Voyage to one of the least visited coastlines in the world and discover for yourself why East Antarctica held such a fascination for pioneering Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. Enjoy the pleasures of exploration and observation and experience the panoramic and the intimate; the majestic vista of the world's largest glacier and a young Adelie Penguin taking its first ocean dip. The natural world beckons and rewards with rare whale sightings and abundant birdlife. East Antarctica opens to us further as we examine Mawson's legacy.
A contemporary of legendary explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson was a passionate scientist, explorer and academic who spent his life devoted to exploring and studying Antarctica. Mawson's 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) and joint 1929-1931 British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) mapped and explored the coastal area of Antarctica closest to Australia, and in so doing defined Australia's claim over the icy continent.
Our journey takes us from New Zealand via the 'stepping stones' of the rugged and wild Subantarctic Islands; The Snares, Auckland and Macquarie Islands breaking our long journey and introducing us to nesting seabirds, seals and rare flora - the islands' rich biodiversity paving the way to our Antarctic experience. There will be opportunities for thrilling wildlife encounters from nesting albatross and rowdy penguin rookeries to lazing seals and sea lions.
Crossing the Antarctic Circle, where the sun stays above the horizon, we move closer to Mawson's Antarctica. Pelagic birdlife wheels overhead on our journey south as we navigate astounding ice formations and marvel at Mertz Glacier's ice tongue. The dynamic weather, sea and ice conditions remind us that as responsible travellers together, we must keep an open mind and make the most of opportunities as they arise.
Weather conditions will determine our final expedition explorations in East Antarctica; our aim is to gain first-hand insights into this remarkable destination. Highlights of our voyage in this region will include exploring and retracing history at Cape Denison, the location of Mawson's Hut, where we plan to visit the far eastern sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Whilst visiting the hut is high on our wish list we are reminded that landings in this area are determined by the effects of Katabatic wind and ice. Mawson was very much one for science and knowledge, but realised the need to push the boundaries of endurance to achieve this goal, our experienced crew and expedition team will be monitoring conditions closely so we might achieve our goal, and follow in the footsteps of this legendary explorer.
We have planned our itinerary with a good number of days in Antarctic waters to maximise the time we have for landings, so there will be opportunities to explore on Zodiac cruises along the ice edge and among passing floes too. We should encounter Adelie Penguins swimming close by or resting on floes, and if we are lucky Emperor Penguins. Cetaceans on previous expeditions have included Fin, Minke, Blue and Humpback Whales; Orca also can be seen in this region. Birds we might encounter include Snow Petrels, Antarctic Petrels, Giant Petrels, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Cape Petrels and Antarctic Fulmar, whilst Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals may be resting along the ice edge. With long daylight hours and magnificent landscapes the photographic opportunities are endless in this land of snow and ice.
We also plan to visit the region Terre Adelie which has a coastline of roughly 300 kilometres and comprises the French sector where the French station Dumont D'Urville is located, and close by, Port Martin.
With Heritage Expeditions twenty five plus years' experience travelling to Antarctica with experienced sailors and knowledgeable guides aboard our fully equipped and ice-strengthened ship, we are well prepared to embark on this truly epic adventure with you.
Landing fees, 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: 16 January
At long last our expedition, with 49 of us all keen to visit the sub-Antarctic islands and to experience the wonders of Antarctica, is about to get underway. Some of us had arrived a day early and for Stuart, Collette and Margie, this began with meeting David, a member of the expedition team. He was observed in the Oamaru bus stop, with his Heritage Expedition cap and brief case with Scott Base label, after buying their lunch. The rest of us arrived in the southern city of Invercargill located on the fertile plains of Southland and were soon comfortably cared for in the Kelvin Hotel. The weather in Invercargill was not that we had hoped as it was a miserable day of low cloud, rain and a temperature of 12oC. The expedition team had arrived from Christchurch over the last three days and was accommodated at the Port of Bluff 30km from the city.
At the Kelvin we enjoyed meeting fellow passengers and our Expedition Leader Nathan Russ who first visited Antarctica when nine years old, became Head Chef when 18 and for the last nine years, has been Operations Manager. Nathan has made several visits to Commonwealth Bay; our main destination, Cruise Director Agnés Breniére and seasoned Antarctican Samuel Blanc, who has wintered at the French Antarctic station, Dumont D’Urville. A special welcome was given to the two Enderby Trust Scholarship 2016-17 recipients, Karen and Helen. We then enjoyed a splendid, sumptuous buffet in true Southland tradition, held in Level One restaurant. A highlight was Kiwi fruit Pavlova with one passenger remarking “the Kiwis do a good job of making the national desert of Australia.”
Day 2: 17th January
Southward bound. Bluff and Stewart Island
Noon position - Bluff: Latitude: 46o 35.530’S; Longitude: 168o 19.984’E
“Marched at average of 2 m per hour and got into camp 16 miles on at 7.30 p.m. We were able to follow old tracks and camp in old spot. Glorious day, temp about zero, light NW by W wind. We seem to have come uphill a little – my feet and legs pain a little. Mouth no better…”
Douglas Mawson on start of return journey from region of South Magnetic Pole, 17 January 1909 – 108 years ago today.
We rose to a rather bleak morning with occasional rain showers which have persisted over the last few days.
After breakfast, we met Heritage Expeditions lecturer David who with the Ship Manager Max and Radio Officer Yury, arranged conveyance of our luggage to the ship. Many of us then visited the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, while others viewed between showers the Botanic gardens or chose to shop.
At the museum we met the Curator of the Tuatara (these are not lizards), Lindsay Hazley, who has over 25 years’ experience of breeding and rearing Tuatara in artificial environments.
This was followed by an opportunity to view several (not all were visible) unique Tuatara. The oldest animal named Henry born at the close of the 19th century had arrived at the museum in 1970. He is reputed to be 111 years old and the species which is the only surviving member of the Order of Sphenodontia, has ancestry dating back 225 million years. All species except the Tuatara declined and eventually became extinct about 60 million years ago. Lindsay pointed out many interesting features, such as the pineal (third) eye and one animal which laid very few eggs over two-three seasons, last season had a 12 out of 12 success rate.
We also enjoyed an excellent programme on Tuatara in the theatrette and considerable time was spent viewing the Roaring 40’s gallery where we viewed a fine production, The Roaring Forties Experience, along with many fascinating natural history specimens and artefacts relevant to New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands. The Maori, whaling and WW1 exhibits, had nicely displayed and well-labelled artefacts, this attracting the interest of many passengers.
From the Kelvin Hotel we enjoyed an excellent lunch and were escorted by David in a coach to Bluff, where a brief security check was made. We then arrived at our smart blue and white painted polar ship, were welcomed and found our luggage in the cabins.
The 72m (236ft) Akademik Shokalskiy is one of five ships of the same class built in Turki, Finland, as research vessels, with our ship constructed in 1984 and listed on the Russian Register as KM ice class. The ship has a bunker capacity of 320 tons for the two 1560 HP (1147kWt) engines achieving 12 knots and while cruising comfortably manages on one engine10 knots. Originally built for oceanographic work, it is owned by the Russian Federation Far Eastern Hydrometeorological Research Institute in Vladivostock where it is Registered No. 179. There are 22 Russian crew.
Of interest is the naming of the ship. On Main Deck (Level 3) a panel by a portrait of Y.M.Shokalskiy, refers to “a highly respected academic CCCP 1856-1940, [who] lived a long and amazing life.” He was associated with several prominent scientists and the great Arctic explorer Fritjof Nansen. Shokalskiy’s primary interests were in the fields of geography, oceanography and cartography and he compiled works titled “Oceanography”. He was a respected President of the [Russian] Geographical Society.
After settling in our cabin where our luggage had been placed, becoming familiar with the ship and enjoying afternoon tea with excellent muffins, we had a compulsory briefing in the lecture room. This began with an introduction of staff, followed by important housekeeping rules outlined by Agnes and finally an introduction to lifejackets, procedure for an abandon ship drill and finally, use of the lifejacket worn during Zodiac operations and procedure when using a Zodiac. At 4.10 we had a simulated abandon ship drill and reported to our lifeboat, where the engine was briefly started and the drill successfully concluded.
We steamed out of Bluff into a north-north west wind at 6.05p.m., the trip to Fouveaux Strait taking about 15 minutes. The pilot launch Takitimu 11 drew up alongside and it was exciting to see the Pilot clamber down the ladder with a rope grasped in each hand. Once on the Takitimu 11, the launch driver then lost no time in pulling away from our ship. We were now on the way. After passing through Fouveaux Strait we headed on a southerly course off the east coast of Stewart Island or Rakiura as it is also known. The Stewart Island landscape in many places covered in scrub and bush and patches of weathered granite rock, was obscured by low cloud and fog.
Stewart Island is New Zealand’s newest National Park and fortunately has no predatory stoats. It was named for William Stewart in 1909 a crewman on the Pegasus and has a rich flora and birdlife. The interesting human history includes early Maori, sealers, Ross Sea whalers in the 1920s, miners, saw millers and fishermen. We had excellent viewing of seabirds including albatrosses, Little Blue and Fiordland Crested Penguins and of breaching Dusky Dolphins.
