been known at times for big seas to wash right over the isthmus from Buckles to West Bays.
Nathan made contact with the radio operator at the ANARE (Australia National Antarctic Research Expeditions) Station and advised us that because of the swell, with waves up to two metres high breaking on the shore, we would be unable to land this morning. Winds of 5 – 10 knots were abating and following breakfast at 8 a.m., we headed south again on another traverse.
Don was again invaluable with his commentary conducted from the Bridge. He has enjoyed numerous visits to the island since 1997 and knows the various aspects intimately. Our brochure on Macquarie Island given when we boarded the ship also gave valuable background information. The station reported that by 9 a.m. this morning 63.4 mm of rain had been recorded. This was a new record – the previous 24 hour record of 52.8 mm was recorded on 14 March 2001. Over a period of about 36 hours the station received a total of 105.6 mm.
As we journeyed along the coast, evidence for regrowth since the rabbits have gone was clearly seen. The lower spurs were rich green although higher areas with mainly tussocks were much browner. Some waterfalls and slips were clear evidence of the heavy rain and at one penguin colony, it appeared a slip had come down and in all probability, killed some penguins. We had a good view of Joseph Hatch’s cast iron penguin digesters in the King Penguin colony and at Hurd Point saw the location of the extensive Royal Penguin colony there.
At 9.30 a.m. we made our turn north for Buckle’s Bay again. The sea was gradually calming and hopes were held for a landing this afternoon, this evening or tomorrow. Most of us watched the excellent documentary enentitled ‘Saving Macquarie Island’ on the rabbit eradication programme, produced by The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. By 11.30 a.m. the swell was dropping although considerable white water was evident at the two landing sites at Buckles Bay. We then began a further run south before having lunch at 12.30 p.m.
We assembled in the lecture room at 1.45 p.m. for a presentation from Nathan on ‘Ice Maps and How to Read Them’. Nathan began by stating that the Ross Sea is the furthest south a ship can travel in Antarctica. The area has its own weather and current systems and these determine ice conditions. Using satellite imagery which is interpreted by the University of Bremen, the extent of ice is described in tenths and by use of colours. Dark purple is multi-year heavy ice, while yellow and green is one-year lighter ice. The maps indicate how fast the ice can change. It is a dynamic system.
Using knowledge of current and weather patterns, Nathan then outlined the plan of approach which is likely to take a route south to the 180o meridian and then move in a westerly direction with about six days in the ice until reaching McMurdo Sound around 320 nautical miles south of Cape Adare. The amount to which our time in the south takes place, also needs to allow for exiting the Ross Sea along with around three to four days to reach Campbell Island. Nathan also mentioned that two yachts, one of fibreglass and 72 ft long, the other of steel and 60ft long, have left Hobart for the Ross Sea.
With diminished swells and hopeful of a landing at Buckles Bay, Nathan and staff went out in two Zodiacs to assess the situation. Buckles Bay was however ruled out and they then went around to Hasselborough Bay on the west side of the isthmus. This looked promising so the Captain then took the ship around and anchored at 4.55 p.m. when we sighted a male Orca. Nathan returned to the ship and a briefing was held in the lecture theatre. The station however had bad news. The very heavy rain yesterday created slips and the dam from which fresh water is supplied was filled with sediment. The pipes that carried water to the station were badly damaged.
We were however told by Chris Howard the Chief Ranger for Tasmanian Park and Wildlife Service that we could as groups walk for up to four hours, about the area of beach beside Hasselborough Bay, named after the discoverer of Macquarie Island. Owing to a wave zone of about eight metres, the landing would be a wet one and so we prepared accordingly. However by 5.25 p.m. the ship was according to the markings on the hull, rising up to 2.8 m with the swell (waves were breaking over the Judge and Clerk Islands to the north) and with safety paramount, Nathan and staff advised it was unfortunately too dangerous to proceed. We now hope to have a further try tomorrow here or at Sandy Bay, before turning southwards.
Bird life observed today included a White Morph Giant Petrel, Sooty Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Campbell Albatross, Wandering Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Brown Skua, Macquarie Island Shag, Kelp Gull and Antarctic Tern. In the water were seen Royal, King, Gentoo and Rock Hopper Penguins. We spent the rest of the day enjoying convivial conversation in the Bar/Library and enjoyed a lovely meal which included New Zealand venison, before having an early night with hopes for a fine day and calm seas tomorrow.
Day 8 Sunday 18 January
Macquarie Island, Enroute to Antarctica
Natalia’s birthday celebrated.
Noon position: Latitude 54o 42.750’ South; Longitude 158o 52.006’East
Air temperature: 10oC Water 8oC
We had a very good rest last night until around 3 a.m. when the ship began to roll a little. At 5.30 a.m. the Captain moved the Spirit of Enderby around to Buckles Bay and we then began to head down to Sandy Bay. It was a cool 7.5oC outside and much of the island was shrouded with mist. Royal and King penguins were porpoising and a Giant Petrel was seen feeding on an unsavoury looking mass, that bird enthusiast Steve thought was a large deceased Elephant Seal.
At Sandy Bay waves were seen washing five to six metres up the beach then rebounding off a mass of kelp. As at the isthmus, large slips had come down the slopes. The ship was then turned back toward Buckles Bay where two Zodiacs were put on the water. Conditions meant that it was not possible to take on the Ranger and staff and following a gathering in the lecture room, we were advised that a landing at Sandy Bay would not be possible. It was a very difficult decision for any expedition leader, but we fully understood the position and were most grateful for the effort made by Nathan, his team and Captain Dimitry. Macquarie Island is accessible 95% of the time and we were just unlucky.
As we continued towards Lusitania Bay, our attention was drawn to 50-60 mostly dark brown Giant Petrels including a White Morph, this only found with the Southern Giant petrel species. The birds appeared to be feeding on something and it was not long before it was apparent what interested them. A pod of Orca that had taken a penguin also appeared and we had excellent viewings and photography, as the whales were very close to the ship. Some Orca turned upside down in a technique used to distract and disturb prey, and a penguin skin was seen.
‘A Yellow-eyed Penguin named Blue
Had a brawl with a Skua or two
They both heard him say
As he porpoised away
I can swim faster than you.’
At 11.45 p.m. when we were about 400m off the Lusitania Bay King Penguin colony which accommodates an estimated 250,000 pairs, the anchor was lowered. Unfortunately we are unable to land here as the closest one is able to be is 150m from the beach. However we did have superb viewing of large numbers of penguins about the ship and a good appreciation of the vast number in the colony. Off shore some were together as ‘rafts’ and swimming on or below the surface. Others were calling or lying on their side or back as they preened themselves, and many were diving for food which includes fish. The species can dive up to 300m and it was a good opportunity to observe their antics and the beautiful coloured plumage about the head and neck. A Light-mantled Sooty Albatross was also seen and the morning was certainly an outstanding opportunity to observe nature at its best as a spell of sunshine improved the day.
At 1 p.m. the anchors were raised and we headed south with around 1000 nautical miles to our second waypoint. At 3.30 p.m. Don gave an excellent presentation enentitled ‘The Art of Getting from A to B’. This focused on chart projection (the Mercator projection), Latitude and Longitude, how to read Latitude and Longitude, charts, plotting the ship’s position and GPS. Don explained very well these aspects and we were reminded that 1 nautical mile = 1.852 km or 1.15 statute mile or I’ (minute) of arc at the Equator and that 10 mph = 10 knots. Use of a sextant was explained in which the angle is measured between the sun and one’s eye and how GPS (Global Positioning System) accurately determines height, then calculates where the receiver is to measure distance.
An interesting video of Orca chasing Sea Otters was shown followed by a description on the circulation of the Southern Ocean including the Antarctic Convergence which we will soon encounter. This is roughly a circular belt of water about 25 miles (40km) wide lying between Latitudes 48o and 60o South. By no means a fixed boundary, it forms where cold north-flowing Antarctic bottom water and Antarctic surface water meet the warmer water flowing south. This produces a sharp change in temperature which we will encounter.
The final presentation of the day was Part 1 of the excellent film ‘Longitude’. This focused on the invention by Englishman John Harrison of his clock and later his watch for determining Longitude. These beautiful and intricate hand-made instruments can be viewed today at the National Maritime Museum London.
Later in the afternoon we were enjoying a partially clear sky with the ship riding a good swell causing it to roll. The rules for the iceberg sighting completion were posted. These included the option of either latitude or time and the berg which had to be no smaller than a London double-decker bus had to be seen with the naked eye.
During the afternoon two Blue Petrels were seen and at 5.30 p.m. the water temperature had fallen to 6o. By 7.30 p.m. we had 940 nautical miles to run to the 180o longitude. An hour later the water temperature was down to 5.90o. Most of us had an early night and to close this entry Frank our No.2 chef had an interesting experience. He said ‘I opened a cupboard in the galley and it was too late to stop a bag falling towards me. I then became covered from head to food with cocoa – it went everywhere!’
Day 9 Monday 19 January – at sea. Southward Ho!
Enroute to Antarctica
Noon position: Latitude 57o 53.95’ South; Longitude 163o 13.2’ East
Air temperature: 5oC Water 5.9oC
This morning we got up to a fairly calm sea and surprisingly at 7.30 a.m. only one Southern Royal Albatross was about. Last evening there were several Albatrosses. They included two Wanderers and three Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Other birds included a Giant Petrel and two unidentified prions. The water and air temperature are steadily falling. At 4 a.m. today the water was 5.6oC and air 4oC and at 8 a.m. the water had fallen to 4.6oC. Yesterday there was a 2oC drop in water temperature over 20 nautical miles. By noon the water temperature had risen.
At about 10 a.m. we left Australia’s 200 nautical mile zone around Macquarie Island and were approximately 10o of Latitude before 60o which marks the boundary for the Antarctic Treaty (1959) and also for the Ross Dependency, the area administered by New Zealand. The Ross Dependency was passed by Order in Council by Britain to New Zealand in 1923, however all territorial claims are presently held in abeyance although while in the Ross Dependency, New Zealanders are subject to certain laws. Russia and the United States have not claimed any territory in Antarctica.
The Antarctic Treaty is a simple document which followed the very successful International Geophysical Year 1957-1958. The area south of Latitude 60o represents 10% of the world’s land surface and 10% of its oceans. The Protocol on Environment Protection (also known as the Madrid Protocol) signed in 1991, marked the beginning of a comprehensive environment protection scheme. It has determined that Antarctica remains as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science; establishes environmental principles for the conduct of all activities; prohibits activity relating to mineral resources other than research, and subjects all activities to prior assessment of their environmental impact. It has been welcomed by conservation organisations and stands as a landmark in Antarctic history.
It was appropriate that at 10 a.m. we had the opportunity of viewing the excellent Natural History New Zealand documentary entitled ‘Beyond the Crystal Ocean’ and filmed by renowned photographer Michael Single of Dunedin. This focused on the Southern Ocean which began with the winter cruise of the US icebreaker/research ship Nathaniel B Palmer (named after the famous American sealing captain) which covered 800 nautical miles of ocean to the Ross Ice Shelf. The science cruise took two weeks and was the furthest south a ship had been during winter. Other aspects focused on the sea ice and life above and below the ocean surface.
At 11.30 Don gave a further lecture entitled ‘43 Years of Adventuring’. This was a most interesting presentation which gave us an insight into his long and extensive expeditions around the world by sea and air – the latter by gyrocopter, including a year spent with his wife at Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica along with conservation work on Mawson’s huts at Cape Denison. His most recent expedition by sea was to retrace Captain Bligh’s famous open boat voyage and with an interest in the early Spanish galleons, Don is now involved in treasure hunting in Tonga.
During the morning a possible Fin Whale was seen, two possible Hourglass Dolphins and birds included Sooty Searwaters, Cape, White-chinned, White-headed and Mottled Petrels and prions.
David gave his first lecture at 3 p.m. on the history of early exploration in the Ross Sea region. Entitled ‘Forerunner to the Heroic-era’, the lecture began by covering early ideas for the existence of a southern landmass, the early expeditions of Cook and Bellingshausen, the three national expeditions conducted by France, Britain and the United States and finally the first expedition to winter on land, led by Norwegian born Borchgrevink at Cape Adare in 1899.
During the afternoon the water temperature had risen at 4 p.m. to 10oC however unusually few birds were about. A snow flurry occurred and mammals sighted included five Hourglass Dolphins along with two whale blows although the species was not identified. Those of us not on the Bridge, relaxed in the Bar/Library and others rested in the cabin or enjoyed being out on deck. About 01.30 a.m. tomorrow morning those of us who are ‘Antarctic virgins’ and having never crossed Latitude 60o South are invited to participate in Don’s ‘Antarctic fire’. Read on to hear about the frivolities! The remainder of the day was spent watching Part 2 of ‘Longitude’, followed by the usual convivial gathering for a drink and yarn on many subjects before another fine dinner.
Day 10 Tuesday 20 January – at sea.
Enroute to Antarctica. Southern Ocean
We cross 60o South Latitude. First iceberg. New Zealand’s Scott Base 57 years old today.
Noon position: Latitude 61o 37.550’ South; Longitude 168o 45.28’ East
Air temperature: 7oC Water 5oC
At 1.30 a. m. this morning 20 of us including two crew and a few onlookers, assembled in the bow lit with the ship’s lights for a special ceremony. The rules were simple – no wet weather clothes and as little as possible. In preparation, crew members Sasha and Dimitri had a pre-warm up in the sauna; it was 5oC outside. Coordinator Don made a brief speech and fire hosed the assembled group. ‘I remind you that you are sacrificing yourselves to keep King Neptune happy and to give you good luck on board’ he said. Photos were then taken and each participant (some opted out) now making their first crossing of 60o South Latitude was eligible for a certificate. At the conclusion of the brief ceremony, Don unsurprisingly had a bucket of water thrown over him! Later quite a few who had participated enjoyed time thawing out in the sauna before retiring to the warm bunk. We were all now in waters under the jurisdiction of the Antarctic Treaty (1959).
