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Antarctica 2010 - Day 7

Friday, January 29, 2010 13:23

We awake this morning to a very calm sea...we have arrived! We have reached the continent and are sailing through the Gerlache Strait. All around people are drawing breath in awe of the beauty of the place. Gerlache is a very special place, a channel corridored by towering, ice encrusted mountains.


Someone has us in their favour as we are escorted by scores of Gentoo penguins porpoising along side the ship. Porpoising describes the way they swim, submerging and then propelling out of the water repeatedly. It's amazing to watch.


Within minutes there is an announcement from the bridge..."humpback whales, 10'clock". We're all out on deck within seconds and sure enough about 30 metres in front of the ship there are two big blows from the whales as they move right across in front of the ship. They travel about 200 metres before starting to dive turning their tail flukes into the air and disappearing into the depths of the Gerlache.


We haven't even had breakfast yet!


8am and it's time for us to make out first shore trip. There's plenty of activity getting ready. Boats and kayaks have to be launched, people have to get their gear together and then it's down to board the zodiac. Meanwhile the kayakers busy themselves getting their boats prepared.


The plan for the morning is to visit Cuverville Island which is home to a large colony of Gentoo penguins. Landing on the beach everyone is free to roam amongst the penguins although there are strict guidelines in place on how near to approach etc. The beach area is a hive of activity with Gentoos coming and going from the waters on their feeding runs.


Take all of this and then surround it by the most breathtaking scenery of ice covered mountains, berg strewn waters, blue skies and sunshine and you will get an idea of what its likes although to be honest words nor pictures can do it justice. It's difficult to try taking it all in. I've even had a couple of people tell me that even though they had read about it or I had said what it might be like they still didn't believe it until they saw it for themselves.


Meanwhile the kayakers, after spending some time watching the penguins then took off in superb conditions with flat calm waters circumnavigating the island. Paddling past glaciers and through ice fields you became aware of how tiny you are in this amazing place. Every now and then a load crack would be heard echoing around us and heads would dart in all directions looking for avalanche or glacier calving.


You are very aware of the power of nature here but also how fragile it all is. We are hearing from the guides of big changes being seen here over the years. Global warming rears its head frequently in discussions.


After a fantastic morning of activity it's back on board to relax...yeh right...we are no longer sitting down for a break than there is a call over the intercom from the bridge..."minke whale 1 o'clock". There is a dash for cameras, jackets and hats and it's out onto the decks again to observer. Antarctica constantly throws new things at you at every minute. Everywhere life is full action.


Before lunch the boat relocated to Neko Bay and our first landing on the continent of Antarctica. After lunch zodiacs were launched and again we were on our way.


Neko Bay is one of the few areas on the Peninsula where you can do a landing. Similar to Cuverville we landed on the stony beach and were greeted by the usual traffic of penguins coming and going out of the water. Even though we have guidelines to observe of staying 5 metres away it's not long before you realise that these little guys are not going to let something like a big two legged, weirdly dressed animal with gadgets hanging out of them, stop their trek to the nest area. Before you know it there's a penguin almost walking across you feet!


Meanwhile higher up from the beach you can hear to constant sound of the penguin's calls as parents closely guard their nests from the circling skuas that are looking for an opportunity to snatch a chick. The chicks are now about a month old and beautiful little creatures with downy grey fur coats. It's like Happy Feet multiplied by a hundred here.


We spend about 3 hours at Neko and then make our way back to the ship. A nice end to a great day?...think again. Dinner at 6 around more whales, penguins birds etc. and we are off again. This time the kayakers are going for an evening paddle to Paradise Bay while the rest go for a landing at Admiralte Brown Station, an abandoned Argentine Station. There's some body tobogganing scheduled too! Hey it's not all hard work down here.


After that it's a cruise of Paradise Harbour with Leopard and Crabeater Seals, Minke whale and of course penguins! Back on the ship and it's into the bar for some drinks made with freshly harvested glacial ice...jealous?...you should be!

Signing off now and I do have one of those drinks waiting for me right now!


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