The sea in the strait began to pick up and soon our ship was rolling gently. The bar which opened for an hour provided an opportunity to meet fellow passengers and when in the lee of Stewart Island, the evening meal was served at 7.30. The meal with a choice of salmon served with kumara, pea and citrus yoghurt or, lamb rump served with peas and ricotta crush followed by a desert of dark chocolate mousse with poached boysenberries, not only had a superb combination of flavours, but was also beautifully presented. The rest of the night was spent quietly and we are hoping for a good view of The Snares early tomorrow. We continued along the east side of Stewart Island and with a southerly front forecast, most of us decided to retire early.
Day 3: 18th January
Noon position: Latitude: 48o 01.201’S; Longitude: 166o 37.571’E
Air temperature: 12oC Water temperature: 15oC
The good ship rocked and rolled a little during the night and any hours slept, were few and far between. By 6a.m. we were nearing The Snares and approaching the Solander Trough in the Tasman Sea. A few Buller and Salvin’s (nest on Broughton Island) albatrosses, the occasional Sooty Shearwater or Titi as known to Maori, Cape Petrel, Common Diving-Petrel and other species, were about. Course was set at 223.0o and we headed for the South promontory of North East Island with Broughton Island to the south-east. The Snares Islands formed of granitic rock, 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 island group is listed as 48o01’S and 166o35’E.
Before breakfast we had a good view of the main island, discovered independently on 23 November 1791 by Capt. George Vancouver HMS Discovery and by Lieut. William Broughton HMS Chatham, both of the Vancouver Expedition. The subsequent sealing era decimated the population. A small group of 3-4 convicts was here for seven years, lived in five huts, grew potatoes and they were rescued in 1818. The pest-free island requires a permit to land and is of great interest to science parties from the Universities of Canterbury and Otago, along with the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). Only 10 people a year are allowed to land and this includes members of two families who take Rock Lobster (crayfish).
It was a nice fine morning with blue sky, scattered clouds and the Zodiac operation using three boats each equipped with four-stroke 60 h.p. engines began at 9.15. We were split into three groups for two hours on the water. 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, and with canopy resembling the heads of cauliflowers. Also seen was a further ‘tree-daisy’ Brachyglotis stewartiae. Other plants included Cook’s ‘scurvy grass’; a megaherb (the term was introduced by Lyall on James Clark Ross’s expedition 1842); a shore Veronika with small white flower, and large Poa or tussock grass, this mostly on higher areas.
The many birds that were seen included Snares Crested Penguins (Eudyptes robustus) of which there are 25-28,000, Buller Albatrosses nesting on grassy ledges on cliff faces, rafts of Cape Petrels, Giant Petrels, Brown Skua, the small black endemic Snares Tomtit, Arctic Terns and some of us had good sightings of the small brown Snares Islands Snipe. The Sooty Shearwaters, a burrowing petrel on the higher areas of the main island and the most prominent bird species, with a calculated 2.7 million pairs (1971), had mostly flown before dawn.
A special experience was observing a pair of Buller Albatross going about their courtship and of an Arctic Tern diving to retrieve a small fish. Chris later mentioned that the Snares is the only island without a cormorant and that there is an abnormally high number of endemic species. Excellent viewing was also enjoyed of numerous New Zealand Fur Seals and a New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lion was seen in Station Cove.
Visits were made to two caves during which a passenger was heard to remark “What an awesome place if one wanted to propose to someone”. A major highlight was an excellent view of the famous “penguin slide” with large numbers of Snares Crested Penguins commuting over the granite surface worn smooth, 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 quickly. As Nathan said, why go to the trouble of marching up a long, steep rock slope, when there are much easier places for access. Penguins were calling and from on nests on adjacent headlands, the guttural, braying calls, of Buller’s Albatross were heard.
We had an interesting time disembarking from the Zodiac back onto the ship as the swell was at times over a meter and timing had to be spot on. We had certainly enjoyed a very special outing, with fine natural history observations, enhanced by the rarely experienced calm conditions.
Anchors were lifted at 12.15 and our chefs produced a very fine lunch at 12.30 of sausage roll, flavoured with fennel, chips and salad. With course set for Auckland Islands and with the west-south west swell decreasing, many decided to have a rest. Nathan advised we are expected to reach Port Ross in the early hours of the morning.
During the afternoon a fishing boat was seen but not identified. This may have been heading for the Auckland Islands Rise to take squid, ling or scampi. All vessels fishing operating in this area are licensed in New Zealand.
At 7p.m. Nathan held in the bar-library, his debrief and briefly mentioned plans for the next day. With reference to the sub-Antarctic islands he said “The wildlife is like an adolescent teenager”. By now we were progressing at a comfortable 10.5 knots and our talented chefs again produced a fine meal with a choice of pork cutlets or Short Rib, followed by excellent carrot cake as final.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 4: 19th January
Enderby Island (Auckland Islands)
Noon position: Latitude: 50o 30.377’S; Longitude: 166o 16.809’E
Air temperature: 13oC Water temperature: 11oC
We arrived at Port Ross around 03.45 a.m. It 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 Dumont D’Urville, leader of the French expedition and was renamed later, by Charles Enderby. Many of us on deck early were fascinated with the spectacular columnar basalt cliffs with prominent jointing, topped by Rata forest and Dracophyllum, along the south side of Enderby Island. The rock has formed in this way during rapid cooling of the lava.
The morning was cloudy with occasional rain, a cool south-south east wind and an air temperature of 10oC. Wake-up call was at 06.30 with breakfast 15 minutes later. We then attended to quarantine requirements and used a vacuum cleaner to ensure our clothing and back packs etc. had no foreign seeds.
We attended a mandatory briefing by Nathan which covered a general introduction to the Auckland Islands, followed by general comments as related to environmental aspects. A Southern Lakes Helicopter flew off 15 drums of fuel, required for emergency purposes and research.
By 10a.m. the first Zodiac had taken the first of us to the east end of the beach where we had to climb over the bow, be careful not to slip on kelp or rocks, then make our way to suitable place where we would leave our lifejackets and for those on the long walk, a change from gumboots to hiking boots.
After a brief talk from Nathan we all set off, taking care to not intrude on some large assemblages of New Zealand (Hooker’s) Sea Lions. The violent storm on New Year’s Day had caused many sea lions to leave the beach and move inland. We then followed the board walk to the north side of the inland, passing along the way a well-developed Yellow-eye Penguin chick, a distant view of a Southern Royal Albatross, an Auckland Islands Snipe, flowering Southern Rata, purple and white Gentians and a few megaherbs. The Bulbinella rossi was not flowering as the plant was severely affected by the storm two weeks ago and we were deprived of seeing the beautiful bright orange flowers.
The 14 not participating in the long walk around the east end of the island, after enjoying the wild landscape and Auckland Islands Cormorants rafting off-shore, then made our way back to Sandy Bay. A short detour was made into the Rata forest, where David showed some of us the Stella castaway depot, mentioned by Nathan in his presentation earlier. We also had a look at the site of a farm house placed on a knoll. Margie F. located a tree stump and Ben then found the only remaining evidence of the house. This was part of the stove and a fire brick. The house was erected in May 1874 and later converted to a castaway depot.
From here we saw a well-developed pup feeding from the mother and good photos were obtained of adults and pups. From here we sidled over to where a Department of Conservation staff member, Katie from Wellington, and two students were packaging phials with tissue samples. Katie mentioned that 328 pups had been born this season at Sandy Bay and that this was 20% up on the previous season and that the pups are a week ahead of usual. Further research focused on Yellow-eyed Penguins and Gibson Albatross research was being undertaken on Adams Island where the team has put up with 40-50 knot winds. The helicopter was being used for aerial photography (30 mega pixel imagery) of Light-mantled Sooty and Shy Albatross colonies and sea lions. Albatrosses, however, have had the breeding rate decreased.
The “finger post” nearby, was not seen and had toppled over in the New Year storm.
Those on the long walk were able to obtain good sightings of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Auckland Islands Cormorants. Good views were enjoyed of the Derry Castle Reef, where the ship of that name was wrecked 20 March 1887 and of the memorial plaque, near the site of 15 graves. A number of possible mast spars were on the reef. The barque had a load of grain from Geelong Australia. There were eight survivors (including on passenger) who subsisted on grain and shellfish for 92 days, as the castaway depot was found to contain only one jar of salt. The excellent cut lunch was enjoyed here.
Bird sightings was very plentiful with three Red-crowned Parakeets and a variety of other interesting birds including, Dotterels, Auckland Islands Tomtits, brown Northern Skuas including a juvenile, Kelp Gulls, Arctic Terns, Auckland Islands Teal, Auckland Islands Cormorants, an advanced Sooty Albatross chick and Yellow-eyed Penguins. A most unusual item was several skulls, which Dr Pat suggested were seal.
It would be difficult to determine the most special aspect of today as there were many. It was certainly an outstanding event in one’s lifetime. Late in the day the sun shone brightly on the fascinating landscape we had spent the day on. Many of us in the bar-library, enjoyed going through our photos, the anchor was raised at 5.45 and at 6p.m. the bar opened.
Nathan held a de-brief at 7p.m. after which we enjoyed the usual excellent meal. With a full programme and early start, most of us opted for a quiet night. We are getting used to the ship now and impressed with the high standard of cleanliness, a tribute to the crew.
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 5: 20th January
Auckland Island – Hardwick Village site; Victoria Tree; Ranui Cove. At Sea.
Noon position: Latitude: 50o30.972’S; Longitude: 166o 21.110 ’E
Air temperature: 15 o Water temperature: 10oC
New Zealand’s Scott Base on Ross Island Antarctica, opened 60 years ago.