A few hours later we were woken with the announcement from Nathan that it was 7.25 a.m. and the first iceberg had been sighted away to the west of starboard. This was recorded by radar as being at 61o09.8’ South, 167o12.0’ East and estimated to be 20 nautical miles away. The tabular berg had tilted and estimated by Don to be about 80m high and from our view, around 300m wide. Water depth on the chart was at this time around 1600m. This led to a determination at the staff breakfast meeting, as to who the two winners of the competition were. After much discussion, Derek was awarded the prize for latitude of 61o0’15” South and Lorraine for the closest time of sighting as 08.10a.m. However Derek had written ‘inappropriate markings’ on the form and it was suggested that as he did not attend Don’s navigation lecture he should be ‘keel-hauled’. With much laughter it was decided that the Judge’s decision was final and Derek was declared the winner.
Derek West from London later wrote:
“I first ‘discovered’ Scott in the nineteen forties when my father took me to see John Mills in [the film] ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. I was hooked! From then on I read every book about Antarctica I could lay my hands on. The highlight of all this has come to fruition on this trip. Also, I won the prize of being first into Scott’s Hut by predicting the co-ordinates for when we would see our first iceberg. This tour was [later] conducted by David Harrowfield for which I was very grateful”.
In his morning announcement Nathan advised there has been little change in the ice maps and that we have 400 nautical miles to run before the Antarctic Circle 66o 33’ South Latitude. The morning was beautiful with a calm sea and a few Sooty Shearwaters and Antarctic Prions about. We were advised to keep a look out for whales as the sea provided ideal conditions for sighting. A further iceberg was seen off to starboard at 09.00 and a distant sighting was made of the blow of a Humpback Whale. David gave his second historical lecture at 10.00 to a good attendance. Entitled ‘Antarctica Unveiled’, the lecture focused on Scott’s first expedition, the National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-1904. The power-point presentation made extensive use of early photographs and focused on the ship Discovery, sledging journeys and scientific achievements which included discovery of the first aerial photographs taken (from a balloon named Eva), the Cape Crozier Emperor Penguin colony, the Polar Plateau and of the first Dry Valley, since named the Taylor Valley after geographer Thomas Griffith Taylor of Scott’s last expedition in 1910-1913.
After a break the first episode of ‘The Last Place on Earth’, based on Roland Huntford’s book Scott and Amundsen (also republished under same title as the film) was shown at 11:30 a.m. At 3 p.m. we were issued with our handsome blue Antarctic insulated jackets by the expedition staff with the assistance of Mary B. An hour later there was a sudden drop in water temperature to 3.3oC and a rise in air temperature to 9oC. At this time we were at Latitude 62o 26.181’ South, Longitude 170o 02.54’ East. According to the chart we had reached the start of the Convergence at Macquarie Island at 4 pm the day we left, this accounting for the sea fog. The line of the Convergence appears to be much further south this year.
Of interest is the scarcity of bird life which is similar to the same time/day last year. Each day including today, we have seen Sooty Shearwaters, Mottled and White-headed Petrels. Other species seen today were two Blue Petrels, a Subantarctic Diving Petrel, two Wilson’s Storm Petrels (first sighting this voyage), Black Browed Albatross and Southern Royal Albatross. Nancy and Steve have maintained an all-day vigil in the bow, observing and recording. The sea continues to be calm and much of the sky is clouded over with the occasional clear patch.
At 5 p.m. Samuel gave an excellent presentation entitled ‘Antarctica – the Great White Continent’. In his lecture which was illustrated with excellent visuals, sea ice was covered and also the Antarctic Treaty, politics and other aspects. Of special interest was his reference to the first scientific expedition to the Southern Ocean. This was led by Jean Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier in 1739, 34 years before James Cook, when the concentration of whales was recorded and penguins and ice bergs was described. Bouvetoya Island, a dormant volcanic island in the South Atlantic, is named in honour of the French explorer. Numerous good questions followed Samuel’s lecture.
At 6.25 p.m. a southerly course change took place and this evening we had delightful entree with pine nuts and pieces of smoked chicken, followed by a superb main course of either rib-eye steak or rack of lamb then a desert of sweet pecan pie.
At 8 p.m. the Bridge recorded the water and air temperatures with the water since 4 p.m. now reading 2.7oC and the air 4.0oC - quite a change in four hours and the water temperature will further decrease until it reaches around 1oC or lower to near -1.86oC. We were then at Latitude 63o 02.45’ South, Longitude 170o 39.82’ East. An hour later three Fin Whales were also seen blowing and we can expect to see more of this activity as we work our way further south. Nancy obtained some excellent photographs and the water depth at this time was around 1800m.
And so another wonderful day in the South came to a close with tomorrow being highly anticipated as we were due to make our crossing of the Antarctic Circle at Latitude 66o 33’ South.
Day 11 Wednesday 21 January
Southern Ocean. We cross the Antarctic Circle Latitude 66o 33.3’ South
Handa’s birthday celebrated
Noon position: Latitude 66o 06.45’ South; Longitude 172o 58.9’ East
Air temperature: 2.1oC Water 4oC
The sea got up early this morning and by 7.30 a.m. a brisk north-west wind was helping to push us southwards. Several small bergs, possibly parts of larger icebergs, were seen as they made their way north. These silent sentinels of all shapes had calved from ice shelves and glacier tongues and were well-weathered. A few ‘growlers’ were also seen floating just above the surface. These are potential hazards to unwary ships.
By 7.30 a.m. the air temperature had lowered to 3oC and at 4 a.m. the water was a cool +1.1oC and will fall even lower. A few birds about included a pair of beautiful Light-mantled Sooty Albatross which swept above the waves fringed with white, a Cape Petrel and a prion. On the bridge the officers on watch and assisted by a crew member using binoculars, scanned the horizon for any bergs concealed by the light fog. After a hearty breakfast, many of us assembled in the lecture theatre to enjoy Part 2 of ‘The Last Place on Earth’. The bird life gradually increased during the morning with several Light-mantled Sooty and also Black-browed Albatross. Of special interest was the first sighting this voyage of Antarctic Petrels, of which two were seen. Unfortunately it was not a good morning to walk the deck or carry out bird observations from the bow, the Bridge being a much warmer place.
At 09.35 a.m. we had 55 nautical miles to travel before the Antarctic Circle. This is a geographical boundary (also in the Arctic) which in summer marks the most northerly point at which the sun is visible for 24 hours a day on mid-summer’s day (21 December), when the sun is at its highest above the horizon. In winter it is the southernmost point at which the sun can be seen on mid-winters day (21 June). South of the Antarctic Circle it is dark 24 hours a day in winter.
The crossing of the Antarctic Circle is considered to be a symbolic point of the entry into Antarctic waters. On 17 January 1773 Cook and his crews on the HMS Resolution and HMS Adventure were first to cross this significant geographical line.
At noon Nathan and Don assembled us in the lecture room for a compulsory briefing. This began with the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators founded 1991) briefing of which Heritage Expeditions is a foundation member. They told us that during this summer, just 300 people are expected to visit the Ross Sea region compared to 20,000 on the Antarctic Peninsula. This was followed by the Code of Conduct for historic site visits administered by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Birds increased with ten mostly juvenile, Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross following the ship and a Campbell Albatross was also recorded. Bergs came and went in the mist and many of us took photographs of their presence on the screen of the Japanese Furuno radar set. Soon after lunch a Humpback Whale was sighted and at 2.15 p.m. we assembled in the Library/Bar for a special ceremony to commemorate crossing the Antarctic Circle. There was even a ‘hybrid penguin’ present. As the time neared for the crossing, Samuel relayed the position passed by David over the PA system and at 2.32.5 p.m. the ship made the crossing.
Bob dispensed for each of us, a mug of mulled wine made by Frank as Nathan read the following:
“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 one of us joins a unique group of explorers that have gone before us, not only showing us the way, but giving us 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 [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.”
This was applied by Don and Agnes.
The afternoon passed quickly and at 5 p.m. Don gave a very interesting presentation video entitled ‘Polar Bearing – 200 teddy bears to Antarctica’. This was followed by updates on the South Magnetic Pole and Southern Ocean weather.
Of interest from the Bridge was seeing what appeared to be a mauled or very sick, young Emperor Penguin which lifted its head briefly as it drifted past the ship, a number of Antarctic Petrels, several Mottled Petrels and two blowing Humpback Whales. A little ice was in the water however no further bergs were seen. Occasionally the sun made an effort to break through however fog of varying intensity came and went and by 8 p.m. the air temperature was 2oC and water 0.1oC.
After a beautiful evening meal with pork fillet stuffed with apricots and almonds or fine Chatham Islands blue cod, both of which were very well received, a few hardy souls walked around the deck while most preferred to stay indoors. Several cabins now had their panel heaters turned on. Nathan in his last announcement for the day said that about 1 a.m. our course will change to south-east and we expect to confront the ice pack which has probably been condensed by the north-west wind today.
Day 12 Thursday 22 January
Noon position: Latitude 69o 58.024’ South; Longitude 173o 50.492’ East
Air temperature: 3.1oC Water 0.2oC
First Antarctic fulmar sighted (absent in Ross Sea -Spirit of Enderby- last two seasons).
We entered the pack as promised at 1 a.m. with some not sleeping, noticing changes in the sound of the ship and surroundings. Frank on his first visit to Antarctica was one of those out on deck at 3 a.m. By 07.30 a.m. and at Latitude 69o 24’ South Longitude 173o 57’ East, many were on the Bridge with most enjoying their first Antarctic experience, as we were surrounded by one year old snow covered pack-ice and open leads. There were a few snow flurries and the chart indicated that we had during the night followed a zig-zag course. Below us was 3000m of water. At 8 a.m. the air temperature was a cool 2oC and the water slightly warmer at -0.1oC. The sky influenced by the snow below, was a pale grey and a cool breeze was blowing.
There was much to interest us around the ship. Many Snow Petrels were seen, the occasional Antarctic Petrel, a nice group of Adelie Penguins, one Emperor Penguin and several Crab Eater Seals including a group of three on one floe. This is the most common of the true Antarctic seals and one species we had come so far to see. On the Bridge Captain Dimitri perched on his stool studied the ice-flecked Southern Ocean as he sought out the best route for the Helmsman to follow through the ice, as we headed southwards towards the Ross Sea. Apart for the background sound of the ship’s engines, little sound was heard on the bridge, as we gazed in awe at the beauty of the pristine surroundings before us. This previously had been confined to books, video, dvd, www, photographs or discussion with others.
Making our way through leads between floes, was little different to that done by mariners of the heroic-era (1895-1917) who in their diaries, wrote about the vista surrounding them. They also remarked on hearing only the rhythmic, thump, thump, thump, of the triple expansion steam engine below, as it enabled their wooden ship to push through the ice. Some passengers also commented on the similarity to present day ‘explorers’ making return visits. Also how technology with electronic aids such as satellites and radar, has replaced eyes aided with early binoculars along with the ‘tub’ or ‘crow’s nest’ on the main mast, to facilitate travel through icy waters.
Many of us enjoyed seeing the exquisite blue shades in some of the older ice. Snow appears white because the air trapped between ice crystals scatter, reflecting all the wave lengths of sunlight back into one’s eyes and is therefore seen by us as white. However compacted deep blue ice such as from a glacier ice or in an iceberg that has calved from an ice shelf, retains small air bubbles which scatter little light. This allows the penetration of sunlight deep into the ice. Ice crystals absorb six times as much light at the red end of the spectrum and at the blue end. Since the ice absorbs most of the red light, only the blue end of the spectrum remains reflected back to us to see.
This morning was left for us to enjoy our new surroundings. Nathan mentioned during his 9 a.m. announcements, that the ice map looks fairly true to its colours and that we can expect to meet heavier ice conditions. Around mid-day, we enjoyed two excellent sightings of Crab Eater Seals, which one passenger likened to giant ‘looper caterpillars’. Birds about the ship included the Northern Giant, Antarctic and Snow Petrel. A Brown or Subantarctic Skua as it is now described was also seen.
We all decided that one can spend many hours gazing at the ice. There is something addictive and almost mesmerising, as the ice gently moves up and down with waves created by current, wind and the Spirit of Enderby. The floes are all different as they change shape, are continually on the move and reveal their varied beauty. Six varieties of pizza, excellent large potato wedges and sliced beetroot was enjoyed for a splendid lunch today. Connor and Frank really did our waistlines proud. This was topped off by the first sighting this voyage, of an Antarctic (previously named Southern) Fulmar by David and Agnes from the stern. The fulmar following the ship flew along the Port side where it was verified by Steve as it flew around the bow and a cheer went up. The bird then settled on the ocean off the stern. During the past two seasons the species has been absent.
One of the best photographs today however, had its true glory revealed when studied later. Ben had photographed as many of us did, a blue fissure in an ice floe which on closer examination, revealed a Snow Petrel sitting on a nest with in a later photograph, the other parent flying above the flow.
Nathan announced that the latest satellite map for the ice had arrived. This indicated that we have around 70-80 nautical miles to the ice edge which is changing hourly and will be in the vicinity of Cape Adare and the Downshire Cliffs at the entrance to the Ross Sea.
We assembled in the lecture room at 3.30 p.m. for a lecture by Samuel. This was entitled ‘Sea ice; the eighth continent’. Using excellent pictures with many taken during his expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic (where he spent a winter), Samuel began by explaining the terminology concerning ice such as we have seen today. The formation and decline of sea ice for both Polar Regions followed and of concern was the effect the lack of summer sea ice will have on the livelihood of the indigenous Inuit and wild life – particularly Polar Bears. Some aspects such as effect on albedo (extent to which incoming solar radiation is reflected) are not established and how will the ocean react in the long term along with world climate.
Late this afternoon the Spirit of Enderby was confronted with heavier ice and large blocks of ice passed the ship. On a nearby floe we once again had the opportunity to photograph a Crab Eater Seal and after the evening meal enjoyed an excellent view of an Emperor Penguin. We anticipate even better lighting conditions for photography as we move steadily south towards the Downshire Cliffs.
At the end of another interesting day we enjoyed a sumptuous dinner which began with a delicious seafood chowder. Later many of us spent time on the Bridge enjoying the ice and occasional bird life including an Emperor Penguin at fairly close quarters along with small clusters of Adelie Penguins.
