new friends sizing each other up
6am, the familiar voice come over the speaker in our room. It’s Jonathan with his morning wake up call. “Good morning everybody” he starts and lets us know that we have an early day today as waters are calm and we can tackle some landings that are usually off limits due to touch conditions.
Deception Island is our destination, but lucky for us, given the conditions, we are aiming to land on a black sandy pebble beach that is home to thousands of Chinstraps. But this was very dependent on conditions as we have to do beach landings which given the waves can be tricky. But it all looked promising.
Given the different landing conditions, kayaking was off this morning due to all hands needing to help out. That was OK, as everyone I spoke with was intending to head on to the beach anyway. Fingers crossed for the afternoon.
making the landing
At 7:30am we were getting the call up to get on to a zodiac. With seas pretty calm, we headed on to shore and had an easy time getting on to shore. I was getting to the point where I didn’t think we would see much different, but here we were greeted with a black volcanic beach and thousands of Chinstraps heading in and out of the water. Definitely a different sight to the usual icy landings.
Deception Island is actually an active volcano that last erupted in 1970, so not that long ago. As such the beach is actually very similar to that of Iceland, and it had much the same feel. Except for the penguins of course. Our landing point was actually Bailey’s Head, and Jonathan, who drove us on shore, said it was only the second time he had seen it so calm and sunny. Our blessed run continued.
The next couple of hours were spent wandering the island and amongst the thousands of Chinstraps. These little fellas seemed to be more curious than the other penguins. We found that if we just sat there, then the odds were good that you would have a penguin at your feet. Indeed one of the other passengers had a penguin pop up on his lap!
The whole beach and area we explored was a buzz of penguin activity. There were penguin highways, but not of the clear snowy kind we were used to. Rather there were clear lines of penguins wandering, although a little more haphazardly. All we had to do was try not to get in the way.
In our exploring we saw quite a few chicks as well, which is always a kick to see.
There also seemed to be quite a few adult penguin skeletons about which was very different to other areas we had visited. Lyn, our resident bird expert, could not explain it definitively, but told us it was unlikely due to attacks from other penguins or birds.
We spent the last 20 minutes just sitting on the beach watching the penguins only a couple of feet away. Everyone was content.
It was then time to get back to the ship and like the way in we had calm conditions. Once on board an announcement came over the PA that given the exceptional conditions, our captain wanted to take us on a small cruise into the volcano. Woo!
old whaling stations
So in we entered through Neptune’s Bellows inside the volcano. As you can guess Deception Island is the top ring of the volcano and there is a fairly narrow entry was that can be difficult to enter, but today all was fine. Once inside it was quite spectacular, with snowy peaks surrounding us all around. Inside there was also a couple of bases, and the remains of whaling ships of a couple of centuries ago.
out on deck with our resident botanist, the awe inspiring Gerard
As well the rock formations were very different, again due to the volcanic nature of the area.
We enjoyed a fairly leisurely cruise inside and then headed back out toward our next, and final, stop of the tour. It was hard to believe we had almost spent our 8 days in Antarctica already.
Final destination was Elephant Point, where we would be seeing yet another new animal believe it or not. This time it was the big papa of seals, the Elephant Seal. These bad boys can weigh a few tonne, and are also not the prettiest of seals, but it was exciting nonetheless.
There was a feeling of melancholy in the air though, as it was to be the last shore landing for the trip and also when the kayak meeting was called and we had the go ahead, our last kayak session. This was going to make session number 9, which was the equal record for number of outings on this trip. Another indicator of the good fortune we had had.
This kayak session was to paddle across the fair body of open water from the ship to the shore, and along the coast as much as the swells and rocks would allow, to get close to the seals. I was super up for it, especially as it was our last outing. Kate was not sure, as she really wanted to get close to the new seals. She managed to secure a spot on a photo zodiac, so decided to head to shore.
So we parted ways and I was paired up with Wucai again for the final paddle. In we went and the group headed toward the shore. As we approached we could see the big blubbering sausages on shore that were the Elephant seals. They looked so slovenly, just lying about, occasionally making some noise, or having a scratch. But they were mesmerising… and very smelly.
our amazing kayak guide, Mark
We continued to kayak around the coast, encountering many more seals (and Gentoos) as we went. It was tough as given the rocks and swells we had to be extra careful, but it was good fun.
In no time at all a couple of hours had passed and we had gone quite a ways, much past the zodiac landings and all the other passengers. Between us and the ship was a lot of swelling open sea, but all we could do was put our heads down and start paddling.
It wasn’t too bad in the end. We made it fairly comfortably, and I actually made it back into the mud room before Kate. It was a bit sad finishing up, and all us kayakers (the ones who did today were the ones who did the vast majority of outings) were a bit down that we were all done. But we had shared some pretty special experiences, so were buzzed about that.
Kate’s trip was super eventful. Being in the photo zodiac, she was fortunate to come across another whale in her travels, one that only her zodiac encountered. Our good fortune continued!
kate’s zodiac driver… the ever enigmatic Bismark
She also got the best pics of the numerous, pretty ugly, elephant seals hanging about. There were some cute pups though, so kind of the opposite of the ugly duckling story hey?
The timetable seemed to be slipping a bit, and a bit later than scheduled, Jonathan did a quick talk on geology, starting universe, and getting to Antarctica. Man, does he know his stuff. What is most impressive is that he had been so amazing to this point with running the expedition, but he has an amazing knowledge of geology. The man is a marvel.
the final iceberg
From there it was straight into the final briefing, where again it was all a bit melancholy as the talk turned to wrap ups and talking about the end of the trip. With only Drakes Passage ahead of us, in many respects the trip is about done. There is two days left, but it would be some lectures and things to pass the time and keep people’s minds off the Drake. Kudos was given to all the crew and it was well deserved.
The theme for the evening was black and white, and we were all encouraged to wear what we could. During dinner it seemed everyone had really settled into some smaller groups, Kate and I with some lovely folks from England, and some from Sydney.
After dinner was a bit of fun, a fancy dress competition. It was great to see those that had put some effort into costumes. Sure, most were penguin themed, but everyone, especially the crew, was in the spirit. The winner was a rather crazy British lady dressed as quite an outlandish penguin. The whole boat was accustomed to her by this point and we expected nothing less. To see her win the comp was justice.
The night wound up back in the Polar Bear bar, where a number of the Filipino crew had formed a makeshift band, the Monkey Eating Eagles. They banged out some enthusiastic classic cover songs and it was great to see the vast majority of the boat in there having a drink and some fun. We had to soak up the good vibes, as two days on the Drake awaited us.