We had a very comfortable night and this morning Nathan roused us at 06.15. Port Ross was calm with little wind and air temperature 8oC. By 7a.m. we were ashore at the site of Hardwick, the British Colony established by Samuel Enderby in 1849 and which lasted until 1852. The idea was fuelled by James Clark Ross’s report and the Prospectus issued was lauded by British politicians. It turned out to be the smallest, short-lived and most remote of British colonies. In short, it was a complete failure.
The settlers comprised tradesmen, women and children who arrived on the Samuel Enderby (and later also on the Fancy and Brisk) found on arrival, 50 Maoris with three pa (village) sites. They were wearing loin cloths of seal skin and apparently had plenty of rum.
Named after the Earl of Hardwick, the settlement had roads made of beach gravel and there was a safe anchorage. Farms were established on Enderby, Rose and Auckland Islands. However mustering was a problem and two horses landed were not used. Although the Maoris had some success with growing vegetables, the British settlers did not as the soil derived from volcanic rocks was too acidic. Turnips were the size of radishes and there was only limited success with cabbages, peas, celery, lettuce and potatoes.
Curiously when a visit was made by Sir George Grey from New Zealand, a ball was held in his honour and the same day a whale caught yielded 40 barrels of oil. Whaling did not prove successful.
In the end the venture which lasted only two years and nine months and cost ₤30,000 would have been better run from New Zealand. In that time there was two infant deaths, five weddings and 16 births registered. In 1852 the Maoris left for New Zealand and after dismantling most of the buildings the settlers returned to Britain. Today only the boat shed (with a possible telegraph pole associated with the WW2 Cape Expedition), and collapsing depot shed remain. Traces however can be seen of the road which was built by Maoris who were paid with bank notes, an example of which we saw in the Southland Museum.
We very much enjoyed the short board walk to inspect the cemetery. It was peaceful with Bellbirds calling, a bonus was a double rainbow and the fragrance from the bush, which here was Dracophyllum sp., Broadleaf, Southern Rata and other species. Quite sad when one considers, the relatives were never likely to see their deceased next of kin. Nathan agreed that the real history here is perhaps below the ground surface as David suggested there was potential for historical archaeology.
From here we returned to the two sheds then followed the site of the road which had beach material visible in a few places, through open Rata forest to inspect the Victoria Tree. The inscription made by men from the Australian ship ship Victoria in 1865 during a routine search for castaways. The stump is steadily deteriorating and various suggestions were made on its protection. This included removal or encasing within a protective surround.
In 1863 the Auckland Islands was gazetted within the boundaries of New Zealand.
We were soon on the ship and enjoying an excellent hot breakfast. Then about 9a.m. with the ship relocated, we visited Ranui Cove. This was almost like a cul-de-sac in a suburban street, with the end not visible from the expanse of Port Ross. Here tucked away in open Rata forest, which included some very large and ancient trees, was a New Zealand World War 2 Coast Watchers’ base of the secret “Cape Expedition and Survey Party”.
Following the rapid departure from Port Chalmers New Zealand, of the German cargo ship Erlangen, on the eve of war being declared in 1939, the ship was without its full load of coal. The Erlangen then headed south and finding a good location to hide at the head of the North Arm of Carnley Harbour, the largely Chinese crew cut 400 tons of rata for fuel. Unbeknown to the Germans, Rata is one of the few timbers that will burn when green.
New Zealand authorities had by now organised the secret Cape Expedition. This would be based at Auckland and Campbell Islands, to keep watch for enemy shipping. In the end no shipping was sighted and scientists and surveyors went on to undertake successful careers.
At Ranui Cove, two large huts were joined to make one, while another older hut from the same time, was further in the bush. Remains of the wharf were visible and a male sea lion appeared to have briefly found a shorter pile to rest on. The base was constructed in 1941 and sufficient supplies for three years, were left for the four men including two scientists and a radio operator until 1946. This was a fascinating place and one of two such facilities on Auckland Island, the other being at Tagua Bay. Each base had a separate lookout hut located on a high point away from the main building.
The outside walls and some of the inner walls were clad with Malthoid, while plywood painted pale cream and pale blue, was also used in the interior. There were several rooms off a porch and central passage, carefully replaced by Department of Conservation.
One room which appeared to be the laundry and perhaps a storeroom, still had a Methven 12 cast iron copper, another the kitchen, had an Orion range with Heat Indictor gauge made by Shacklock in Dunedin and two large brown enamel teapots, along with a Patriotic Fund dart board and drawers beneath a bench, labelled Wholemeal, Rolled Oats, Dried Fruits, Sugar, Flour and Bread.
In what was presumed to be the living and dining area, was a small heating stove with Rover brand Birmingham, a shelf with a selection of books and some old New Zealand lime juice bottles with labels of Ballins, a Christchurch company no longer in business. One book was titled Mental Efficiency and Other Hints to Men and Women and many were stamped with NZ Military Camps Library Service. One dated 1914 was stamped, National Patriotic Fund Board War Library Service. A bedroom had on a wall a series of circuit breakers and a stool and chair had been improvised from box wood.
David was especially interested in this site which he had not previously visited. He had also known and corresponded with some members of The Cape Expedition including Dr (later Sir) Robert Falla a former Director of the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa), who had served with Mawson as ornithologist during the BANZARE and Charles (later Sir) Fleming, palaeontologist who he had enjoyed when he gave a lecture.
One item which attracted the attention of us was an 11 verse poem titled “Fifty South” by Jonnie Jones, beginning with
This is our isle of solemn repose
Our isle of blessed retreat
Where the bitterly cold sou’wester blows
And mud slops around our feet…
Most of us climbed up a hill side opposite to view the small hut which was a lookout hut and had a commanding view of Port Ross. This was of interest although the hut had little in the way of artefacts, apart for a book, some crockery and a newspaper …Illustrated…dated 23 July 1938. The suggestion was that communication from here to the main hut below may have been by Morse. From the knoll close by, there was a fantastic 360o panorama, taking in Enderby Island, Port Ross etc. An 11-12m yacht was seen but not identified and our ship was clearly visible.
As with the earlier landing this was a most interesting and peaceful place. Numerous Bellbirds and a pair of Tui were seen, and the beach of waterworn basalt boulders with limpets, had extensive red and green marine algae of interest to Karen and Helen, the Enderby Trust Scholarship recipients. We were back at the ship by 11a.m. the anchor was lifted 15 minutes later, and we had a nice lunch of Lasagne and salad at 12.30.
At 1.30 Nathan assembled us in the lecture room where he explained ice maps and using examples back to 2014, showed how the ice changes from year to year. We have high hopes that within a few days we will visit Commonwealth Bay.
By 3p.m. we were past a bleak Adams Island and were now heading with a south-south west sea, towards Macquarie Island. The ship took a few good waves and a few birds including a Shy Albatross were seen. Because of the motion, Samuel’s lecture was postponed and dinner was at the usual time of 7.30pm. Many decided to have an early night.
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 6: 21st January
At Sea on the vast Southern Ocean. Macquarie Island
Noon position: Latitude: 53o10.053’S; Longitude: 161o44.848’E
Air temperature: 10oC Water temperature: 9oC
We had a fairly comfortable night with just the occasional big roll of the ship. Last night a sea lion may have been sighted. Made good progress over the Southern Ocean and this morning at 06.50, we were doing 11 knots over an incredible 4395m of water and at 52o31.883’S; 163o01.594’E. This morning the sea was fairly calm and not a bird was in sight. The sea temperature was the same as the air at 7oC and of interest was the sighting of six Hourglass Dolphins and at approximately 8.15 we entered Australian waters.
This morning we continued on a straight course of 235.2o and maintained a steady speed of 10.5 knots. The sky was cloudy and there was little wind. There were a few sea birds about, these included prions, albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels.
With calm seas, this provided an opportunity for the lecture programme to begin. The first lecture was by Samuel, who introduced us to “Seabirds of the Southern Ocean” with a focus on the ecology and biology of the various groups. Samuel explained that these birds spend most of their lives at sea, as they wander about the Antarctic continent. Some such as the albatrosses have a long life span, with a record of 61 years for one albatross. There are 300 species in the Southern Ocean, however, many have low breeding success; perhaps one chick/year, and may spend 7-8 years at sea before returning to land to breed.
Also discussed were variations in the social, breeding and foraging behaviour, along with scavenging. Excellent images will help us identify various species by taking note of colouration on upper and lower wing plumage, the head including eye and beak.
At 3.30 Chris gave an excellent lecture “New Zealand Sea Lion - the life and times of Hookers”. He explained that the species is only found in New Zealand and the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and that the mammal was named after Sir Joseph Hooker, who had been on James Clark Ross’s expedition. Pinnepeds Chris said, are divided into three groups – the true seals or Phocids; Fur seals and Sea lions – the eared seals of Otariids and the Walrus or Odohenids.
There is a common ancestor and other sea lions are in the Arctic, California, Japan, Galapagos, South America and Australia. They were once around the entire coast of New Zealand. Of great interest was the depth at which sea lions can dive – 550m over 11½ minutes and the elephant seal can dive to 1500m and stay submerged for two hours. The New Zealand Fur Seal manages 218m over 11 minutes. This achieved through having a range of adaptions, such as lungs which compress under pressure; slowing the heart rate, having a large volume of blood, etc. Further discussion focused on breeding, diet and conservation of sea lions with one being the first sea lion to breed in New Zealand for 150 years.