Day 13 Friday 23 January
Noon position: Latitude 71o 27.1087’ South; Longitude 172o 06.1922’ East
Air temperature: -1.0oC Water –0.1oC
We enjoyed good long spells of calm water last evening and on entering pack ice again, the occasional large floe contacted with the hull. Steady snow began driving in from the south-west between 5.30 and 6 a.m. however the blizzard-like conditions with poor visibility, did not detour many of us from spending time on the Bridge. At one stage a flock of 20+ Antarctic Petrels flew by however the Snow Petrels were according to Steve “hard to see” – funny that. A small number of Adelie Penguins were present.
Captain Dimitry was busy on the Bridge and taking advantage of the heated spinning windows to establish the best course to be taken. He frequently relayed course changes to the Helmsman who after making the correction repeated the Captain’s command thereby ensuring the instruction was understood and made. Visibility diminished and snow increased with a crew member requiring use of a snow shovel to clear the deck behind the Bridge. At 8 a.m. the air temperature had fallen to -2oC, the same as that recorded for the sea water.
After a fine ‘French’ breakfast which included very nice ‘French toast’ and crispy bacon, Nathan advised that the ship would be parked for around two hours to give time for the weather to clear, as the radar was having difficulty picking up leads just 200m ahead of the ship. We now had 15 – 18 nautical miles to go before the ice edge and as Don pointed out, the edge of the ice at the points of entry and exit can be dangerous due to the swell. During the time the ships engines were stopped and driven by the current, we drifted slowly at 1.4 knots, although basically remained on station.
At some stage all the early ships were held up for varying periods in Ross Sea pack ice. It was therefore appropriate that at this time, David would give his third lecture which focused on Shackleton. Entitled ‘A Charismatic Hero’, the lecture was concerned with the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition 1907-1909. The lectured covered key aspects of the expedition including walking to within 97 nautical miles of the Geographic South Pole, reaching the South Magnetic Pole, the first ascent of Mt. Erebus and other achievements. The lecture concluded with a playing of the only recorded speech by Shackleton originally sold on an American Edison cylinder record to play on a phonograph (which David has), although for today was played via a digitised version on a laptop computer.
After a break many of us enjoyed part four of the ‘Last Place on Earth’. The series has certainly increased interest and added to our knowledge of Scott’s last expedition, with the ship’s library books in demand. By noon we were in open water, however the sun which showed signs of appearing through the low cloud, did not remain long. We were drifting at 290o from the north-west in an area of open water with beyond about 7/10ths of ice with leads and the wind was driving in snow from the south. Owing to the full moon, the ship was under the influence of a north-north-east current rather than the wind. Three Crab Eater Seals were seen on floes and a flock of 25 Antarctic Petrels flew around the ship. Out on deck it was a cool -0.1oC. At 3 p.m. a bitterly cold southerly was blowing, waves covered any open water and the ship was plugging along at 3.5 knots. A small flock of around 8 Antarctic Petrels appeared then disappeared in the murk.
Don once again had us in the lecture room. He began with a short explanation on compass bearings and influence of the magnetic poles and mentioned that we are presently south of the south magnetic pole. Don’s presentation was entitled ‘A Year in Antarctica’, and covered the time he and his wife Margie wintered over by Mawson’s huts at Cape Dennison in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica. Don kept all of us attentive as he outlined the two years preparations including buying a yacht they named Spirit of Sydney, problems related to the hut, how it stood up to the katabatic winds and blizzards, the low temperatures which fell to as low as -18oC within the hut overnight, daily activities including the schools educational programme along with, amusing observations of wildlife. We look forward to viewing the documentary.
The Sea Shop then opened for a short time enabling us to acquire a few items. By now however, although the wind was still blowing, the sun was making an effort to break through and we continued plugging south towards Terra Nova Bay with the aim of having as much time as possible in the Ross Sea region.
By 6 p.m. the sun was out and we were in a large area of open water with scattered floes although the wind was still blowing an estimated 30-35 knots. The southern side of the ice edge was near and there were signs of a swell coming under the ice from the south. Nathan advised that the new ice map appeared with the conditions we have experienced over the last 24 hours. A course was set which would see us pass the Downshire Cliffs and Coulman Island as we make our way to Terra Nova Bay, with the wind expected to drop by early morning. Soon after six we had further good viewing of Adelie Penguins and some of us obtained excellent photographs of a large Leopard Seal. Later 5 – 6 South Polar Skua were seen, the first for the expedition.
At 7.50 p.m. we cleared the ice and with the second engine engaged headed on a 300 nautical mile journey towards Terra Nova Bay. We had certainly enjoyed our pack-ice experience and looked forward to the following day.
Day 14 Saturday 24 January
Ross Sea. Terra Nova Bay, Zodiac cruise in ice floes
Noon position: Latitude 74o 37.173’ South; Longitude 170o 25.494’ East
Air temperature: 1.0oC Water 2.0 oC
Mary B’s birthday celebrated
We had a very good rest in calm conditions and rose to a nice sunny morning with a temperature of 3oC. Unfortunately the sun was not with us long and the three layers of cloud (Stratus, Alto and Cirrus) briefly visible then by 9.30 a.m. became a layer of strato-cumulus although we were blessed with a calm sea.
The morning passed by quickly. Nathan advised a possible programme for the hours ahead and at 10 a.m. David gave his lecture ‘Triumph and Tragedy’ which dealt with Scott’s last expedition, the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-1913 and was dedicated to William Burton RN, the last survivor from the expedition. The lecture covered a lot of ground and provided detail additional to that from our first four programmes based on the book by Roland Huntford. At the conclusion of the lecture numerous questions focused on a variety of aspects including stores taken on the polar journey. Later in the morning 2-3 Minke Whales were seen.
By 1 p.m. we had already made a course change to bring us in line with Terra Nova Bay and at 2.15 p.m. we enjoyed the first distant view of the Transantarctic Mountains. At this stage we still had around 80 nautical miles to run which would see us off the Northern Foothills between 10 and 11 p.m. The Northern Foothills, a line of brownish coastal hills on the west side of Terra Nova Bay and originally called the Southern Foothills, were named as with several other features, by the Northern Party of Scott’s last expedition.
Shortly afterwards three Minke Whales were seen off the port bow and many of us obtained photographs and also had a good view of a row of ‘footprints’ – the roughly circular patches of clear flat water remaining after the whales had sounded and passed below the bow to starboard. Further sightings have been made of the South Polar Skua and a number of Snow Petrels have been seen.
Episode 5 of the ‘Last Place on Earth’ was well attended by many of us who are keen to follow the series through to its conclusion with a further two episodes to follow. In the afternoon some of us took time to exercise with walks around the deck, making the most of the calm waters. We were able to photograph a moulting Emperor Penguin and enjoyed a good view of a Crabeater Seal with a beautiful silvery coat as it passed by.
At 5.15 p.m. Nathan called us together for a briefing as we hope to make several landings beginning early tomorrow morning. An invitation has been given for us to visit Italy’s Mario Zuchelli Station and Cape Royds is accessible. However Cape Evans has about 200m of ice and we may not be able to visit McMurdo Station or Scott Base. David gave a 15 minute talk on the Northern party of Scott’s last expedition, which was incarcerated for nearly 200 days in an ice cave on Inexpressible Island which we hope to visit. Later we embarked on a Zodiac cruise amongst ice floes near the ship. This was a wonderful experience and the electric blue colour in tilted hummocks of ice were outstanding. Some blocks of ice on large floes resembled a graveyard struck by lightning. Above through gaps in purple-grey cumulus clouds, the sun looked like a white hot ball of metal.
As we made our way through the floes with the Spirit of Enderby eventually some distance away, Samuel radioed that an Emperor Penguin was visible on a floe. We nosed the Zodiacs into the edge of the floe just five metres away from the Emperor. This was a wonderful opportunity to take photographs and view the beautiful colours on the bird which kindly obliged by remaining in place for us. Occasionally it showed its means of travel by tobogganing and also emitted a few brief calls. This encounter will always remain a highlight of our expedition. Continuing on our cruise a Crab Eater Seal was the next subject for photography and this was followed by sightings of another two on a nearby floe. By 9 p.m. we were back on the ship and soon in the dining room enjoying an excellent meal of Irish stew or chicken which Frank very kindly organised while Connor was driving a Zodiac. Frank made a special cake for Mary and the staff along with others at her table, then sang Happy Birthday.
A 10.30 p.m. the soft light was beautiful and the opportunity was taken to obtain photographs of Mt. Melbourne, a 2732m volcanic cone which although not active, has near the summit, areas of warm ground and fumeroles (chimney-like formations created by steam escaping through vents and meeting cold air which condenses). Inside the temperature can be +40oC and outside the air temperature -30oC. Excellent views were also enjoyed of Cape Washington and other areas along the Victoria Land coast. With the possibility of a very early morning start most of us decided to have as much sleep as possible.
Day 15 Sunday 25 January
Terra Nova Bay – Inexpressible Island (Scott Northern party historic site); Gondwana Station (Germany); Jang Bojo Station (South Korea); Mario Zucchelli Station (Italy)
Noon position: Latitude 74o 38.53’ South; Longitude 104o 14.0 ’ East
Air temperature: 5oC Water -1.9oC
Celebrated Paul M’s birthday
Today we got up to a beautiful sunrise with fantastic soft light on the nearby hills and mountains. Nathan had the staff out of the bunk at 2 a.m. and we followed about an hour later. For many it had been a short night. By 3 a.m. staff members were already at a small cove on the end of Inexpressible Island and this became the landing and departure place. When the first Zodiac arrived, a large Leopard Seal was on the rocks but did not stay long. Noticeable was the amount of penguin feathers in the seal’s excrement. David and Frank led the first party initially along snow then by way of boulder hopping (some of the boulders were rather large).
After 30 minutes or so we all began arriving at the site of the ice cave. Here Scott’s Northern party spent a miserable winter in 1912 and there was ample evidence of their presence. A tin thought by David to be a Cerebos salt tin was found where it had blown to by a rock and in the immediate vicinity of the cave site were seal skins and bones and two Emperor Penguin skeletons with skins. Davis had a copy of his book ‘Icy Heritage’ here and this had a diagram illustrating a cross section of the ice cave. Of interest was a plaque placed by New Zealanders in 1969 and the official multi-lingual plaque of the Antarctic Treaty which recognises the historic site.
The morning was still with a beautiful sky and many of us took the opportunity to climb a hill above the landing place, another behind the cave site or to visit the Adelie Penguin colony around the head of the bay. Some Weddell Seals and two very ‘dessicated’ Elephant Seal carcasses were seen. According to earlier scientists who sampled tissue, these were thought to be up to 2,000 years old. Many similar remains of numerous Crabeater Seals are recorded from the Dry Valleys in south Victoria Land.
From the summit of the two nearby hills we had an excellent view of the Priestley Glacier. This was named after Shackleton and Scott expedition geologist Raymond (later Sir) Priestley and of Hells Gate Moraine near the terminal face of the glacier, named by the Northern party and of Evan Cove. The latter was thought to be named by Shackleton for Captain F.P. Evans of the USS Koonyathat had towed the Nimrod and is considered to be the first steel hulled ship to cross the Antarctic Circle.
With the last boat departing at 6.30 a.m. we began our way back and a few of us saw the two ‘sun dogs’ with one either side of the sun. Back on board after a very special landing, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at 7 a.m. and began to prepare for our next foray ashore.
In the meantime the Captain had relocated the ship to near the Federal Republic of Germany Gondwana Hutte scientific station. The station is presently unoccupied however we were all ashore soon after 9.30 a.m. and enjoying a walk over the moon-like landscape with rocks of many colours and many with black and occasional red and yellow lichens. Some of the black lichens were over 20cm in diameter. This was our first ‘continental landing’. The station huts, especially the smaller one elevated well off the ground was of interest. This was the first hut erected for the Ganovex 1 scientific expedition in the late 1970’s. It had solar panels and expedition stickers on a wall and door. A few of us ventured to areas along the coast where we enjoyed the experience of sampling the peacefulness of the Antarctic environment. Samuel found it particularly special hearing Weddell Seals ‘singing’ and listening to the sound of moving ice. Elsewhere many of us noticed a smiling garden gnome with a wheelbarrow perched on a rock, which David suggested should be named after the Super-continent Gondwana, from which present landmasses such as Australia evolved.
Many skuas (more than last season) were perched on boulders along the ridge and several well-developed chicks close to fledging was seen. The skuas tended to resent our presence and respecting their territory, we retreated when necessary then maintained a safe distance. As we walked up a ridge marking a boundary for our excursion, the large South Korean container ship Maasgrachtregistered in Amsterdam and supplying South Korea’s new Jang Bojo Station, came into view. The station named after a military leader to whom the present Korean culture is attributed, following it being split form the Chinese culture around 900 AD.
Two American scientists from the station, Terry Bullet and Justin Maby, were pleased to see us and following their communication with the station (Nathan had made prior contact) we were invited to take a short tour. Here the Safety Officer met us and after a short walk, we gathered outside the impressive blue complex which has outstanding facilities and was opened a year ago. The two American physicists had erected four high frequency radar towers, within which was a mile of wiring. This was part of a programme to examine the interaction of ionised plasma (aurora) between the sun and earth’s magnetic field and will be one of the important areas of science undertaken here. Although arriving at short notice, the station leader kindly welcomed us and group photographs were taken in front of the main building. Nathan also presented the station leader a copy of the beautiful book ‘Galapagos of the Antarctic’ by Rodney Russ and Alex Tarauds. Of interest to us were various plaques including marking placement of a time capsule, when the station was opened on 2 December 2014 and the overall tidiness and orderly layout. The South Koreans were very hospitable and with lunch on board scheduled for 1.15 p.m., we soon made our way back over the ridge to the landing place.
Back aboard the ship there was little time for resting however as Nathan had already arranged with the station leader at Italy’s Mario Zuccelli Station at Baia Terra Nova, for us to have a visit beginning at 3.30 p.m. The weather was still excellent and after a fine lunch with pumpkin soup and garlic bread, we back on the Antarctic continent once again.
