Thursday, 3 December 2009

Alternative Thankful Thursday!

Ok, so this is not quite what Sonja had in mind for Thankful Thursday but I decided to post it anyway for three reasons:

1. On Tuesday we heard from my youngest sister for the first time in 25 days as she returned safely from an Antarctic cruise.
2. Reading her Trip Summary I am so very Thankful that there are still amazing and incredible places on this Earth to visit.
3. I firmly believe that first hand experience has more effect on us in inspiring us to look to a more ecologically sound way of future living, and accounts like this can have far-reaching effects on caring for our wonderful God-given planet.
(photos are off the Internet, sites at the bottom of the post, my sister doesn't take many photos.)

The Falklands were great. Such amazing wildlife, with Black Browed Albatross and Rockhopper penguins nesting together on cliffs which we could approach (to within about 5m of the nests) without disturbing them, wild scenery (not unlike the rugged bits of the west of Ireland), some beautiful beaches where if it wasn´t for the freezing temperatures and the Magellanic penguins going about their business, you would have sworn with the white sands and turquoise seas that you were in the Caribbean. After 4 days there, we had 2 days at sea and arrived into King Haarkon Bay in South Georgia. It was the first time any of the Peregrine staff had managed to get into the Bay and it is where Shackleton arrived after his journey across from Elephant Island on the 'James Caird'. The place has been visited so little that there aren´t decent charts of the waters, so from about 5am onwards when we started making our way into the bay, the ship´s tender (which has a depth sounder) and one of our zodiacs were out in front to check for safe depths before the captain brought the ship in at a snail's pace (so slow in fact that it was hard to tell whether or not we were moving).

It is a spectacular bay, and we did a landing onto a long beach where elephant and fur seals hang out, and where we had our first sighting of king penguins (a little group of about 6 of them who just stood and looked at us), all surrounded by stunning mountains and glaciers. From there, the staff did a test landing into Rosa Bay (where Shackleton's men then moved to) to see if we could land but between a large swell at the gangway, and big surf on the proposed landing site, they decided it was unsafe so we headed on around the coast.

South Georgia Island We landed at various other places along the east coast including Grytvyiken the "capital", but i think the highlight was Salisbury Plain, a humongous King Penguin colony. We were all in heaven, just sitting on the ground watching the penguins going about their business. One of the wildlife rules is that you have to stop 5m away from the penguins, however, in a lot of cases no one has told the penguins this. So if you stop and sit down, they come over to investigate you (especially the chicks who were hilarious nosey brown fluff balls who run about the place like lunatics) or to just walk by you without a backward glance on their way to the sea or to the colony.

In fact, just as we arrived on one of the beaches, a crowd of them (ie king penguins) were just arriving into the beach from their fishing trip, and they came waddling over to look at us, to inspect the zodiac and to rummage through the life jackets. Another time as we were standing there waiting to get on a zodiac to go back to the ship about 10 of them came up and queued behind us. They obviously heard that the food was good on board.