David gave the third presentation which aimed to provide further information to that already conveyed by Nathan in the pre-landing introductions. This was titled “Bleak Outposts in Stormy Seas”. Presentation began with describing ten aspects of the human history of New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic Islands and Australia’s Macquarie Island. The main topics discussed was the era of sealing when statistics were given for the quantities of skins and oil taken; the disastrous attempt to establish a British colony in the Auckland Islands; era of the castaways when at least 10 major ship wrecks took place; the science undertaken including the early expeditions that stopped on the way to or after Antarctica and the present eras relating to eco-tourism and conservation.
At 7pm we had a de-brief when David spoke briefly about out visit to Ranui Cove. Nathan then mentioned the Enderby Trust and scholarships in which knowledge is extended and scholars advocate for preservation of the regions to which up to ten personnel visit annually on different voyages to make sure the next generation is able to make their contribution. Plans for the visit to Macquarie Island over the forthcoming two days were outlined with an ETA expected around 11-11.30pm.
At 9pm Nathan advised Macquarie was visible and this had many of us outside on the “monkey bridge” obtaining great views and enhancing our photo record. The island which lies north-south on the Macquarie Ridge, along the eastern margin of the tectonic plate boundary between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate, probably emerged 600-700,000 years ago, rising to 2.5km in elevation; initially as islets then as an archipelago.
The island is growing and the last glacial event 18,000 years ago had a major effect on the islands landscape. It appeared as a long dark mass with a cluster of the Judge and Clerke Islands at one end, which became more distinct as we drew closer. Over the island was a band of mauve clouds, with fringes, pale lemon. The sea was beautifully calm with a small raft of Giant Petrels which included a White Morph, this contributing to a perfect end for the day.
With potentially two busy days ahead, we decided to have a reasonably early night.
Day 7: 22nd January
Macquarie Island – Sandy Bay
Noon position: Latitude: 54o34.053’S; Longitude: 158o56.067’E
Air temperature: 11 oC Water temperature: 8 oC
Macquarie Island has a long history. This began with the discovery by Captain Frederick Hasselburgh in July 1810 and sealing began soon afterwards. It was then estimated that there were between 200,000-240,000 seals and in the first 18 months 120,000 skins were taken. Between the years 1810-1819 there are a staggering 207 recorded ship visits.
On 11 December 1911, Mawson had arrived at Macquarie Island from Hobart, on the SY Aurora. He wrote;
“Macquarie Island…was sighted on December 11…This habitable island has a length of over 20 miles and greatest breadth of 3½ miles. The chief vegetation is tussock grass and Kerguelen cabbage, but it abounds in a truly wonderful population of birds and animals. At oe time it was a favourite haunt of the valuable fur seal, but for fifty years or more only odd specimens have been seen. The ruthless slaughter by the early settlers is responsible for this almost complete extermination. Sea elephants, however, are numerous, the bulls being met with up to 20 feet in length and weighing some 2 tons.”
Last evening we remained on station off the entrance to Buckles Bay and this morning the anchor was dropped at 7a.m. in 22m. Our position at Buckles Bay was 54o30.300’S; 158o56.767’E, although this will change during the day. The sea was reasonably calm, a cool south-south east wind was blowing, it was overcast and the temperature was 7.5oC. North Head and the green hills stood out prominently and in 1911, this was soon familiar to Mawson’s four men, who would spend four years here; the location of his northernmost base for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14.
Macquarie Island has an approximate length of 34km, a width of 5km, an area of 128km2 and an annual rainfall of 905mm. Last year 1200mm was recorded. In the 19thC Emerald Island was supposed to exist south of Macquarie, however, various searches for it were unsuccessful and the island may have in fact been an iceberg.
On Macquarie the rocks are 10-30 myr basalts which include pillow lavas formed when super-heated lava is cooled very quickly under the ocean. These rocks are 2-12 myrs old and some can be seen at Sandy Bay. On the plateau in the north are ultramafic rocks formed at least 6km below the earth’s surface. The island is important geologically, as it is the only known area of oceanic crust in relatively pristine condition and which is independent of any other continent. The World Heritage rating was based on this geology. Along the coast rock “stacks” are remnants of a former coastline.
The island is rich in bird life with Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels; Grey, White-headed and Blue Petrels, Macquarie Island Shags (Blue-eyed cormorants), Light-mantled Sooty, Wanderer and Grey-headed Albatrosses and Northern (Brown) Skuas. Insects are abundant, however, in contrast there are only 45 vascular plants (have vessels conducting fluids – water plus mineral salts and food) of which three plants are endemic to the island. Because the island is too far south, there are no trees or shrubs and the flora is dominated with megaherbs, tussock grasses and ferns. Prominent plants are the Tussock grass (Poa foliosa); Macquarie Island “cabbage” (Stilbocarpis polaris) and the Macquarie Island daisy (Pleurophyllum hookeri).
As Sir Douglas Mawson wrote in 1919, “This little island is one of the wonder spots of the world.”
During the morning Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service officers – Chris Officer in Charge, Rowena a Ranger, Marcus a Ranger along with Horse, a “tradie” (welder and boiler maker etc.) and Alex Fergus a research botanist, were brought to the ship. We had earlier vacuumed our clothing, packs and boots, followed by a briefing at 9.45. A further meeting was held in the Bar/Library, when there was an opportunity to ask the Macca staff a few questions. Lunch was at 12.30.
The ship relocated to Sandy Bay (54o34.053’S; 158o56.067’E) and by 1pm we were being shuttled ashore. There was not much of a swell and few of us received boots filled with water. Rowena gave us a short briefing and we were then left to wander and observe Southern Elephant Seals, King and Royal Penguins. Non-breeding seals were moulting, the pups having gone to sea. King Penguins, were also moulting and Royal Penguin chicks were in their down although some birds were sitting on eggs. Moulting takes 4-6 weeks.
We all had a wonderful time with our cameras and an excellent wide boardwalk, provided an easy amble to the observation platform, where we looked over the Royal Penguin colony with its estimated 40,000 birds. Overall there is 1.7 million of the species at Macca. Also seen were large areas with dramatic vegetation recovery. The King Penguin colony which we inspected and has an estimated 6-8,000 individuals had this season, 74,382 chicks and even a Chinstrap Penguin 1500km off course, was seen on 13 January; the last sighting here being two years ago.
Two excellent signs referred to the eradication programme, with the island following a A$24million outlay, making it clear of rabbits in 2014 and to Macca’s huge colony of Royal Royals. It was difficult to realise that in winter, the area is entirely deserted. The King Penguins also leave and of interest was the discovery in November 2016, of a sick King Penguin on a beach near Timaru, New Zealand. Unfortunately it died and was given by Department of Conservation to Canterbury Museum.
Some comments from a previous expedition as relate to elephant seals and penguins.
‘Makes you want to go on a diet’
‘Their personality defined three words for me – Fart, Belch and Snort’
‘I now know what an Elephant Seal’s breath is like’
‘The Royal Penguin colony reminds me of Beijing’
The first Zodiac returned to the ship at 3p.m. and we were all aboard before 5pm. Captain Igor kindly rode anchor and drove the ship forward, so as to maintain easy use of the gangway platform. Unfortunately the day was not as fine as we would have liked and by late afternoon light rain was falling as predicted. Nevertheless it was an extraordinary experience and one which we will not forget.
The bar was a very lively place this evening and at 7p.m. Chris from Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife, provided a most interesting report on the post-eradication recovery of vegetation. Nathan also spoke of his walk with Chris, over the top of the island which had numerous small lakes, with these, only one component of the unique landscape once traversed by Blake, during his mapping while a member of Mawson’s party in 1911-12.
The dinner this evening was superb. There were many favourable comments on the presentation of both the Herb and parmesan crusted Blue cod served with bok choy and roasted potato and Scotch fillet served with quinoa and roasted zucchini. The final of vanilla panacotta served with pineapple salsa was excellent. Not only were the meals beautifully plated, but the flavours excellent.
Nathan hopes that we can have a Zodiac ride off the Lusitania King Penguin colony in the morning. So with a start suggested as 6a.m. although the bar was opened, many opted for an early night on a calm sea.
Day 8: 23rd January
Macquarie Island – Lusitania Bay and Buckles Bay
Noon position: Latitude: 54o 30.319’S; Longitude: 158o 56.912’E
Air temperature: 9oC Water temperature: 7oC
Douglas Mawson 23 January 1912
“We occupied the Hut (some of us, [Robert-Bob]Bage, [Alfred-Hodge]Hodgeman, [Eric]Webb ad I). Stove put together.”
In 1952 on this day, France’s Dumont D’Urville station was destroyed by fire. The new station opened on 12 January 1956 in time for the IGY.
We had another comfortable evening in paradise and this morning began our day at Lusitania Bay, the home to 180,000 breeding pairs of King Penguins. The latest breeding season records 75,000 penguin chicks for the island. It was cool out and a swell of about a meter, meant that unfortunately we were unable to have a Zodiac cruise. The water depth at the anchorage was 50m and our position was 50o43.189’S; 158o 52.322’E.
Nevertheless we had good off-shore viewing of the extensive colony (which is expanding), including three steam digester plants (one fallen over), associated with Joseph Hatch’s oil industry and Nathan noticed a Rockhopper Penguin near the ship. As Rodney Russ once said, “Eventually the digesters will rust away and the penguins will have the last laugh.”