Staff allocated to look after our four groups visiting Italy’s 30+ year old scientific station gave us a very friendly welcome, then took us on a nice walk around the complex. Amazing walls supporting roads had been made using huge granite erratic boulders and many of the facilities utilised former shipping containers, such as for geology and marine biology. An elevated room on top of the main block served as an operations facility from which all flights and field activities were handled. An ice cave near the station has a temperature of -20oC and is used for storage of food.
The active science programme includes tagging of Orca where a transmitter is attached to the dorsal fin so location and depth data can be sent directly to Genoa University via the French Argos satellite system. One interesting fact was the Orca which feed on species of ice fish, penguins and seals can go as far as New Zealand and back in a month. One transmitter has been operating for three years. Experiments are also being undertaken with fish to examine the effect with changing pH on the condition of fish gonads from changing ocean acidification. Preliminary work is done at the station and the fish are then sent to Genoa. Another interesting project concerned minute fragments of glass ejected from molten rock of meteorites and collected from glacial ice and sandy areas. The meteorites are travelling so fast that they compress and heat the air ahead and this melts the rock with molten material spreading thousands of kilometres outwards.
At the conclusion of our tour, hospitable station staff invited us to afternoon tea in their recreation room where Agnes arranged for the stamping of our passports. By 4 p.m. we were back on the Spirit of Enderby and with departure from the area, Nathan advised that a helicopter pilot mentioned, after the visit to Inexpressible Island, the katabatic wind off the polar plateau was blowing at 40 knots.
It had been a truly outstanding day for our expedition. All thanks due to Nathan, Captain Dimitry, the leaders of Jang Bojo and Mario Zuccelli Stations and of course, we were blessed with excellent weather, for making the landings possible. After an splendid meal and a few minutes on deck enjoying the soft light illuminating dark blue tints on the mountains and ice, we all moved wearily to bed for a good rest.
Day 16 Monday 26 January – Australia Day
Ross Sea, Drygalski Ice Tongue
Noon position: Latitude 74o 574.88’ South; Longitude 165o 47.333’ East
Air temperature: -2oC Water .9oC
Last evening the Spirit of Enderby drifted without engines off the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Today we rose to a beautiful sunny morning and were greeted at breakfast by Don in his ‘Australian shirt’ with various motifs. These included cans of beer with unusual brands such as ‘Ukelele Lager’. Allan appeared with a special head piece to which was attached a small umbrella displaying the Australian flag, while the flag was also worn as a cloak. Keri and Wendy each had the flag proudly displayed on their headbands. It was hard not to notice Australia Day!
At 8 a.m. we were in Latitude 75o18.335’ South, Longitude 163o59.80’ East. The air temperature on the bridge window recorded -4.5oC although David’s thermometer indicated that in shade (meteorological records are normally taken with thermometers within a Stevenson screen) this was more likely a degree lower. The sea water was .8oC. Before us was the edge of the great Drygalski Ice Tongue with its sculpted surface and various caves and fissures in shadow. In one place the surface snow covered slopes down towards the sea and as much as twice the height of the ice face visible above the sea surface was below. Excellent photographs were captured and Don gave an interesting commentary on the ice, in which he made reference to similar sites observed during his considerable experience of travel in Antarctica.
Of great interest was an extensive area of ice that appeared to have at least partially calved from the ice tongue and may have been grounded. This also appeared to be so from a satellite photograph received today. Because of the exceptional weather, we could see the primary sources of the ice. This had come from the David Glacier (named for the ‘Prof’ – Professor Edgeworth David, who with Mawson and Mackay, were first to reach the South Magnetic Pole in 1909) and also the Nansen Ice Sheet fed from behind by the Reeve Glacier. In the Reeve Glacier, we could clearly discern the Teall Nunatak (an Inuit term for a mountain protruding above ice), that was named for eminent geologist Sir Jethro Justinian Harris Teall, Director of the Geological Survey and Museum of Practical Geology London 1901-1913.
Beyond these glaciers was the Prince Albert Mountain Range. Don and David, who like Nathan, have enjoyed numerous visits to the region, had never enjoyed such good viewing of the Drygalski Ice Tongue. The morning will certainly be a memorable highlight of our time in Terra Nova Bay and Antarctica.
By 9.30 a.m. we had left Terra Nova Bay and were heading into the central Ross Sea. David’s lecture was temporarily postponed as by 10 a.m. the ship was rolling from the influence of katabatic wind off the polar plateau. This however did not prevent Frank from baking beautiful cinnamon rolls for lunch. He then went on deck to enjoy the freshness of a fine Antarctic morning and to photograph “the blue water and crystal clear mountains”. As we left Terra Nova Bay and proceeded north and then south, we avoided an area of pack ice and by now the katabatic air flow had dispersed. The mountains to starboard continued to look beautiful. On the deck Andre the Bosun assisted by Oleb a sailor, serviced the starboard anchor chain.
Our chefs today provided an excellent Australia Day lunch with steak, hot wholemeal bread rolls, salads and Frank’s special buns. By now we had lost the katabatic wind and the sea was calm again so David gave his ‘signature lecture’ to a good audience. The lecture dedicated to his friend the late Richard (Dick) Richards, last survivor of the expedition, was considered appropriate since we will soon visit the historic huts last occupied in the 1916-1917 summer. It began with him singing the first few lines of ‘Walzing Matilda’ which the audience joined in. He said four Australians lived in the Ross Island huts erected by Scott (1902), Shackleton (1908) and Scott (1911). We look forward to visiting some of these huts and although the Ross Sea party was the main focus, reference was also made to the Weddell Sea party led by Shackleton, which had hoped to make the first crossing of Antarctica during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1916. Although Shackleton failed in this venture, he saved all his men whereas the Ross Sea party, who laid the crucial depots for Shackleton, lost three of their number. David considered it unlikely that Shackleton would have achieved his goal.
The afternoon continued to be fine and during a spell of travel through pack ice, Steve reported seeing Snow Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, South Polar Skua, Adelie Penguins and an Emperor Penguin. A Crab Eater Seal was also seen and at 4.30 p.m. as we headed in an easterly direction, the south end of Coulman Island was seen on the port horizon. Coulman Island was named by James Clark Ross in 1841 for his father-in-law Thomas Coulman. The island is 4.8 km long and the highest point is 1998m (6555ft).
Many of us returned to the lecture room to view the excellent production entitled ‘Ice Bird’ which covers the life history of the Adelie Penguin and answered many of our questions. Although produced some years ago, the film is still well worth viewing. Before the bar opened at 6 p.m. all 21 Australians stood in the bow for a team photograph by the three photographers standing on a hatch cover. By the end of the day we were all fairly tired and with the possibility of an early morning landing at Franklin Island, most of us decided some sleep was in order.
Day 17 Tuesday 27 January
Ross Sea, Franklin Island, McMurdo Sound, Cape Evans
Noon position: Latitude 76o 35.5’ South; Longitude 167o59.78’ East
Air temperature: 4oC Water -1.8oC
147 years ago this day, James Clark Ross discovered Franklin Island, Mounts Erebus and Terror
At 2.40 a.m. Agnes woke us with an announcement that we would indeed be landing on Franklin Island and weather conditions were perfect. We had been through a little ice in the night and this meant a change in course. The staff had earlier checked the suitability for a landing on the island and at 3 a.m. Nathan assembled us in the lecture room for a briefing. David arrived in full rig for a landing prompting Nathan to ask “Are you going somewhere David?” We were then told by Nathan that today would be ‘Adelie overload’. We were soon washing our boots and by 3.30 a.m. the landing was underway with all passengers going ashore. It was a beautiful crisp morning, with a little cloud and numerous Adelie penguins swimming near the ship.
On the horizon in the distance was from the left, the dormant volcano Mt. Terror (3230m) and the active volcano Mt. Erebus (3795m) both on Ross Island and named in 1841 by James Clark Ross, after his two expedition ships. Further to the west was Mt. Discovery (2680m) named for Scott’s ship during the National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-1904. Franklin Island at Latitude 76o05.4’ South, Longitude 168o19’East, was also named by Ross in 1841 to recognise Sir John Franklin, the noted Arctic explorer, who was at the time Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and had entertained the expedition on its way south from Hobart in 1840. The island is volcanic in origin and has an ice cap over much of its summit.
The beach chosen for our landing consists of old beach ridges (with swales or low areas between) which rise in height to the south and is known technically as a cuspate foreland. Chris, one of two geologists in our group, noticed the basalt was rich in the mineral olivine. On the beach ridges of rounded basalt pebbles and cobbles, the large Adelie penguin colony has become established and some penguins had even moved to the high areas of talus on the slopes below the summit of the island. Ridley Beach at Cape Adare is similar although on a much bigger scale. To assist us with our landing, Nathan had organised a series of steps up the ice foot, along with a rope to help gain the level surface on top. As we landed we received a short briefing from Bob on where we could go and reminded us of the five metre rule for all wildlife.
We were soon enjoying the many antics of life in a large penguin colony. Downy chicks were chasing parents and demanding a meal, which we observed being given; other penguins were sleeping and there was a continual sound accompanied by the strong odour that is present in these places. South Polar Skuas hovered in close vicinity to nest sites, which is why they are often called the buccaneers of the south. They were always vigilant and prepared to take advantage of any chick or even adult that strayed beyond the relative security of numbers. Nathan said when they inspected the site for landing, around 35 skuas were seen. Off-shore scores of birds were ‘porpoising’ and feeding and at least one Leopard Seal was seen cruising close to the shore, extending its head above the water from time to time to observe the penguins gathered along the edge of the ice foot. We also enjoyed seeing penguins leap from the water and displaying their shiny wet plumage. Small groups and lesser numbers of penguins were making a continual procession from the colony to the ice foot with younger birds emitting guttural sounds and the occasional “aark”. If for some reason we became too close to a younger bird, it would emit a deep growling sound.
Near the southern end of the ice foot Weddell Seals could be seen amongst huge boulders of ice thrown up by waves. These were festooned with long icicles on the lower surfaces as they melted and also of interest were the well-worn tracks made by penguins as they commuted between the colony and sea.
The first Zodiac returned to the ship at 5.30 a.m. and by 7 a.m. we were all back aboard enjoying a hearty breakfast. Although contested at the time, Don considered David had taken his slice of toast. This heinous crime was denied and the only witness was Agnes who could not recall Don putting the toast in the toaster. Don who then ended up with David’s well toasted slice of toast, decided as a matter of principle to then retain this along with a second slice to have with cheese for his morning tea. The ship now continued on course for Ross Island with the first waypoint being Cape Bird 128 km away. Many of us decided to have some shut-eye, however Samuel announced that a beautiful tabular ice berg and a Minke Whale were nearby. Those who got up to view this spectacle were rewarded with a fantastic iceberg on a very calm sea. We also had a good view of the north end of Franklin Island before most of us returned to our bunks. At noon some of us rallied and were on the bridge to observe the magnificent panorama before us. Away to port was Cape Crozier then westward, Mt Terror, Mt Terra Nova (2130m) which we had not observed from Franklin Island then Mt Bird (1800m) on Ross Island. Ahead was Beaufort Island, also with a penguin colony on the south end. The sea was very calm and lunch with fish cakes, garlic chicken legs and potato salad, followed by an excellent cake with chocolate topping was good fuel for our next landing.
Samuel announced over lunch that it was 147 years ago to the day that James Clark Ross discovered and landed on Franklin Island and Mounts Erebus and Terror. He wrote “some land which had been in sight since the preceding noon, and which we called the ‘high Island’; it proved to be a mountain twelve thousand four hundred feet in elevation above the level of the sea, emitting flame and smoke in great profusion.”
The 21 year old botanist Joseph Hooker referred to Mt. Erebus as “a fine volcano spouting fire and smoke” while the ship’s blacksmith commented “this splendid burning mountain was truly an imposing sight”.
At 3.30 p.m. we had rounded Cape Bird with an excellent view of the ice cliffs and Adelie Penguin colony. We could also see the green huts of the New Zealand research field station, known as the Harrison Laboratory. Beside the penguin colony the ice cap extended down to the sea and had a high cliff. We now slowly worked our way along the side of Ross Island with excellent views of the Shell Glacier, Quaternary Icefall and the crevassed slopes that Mackintosh and McGillon had crossed in 1908. We passed Horseshoe Bay followed by Cape Royds itself and had a glimpse of Shackleton’s hut. Dominating the skyline to port was the impressive bulk of Mt. Erebus.
The wind was really blowing now and the sea rather rough, so plans for a landing were postponed until better conditions prevailed. We then continued to Cape Evans and the captain anchored the ship in 60m of water directly opposite Scott’s 1910-13 winter quarters hut. Other huts we could see were the refuge huts near Cape Evans itself and those of the Antarctic Heritage Trust near Scott’s hut. Nathan called us to a briefing at 7.10 p.m. where he informed us of the visiting guidelines for entry to ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 155). After dinner the landing got underway at 9 p.m. with Derek having the honour of being first to enter the hut, his prize for winning the iceberg spotting competition.
After landing near the Antarctic Heritage Trust containers, we walked along the beach to Scott’s hut and were amazed at the many interesting fragmented artefacts of various materials, in the grey Kenyte scoria around the hut. Interesting artefacts such as parts for the tracks of Scott’s three Wolsely motor tractors and a pony sledge were beside the hut, as were reels of corroding aluminium telephone wire used in 1911 and the small latrine hut in front of the stables.
Nathan and Bob had already unlocked the hut and placed boot brushes outside. This is important as scoria has been shown to damage the flooring. Inside David was already waiting to show us around and explain the many features of the hut erected in 1911 for Scott’s expedition and later occupied by stranded members of Shackleton’s Ross Sea party.
Most of us inspected the stables first and saw the small Shacklock stove modified for burning seal blubber and which Captain Lawrence Oates had used to heat mash for the ponies. The stables in the following year housed Indian mules and we saw some of the names such as Abdulla and Pigaree stencilled on the hut wall. When the Ross Sea party was in residence in 1915-1917, the stables also became a garage for the motor tractor and a cache of Emperor Penguin bodies was also seen along with pony and mule feed boxes and bamboo snow shoes.
