As mentioned yesterday, the plans for the day had changed. The goal was the Antarctic Circle, however ice had put the kibosh on that. Instead the new plan was to head to an area on the continent called Brown Bluff for the morning, and then move on to Paulet Island in the afternoon.
At breakfast time we were starting to see the huge Tableau icebergs that characterise the area. They can be miles and miles long, and while we hadn’t seen any of that size, they were already starting to dwarf the ones we had seen to that point.
During breakfast the call went over the PA for people to sign up for the days Photographic Zodiacs. These are one or two boats that go out with the intent to just cruise around, looking or interesting things, to allow people to get some unique photos that everyone doing shore landings (or kayaking) wouldn’t. I bolted and managed to get Kate and I on the list, so we decided to forgo kayaking for the morning and do this for a change. While kayaking would have been my preference in a way, I thought it would be good to get on one photo zodiac for a change of experience.
So after all the zodiacs had gone out, we jumped in one with John our driver and Cherie, the resident photographer, and out we went. The great thing about this was that John would simply ask “so, where are we going?”. It seemed the area would be best for penguins on icebergs, possibly seals, and reflections in the water. So first we chased penguins.
Immediately we were able to spot some penguins just hanging about, so we got up close and personal for some amazing photos. The little Adelie’s were happy to just stand there and pose.
There was talk of a Leopard seal in the area, but then John got on his walkie talkie to base, asking “permission for an IW”. Permission was granted for whatever the IW was and pretty much straight away, John simply said “hang on… and I mean it” and he sped forward heading toward the ice. I expected it to give, but nope, up we went, getting half the zodiac up on a massive piece of sea ice.
John jumped out, holding the rope for the zodiac, and gave us the go ahead to jump out of the boat. We were standing on a piece of ice floating off the coast of mainland Antarctica.
Not many visitors get the chance to do that, but we were super lucky today. Not only did we get on the photo zodiac, but we were the first group on the ice. Given we had no time constraints, we got to hang out. Why did we hang out for so long? Well, a group of Adelie penguins decided they would join us on the ice. Within 10 minutes we had almost a dozen on our big chunk of ice, happy to get close and entertain us.
Imagine it. We are on a sheet of ice in Antarctica. Penguins are jumping up on to the ice around us. You can’t imagine you will ever experience this EVER.
They kept us entertained for so long, the Leopard seal was long out of our memories. It was sadly time to head on to shore and explore Brown Bluff a bit.
The bluff is home to thousands of Adelies, many more than we had seen anywhere. It was quite the sight, but most exciting was that there were many chicks there, all about a week old, so there were lots of little grey fluff balls hiding under their mothers and fathers. But given they were 7-10 days old, they were being shown a lot more and being exposed to the elements.
There was also the odd pair of frisky penguins doing there thing. Just like in the Attenborough documentaries!
Also on shore were quite a few bones, including an almost full skeleton of an Emperor penguin. It is unclear how it would have made it here, but I can now say I have seen an Emperor.
We only had a quick shore visit and then it was time to head back to the boat (via another ice landing). It had been a full 3 hours out and about.
As mentioned, the plan was to head to Paulet Island, but a little way into the journey a message came from the bridge that we were not going to make it. In our path was huge amounts of ice that we were told would be almost impossible with an ice breaker, let along our ship. It was incredible to just see the impenetrable ice in our way.
So yep, we simply had to turn around and chart a course to a new place. We were told it would be a few hours of sailing to get to our next destination, Hope Bay, so many folks went for a nap. But those of us in the lounge were about to leap to attention.
Word got out of a whale, so a few of us wandered out for a look. To our excitement, it was not just a whale in the distance, but a large group of Orcas (i.e Killer Whales) in front of the boat. And they were not scared of us. In fact they wanted to show off.
What happened for the next hour or so was euphoric. The whole ship was a buzz with the appearance of these gorgeous whales, coming right up to the ship, showing off, and causing us all to run in all kinds of directions up and down, left and right.
People were yelling out and screaming everywhere. A few of us were even starting to get a bit emotional at it. Seeing a dozen killer whales only meters away in the wild will do that.
What we saw was most likely a group of female orcas with one male. The male was clear to see as it had a huge top fin that was easy to spot.
A word here must go to the Captain of our boat and Jonathan, our G Adventures leader. Rather than keep going for our destination, the captain kept the boat circling, allowing the whales to play with us and the boat. Damn Hope Bay, it could wait.
After an hour we had to keep moving to our destination, so off we went, leaving the whales in our wake. It was sad to see them drift off in the distance, but that could simply have been the absolute joy slowly dissipating. Wow.
On the way to our next stop, given everyone was up and about, Scott gave a lecture on Shakleton and his exploits. Man he was a hard ass in every sense. Such a courageous man and hard to fathom what he did given what we were experiencing.
We arrived at Hope Bay relatively late, but the intention was to still land. This was especially so, as the nearby Argentinian base had invited everyone to come and visit their facility which was very cool. This base was a bit different to others in that it was scientific research but with a large number of families on the base. Seven in fact, including 15 children. Because of this there was a school with dedicated teacher, a chapel, and many accommodation huts. The families actually stay a whole year, not just the summer. That is a helluva experience for those kids.
So we went ashore and got to explore some of the buildings. The folk were lovely, and even had a stamp for our passports which was very cool. They also had a makeshift store, meaning that I got another patch to signify my trip. It was here I got my first proper sighting of a lone Chinstrap penguin. These little dudes have been hard to find, but I finally got one on camera.
It was well past dinner time when everyone got back to boat. Another great thing about everyone in the G Adventures crew was that a dinner an hour or two late was no problems. Mmmm…. delicious Japanese food tonight.
Kate and I decided on a night cap in the Polar Bear bar, with the boat musician Blaise playing some tunes. Another Bowie song dedicated to us was nice and were the Blue Whale cocktails of the day. They went down easy.
And before we knew it, it was midnight.