The morning was largely overcast and at 7.15a.m. we began our relocating to Buckles Bay. At 8.15 we assembled in the Lecture Room for Nathan’s briefing. This morning an 11-15 knot NW is blowing and whether we like it or not it will be a wet landing at either Landing Beach or Garden Cove a boulder beach.
In the end after Nathan had made an inspection and dropped off the Ranger party, the Zodiac operation got underway with Garden Cove the preferred option. A Rockhopper Penguin colony is on a headland nearby. We began the landing operation at 9.15 and apart for a few filled gum boots, all were landed nicely on a steep shingle beach where a Southern Elephant Seal pup, showed immense interest in the newcomers. We were now split into three groups each with a Ranger, staff member and began our tour of the station and immediate environs.
This was a most interesting time and the Parks staff carefully explained the various parts of the station including no-go areas such as the magnetic recording area and we walked along the western mixed course sand and shingle beach, with good viewings of Gentoo Penguins (this season, 20 chicks at the colony we passed), the colony of Macquarie Island Cormorants and were lucky not to be bombarded by pavlova from Skuas as they flew above our heads against the wind.
From the platform on top of Razorback, we had excellent views of the station, surroundings areas of the isthmus, the location where Light-mantled Sooty Albatross breed and of rejuvenating, lush vegetation, amongst which elephant seals, some 400-500kg, were grunting and snorting in their wallows. Time was also spent on a platform accessed by a short boardwalk where there were digestion boilers and excellent display panels.
At the station where our tour was concluded, we met staff including the Station Leader Esther Rodewald, who provided a superb morning tea with Devonshire scones and managed to deplete our monetary resources. Postage for postcards was already organised on board by Agnes and books, tea towels and other items, were purchased, with Helen the station Doctor assisting.
Here then is a coincidence. Tod mentioned that he had recently sold after 20 years, his 1907 home in Echuca (Aboriginal for “meeting of the waters” – the Murray, Golburn, and Campagne Rivers) and produced photos of the house on his i-phone. Helen, whose father had been Managing Director of the ball-bearing manufacturer UBCO, then said “I was born in the front room”.
David was particularly pleased with his landing. He is gathering material for a biography on Harold Hamilton, one of Mawson’s five men and a naturalist who wintered here in 1912-13, and who had attended his former secondary school, Waitaki, in Oamaru. The location of the meteorological station including holes from which instrument supports were once attached was located and photographed, along with the site of the expedition hut, in the vicinity of the station flag pole.
Before departing the AAD station many of us observed (at 12.15 Australian time) release of a helium balloon and instrument package. It was then time for departure with Nathan and Samuel showing the benefit of their long experience in handling small boats, in an increasingly rough sea. We all made it safely onto the ship, had a hot shower and a nice hot lunch.
At 3p.m. a good audience attended David’s second lecture “Lost in the Mists – Douglas Mawson and Macquarie Island”. The presentation outlined the work undertaken by Mawson’s five men at his northern outpost in 1911-13. The results included the first detailed survey and geology done of the island, the detailed meteorological, observations, extensive collection of natural history specimens and the first wireless transmissions sent from Antarctica.
It was, however, not a happy party as there were frequent clashes and the leader was not suitable, as was one of the wireless operating staff. A shortage of food did not help matters and we were not all that enthusiastic at the idea, of eating elephant seal heart stuffed with herbs then roasted, along with liver or kidneys.
The lecture was over just in time as at 3.20, when we rounded the south end of the island. We began to feel the full brunt of the wild sea, with water washing portholes and the occasional big roll of the ship. On one of these rolls a quantity of crockery ready for the Crew evening meal, left the tables and hit the deck. The remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the cabin and enjoying our photographs.
Only a small group gathered in the Bar/Library and in spite of the frequent rolling of the ship, and difficult work for our chefs and stewardesses, an excellent expedition dinner of roast pork sirloin or chicken supreme was served. Staff assisted crew with clearing tables and this was very much appreciated. As with last evening most retired early to the cabin and Nathan advised we can expect a more comfortable day tomorrow. Tod, however, suggested we can expect a further 85 hours of ship rolling for a few days yet. He must have a special power from somewhere higher up, to receive such details.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 9: 24th January
Noon position: Latitude: 56 o 56.973’S; Longitude: 154 o 11.609 ’E
Air temperature: 9 oC Water temperature: 6 oC
The front went through last night and this morning we rose to a calm sea and a bright sunny day and a small amount of cloud along the horizon. At 7.30a.m. we were on a course of 231.4o, and at 56o 26.702’S and 155o 20.960’E, as we moved along nicely at 11.1 knots. The air temperature was a cool 4.5oC.
Nathan put satellite ice maps on the wall and while there is some heavy ice in the area of interest to us, this is always liable to change quickly and a front anticipated over the next few days can change the situation in a matter of hours.
This morning two-three unidentifiable whales were sighted and a Royal or Rockhopper Penguin was also seen. An enthusiastic bird observer is Pete from England who has assembled a magnificent “expedition book” with colour illustrations of birds, copies of previous logs, maps and other details, he can refer to during Voyage 1664. At 9.05 Nathan advised we can expect little change in the weather today and that this may continue tomorrow.
At 10a.m. we assembled in the Lecture Room for a presentation by Samuel on “Penguins”. This was a superb lecture complimented with excellent photographs, mostly by Samuel who then began with a history of early sightings. The first was by the French explorer, Jean Baptiste Bouvet, who reported penguins 33 years before the British mariner James Cook. Cook, however, during his voyages of discovery, described seven of the 18 species of penguins and the French explorer, Dumont D’Urville, went as far as naming a penguin after his wife Adéle; now the Adelié Penguin. The oldest description of a King Penguin is from 1768 by Thomas Pennant.
This was followed by discussion on the evolution of penguins with the fossil record indicating ancestors lived on land 30-40 mya. These were two metres high and weighed about 100kg with superb skeletal fossils found on the Antarctic Peninsula and in North Otago New Zealand.
We then learned about the various species and where they are found, and aspects concerned with adaption to life in water, such as heavier bones, the special uropygial gland which produces as oily substance transferred by the beak for waterproofing and the thick plumage over a layer of fat. Aspects of reproduction, physiology, diet and predation were covered. At conclusion of the lecture, we were asked if we would be prepared in our life time, to be like an Emperor Penguin and fast for eight years, walk 40,000 kilometres and like an Adelié be able to scratch our head with a foot.
We enjoyed a fine lunch today with Quinoa and an Indian dish of chicken on rice and naan bread and by early afternoon the sea was up a little and the ship was rolling. Nathan mentioned that 55 knot winds from the south east are forecast for 8p.m. today at Macquarie.
This morning the Iceberg Sighting Competition was announced. The Rules are simple – must be the size of a double-decker bus above sea level; it must been sighted visually and not by radar and no Staff or Crew can enter and bribes are unacceptable.
At 3p.m. our fine polar jacket was issued and the first part of the acclaimed production Longitude was screened at 4p.m. The sea calmed down and several Broad-billed (?) Prions were about the ship.
The Antarctic Convergence, a temperature and salinity boundary of the Southern Ocean, a feature of great interest to oceanographers and biologists, was crossed. At 4p.m. seawater temperature was 6o and at 9p.m. 7o indicating we had crossed the Convergence.
The end of the day was on us quickly and this evening again enjoyed an excellent meal with many favourable comments on the John Dory fish and the lamb. Happy birthday was sung for Janet. And so has ended, another very pleasant day on the Southern Ocean.
Day 10: 25th January
Noon position: Latitude: 59o 999 ’S; Longitude: 147 o 05.74 ’E
Air temperature: 9oC Water temperature: 6oC
A much cooler morning with calm seas, having a smooth, undulating surface and almost oily appearance as we will see it when further south. At 7a.m. we were at 59o24.683’S; 148o24.062’E and progressing at 11.9 knots over 2099m of water. It is cooler this morning with both the air and sea temperature 4oC, the latter indicating that we have crossed the Convergence. By 8a.m. Agnes reported the air temperature had risen to 5oC and water to 6oC.
We are still on course to our way point which is still a few hours away and can expect soon to sight the first iceberg. A flock of four reasonably large birds was seen, and may have been petrels or shearwaters. Further shearwaters were seen late this morning and an unidentified whale well off.
The second programme of Longitude was screened and enjoyed by all. If in London, it is worth visiting the Maritime Museum at Greenwich to see the original Harrison clocks and watches. They are works of art and it is incredible to think, craftsmanship using mostly hand tools, made possible such delicate and precise nautical instruments. Kendall’s watch is also exhibited.
By noon we were moving along nicely at about 12 knots and over 2200m depth of ocean. We crossed 60o latitude at 12.30 and are now in the waters governed by the Antarctic Treaty, which all ships and personnel whatever their activity, have to adhere to. An ice map with larger print magnification, was put up by Nathan and shows more clearly the various ice thicknesses in an area of interest, although unfortunately not a great deal of change in a large ice field.
By 1p.m. the sea was still calm and we were enjoying very pleasant travel. Very little wild life, however, this will change and once in the ice, whales are likely to be more plentiful. Lunch today was very tasty filo wraps with broccoli, mushroom, lentils, corn, diced lamb and other goodies including a tasty lemon and caper sauce.