Only 12 of us including the guide were permitted to be in the hut at any one time and on entering, we soon saw as David suggested, that it was like an Edwardian time capsule. At first we were speechless and reverently walked about taking care to keep a safe distance from the artefacts, as David spoke of the former occupants who have long since passed away. We saw the bed occupied by Scott and later by Mackintosh the leader of the Ross Sea party then following his death, by Dick Richards when he was ill. The acetylene lighting system, Ponting’s photographic darkroom and the science laboratory were all of interest not only to us but also some of the crew.
After our time in the hut each of us left retaining our own impression of what we were most privileged to view. Some felt the presence of Scott and his men. Many of us absorbed with our thoughts, then walked about the surroundings and viewed a dog skeleton, the memorial cross on Wind Vane Hill and other points of interest, including Mt Erebus dominating the view in one direction and various islands in the vicinity. By now the sea had quietened down and most of us were back aboard before midnight.
Day 18 Wednesday 28 January
McMurdo Sound. Cape Royds, Ice edge, Furthest South
Noon position: Latitude 77o 31.5’ South; Longitude 166o 04.2’ East
Air temperature: 1oC Water 1oC
Expedition Staff members Samuel and Agnes became engaged
During the night the Captain took the Spirit of Enderby on a course with conditions checked by Nathan every two hours. We had a leisurely 8 a.m. breakfast and then assembled in the lecture room for a briefing concerning a potential landing at Cape Royds. This duly got under way by 9 a.m. and boots, cameras, clothing and packs were all discussed as wave splash was expected.
We landed on what is known as Black Sand Beach which has very little of the ice foot left and once ashore most of us changed from our rubber gumboots to hiking boots or walking shoes. Before setting out, David who would again be our guide in Ernest Shackleton’s hut erected in 1908, gave us a short talk on the many features of interest surrounding the hut, including the pony stables, garage for the 9-12 hp Arrol Johnston motor car and the various caches of stores, along with comments on some of the interesting geology we would see.
The group set off over an undulating volcanic ‘moonscape’. Rocks containing feldspar crystals sparkled in the sun, some ‘pillow lavas’ that had erupted under water and numerous granite and other ‘erratics’ being rocks which had been deposited by advancing ice, then left perhaps 10,000 years ago when the ice receded. The morning was beautiful and during our 20-30 minute walk, we had excellent views of Mt Erebus with a wisp of smoke being emitted from the crater and of the Transantarctic Mountains across McMurdo Sound. It was a most stimulating walk. We soon reached a valley then headed down to the small hut restored and cared for by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Our New Zealand Government Representative Bob along with Nathan placed outside a frame with boot cleaning brushes from which we walked onto a strip of vinyl. This ensured we did not take gravel into the hut and further damage the floor. Only eight were allowed in the hut at any one time and of course everyone wanted to see Shackleton’s signature, his cubicle and to know where the whiskey and brandy was stored. David explained some of the activities that went on within the hut, where everybody slept and we were amazed at the extraordinary selection of food – particularly the canned meats and pates. We recognised brands of products familiar to us including Wiltshire hams and Colmans baking powder which are still being produced. Other products such as Capt. Cookesley’s Consolidated Pea Soup described as ‘flesh forming [and] for the soldier, sailor, explorer and travelling’ were unfamiliar. The Price’s candles labelled as ‘expressly for hot climates’ caused amusement. We had enjoyed our excursion immensely and many preferred Shackleton’s hut as it was smaller, more compact and some considered very orderly.
Near the hut the Adelie Penguins were well advanced with their moulting and many of us walked about the perimeter of the ASPA. Soon we were retracing our steps and by noon most of us were on board and had the thrill of viewing pods of Orca and Minke Whales as we moved along the ice edge. Those with an interest in the various landforms of the region thought the panorama from Castle Rock to Observation Hill, then of White Island, Black Island, Mount Discovery and across to the Royal Society Mountain range outstanding. The highest peak on this range, Mt Lister (4025m), was named for Lord Josef President of the Royal Society London 1895-1900.
About 5.30 p.m. we also had a great view of the USCGC Polar Star WAGB 10 icebreaker as it departed from the shipping channel recently cut and passed by with Mt. Erebus providing a great backdrop. The icebreaker which has a sister ship USCGC Polar SeaWAGB 11 had undergone a major refit. The ship is 400ft long, has two helicopters and is powered by six diesel electric railway engines and three gas turbines which can produce 60,000 shaft hp. At 6.20 p.m. we attained our most southerly point for the expedition. This was 77o48’ South 166o06’East. Before dinner however a few of us were treated to the magnificent sight of 10-12 Orca all at the same time ‘spy-hopping’ beside the ice edge.
After an excellent meal, the ship was placed close to the ice edge and many of us took the opportunity to ride a few metres in a Zodiac to the ice. Here Agnes with help from the kitchen, Don, Bob and others, had a table set up on drums with hot cocoa and cake. We had a wonderful time strolling about the ice at leisure and some of us took part in a soccer match with three members of the crew. On the passenger side two players, Robbie and Robin, each managed to kick the ball with Robin managing to score a goal. After this the Russian crew team kicked a goal and another was declared then disallowed and considered a foul. In the end there was no agreed outcome, although the passengers considered they had won the game by one goal. It was an enjoyable diversion even though there were no goal posts at the start of the game and the attention of players occasionally wandered owing to the ball nearing the large spectators on ice edge – namely Orca Whales.
There was also a great opportunity to photograph the Spirit of Enderby with Mt. Erebus in the background, to enjoy wind patterns on the snow and admire the soft Antarctic evening as the sun slowly set over the Royal Society Range. Many of us also spent time observing a pod of Orca with one or two in their midst ‘spy-hopping’. Understandably a group of Adelie Penguins kept their distance until after the fine Orca display when the pod, which was perhaps the same one we had seen earlier, left us.
Around 11 p.m. those still out along the ice edge saw another Orca display and a large male surfaced right beside Don’s Zodiac. A little later several of us participated in an invigorating ‘Polar Plunge’ held off the Zodiac landing platform. Nathan supervised the activity which was a lot of fun with support from those watching from decks above. Nancy even wore a penguin suit and was briefly concerned that she had let go of the rope. She said she was surprised how salty the water was. There was more to come however. Agnes and Samuel agreed to cement their long and happy relationship on the ice and announced their engagement. This exciting news was then celebrated in the traditional manner with flutes of Champagne De Castelnau from Reims in France.
Day 19 Thursday 29 January
McMurdo Sound. Cape Evans, Zodiac cruise, Ross Ice Shelf, Ross Sea
Noon position: Latitude 77o38.04’ South; Longitude 166o 24.20’ East
Air temperature: 4oC Water +0.8oC
During the night we moved back to Cape Evans and this morning we got up to a beautiful sunny day with a calm sea. Nathan announced that for those who wished, a further visit could be made to Scott’ hut and many took the advantage to retake or obtain further photographs of the hut and surroundings. David was again in the hut to explain various aspects and later he too was able to walk around the ASPA when many interesting things were found.
This began with the second anchor from the Aurora which appeared to have only been exposed today (it was previous covered by snow); the entrance to the former ice cave used for gravity observations by Charles (later Sir) Wright in 1911 (next year he did his observations within Ponting’s darkroom where a hole was cut in the floor and a large rock placed); the side from one of the crates which a motor-sledge had been transported in and a small window in the side of the entrance to the Officer’s end of the latrines.
We were all back aboard by 11 a.m. and soon after had the opportunity to enjoy what turned out to be an amazing Zodiac cruise along the ice edge from near Cape Evans to where it was joined to Inaccessible Island. The bulk of us on board set off around the rocky point of Cape Evans and then had a great ride around four grounded ice bergs after which, we continued to the edge of the fast sea ice with a large gathering of Adelie Penguins along the edge of the ice, only 40cms or less above the water. Many were swimming and others were clustered in a tightly packed group near the ice edge. David had an interesting moment when kneeling to photograph whales. A penguin leapt from the water, landed on the tube in front of him, looked at him briefly, then reversed sideways and backwards into the water.
It was not long before a whale blow indicated the penguins had company. Before long about six Minke Whales including at least two large animals were blowing and surfacing sometimes three at a time. Nathan and Don had outstanding albeit sudden views, of a large whale that surfaced within five metres of their boats. We spent some time enjoying the once in a lifetime chance to observe these huge creatures at such close quarters and many photographs were taken. A Weddell Seal with blue tags on the hind flippers was also seen nearby.
From here we reluctantly began our journey back as a Borek Air Twin Otter aircraft made its descent to the runway. During the cruise we had excellent views of all the Dellbridge Islands (Inaccessible, Tent, Big Razor back and Little Razorback) named by Scott during his 1901-1904 expedition, for James H. Dellbridge the Second Engineer; the Erebus Icefall and a distant view of Turk’s Head and the 10km long Erebus Glacier Tongue. We could also see the direct route taken by heroic-era sledging parties from Cape Evans or Hut Point over a century ago.
We now followed the ice edge around to Inexpressible Island where there was an opportunity to enjoy the yellow, red and black volcanic rocks and also observe a solitary Emperor Penguin. From here we returned via the icebergs to secure some nice photographs of icicles and were back on the ship by 1 p.m. Frank meanwhile had prepared a superb lunch of chicken korma with rice and naan bread.
As we began our journey back along the Ross Island coast, past Cape Royds and the glorious landscape below Mt Erebus, plans were made for a landing at the Cape Bird Adelie Penguin colony which has about 30,000 birds. Unfortunately however the local wind picked up and the landing party that had checked the site retreated when waves became larger than hoped for. The party had an interesting ride back to the ship and after loading the two Zodiacs on board, we continued around Cape Bird on our 60 nautical mile journey towards the Ross Ice Shelf.
The weather continues to hold and the evening today was especially beautiful. As we journeyed along the Ross Island coast over a calm sea, we had excellent views of Mts. Everest, Terra Nova and Terror with their slopes of snow and ice in the beautiful evening light. One could see the slope at the back of Lewis Bay where the Air New Zealand ended its DC10 flight around 500m above sea level, on 28 November 1979. The polar landscape continued to keep us spellbound and many took the advantage after dinner of viewing the panorama to starboard.
Following dinner, Nathan assembled us in the lecture room to convey plans for the remainder of our time in Antarctica. The latest ice map had been received and with nearly 352 nautical miles to go to Cape Adare, we hope to spend time in that region. Most of us snatched a little sleep before Nathan roused us with an announcement shortly before midnight, that we were approaching the Ross Ice Shelf. This vast feature of floating ice about the size of France and explained by Samuel, has a front edge a staggering 800 km long along its seaward face and 750 km back towards its source; the giant glaciers of the Transantarctic Mountains. It varies in in thickness from around 330m to 700m and has only 1/7th of the ice above the waterline. At our point, Don using a sextant obtained one estimate of 30m above the sea.
When James Clark Ross discovered the ice shelf in January 1841 he wrote “…a perpendicular cliff of ice between one hundred and fifty feet and two hundred feet above the sea, [was] perfectly flat and level at the top and without any fissures on its seaward face”. Ross also stated “There is no more chance of sailing through that than through the cliffs of Dover.” Decades later, the Ross Ice Shelf attracted explorers of the famed ‘heroic-era’ along with later men such as Admiral Byrd’s expeditions. Although the Spirit of Enderbyhas a good vantage point on the ‘monkey’ or ‘flying’ deck above the bridge, we were still well below the top of the ice face. We were amazed at the overall beauty of the feature with the surface appearing as if sculpted by an artist, while below a wave-cut indentation emitted a sucking sound from the waves. An overhang had the shape of a ships bow and places where shadow was created were beautiful shades of turquoise. High above three Antarctic Skuas were almost motionless as they took advantage of the cool wind and Bob our New Zealand representative, photographed one skua that even attempted to land on the point of a radio aerial. Soon it was time to return to the cabin. We left Latitude 77o24.472’ South, Longitude 170o13.070’ East and turned north towards Cape Adare.
Day 20 Friday 30 January
Noon position: Latitude 75o19.4’ South; Longitude 171o42.26’ East
Air temperature: 0oC Water -1.8oC
As each day goes by we cannot believe our good fortune with such fine weather and with it calm seas. Most of us slept well and Nathan advised we have an ETA of about 8.30 a.m. at the ice edge off the Adare Peninsula.
Don began proceedings for the day with an inspirational presentation compiled from analogue video shot in Antarctica. Entitled ‘Two Below Zero’, the documentary told the story of the year Don and Margie had spent at Cape Denison in 1995. Many of their experiences were no different to some documented in diaries of early explorers. We had considerable admiration for their achievement and also the way in which the expedition had been planned including numerous observations undertaken for Australia’s Antarctic Division at Kingston Tasmania and more importantly the emergency plan should anything go wrong. ‘Two Below Zero’ can be downloaded off YouTube from the web site www.mcintyreadventure.com
Before lunch the 6th part of the series on Scott and Amundsen was screened and attracted a good audience. Now we have visited Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, the series will enable us to have a better understanding of Scott’s last expedition. By 12.30 p.m. the day continued to be fine with a calm sea and bright sun and very little cloud. We were over 530m of water and doing a comfortable 12.4 knots on both engines. After a leisurely lunch with excellent fresh fruit slice, most of us rested or enjoyed the fresh air on deck.
At 3 p.m. David gave the presentation ‘Preserving Icons of Exploration’ which focused on historic site conservation and was of particular interest since we have been able to visit and see the fruits of labour for Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island. The work began in 1957 and was accelerated by a major restoration programme in 1960-1965 followed by volunteers from the New Zealand Antarctic Society in 1969 and has continued under the auspices of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Apart for a solitary iceberg seen this afternoon at Latitude 74o17.887’ South Longitude 172o18,914’ East, Steve mentioned that the only birds sighted were three Wilson’s Storm Petrels and one South Polar Skua. At 5.30 p.m. Nathan gave a lecture which outlined the physical aspects of the Spirit of Enderby including the vessel’s history, details of its construction and management by Heritage Expeditions and even of the food expected to be consumed by the close of our expedition. The very impressive numbers included 2,500 eggs at 80 per day and 300 kg of ‘spuds’ (potatoes) from which 7,200 meals would be cooked. Even beer would amount to 520 cans. The lecture closed with comments on requirements concerning reports and the wonderful long service by many staff members including Natalia who has served on the vessel for 11 years and Andre who has worked his way up from sailor to carpenter and now has the rank of Bosun.