The chicks provided endless entertainment, running around bashing into each other and coming running looking for food as soon as their parents arrived back from their fishing excursions. Invariably it was either cold or last zodiac time which drove us back to the ship, never boredom.
I really wished i could have brought some home! The little chicks were the most comical. We were sitting at the edge of one creche watching them for ages, and there were these two bold ones who, every so often, would just take off, running havoc through the creche, knocking over their fellow chicks with their chests. Caused us endless amusement.
Southern Ocean between Falklands and South Georgia
We also saw reindeer on a couple of landings, which was a bit of a novelty. And of course, there were huge numbers of other birds, mainly Petrels and Albatross. But none of them were as exciting as the penguins.
Second last day in South Georgia, we managed to get our first proper kayak in, in a place called Larsen Harbour where we kayaked down the length of the channel to the glacier at the end. It was a beautiful sunny day, with perfect flat water conditions. We then missed a landing as the weather changed and high winds and large swell kept us out of Gold Harbour. However, the expedition guys decided to try a place further north which they thought might be sheltered enough to land, although they had never been there before. So we ended up with a fabulous afternoon in a stunningly beautiful bay, hiking up over the hills, throwing snowballs, tobogganing down same hills on our bums, admiring the views and avoiding the fur seals (who like to bite). It was still beautifully sunny as we set sail further south, and spotted our first huge ice berg (big excitement).
And from there we had another 2 sea days to arrive into Elephant Island, the very north of what could be counted as Antarctica. In fact, we were not able to land there as the fog and ice were too bad, so we spent a few hours out on deck admiring said ice (and fog), spotting a few seals on the ice, and a few penguins in the water, before we headed on further south.
We then had 3 or 4 days of just amazing landings on the islands and the peninsula proper. A few of us swam at Deception Island (freezing but apparently a degree or two warmer than the rest of the Antarctic Ocean due to the fact that you are swimming in an active volcano), saw lots of Adelie, Gentoo and Macaroni penguins, saw endlessly beautiful ice formations, kayaked in among said ice bergs with penguins jumping in the water all around us, hiked up a few mountains, admired the scenery, and felt like it all passed far too quickly and that we hadn´t had nearly enough time there.
The last day was the highlight among many highlights. Us kayakers (15 of us I think) had a fabulous kayak in the morning, on jet black sea which looked like a moving carpet with the gentle swell that bobbed us around, under ice cliffs which seemed to go up for miles, lots of ice bergs a few seals around, and the usual quota of penguins. Once back on board, we did a ship cruise through the Lemaire channel, a stunning narrow channel (less than 500m wide i think at the entrance) with steep high cliffs and blue glaciers everywhere. We then did our (last) afternoon excursion to Petermann Island where about 8 of us opted to kayak again. We were kayaking literally in among the ice, over the icebergs (which you aren´t really supposed to do but there wasn´t much space for us anywhere else), in beautiful sunshine (my lips got a bit of a roasting despite factor 50 suntan lotion), and with penguins everywhere, in the water with us, on the rocks as we kayaked around the island, and on top of the icebergs we kayaked past. I can´t even begin to describe the incredible colours or the clearness of the water. None of us wanted to get back into the zodiac to get back on board, but we had a deadline of 4pm because we were so far south and they were expecting bad weather on our trip back to Ushuaia.

Antarctic Sea Ice
We had another equally beautiful sail through the Lemaire channel before heading out into the open ocean and back up to South America. Just as we were leaving the Lemaire channel, we were surrounded by a pod of about 50 orcas who performed for us for about half an hour. They delayed dinner as we were all glued to the deck watching them swim by the ship, close enough to see their blow holes as they breached. It was an incredible end to an incredible day. I seem to have overused the word incredible a lot in the last paragraph! We watched from the bar that evening as the last tip of the peninsula disappeared from sight at about 1am (still in broad daylight).
We then had another 2 days at sea, and got one more treat as the Chilean authorities allowed us to approach to within 3 nautical miles of a very benign looking Cape Horn (usually they don´t allow ships closer than 12 nautical miles). We then had one last dinner at sea as we came through the Beagle Channel, far too late a night of partying, a last breakfast on board, and then we were thrown back into reality in Ushuaia.

And so ends my little trip report. It was an absolutely amazing trip. The ship and crew were great, the landings were brilliant and the penguins performed perfectly. Was it a once in a lifetime trip? I´m not so sure about that! I think I will have to go back, to spend some more time on the Peninsula, and also maybe to go into the Weddell Sea and Ross sea in an icebreaker to see the Emperor Penguins (and preferably their chicks too). Maybe I should look for a job on board so I can do it for free.....

Sites for photos: one two three trip itinerary


Terri Tiffany said...

Oh WOW! I didn't think anyone went there for a cruise or to sightsee! HEr story and pictures were amazing! I doubt I could ever be daring enough to go clear there. Thank you for sharing it! Tell her she is really awesome to have gone!

Amanda said...

What a wonderful trip, one to really remember. So what's next?

Yolanda said...

The lady I buy yarn from for knitting, is from Falklands. I had never heard of this place until July/August of this year.

Andrea said...

Blessings, andrea

Micki said...

you got me wanting to visit Antartica too....what a glorious trip! It reminds me a bit of the trip that i took to Alaska! I really enjoyed the pics!

Sonya Lee Thompson said...

What an amazing story! I'm so glad you posted about it today! Makes me want to go on a cruise. Maybe next year...


ladydi said...

It looks lovely, but if I had the time and resources for such an adventure, I would stay away from the snow! I see all I want to right here. :>} Kauai is my dream destination, even though they have chickens there instead of penguins.


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