We ventured into the Sea Shop held in the Library/Bar at 2.30 and were able to purchase some fine apparel, maps, books and other mementos of our expedition. The shop was open an hour. A quote from Rob: “I don’t read but that doesn’t matter. I’ll take these three”.
At 4p.m. we attended David’s lecture “Exploration of East Antarctica” a forerunner to the first lecture on Mawson’s first expedition. The lecture covered 130 years (1773-1902) of exploration which began with discussion on East Antarctica, the early notion of a Southern Continent or Terra Australis Incognita, and reference to navigators, Magellan and Drake, the latter disproving the idea of a southern continent linked to South America.
The expeditions by Cook (Britain) and Bellingshausen (Russia); activity and early expeditions of sealers; the great search for a South Magnetic Pole by D’Urville (France); Wilkes (USA) and Ross (England) and finally the important scientific expedition by Drygalski (Germany) and later by Filchner (Germany) followed.
A lot of ground with numerous dates was covered and there was an emphasis on science, geographical discovery and stages in filling in the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula and for East Antarctica. Although Admiral Thaddeus Bellingshausen, may have discovered the Antarctic continent, D’Urville’s French Naval expedition undoubtedly was first to raise the national flag on a small offshore island.
During the afternoon several shearwaters were seen near the ship and some whales were seen spouting, although were too far away to identify.
The afternoon came and went and by evening there was still no iceberg sighted. Not a large group in the Bar/Library this evening and we enjoyed the usual excellent meal. This evening Sushi comprised the Starter, both main courses were excellent as was the very fine birthday cake. Tomorrow a full programme is planned for Australia Day and perhaps an iceberg will be sighted this evening or during the day.
Day 11: 26th January
Southern Ocean: First icebergs
Noon position: Latitude: 62o 55.555 ’S; Longitude: 139o 17.031’E
Air temperature: 3oC Water temperature: 1.8oC
101 years ago today, Dick Richards, an Australian with the Ross Sea party of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17, helped with placement of the crucial final depot at Mt Hope by the entrance to the Beardmore Glacier. Shackleton never made his crossing in 1914-16 and the depot was never seen since.
We started the day well, with another calm sea last evening and at 8a.m, were still over deep water (3559m) and on a course of 231.7o. Our position was 62o30.057’S 140o26.540’E. We crossed the South East Ridge and soon will be in the Antarctic Coastal Current. The water temperature was a cool 3oC and air 5oC. Not a piece of ice in sight and just the occasional bird.
There was much evidence of Australia’s National Colours this morning. This included yellow and gold paper “fly screens” at the entrance to the dining rooms, flip flops outside a cabin, Vaughan with Wallabies jersey, Stuart in a Wallabies cap and Tod had a yellow “drip catcher”, tradie belt, and a Go Aussie cap. Some ladies on board also wore various accoutrements including outback hats, and appropriate colours.
There was some coaching on the bridge in Aussie accent, “Men Down Under” was sung at 8.15 and David proud of his Aussie heritage, was requested by Tod, to wear gold representing the wattle flower. He was later made an “Honorary Australian” and also informed that an Aborigine was the first Australian to visit Antarctica. The occasional Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, was emitted. So it was a good start to the Australia’s National Holiday and was the green and gold superstructure on the bow, especially for the 35 Aussies on board?
At 9a.m. Nathan announced we still had around 200 nautical miles to go to the next way point and we then head south, until 80-90km from our next intended location. At 10a.m. to music of “The Great Southern Land” by Jimmy Barnes, and now in the French sector Terre Adelie, we assembled in the Lecture Room for a mandatory pre-Antarctic briefing.
This was an excellent briefing. It began with IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators); a member funded and run organisation based in the USA, with a Secretariat and established in 1991. The objective is to help protect Antarctica and Heritage Expeditions is one of the first to become a member of IAATO and the company also assists IMO (International Maritime Organisation) with hydrographic data. Dr Kim Crosby a key figure has recently vacated the position. IAATO has a series of guidelines which were discussed and covered such aspects as protection of wildlife including the 5m rule, litter, care with vegetation and the aim is for all of us to become Ambassadors for Antarctica. No unmanned aerial craft is permitted without appropriate approval and Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) with colonies of birds and plants, along with historic sites, have special requirements to be adhered to.
We viewed an excellent new presentation “Going Ashore Visitors Landing from Ships and Yachts” which covered all the points mentioned by Nathan and the primary aim is to enjoy and enrich our experience. Nathan emphasised that all staff have had previous Antarctic experience and said “We have to remain rigidly flexible”.
Nathan discussed the next 6-7 days and in this we had the benefit of his extensive experience. We will head towards Davis Bay and are in “expedition mode” which we will enjoy as much as possible. None of us, he said, have been to Davis Bay and no formal programme will be followed. Watch is being kept on what the ice is doing along with the weather. We can now look much of interest – whales; Emperor and other penguins, flying birds and ICE in its many forms. We have, however, yet to sight an iceberg.
Following the briefing we vacuumed our clothing, to ensure no foreign material from Macquarie Island enters Antarctica.
Just before noon three Humpback Whales were observed off the port bow, along with a raft of Shearwaters. We were now moving along at 9.2 knots on a course of 231.3o. It was now overcast, and light snow along with occasional light rain, was falling. Dr Pat mentioned he had seen an iceberg suddenly appear out of the mist. The bridge now had the radar on and an E-SE was blowing and the sea had picked up.
At 1p.m. to the beautiful song “I am Australian” penned by Bruce Woodley and sung by the Seekers – “…we are one we are many and from the lands on earth we come…” after they had regrouped, we enjoyed an excellent Australian-style lunch. Essentially this was a burger with a selection of side dishes – beetroot, grated cheese, salad, pickle, grated carrot and sliced tomato. Tod unable to locate toothpicks cut up an old plastic tour ticket to which was attached small gold and green paper pennants. The burger was followed by an ANZAC biscuit.
The day got even better.
At 3.30 we assembled in the Lecture Theatre for a showing of the excellent film “The Silence Calling” which covered the history of Australia’s Antarctica programme. This was narrated by well-known journalist Tim Bowden, the title having come from his excellent book of the same subject. David in a few introductory words spoke of Robert Service and his writing of the Canadian wilderness, the love for poetry by Shackleton and his men and he then read poetry from Peter Fitzsimons mammoth publication “Mawson”. We were into the film, when Nathan announced the first iceberg had been sighted. This led to vacating seats and after a brief look at the block of ice on the horizon, the film resumed.
The berg was sighted at 3.03p.m. by Janet however, the prize based on time was awarded to Margaret F. who had predicted 03.15 and received an excellent bottle of red wine. The position when seen was 63o34.56’S; 137o49.43’E. The berg was a large brilliant white block of ice on the horizon, below strato-cumulus cloud and there was scarcely a ripple on the sea. Helen A. was second with a time of 03.45. Nathan pointed out, the origin of the berg probably went back 5-15 years and that 7/10ths is below the surface. Of interest was sighting of a lone Giant Petrel and as the berg drew alongside the ship, its height was calculated at 40m.
We now looked forward to the South Magnetic Pole and considered ourselves as among the few people who have travelled over this location by sea that would have this experience. Nathan assembled us in the Lecture Room where David and Samuel spoke briefly about the Magnetic Pole, its history and movement over the decades since the first plotting of its position on 16 January 1909. Presently the South Magnetic Pole is located at 64o2’S 136o3’E. During Mawson’s expedition in 1912 the Kiwi, Eric Webb, visited the general area and having made observations which took 2½ hours with 250-300 instrument readings, concluded they had missed the actual site “by a goodly number of miles.”
Soon the berg was beside our ship and Dr Pat enjoyed the “clarity of the top against the grey sky”. Of great beauty was the iridescent blue below the water line, subtle blue on the tall shear faces of the berg and the wave action that had created toadstool-like ice features.
We then adjoined to the Library/Bar where Stuart introduced other members of his team; Tod River (after Alice Springs), Cyclone Tracey and Chris of the expedition team – all were made “Honorary Territorians”. The activity began with a song “I like aeroplane jelly” and Stuart then suggested “we hope non-Australians learn a bit of culture tonight; real good culture. Trivia followed and a special emphasis was placed on the poetry of Banjo Paterson. This began with “Clancy of the Overflow”…”and he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended and that night the endless glory of the everlasting stars.” Banjo a lawyer was then in an office and dreaming of being in the bush.
Dr Pat then gave an excellent rendition of a folk song “Billy Brink” and tied this into an early experience he had with shearing and when he also was required to kill two sheep in a day. Chris then recited “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle” another Banjo Paterson classic from 1866. The performance ended with a mass singing of “Waltzing Matilda”. Kim from Korea, then presented Nathan for the Library and Heritage Expeditions, with a beautiful natural history book he had produced and we then enjoyed a sumptuous Australia Day dinner. This began with a Starter – Throw another shrimp on the barby; Main was Outback beef served with veges, caramelised onion and gravy or salmon served with cauliflower crush and dingo gravy followed by an appropriate Final of Aussie apple pie, which brings the writer to an interesting aspect.
Over the evening meal, one gradually meets most interesting people from many walks of life. We have for example,
*Rob who has 12 sheds each with 45,000 chickens and four more being built
*Trevor a retired physicist who specialised in condensed matter physics (previously referred to as solid state physics), the study of properties and applications with regard to metals, at Monash University
*Vaughan has a PhD in Human Anatomy; from the University of Queensland
*Kevin a former athlete, who climbed to the South Col of Mt. Everest, rode a skidoo to the North Pole and also ran the mile in 3.558 at Olympic Park Melbourne
*Stuart author of a book on the iconic town Alice Springs and a naturalist with the Conservation Commission for the Northern Territory
*Hillary an anthropologist, who lived in Lebanon, Beirut, Iraq and other interesting places in the 60s and 70s.