Today closed with an excellent dinner consisting of a fine entre of salmon and salad, a main of either Blue cod or slowly roasted beef followed by a New York style cheese cake. It will be difficult coming down to earth when we return home! By evening the sea had returned to calm conditions and many of us decided to have an early night. Soon we will return to the pack ice, through which we had a couple of weeks ago entered Antarctica and in doing so, achieved a goal. By 10.30 p.m. small pieces of ice were about the ship.
Day 21 Saturday 31 January
Ross Sea. Admiralty Mountains, Cape McCormick, Downshire Cliffs, Adare Peninsula, Cape Adare
Noon position: Latitude 71o20.1061’ South; Longitude 170o 41.6233 ’ East
Air temperature: -1oC Water 0oC
The morning began with calm seas, an overcast sky and some fog. The water was clear of ice and light powdery snow was falling with an air temperature of just under 3oC. By 9 a.m. we were nearing the Adare Peninsula of black volcanic basalt along with the Downshire Cliffs on the coastal edge. The cliffs were named by Ross in 1841 for the Marquis Downshire. To the south lay the Fenwick Ice Piedmont and Cape McCormick. The sea remained ice free and when cloud lifted, we had an excellent view of three peaks on the Admiralty Range. These were Mt. Minto (4165m) named by Ross for the Earl of Minto, then First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, an unnamed peak, then Mt Adam (4009m), named after Vice Admiral Sir Charles Adam, a senior naval Lord of the Admiralty. Mt. Minto was first climbed on an Australian expedition led by noted mountaineer Greg Mortimer. A further high peak, Mt. Sabine (3714m) named by Ross after Lt. Col. Sabine of the Royal Artillery and Foreign Secretary for the Royal Society, can be seen when approaching the Ross Sea from the north and was a landmark for ‘heroic-era’ expeditions.
Cape Adare on the end of the Adare Peninsula and marking the western entrance to the Ross Sea, was yet another landform named by Ross. This was for his friend Viscount Adare, MP for Glamorganshire in the UK. The highest point on the peninsula is Hanson Peak (1255m) named by a New Zealand Alpine Club expedition and commemorates 28 year old Norwegian biologist Nicolai Hanson, who died during Carsten Borchgrevink’s British Antarctic (Southern Cross) Expedition 1898-1900. By 10 a.m. as we steadily made our way towards the cape, the beginnings of a southerly swell were felt, with the Spirit of Enderby rolling slightly. We made a slight course change and received waves and scattered pieces of ice, off the port bow. This did not deter many of us from being on the bridge and enjoying the coastal panorama, with the reddish to yellow-brown and dark grey rocks on the Adare Peninsula clearly visible. It was however mostly cloudy with just occasional spells of blue sky and during the morning Steve observed a large flock of Antarctic Petrels.
By late morning we were plugging though scattered floes and nearing Cape Adare. There was an element of excitement on board, with fingers crossed in anticipation that we may make a landing. Here men including Carsten Borchgrevink, had landed from Henryk Bull’s whaling ship Antarctic in January 1895, this being one of the first early landings made in Antarctica. Borchgrevink had then returned in 1899 to lead the first party that spent a winter on the continent. The bird watching enthusiasts were as usual on the bow and in addition to a few skuas, a Crab Eater Seal and three Minke Whales were also seen. Off the end of Cape Adare and further beyond, we counted around 30 icebergs, many of which were grounded, as the Bridge chart indicated the water was only 100-150m deep.
Following a discussion with Nathan, the Captain carefully took the Spirit of Enderby, around the end of Cape Adare where the one remaining rock stack of the former ‘Two Sisters’, ‘Gertrude’ and ‘Rose’, stood although it is now on a lean. The ship then rounded Von Tunzelman Point named after Alexander von Tunzelman who landed here in 1895 and claimed till his dying day that he was the first ashore. The point marks the division between the north and south areas of Ridley Beach. The beach was named as such by Borchgrevink after his mother’s maiden name. Around 2 p.m. Nathan, our New Zealand Government Representative Bob and Samuel, made the customary initial reconnaissance by Zodiac to locate a suitable landing place. There were only two options, as swell from the fast moving Robertson Bay current and the belt of winter push ice and later ice along both beaches, limited places for access. A briefing was then held and the landing was underway by 4 p.m. We had no wind and enjoyed a calm sea, with conditions improving as the afternoon wore on.
After one group had been put ashore, Don was returning to the ship by Zodiac when he saw two Leopard Seals taking Adelie Penguins. Three headless corpses were left floating in the water where presumably the seals would later return for their meal. The landing continued until 7 p.m. and there was much for us to enjoy. Creches of Adelie Penguins with many in down stood in huddled groups while others chased a parent demanding food. A number of freshly killed chicks were evidence of skua predation and Steve estimated 100+ skuas were present in the area. Other predatory birds were 15 Giant Petrels including five White Morphs on the end of von Tunzelman Point. Meanwhile in the background, there was the continued incessant chatter of adults. We continued to carefully observe the five metre rule and all obtained further photographs for our expedition record.
In Borchgrevink’s living hut, David who has spent over two months here on three expeditions (1981–2013) undertaking remedial conservation and scientific observations, pointed out features of interest. With only four in total permitted to be in the hut at any one time, some also of us enjoyed a second inspection. We appreciated the confined area with bunks (two high) for the ten men and saw where Colbeck set fire to his curtain and nearly burned the hut down; the bunk where the 28 year-old Norwegian biologist Nicolai Hanson had died; the cramped galley area with stove and the beautiful pencil drawing above the bunk of scientific assistant Norwegian Kolbein Ellifsen (23) who slept above assistant zoologist and Canadian Hugh Evans (24) the last surviving member of the expedition who retired in Vermilion Alberta.
Kolbein expressing his sentimental feeling for home for a lady friend, perhaps his wife or a family member, wrote in Norwegian
Alle klokker ringer fjernt All the bells ring far away
Bud fra gamle dage With chimes gone by
Alle blomster venfer sig All the flowers turn their heads
Og ser med suk tilbage To look back with a sigh
Soon with support from Norway, major restoration will be commenced by the Antarctic Heritage Trust on these huts. The ruins of the Scott Northern party hut (1911) were also seen with the base of Campbell’s chart table still in-situ. The remains of this hut were overwhelmed by penguins. The attractive book entitled ‘That First Antarctic Winter’ by Janet Crawford and David Harrowfield was published in 1998 to mark the centenary of the expedition. This publication is available from Heritage Expeditions.
Unfortunately time did not permit an ascent of the steep track of loose and frozen pebbles along with rock bluffs up the 300m cliff behind Ridley Beach to view Hanson’s grave. This is located in roughly the centre of the of the west sloping peninsula and is often difficult to find. Hanson was buried here at his request and David was last there in 1990 when he made numerous climbs to check his wind recording anemometer. With the aid of Nancy’s Swarovski telescope from the deck of the ship, we were able to see an automatic weather station placed on the peninsula above Ridley Beach.
This evening dinner which included tender belly pork, beef and desert of rice pudding with peach topping, was delayed until 8 p.m. After dinner we enjoyed cruising past the most spectacular icebergs we had seen during the expedition. One particularly huge tabular berg was surrounded by floes reflected in the still, inky-black to deep Prussian blue water of the Southern Ocean. Another berg of great interest had considerable gravel and large boulders on the top, which may have originated from glacial moraine. The Captain did a fine job ensuring that we not only cruised between two giant bergs, but also managed the fast currents. At this time the soft evening light was beautiful and many of us obtained a great photographic record of what was undoubtedly a major highlight of the expedition if not in our lives, but there was more to come. As the sun dropped below dark cloud and lower in the sky, the most wonderful light descended on the Admiralty Mountains. These were transformed into a pale, cold-looking and exquisite blue, with the sun reflected on the ocean between floes in Robertson Bay, transformed into a cloth of gold. Away to the west, the mountains merged into the Australian Antarctic Territory which makes up 40% of Antarctica and is the largest of the national claims in place although now frozen. Our view of this part of the beautiful and vast landscape of Antarctica which is twice as large as Australia will long be remembered “and so it should be” said Don our Australian lecturer and driver!
We had enjoyed yet another very special day and most of us were in the bunk well before midnight. About midnight the Polish 72ft Oyster Class, fibreglass yacht Kutharsis, which left Hobart a few days ago was sighted.
Day 22 Sunday 1 February
Steve H. birthday celebrated
Noon position: Latitude 70o 04.654’ South; Longitude 171o 46.162’ East
Air temperature: -1oC Water +1oC
During the night we passed through a belt of pack ice with some large floes and this morning, the ice continued although this was beginning to open out and a slight swell was felt. We have now effectively left the Ross Sea region and Antarctica. There are three prominent islands named Sturge (in the south), Buckle and Sabrina (in the north), along with several smaller islands including the well-known Monolith. The islands were discovered by John Balleny on the sealer Eliza Scott in February 1839. They were named in his honour by Captain Beaufort Hydrographer to the Admiralty. A sister vessel the Sabrina after which one of the islands is named was lost in a storm. Sabrina Island named after the sealer has a colony of chinstrap penguins and has been an ASPA since 1966.
At 10 a.m. our course was changed to a more north-west track and at 10.30 a.m. the final episode of the ‘Last Place on Earth’ was screened. This was attended by many who have carefully followed the series. This morning was spent quietly as we passed through occasional belts of ice floes and by noon we were moving at 9.1 knots over 1820m of water with to starboard the Adare Seamounts on the Southern Ocean floor. These ranged in height from 1420m to 1920m and are similar to mountains on land. By 2 p.m. we were near the edge of the pack ice and once clear of this turned to the west towards the Balleny Islands with 250-270 nautical miles to run. Scattered pieces of floes and small bergy bits were visible on a nice calm sea and the weather forecast suggested we may have a tail wind to Campbell Island.
Bird life sighted today included several Wilson’s Storm Petrels, one Snow Petrel, two South Polar Skuas and a White Morph Giant Petrel. Four or five Crab Eater Seals were also sighted when in the ice, although others are likely to be seen in the vicinity of the Balleny Islands, along with Weddell seals. At 3 p.m. Samuel gave a lecture entitled ‘Icebergs, Cathedrals of Ice’. This excellent lecture was very timely given what we saw last evening. Samuel began by referring to the three classes of ice – glaciers; sea ice and permafrost. He followed with reference to 14,000,000km2 of ice in Antarctica, formation of ice, icebergs, ice shelves (Ross Ice Shelf covers 472,960km2 with 70-80% floating), the reasons and rate of melting and drift of icebergs. Samuel concluded with discussion focused on 3% of the Earth having fresh water and the Frenchman George Moudin’s proposal to tow icebergs for fresh water. As always many questions resulted.
The final presentation of the day was the screening of ‘Solid water, Liquid rock’. This was another of Natural History New Zealand’s Antarctic Wild South series. An excellent film compiled by award winning photographers Mike Single and Max Quinn the documentary again extended our knowledge of where we have been in the last few days. In his evening message, Nathan said the present sea and weather conditions are the best he has enjoyed in the Southern Ocean. We will continue our present course north until we are clear of the pack ice and then add a change to the west. An ETA of around 3.30-5.30 p.m. tomorrow is anticipated for arrival at the start of the Balleny Islands. Wildlife was pretty sparse today and with exception of species already mentioned. Others included Mottled Petrels, another Crab Eater Seal and this afternoon, two Minke Whales. After dinner the first three Antarctic Fulmars were sighted behind the ship.
Day 23 Monday 2 February
Noon position: Latitude 66o 39.6934’ South; Longitude 167o 56.5901’ East
Air temperature: 0oC Water 0.7oC
Early this morning we were experiencing an easterly swell and with it fog and light snow with the latter persisting for much of the day. Birds sighted during the morning were Antarctic and Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Antarctic Prions and a raft of six Antarctic Fulmars. At this stage we were at the bottom of a low and would probably pass the Balleny Islands then continue northwards to Campbell Island. At 10.15 a.m. we assembled in the lecture room where David introduced the film ‘Race to the Pole’ with Don adding comments relating to pioneer aviator Harold Getty of Tasmania who with a Vega aircraft had contributed to the development of aerial navigation. The film focused on Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition in 1928-1930, when Byrd’s Station ‘Little America 1’ was established on the Ross Ice Shelf. From Little America, Byrd accompanied by pilot Bernt Balchen, relief pilot and radio operator Harold June and photographer Ashly McKinley, completed the first flight to the vicinity of the Geographic South Pole on 28-29 November 1929. This was achieved in a Ford Trimotor aircraft taking 18 hours and covered 1600 miles. Byrd also took two further aircraft, 95 dogs including his own dog named Igloo and 50 men.
Late in the morning Steve saw what was thought to be a Sperm Whale from the Bridge, along with a flock of Antarctic Petrels, a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Antarctic Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels and several Mottled Petrels. At 12.57 p.m. we again crossed the Antarctic Circle and at 1.30 p.m. enjoyed salads and excellent sausage rolls and vegetable fritters for lunch. Light snow continued to fall, the sea remained reasonably calm and we were moving at 11.8 knots planning to turn north when off the Balleny Seamounts with one only 60m deep. David gave his last Antarctic history lecture at 3 p.m. This was entitled ‘Douglas Mawson – A stalwart of the heroic-era: from the BAE 1907-1909 to ANARE (from) 1947’. Mawson who had served in Antarctica alongside his former Professor Edgeworth David, is known to most Australians. He has appeared on the A$100 bank note, enjoyed during his full life a prominent career in science and academia both as a field geologist, physicist, lecturer, administrator and supporter of ANARE.
Although reference had been made to Mawson’s participation in Antarctica during Shackleton’s Nimrod 1907-1909 expedition, this was touched on again, followed by the two BANZARE (British Australia New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions) expeditions using Scott’s former ship Discovery in 1929-1933 and the development of the present ANARE (Australia National Antarctic Research Expeditions) from 1947 including the establishment of Mawson Station, the first base Australia had on the Antarctic Continent. Mawson was a pivotal figure in Australia’s claim of 47% of Antarctica. There was a good attendance and the usual lively discussion followed.