*Diana a haematology and oncology nurse with the national standard.
*Collette is Director (non-Executive) of Gold Coast Health and Hospital Service and Margie her cabin mate is a Teacher/Librarian.
*Sarah is a Parliamentary Officer for Question Time in Canberra and
*Tracey a HR and OSH manager for a hospital on NSW border
This makes one appreciate the unique opportunity of meeting interesting people from around the world and with each of those on board having contributed something unique in their lifetime.
At 9pm a large tabular berg was observed and again many photographs were taken. Most of us then decided to have a rest before we arrive at the area of the South Magnetic Pole, with an ETA about Midnight.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 12: 27th January
Southern Ocean. Terre Adelie. South Magnetic Pole
Noon position: Latitude: 65o 14.868 ’S; Longitude: 133o 48.611’E
Air temperature: 1oC Water temperature: 1oC
For those who stayed up, the remainder of us received a wake-up from Nathan at Midnight, followed by a five minute reminder from Agnes. Many of us negotiated the slippery level four deck then gathered in subdued light at the bow, where the flags of New Zealand, Australia, France, Russia and Korea were flown and a paper banner with red down-pointing arrow indicated the latitude and longitude of the South Magnetic Pole. When over the spot the ships horn emitted two mighty blasts. This was a rare privilege. Many photos were taken and Agnes also recorded the event from the “monkey bridge”. Then it was back to bed.
At 7.50a.m. it was foggy and the sea a little rough from a brisk south-east wind. Many shearwaters were about. The water and sea temperatures were 1oC we were doing 8.9 knots and over 300m of water. A few of us on the bridge and had an excellent view of two large icebergs with others showing up on radar. We were now in the Dumont D’Urville Sea with the Lazarev Trough away to starboard, named after Lieutenant Mikhail Lazarev, commander of the Mirnyi on Admiral Thaddeus Bellinghausen’s 1819-21 expedition. The bergs emerged out of the gloom and were a spectacular sight with on one, large pieces about to calve, some large caves with waves rushing in and out and the beautiful blue at the waterline.
At 9 a.m. Nathan advised, we had around 66 nautical miles to go to Davis Bay. We were now surrounded by brash ice and small floes as we headed in a southerly direction, under an overcast sky. Two whales were seen off the starboard bow and a planned lecture on ice was postponed an hour. A further three whales were sighted before 10 and identified by the low, stubby dorsal fine, as Humpbacks. An Antarctic Petrel was also observed.
At 10.15 a large glacier tongue on the 1979 Russian chart, and named the Dibble Glacier, was visible and some clear sky beginning to appear. The glacier is doubtless the source of the large bergs. It was really good to be in the ice and after all, this was what we had come to see. We were now at 65o04’S; 134o00’E.
However, one may ask, why is the ice at times blue?
Glaciers, shelf-ice and icebergs often exhibit as we have seen crevices and cracks, emitting large areas of deep, iridescent blue. Snow appears white because air trapped between ice crystals scatter, reflecting all wave lengths of sunlight back to our eyes and is seen by us as white. Snow crystals can be reflecting or refracting. Compacted ice deep in a glacier or glacial ice sheet retains small air bubbles which scatter light, allowing the penetration of sunlight (when present) deep into the ice. Ice crystals absorb six times as much light at the red end of the spectrum and since ice absorbs most of the red light, only the blue end of the spectrum remains reflected back to us. Trevor kindly checked this section.
We now had excellent viewing of many bergs and were passing though bergy bits (defined as less than 5m above sea level and not more than 10m across), small floes (less than 20m across), brash ice (defined as fragments not more than 2m across) and enjoyed a close-up of a Minke Whale and its “footprint” left after the mammal sounded. The floes were moving gently up and down and as we pushed through some large floes, one was able to see the extent of ice below the surface and also the brown patches of phyto-plankton (diatoms) which at the base of the food chain, provides sustenance for zoo-plankton such as krill and amphipods.
At 11.00 we had an excellent viewing of three Emperor Penguins (one lying down) and fifteen minutes later, a Leopard seal, the first Adelie Penguin and a little later two whales (perhaps Minkes) were seen in open pools. A further Emperor Penguin with nice colouration, a Crabeater Seal, another Leopard Seal, a Weddell Seal and a Snow Petrel was seen. This has certainly been an excellent morning for viewing wild life and the ice in many of its various forms.
By 12.30 we were moving into the top of Davis Bay and gradually working our way west as encountering some multi-year ice along with winter ice with pressure ridges. The swell mentioned previously is not making navigation very easy.
Lunch consisted of the usual very fresh salad and today had cucumber and avocado included along with, a very nice plate of pasta and diced chicken in a tasty sauce.
Early afternoon two Southern Fulmar were seen and we returned to the Lecture Room at 3p.m. for a presentation by Samuel titled “Icebergs, cathedrals of ice.” Given the ice we saw in the last few hours, this was an appropriate lecture.
Samuel began by explaining that there are three kinds of ice; glacier ice (on land), sea ice (frozen sea water) and permafrost (frozen ground). The extent of glacier ice in the world in spite of changes in recent years is still considerable. Antarctica has 13 586,000 km2; Greenland 710,000 km2 and in contrast the Tasman Glacier in New Zealand has only 101 km2.
We then had explained how glacier ice forms and viewed an interest BBC time-lapse film clip “Chasing the Ice”. We did not know that a snow flake falling at the South Pole will take 800-900,000 years to reach the coast. Interesting aspects included icebergs and their formation and the fact that 9/10ths is under the surface of the ocean, the origin of ice shelves, along with the low temperature of the sea (sea water freezes at -1.8oC), plays an important part in determine g how long an iceberg will last. Samuel mentioned that icebergs are recorded for the Weddell Sea A, Ross Sea B, Eat Antarctica is C and the remainder is D.
At 5p.m. five Zodiacs were put in the water and we set out on a search for wildlife. Over 1½ hours we were amply rewarded. Close encounters included six Emperor Penguins with four in one group; two Adelie Penguins; two Crabeater Seals and at least four Minke Whales were briefly observed. There were numerous birds including nine Arctic Terns, a Giant Petrel, several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, two Snow Petrels and some shearwaters. Nathan said it was unusual to see more Emperor Penguins than Adelies. We returned to the ship at 6.30 with the Russian crewman on the gangway stating “No tickets, No breakfast”.
We had the usual convivial hour in the Bar/Library and another very nice evening meal. At 9p.m. Captain headed the ship towards where we first entered the ice in the morning. There was by now, nice clear skies and excellent lighting conditions enabling us to photograph some magnificent icebergs seen this morning. Samuel gave a very good commentary from the bridge on the bergs which were grounded in about 300m of water. A large tabular example clearly had the various snow layers visible and the position was 65o12.155E; 133o57.843’E. Many of us settled for an early night.
David received a message to advise his friend Wing Commander Bill Cranfield had died in Christchurch. Bill was the last surviving member of Sir Edmund Hillary’s party that wintered at Scott Base in 1957 and was the No.2 pilot. He and Nathan last met Bill at the start of the new Antarctic season.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 13: 28th January
Noon position: Latitude: 65o 00.845’S; Longitude: 139o18.87 ’E
Air temperature: 3o Water temperature: 1o
We enjoyed calm seas last night and this morning about a 10 knot wind was creating a ripple and at 8a.m. occasional light snow (which had fallen in the night), was passing through. We were now in the Antarctic Coastal Current of the D’Urville Sea, with 2120m depth. Position was 64o50.519’S 127o23.265’E. Air temperature 2oC and water -1oC. A flock of 50+ shearwaters was followed a little later by a flock of 10 and one Antarctic Petrel was sighted. Not a piece of ice in sight and two whales blew at 8.45.
We had a relaxing morning. David gave a further lecture to an almost full house at 10 a.m. This was titled Douglas Mawson – Stalwart of the ‘heroic-era’ Part.1.
The presentation began with detailing Mawson’s early life and commencement of his academic career, followed by his appointment as physicist to Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 with participation in the first ascent of the active volcano Mt. Erebus discovered by Ross, the sledging journey to the area of the South Magnetic Pole when in the latter stages, Mawson was put in charge by his former Professor, 50 year-old Tannatt (later Sir) Edgeworth David, who later claimed “Mawson was the real leader who was the soul of our expedition to the Magnetic Pole…”
Mawson’s association with Scott and Shackleton followed and moved into the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14 on which were four New Zealanders, including two at Macquarie Island. The lecture then focused on the tremendous achievements of Mawson and also of his Western party under Shackleton man Frank Wild. The lecture concluded with Mawson’s marriage and service as a Major in WW 1.
During the morning two Humpback Whales were seen on the surface and birds included two Antarctic Petrels and two Southern Fulmars. By noon a 12 m/sec. south-east wind was blowing and the sea choppy. Our course in an easterly direction was 108.0o at 11.knots, as we head in the direction of the Mertz Glacier that should be reached early tomorrow morning. The low pressure system still about Cape Adare should revert to a high later.