The final item in the programme for the day was a screening of ‘The Last Ocean’. This focused on the tooth-fish industry in the Ross Sea. Dissostichus mawsonii is named after Sir Douglas Mawson and is popularly termed the Giant Antarctic Cod. The fish is a member of the Family Nototheniidae and are termed Notothenioides. A similar species called the Patagonian Tooth-fish is caught by ships operating from South America. There is a need for greater knowledge of the physiology of the species and for creation of a Marine Reserve, which is being strongly promoted by New Zealand with support from other countries. Following the documentary we enjoyed a continuation of our usual pre-dinner gathering in the Bar/Library which gave an opportunity to continue discussion on the various activities of today.
Day 24 Tuesday 3 February
Noon position: Latitude 62o 32.0552’South; Longitude 166o 29.7794’ East
Air temperature: 4oC Water 0oC
Several icebergs were still seen this morning even though we are progressing steadily north from latitude 63o18’ South 166o32’East. Outside the air temperature was a cool 1oC and the water 2oC. Samuel began the day with a lecture at 10 a.m. on a subject which is of great interest to him. Entitled ‘James Clark Ross - the greatest polar explorer?’, Samuel’s lecture focused on Ross’s career in the Arctic and Antarctic, briefly mentioned in David’s first lecture.
The well balanced lecture began with Ross having joined the Royal Navy when just 11 years old. He then had his first taste of Arctic travel at 18 with his uncle John Ross, Captain on the Isabella. James Ross went on to make many trips which included nine winters and 17 summers in the Arctic and three summers in the Antarctic. Samuel’s lecture was well researched and his use of early lithographs including maps and watercolour paintings along with the ability to present information by way of Mackintosh technology, kept us interested throughout. It was fitting that the lecture ended with a media release from YouTube, concerning a significant archaeological discovery on 9 September 2014, north of O’Reilly Island in the South Victoria Strait of Arctic Canada. Following the find on 1 September of further artefacts from Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Northwest Passage Expedition of 1848 when all 128 men died, the remains of HMS Erebus were located on 9 September in just 11m of water. This was made possible by use of side-scan sonar and a remote submersible vehicle and there is now hope of finding HMS Terror. The Northwest Passage was first navigated by Antarctic veteran Roald Amundsen, on the 29 year old sloop Gjoa in 1902-1906 with the vessel now preserved with the Fram in Oslo. There is a dining plate from HMS Erebus on display in the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. This was received by David from his friend, a direct descendant of Lieutenant Bird of the Erebus, the late Miss Betty Bird of Auckland. Betty also presented other artefacts to the Museum, including a gold snuff-box belonging to her great, great uncle.
At 11.30 a.m. we returned to the lecture room to view the documentary ‘Blackfish’, the name given by fishermen to the Orca. This focused on the catching of Orca with several then kept and later bred in captivity. Establishment in the United States of the corporate tourism facility Sea World, which has been very expensive with management issues, also provided rich financial rewards for the company. Unfortunately it has also cost the lives of two trainers. There is still much to learn about the biology and life of these amazing whales, which are best left in their natural habitat and is it not best to allow them to remain as such?
The sea remained calm during the morning and the day was sunny with scattered thin cloud as we continued towards Campbell Island. Birds recorded this morning included two Campbell Albatross and Cape Petrels. When on the bow, David and birders Steve and Paul were startled when the bow dipped before a wave and with a bang, water shot up the port anchor hawse pipe. On deck was deposited a live whelk-like gastropod, which they considered had been on the anchor since Robertson Bay. The mollusc was then consigned to the deep. By lunch time the sea had calmed and we enjoyed a very nice pasta dish. Snow fell during the afternoon.
At 3 p.m. Don entertained us in the lecture room with eight video clips. The programme began with an interesting discussion on China’s stations in Antarctica and on the country’s plans for their latest station in Terra Nova Bay. Two time lapse programmes on an aspect of Australia’s Antarctic resupply and the southern lights (Aurora Australis) followed; an interesting programme on King Crabs adjusting to the effect of rising ocean temperatures; footage by Frank Hurley of masts breaking on Shackleton’s domed ship Endurance followed by Mawson’s BANZARE expedition when Mawson fell from the monoplane being hoisted on board the Discovery; the collision of the Ady Gil with the Japanese whaling mother ship and finally, the rescue of French yachtsman Alain Delord, who was rescued by the Orion from the Southern Ocean.
At 5 p.m. the excellent Natural History New Zealand Wild South documentary entitled ‘Emperors of Antarctica’ was shown. This dealt with the life cycle of the Emperor Penguin and was filmed by Max Quinn during winter at the Cape Crozier colony on Ross Island. Now that we have been fortunate to view Emperor Penguins including one at close quarters from the Zodiac, the programme had a special significance. Many of us were familiar with the Emperor that came ashore on a New Zealand beach and was dubbed ‘Happy Feet’. The penguin became a favourite on the world stage before being released in the Subantarctic south of New Zealand after recovery. James Cook saw the first Emperor Penguin and a century later when a naturalist was looking at the Cook expedition sketch, he realised that it was a different species to the King Penguin. James Clark Ross took four specimens to Britain.
The number of birds increased as we neared Campbell Island. A White-headed Petrel and a Grey-headed Albatross made an appearance and two whales, one of them a Minke clearly identified by the head were seen. Nathan predicted the swell would pick up overnight however in the morning the wind should drop back to the south-south-west. With the ship rolling most of us went early to the bunk and the night was noticeably darker.
Day 25 Wednesday 4 February
Noon position: Latitude 57o 52.6830’South; Longitude 166o 30.7858’ East
Air temperature: 5oC Water 7oC
The ship rolled during the night and seas were still a little rough this morning. The day however was fine with a veil of thin cloud and occasional patches of blue and as predicted the swell had eased by late morning. At 10 a.m. David began the day’s programme with his lecture entitled ‘A Piece of Plastic – historical archaeology in Antarctica’. A history of work in the High Arctic and Antarctica was outlined, along with techniques applied by archaeologists from New Zealand, Australia and other countries, and what can be learned from the work. David stressed that once an artefact is moved it can never be placed exactly as it was before. An interesting selection of photographs included views of Cape Evans which we had not previously seen, along with artefacts excavated at Cape Adare in 1990.
The Sea Shop opened at 11.30, providing a final chance to take a memento home from the expedition and was followed at noon by a second screening of ‘The Last Ocean’. We heard today from the Last Ocean web site that New Zealand and the United States will continue to fight for establishment of a Marine Reserve in the Ross Sea. Australia however, has shown little support. Steve W. reported many birds were seen this morning and we are now well and truly in albatross territory. Of interest was the Antipodean Wanderer, Southern Royal Albatross, the Grey-back Storm Petrel and the Subantarctic Skua has returned. Later in the day a Snowy Albatross (White Wanderer) was seen and also an adult Grey-headed Albatross. Crew this morning sprayed a chemical over superstructure on the bow and after a short time this was hosed off, revealing gleaming white paintwork. At this time entry to the bow was prohibited for safety reasons however by lunch time, we again had access to the bow, from which Steve, Paul and others have done most of their birding.
The afternoon came and went quickly. The formal part began with an excellent lecture by Samuel called ‘Wintering over in Antarctica – 15 months at the French station Dumont d’Urville’. There was much interest in Samuel’s story which began with a history of France’s station including the cooperative venture with Italy at Concordia on the Polar Plateau, 1000 km from Dumont d’Urville. Samuel spoke of the banding of birds along with the attachment of small data loggers and for seals, more elaborate transmitters attached to 10 seals at the most. For the birders it was interesting to hear that the Antarctic or South Polar Skua migrates to north of Japan and some birds are nearly 20 years old. France which has banded birds since 1953 works closely with Australia on the project. The lecture concluded with an insight into life at the station and we could see why Samuel enjoyed his time there.
The final lecture ‘Who owns Antarctica?’ was given by Agnes. This well presented lecture which included excellent graphics began with a concise history of each claim and how this evolved. This was followed by details of the key Articles of the Treaty, followed by reference to SCAR (the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research) and the various Conventions for the Conservation of Seals (1972), Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1980) and the Protocol on Environmental protection or Madrid Protocol of 1991 which came into force in 1998. In 1959 twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty on 1 December 1959 which came into force on 23 June 1961. Since then the number of signatories has increased to 50 and this is made up of 28 Consultative Members and 22 countries with acceding status.
Following the lecture most of us assembled in the Bar/Library to participate in a quiz. Don was the compare and in a play-off, Don and Elizabeth won with 127 points out of 230 with the runner up, scoring 16. The prize was a bottle of wine and a copy of the Heritage Expeditions brochure. We had a course change at 7.05 p.m. and still had 245 nautical miles to run before Campbell Island. We were now being pushed along by a southerly with the wind expected to reach 30 knots in the night. Meanwhile the ship began to roll again from a south-west wind on the starboard quarter with wind speed likely to pick up during the night. There were a few vacancies at the dining tables this evening and many of us opted for an early night.
Day 26 Thursday 5 February
Southern Ocean; Campbell Island
Noon position: Latitude 53o 16.1291’South; Longitude 168o 47.137’ East
Air temperature: 6oC Water 10.3oC
Allan and Lorraine’s Commitment Ceremony
Apart for the occasional roll, we had a good night’s rest, waking to a fine sunny morning with scattered cloud, a busy sea with 7-8m swells and a few white caps. At 8 a.m. the air temperature was a balmy 7oC and the water now 10oC. We were making good headway at a speed of nearly 13 knots and had 82 nautical miles to run to Campbell Island where our ETA was expected to be around 4 p.m.
In spite of a bumpy sea with the occasional roll by the ship, most of us attended Samuel’s final lecture on Antarctic seals, given at 10 a.m. This lecture was well supported with good photographs, many of these taken by Samuel. The lecture began with a brief overview of seals when differences and the biology and adaption of the two families, known as the Otaridae and Phocidae were carefully explained. Samuel then outlined the four Antarctic seals – Weddell, Crab Eater, Leopard and Ross with mention of the varied dentition linked to diet, securing of prey and for the male Weddell, keeping breathing holes open. This has led to starvation from the wearing down of teeth. The Ross seal is the smallest and least common of these seals. An enjoyable aspect of the lecture was hearing recordings of Weddell seals beneath and on the ice.
Following the lecture, we handed in our jackets which had served us well and soon after noon we attended a documentary on the re-discovery in 1975 of the Campbell Island Teal then thought to be extinct, on 26 hectare La Dent Island, by Rodney Russ who founded Heritage Expeditions. The island also has the endemic Campbell Island Shag and interesting botany including mega-herbs.
The many seabirds seen this morning included several species of albatross, three species of prion, all three species of storm petrels, Sooty Shearwaters and particularly interesting was the sighting of a Soft-plumed Petrel. Shona and Marion who often enjoy a few hours on the Bridge also sighted a pod of four Orca Whales. About 1.15 p.m. the island discovered by Captain Frederick Hasselburgh (or Hasselburg) of the sealing brig Perseverance in 1810, was sighted on the horizon. The 115km2 island was discovered the same year as Macquarie Island by Hasselburgh and was named for his employers Robert Campbell & Co of Sydney. The weather can be summarised as cool, cloudy, wet and windy and only receives 650 hours of bright sunshine annually and less than one hour on 215 days (59%) of the year.
The day was fine above the lumpy sea; a pale cerulean blue sky prevailed with patches of grey strato-cumulus clouds. As we watched the landscape extend before our eyes, we could see great sheets of spray from waves breaking on steep rock faces. To port we had views of Jacquemart Island from which the Campbell Island Snipe moved to the tidal Six Foot Lake, then the main island and a volcanic rock stack (one of several) named Le Boote, along with Mt. Dumas (499m). These are just two of several localities 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. Many sea birds were soaring over the waves. Sightings included a Great Wanderer, Grey-headed and Black-browed Albatross, the Campbell Island Shag, Cape Petrel and Yellow-eyed Penguin.
The human history on the island focused on several early scientific Antarctic and Subantarctic expeditions, whaling, farming (initially 2000 Leicester-Merino sheep, 8 cattle and 2 horses), the WW2 Cape Expedition, former manned meteorological station (closed 1995 and replaced with an automated system) and pest eradication since 1990. Nathan advised that most people arrive here from the north rather than as we have from the far south. By 3.45 p.m we were entering Perseverance Harbour named after Hasselburgh’s ship. Erebus Point named by James Clark Ross, was to starboard then Davis Point near which is a colony of New Zealand Sea Lions. We enjoyed excellent views of rocky outcrops, vegetated lava flows, old glacial terraces, ice-moulded landforms and olive-green scrub extending from the water’s edge, merging with tussock higher up. Lava flows were also visible on wave washed cliffs and hillsides were clothed in tussock grass and Dracophyllum scrub.
The depth of water in the harbour ranged from 30-40m with 43m at the entrance. We were near our anchorage when rain followed by sleet and brief hail greeted us and at 4.15 p.m. with the southerly beating up the harbour, we anchored in 16m. Our position Latitude 52o32.947’South and Longitude 169o10.226’East.
Concerning the huts visible over the bow, from left we could see, the old meteorological balloon launching shed; behind the wharf the generator shed and behind on the ridge-line the New Zealand Meteorological Service automatic weather station with solar panels for charging batteries. Below at the water’s edge are the fuel and supply sheds, the now unusable crane and from here rail tracks lead up to the winch, main annex, behind the meteorology and DoC sheds, fridges and freezers, then the main accommodation annex. At the right-hand end is the DoC accommodation facility for science parties. Three outer huts are at North West Bay, Bull Rock colony with Grey-headed and Black-browed Albatrosses and at Six Foot Lake. Two now dilapidated coast watchers huts from the Cape Expedition were out of sight on Beeman Hill which rises from behind the main annex. The lookout hut is no longer visible and may have been dismantled or is obscured by vegetation.
After nearly five days at sea after Cape Adare, it was good to be in sheltered, calm, waters although Nathan pointed out that we had seen three of the four seasons, with the weather since our arrival. A raft of 40 Sooty Shearwaters was present and Nancy saw several penguins. The shearwaters amazed us with their flying as they came in at speed then peeled off in formation like fighter planes.
At 5 p.m. we attended a joyous ceremony in the port dining room. Here Allan and Lorraine from Australia pledged to continue already happy lives together. Nathan arranged the evening activities in order that all of us could gather to witness the Commitment Ceremony, at which David with a special tie featuring penguins played the role of Officiator. David made a brief speech after which he invited Allan and Lorraine to make their promises. Allan and Lorraine solemnly pledged to one another to maintain a life-long loving relationship and brass rings made by the Third Engineer and polished by Sergei the Third Officer, were produced on a red ‘velvet cushion’ held by Noelene. These were exchanged and then David said “I now pronounce you committed” which led to a few laughs from the audience. The waiting staff headed by Natalia had made a wonderful effort with white artificial flower sprays on dining tables and floral decorations in the area where the ceremony was held. Frank had made a special cake which was decorated by Connor and a fine table cloth was placed on the floor for the ‘official party’. Our New Zealand Representative Lieutenant Ross Hickey was resplendent in full dress uniform, complete with miniature military medals. Agnes arranged an appropriate insert in the menu folder, while Samuel compiled the official photographic record. We all wished Allan and Lorraine many continued years of happiness and following extensive photography, Robbie presented the happy couple with a copy of ‘Galapagos of the Antarctic’ signed by everyone to mark the occasion.
At 5.50 p.m. and in preparation for our landing tomorrow morning, we assembled in the lecture room where Nathan gave an introduction to Campbell Island. He discussed the history, natural history including birds and plants along with other aspects that focused on the options for tomorrow and Saturday. By now the weather had cleared and the sun was shining. The bar opened at 6 p.m. and as expected following the Commitment Ceremony, there was much conviviality. Dinner was at the normal time of 7.30 p.m. however since this was a special occasion, each table had a bottle of sparkling wine, adorned with a ribbon Irene had created in honour of the occasion. After a sumptuous meal with a main of chicken breast on couscous, or venison on mashed potato, a cheese cake desert was served followed by a piece of Allan and Lorraine’s special cake.
In anticipation of a big day tomorrow, most of us retired early.
Day 27 Friday 6 February. Waitangi Day, New Zealand.
Noon position: Latitude 52o 33.0572’South; Longitude 169o 09.5375’ East
Air temperature: 8oC Water 9.7oC
It was good to be on calm waters again and during the evening the ship was repositioned. Most of us slept well, however this morning a similar frontal system to that experienced on arrival yesterday, came through with a good rain shower, followed by sleet and hail which whitened the tops around Perseverence Harbour. We organised our gear and a cut lunch for the day out and the two walks planned. The North-west Bay group set out at 9.15 a.m. on their 12km walk. Those of us heading on the boardwalk for Col Lyall began our departure at 10, with staff member Agnes, followed by a second group with David and the final group with Samuel.
Although there was intermittent rain and light snow showers, those of us who hiked to Col Lyall and on the point where we could look down to North West Bay, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Several of us were fortunate to see a pair of Campbell Island Snipe, one of which may have been a chick and there were also sightings of a Campbell Island Teal which Ginny thought may have been feeding in seaweed. Robbie saw an adult teal with a ‘duckling’. Several of the exceedingly inquisitive and tame Campbell Island Pipits were also seen. We followed the boardwalk through Dracophyllum scoparium scrub, around the side of volcanic Beeman Hill (187m) and noticed the WW2 coast watcher huts in a valley inland from Tucker Cove. Although Pleurophyllum hookeri, Anisotome latifolia and Bulbanella rossii had died off, we had excellent viewing of the purple daisy Pleurophyllum speciosum. Smaller plants such as gentians including the purple Gentiana cerina and the green orchid possibly Thelymitra, were not open, but we were still able to obtain good photographs.
After an hour or so, we reached the summit and were thrilled to see Southern Royal Albatross at close quarters on their elevated nests. Some of the birds were sitting on chicks and it is likely others were on an egg. Of interest was one nesting bird ‘bill clappering’ and perhaps communicating with the chick. We were able to obtain good views without being too near the birds. Only one or two albatross were seen flying high above, however later in the day more appeared to join their mate on the nest and it was interesting to observe the ‘gamming’ behaviour of five Southern Royal Albatross. The landscape was also of interest with re-vegetated slips and rocky lichen covered crags which stood out above the yellow-brown of the tussocks. Those of us who completed the board walk to the seating area, in spite of the stiff wind not only enjoyed a great view into North West Bay with limestone and other rocks visible, but also enjoyed wonderful viewing of a hillside with the purple daisy, which appeared to be flowering earlier this year. On return to the landing we were treated with close viewing of a male and three female New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lions.
On return to the landing, (Dr) Lesley was “savagely attacked by a giant male sea lion for 25 to 30 minutes…It kept going huff and I replied huff. Then his mate kept coming up and finally got sick of it. My only weapon was my bag. In the end I tried for a tactical withdrawal as another [sea lion] lunged, but I ended up with a bite, fortunately not serious, on the leg”.
While we explored ashore the crew held two important exercises on board the ship. One involved launching the two lifeboats with the davits and other aspects being checked and late in the afternoon they also held a fire drill.
On the long walk numerous snipe and teal were seen as the group was leaving the beach at the bay. Five Elephant Seals and a few New Zealand Sea Lions were spotted including a young male on top of the limestone cliff. A Giant Petrel was also seen with two well-developed chicks. The party viewed 25 nesting Southern Royal Albatross, with many apparently on their nest. Derek commented “the views of the albatross were unbelievable” and after walking through tussocks, up a slip, then along the ridge, “rocks could be seen that had been smashed by the waves”.
Many flowers, including a large area of Pleurophyllum speciosum, were blooming. We saw 3 or 4 Snipe, a pair of Teal on the beach at lunch time and there was a possible sighting of two Long-tailed Cuckoo, a Starling and a Pipit feeding on seaweed. Apart from a few hail squalls, everyone handled the walk well and group photos were taken at the small coast watchers’ cave and the North West Bay hut where the book was signed. The track was generally good with only a short muddy stretch near the end. The walkers were collected by Zodiac and returned to the ship somewhat weary and very satisfied with their day out. The extensive photo record will be enjoyed for a long time to come. We appreciated this opportunity to have a good look at Campbell Island and all enjoyed discussing our experiences and observations over dinner. Elizabeth said she became “lost in the [Dracophylum] scrub…I was abandoned by my leader!” For Susan the walk reminded her of the south-west of Tasmania, while Steve was delighted that with the days sightings of the Campbell Island Snipe and Teal. He has now passed the record for sightings of New Zealand birds – a commendable 273 species. With our last day almost here, most of us turned in early.
Day 28 Saturday 7 February.
Campbell Island; En-route to Bluff
Noon position: Latitude 52o 04.518’ South; Longitude 169o 12.951’ East
Air temperature: 11oC Water 10.4oC
Most of us slept well and we looked out to find a foggy morning. The climb of Mt. Honey was called off because of fog, rain and wind. Plans were then made for Ross and David to take a number of people to Col Lyall while a Zodiac cruise would take others to the head of the harbour. This was not to be. The wind and sea got up and the ship began to drag its two anchors. At 8.20 a.m. Nathan gathered everyone together to explain that the weather was deteriorating to such an extent that further landings would not be possible. Following a show of hands it was agreed that the expedition should now head for Bluff. An hour later we cleared the entrance to Perseverance Harbour, turned to port to make our way as quickly as possible to Port Pegasus or Lord River at Stewart Island. This was 318 nautical miles away with a total of 345 to Bluff, where the Pilot was booked for 7 a.m. Monday. Anticipating bad sea conditions, many of us began to pack for departure.
During the morning a few of us were on the bridge enjoying the big swells of 5-6m and the various birds which included, Wanderer, Campbell, Southern Royal and Shy (White-capped) Albatrosses along with Cape and Grey-backed Storm Petrels and a dark brown Giant Petrel. At 12.18 p.m. we experienced a 40o from the vertical roll with several at 35o. At 4 p.m. Second Officer Sergei recorded a 54o roll. Doug said to the Chief Mate Aleksi, “What’s the limit?” He replied, “I don’t know”.
For lunch the chefs produced and served excellent pizza and staff did a wonderful job assisting the stewards by clearing the tables. Glyn remarked that Don looked like he had magnetic boots. The afternoon went very quietly, with many staying in the cabin although there were several good rolls and the wind was blowing at 35-40 knots. On the Bridge there was considerable laughter when further photos were taken of Frank and his ‘look-alike brother’. All they needed was to be wearing the same shirts!
To help the kitchen and dining room staff, the evening meal was scaled down with no entree and one main only available. We did however have a very nice dessert. A brief course change during the dinner hour and clean up time was much appreciated by both passengers and staff. A few of us returned to the Bar/library to read or look at photographs taken, but most opted for an early night.
Day 29 Sunday 8 February.
En-route to Bluff
Noon position: Latitude 48o 14.86’South; Longitude 169o01.395’ East
Air temperature: 14oC Water 11.6oC
This morning we enjoyed a great sighting of 15 Common Dolphins beside the ship. At 8.30 a.m. we had 80 nautical miles to run before Stewart Island with our course in line of the Traps. Our aim was to maintain 10.5 knots with an ETA at Stewart Island of 5 p.m. Once there we could enjoy a final expedition dinner in calmer waters. Today was taken up by finalising accounts, packing and resting. Another slight course change made it more comfortable during our lunch and at 12.40 p.m. four Dusky Dolphins were seen and bird life has included several Albatrosses.
We arrived off Stewart Island in the early evening. Stewart Island (Rakiura) which has several off-shore islands covers a large area and is made up of ancient basement granite rocks, with Mt. Anglem (979m) in the north-east corner being the highest point. Forest margins around Port Pegasus border beaches, sand dunes, streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries, bracken fields, tussock-grass down lands along with rock outcrops. Bird life is prolific and includes the South Island Brown Kiwi, Red and Yellow Crowned Parakeets (Kakariki), New Zealand Pigeon, Kaka and the rare South Island Saddleback. There are also New Zealand Fur Seals and Yellow-eyed, Little Blue and Fiordland Crested Penguins. Tuatara like those we had seen at the Southland Museum in Invercargill are found on the predator free off-shore islands. There is a long history of human habitation on Stewart Island, with early moa-hunter Maori going back perhaps 600 years, then European settlers and in the 1920’s Norwegian whalers serviced the whale chasers here.
At 6.45 p.m. we assembled in the lecture room for a final debrief from Nathan who said he hoped we would all be advocates for the ongoing protection of the Subantarctic Islands and the Ross Sea region. Nathan then thanked the staff and paid a tribute to all of us for a memorable voyage. We then settled down to view Samuel’s 300 photo DVD summary of the expedition which will be made available to us. We anchored off The Neck in calm waters at 9.15 p.m. Latitude 46o57.234’South; Longitude 168o 13.292’ East and at 9 p.m. enjoyed a sumptuous farewell dinner. Our chefs did us proud with rib-eye roast beef, roast chicken and hot champagne ham. Vegetables included roast pumpkin and kumara, peas, sweet baby carrots, cauliflower with cheese sauce and potato gnocchi with a pumpkin and curry sauce. Seafood and antipasto platters rounded out the offering. Desserts included Pavlova (a proven New Zealand invention – sorry Australia!) and Chocolate Brownies. It was a wonderful way to bring our expedition to a close.
With the Pilot booked for 7 a.m. in the morning and our departure by 9 a.m., the Log has now been closed off and all that remains to be done is to complete packing, clear customs and quarantine.
The author hopes you enjoy this record of our expedition and thanks all who have contributed with information including bird and mammal sightings and other items of interest, such the interesting hand-written pieces by Mary A, placed on the notice board. Ship positions will enable you to compile a map if you wish and the information should be useful for your photographic record.
We appreciated the hard work of our professional Expedition Leader Nathan and his team – Agnes, Samuel, Lesley, Don, David; New Zealand Government Representative Ross; Captain Dimitry and his Officers; along with Natalia and her hard working and capable staff making up the 22 crew. Our knowledge of the Subantarctic Islands and Antarctica has been greatly enhanced and the expedition will certainly be one we will remember for many years. In all we covered 5,085 nautical miles or 9,353 km. We hope to meet some of you again on a future Heritage Expeditions voyage.
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" I enjoyed the Akademik Shokalskiy very much because of the placement of my cabin. I saw everyone who passed onto the 4th deck and went up & down the stairs. The guides were excellent, giving us well researched lectures and from the documen-taries I learned a lot. I saw my 17th penguin species - the Emperor - so my bucket list is complete. Connor and Mat's cooking was superb! For my age of 74 it was a long trip, but I would do it again. "
" We had such a wondrous time on the ship...still reeling from it all, it was just fabulous and the thousands of penguins we saw were just amazing and exceeded all our expectations!!! Four new species for us seen was just amazing...Snares, Royals, SIX EMPERORS and an erect crested!!! We were in penguin heaven!!! We've now seen 15 of the 18 penguins in the wild!!!! So thanks to wonderful Heritage you have all have made dreams come true for us...So amazing and we loved the islands, the ice, all the birds we saw, whales, seals, ice, crazy sea, calm sea, bergs, sky, peace, beauty and wonder of soo far south, we loved the walks on land, all the landings, zodiac cruises, food, crew, staff, passengers...it was all just fantastic.... "
" An adventure to truly remarkable and beautiful places. The forest and mega herbs of the subantarctic islands were unexpected and stunning. It felt like time travel to see the historic huts of Ross Island and the present day bases. The Southern Ocean lived up to its reputation - roaring forties, furious fifties, screaming sixties, but NOT the silent seventies; this is where the adventure had most bite, and flexibility had to take precedence over itinerary. Flowers, whales, seals, penguins, ice, birds, huts, waves - what more could you want? All over a great trip. "
" This voyage was perfect and truly unforgettable for me and for many others and the reason for this was the weather and the crew and the organisation that Rodney and Julia so expertly put togther to make it so. "
" “ nothing can compare with actually being there and seeing everything as it actually is”. "
" I've seen nature up close! The cleanest water! The most ice & snow ever! Seals! Penguins! Albatross! & all the others! Some amazing locations & swam in the water off a Subantarctic Islands! I fell in love with every island we went to. "