Between 11.30a.m. – 1p.m. a number of whales were sighted surfacing and blowing, either side of the ship. The Officers on watch suggested they were Fin Whales. However it seems more likely that the 5-6 in one group were perhaps Minke or Sei species, of which Karen took some excellent photographs of the back and dorsal fin. An estimated further 20-25 in another group on the opposite side of the ship were unidentified.
We had the usual very nice lunch at 1p.m. and at 2.30, Part 1 of “The Last Place on Earth” was screened in the lecture theatre. David gave a brief introduction with reference to Roland Huntford’s controversial book Scott and Amundsen, and suggested that the audience should decide for themselves on the content of the film as compared to the book, a copy of which is in the ship’s Library.
Following lunch a large tabular berg drifted by and much of the afternoon, ice was seen in the water.
The final lecture for today was given by Samuel and titled “The Emperor Penguin - 200 years history of a legend and today was introduced as the “World Premiere”.
Samuel began with reference to his winter spent at Dumont D’Urville Station I 2006, when he spent two hours each day counting and making general observations, sometimes at night, of an Emperor Penguin colony 850 meters from the base.
Beginning with the earliest records of the species, he then outlines from careful research, observations made during expeditions, of the Emperor Penguin in which comments had been made on the location and state of the colonies observed. Early records show Haswell Island with 7000 birds in 1912 and 3247 identified by satellite in 2009. Pointe Geologie had 5000 birds in 1951 and 2456 in 2009.
Today satellite records have helped to identify 46 colonies in Antarctica and these have 238,000 breeding pairs of which 595,000 are adult birds. The Ross Sea region has seven colonies making up 30%. The largest colony is on Coulman Island in the Ross Sea, with 25,298 penguins and 22,510 are at Halley Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The lecture with beautiful illustrations, kept us spell bound and was made even better as a result of the viewing yesterday. Needless to say, discussion continued in the Bar/Library at 6p.m.
We passed Commonwealth Bay about 8.15 and a small course correction was made as we headed for the Mertz Glacier tongue that will be reached some time during the night. At 8.50p.m. we were at 65o32.919’S 143o12.866’E. Outside there was poor visibility, the sea was much the same as during the day, light drizzle was falling and the air temperature was a cool 2oC.
A few of us enjoyed spending time on the bridge, even though there was not a great deal to see.
Day 14: 29th January
Southern Ocean – Magnificent wild life and icescapes
Noon position: Latitude: 65 o 53.198’S; Longitude: 144 o 43.323 ’E
Air temperature: 2o Water temperature 0 oC
Chef Simon’s birthday
Another very calm night with the occasional bump from a floe on the hull and quite a few floes and areas of brash about us.
This morning we were in old and occasionally heavy ice, as we retreated to more open water with a stiff south-east blowing at 25-30 knots. At 07.45 it was 2oC and the water temperature was -1oC. Our course was 180.8o and position then, 160o05.727’S; 144o49.306’E.
There was much to see about the ship and Nathan recommended that we spent as much time as possible this morning, observing the floes and wildlife. The light and dark grey sky this morning was from the scenery and wildlife perspective, one of our finest on the expedition. The light also brought out the delicate Prussian blue, cobalt blue and ultramarine colours on floes and in the ice where submerged. Stuart said he had enjoyed himself so much he had remained on the decks and also the Bridge until 5a.m.
This morning has also been a naturalist’s paradise with at least ten Minke whales, and Orca was observed beside the bow. To this can be added the fantastic variety of birdlife and it is worth noting the species – a solitary Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Giant Petrel (including White Morph), Snow Petrel, Antarctic Petrel, Cape Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Short-tailed Shearwater, Adelie and Emperor Penguins and perhaps other species the author was unable to name. Samuel noted that it was unusual to see Antarctic Petrels with Fulmars sitting on the ice; sheltering from the wind and the sheer numbers of birds and species was unique.
Of course, the availability of good interchangeable lenses and good digital camera bodies, has made it possible for us to obtain some of our best record on the expedition. A bit more of a challenge with small “point and shoots”, although the low light today made this easier. Nevertheless, if one was careful to obtain on the screen a bird of interest, and then zoom on it one could if desired, obtain a reasonable image for the record or photo album. Much skill was, however, needed to keep a small bird such as a Snow Petrel in sight and occasionally the result was the dark sea or part of an ice floe. Good shots were obtained of some huge flocks of shearwaters and Antarctic Petrels, which resented the approach of the big blue vessel and soon took off.
We were 21 nautical miles from the Antarctic Circle about 7a.m. and 42 from Mertz Glacier. The ship then turned and went north for about two hours then south and to south-west and by 10a.m. it was still blowing.
Much time was set by us in the bow and on the bridge, along with the decks as we enjoyed the spectacular icescape and wildlife. Of interest were three Crabeater Seals, a Black-browed Albatross, a Mottled Petrel and a Cape Petrel was observed with a fish about 20cm long. During the morning we saw a number of these Notothenoid fish, and one species appeared to be Trematomus bernacchii or Pagothenia borchgrevinkii. Most were about 15-20cm long and along the edges of ice floes, where they had been taken to eat and then dropped by birds as our vessel passed by. By now it was -1oC and snowing lightly.
At 11.10 Nathan gave us a progress report. We had come to a stop in in open water and scattered flows with the aim to drift until the SE wind drops. This is expected to be about 4-6p.m. and there is a slight shift to due south and 3-5 knots.
We enjoyed excellent fish and chips with a red cabbage salad followed by Devonshire scone for lunch. Still in the pool with for company, only a few brown Giant Petrels always on the lookout for a tasty morsel.
At 3p.m. David gave his fifth lecture titled “Douglas Mawson. Part 2 - From BANZARE to ANARE.” This was quite a long lecture and began with the background to the expedition and then dealt with the two BANZARE expeditions of 1929-1930 and 1930-31.
The first expedition using Scott’s former ship Discovery, was very much one of conflict with Captain Davis, with the result that Davis was replaced by the First Officer Captain Kenneth MacKenzie from the first expedition, for the second and shorter expedition. There was constant concern at shortage of coal and of being caught in the ice.
The expedition however achieved an enormous amount with deep sea soundings and dredging when a vast quantity of marine specimens, many new to science, was collected, details of sea ice and meteorological observations to 50,000 feet. New areas were mapped from the air using a Fox Moth and the coastline accurately charted from King George V Land to Enderby Land. Thirteen volumes of scientific reports was compiled and edited by Mawson with assistance of his married daughter Patricia Thomas, herself by then a biologist.
Reference was also made to activity by Norway, including the first women to land in Antarctica, Germany, United States (after WW2), France, and finally, the establishment of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition/s) with new bases Mawson, Davis (along with Law Base) and Casey which we had been told about in the documentary “The Silence Calling”.
At 5p.m. we enjoyed Part 2 of “The Last Place on Earth” and an hour later the Bar opened. Samuel opened the recap for the day and mentioned 13 species of birds had been seen with the main reason being, that open water between two large areas of ice, had led to a concentration of food. The Antarctic Petrels were prolific and 70% of their diet is “silver fish” which we saw on floes. He then made reference to seal species and that possibly, a Ross Seal had been sighted. We were given the main distinguishing features in case we see the elusive mammal which lives on heavy pack ice.
Chris discussed whales and referred to the 1994 whale sanctuary created in 1994 in the Southern Ocean, which links into a further sanctuary in the Indian Ocean.
Nathan made reference to certificates for the South Magnetic Pole which we will each receive and presented one to David, telling him “Here is a Certificate so you can put your camera away.”
We then had a beautiful meal which began with broccoli blue cheese soup followed by a Main with the choice of lamb on couscous or Thai green curry with Monkfish followed by a Final of roasted plums with raspberry crumb and mascarpone. During the meal we drifted several miles and at 8.30 the engines were started and we began our way back in to open water. Simon was presented with a copy of the beautiful book “Galapagos of the Antarctic”.
For those who stayed up, they were rewarded with a very fine sunset. Stuart said the sun set at 12.55a.m. in the south-west and with a nice pinkish-orange band above the horizon, with this persisting all night.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 15: 30th January
Southern Ocean – On an icefloe; Zodiac cruise
Noon position: Latitude: 65o 53.53’S; Longitude: 144o 29.313 ’E
Air temperature: 3 o Water temperature: 0 oC
Nathan has us up with a call at 6a.m. and the sun rising at 6.15 in the south-east, was very spectacular. The sun rose as a brilliant orange sphere below a band of cloud and we enjoyed the beautiful soft light on ice floes, a few Snow Petrels and the occasional Giant Petrel.
The ship was surrounded by floes and the position was 66o80.680’S; 144o22.627 E, with water below a mere 334m. We were still quite a few miles north of the Antarctic Circle at 66o34’. Breakfast was at 7.15 and by 7.45 the Zodiacs were on the water and a small pod of Orcas was seen off the stern.
After Nathan and Samuel had located and checked out a good floe, we set out and then spent about 1½ hours on the flow, which had a 30cm cover of fresh snow, 10cm ice band over ice exceeding 2m thickness. One could imagine what it must have been like for Shackleton and his men, after the Endurance had sunk in the Weddell Sea.
We were told to keep five metres back from the edge and had a lot of fun with laughter, as we got bogged or fell down while wandering about. A highlight was a pair of Adelie penguins. Many photos were taken and a number of us enjoyed sitting in the snow, as we observed the birds. At one stage, all that could be heard was the lapping of water at the edge of the floe. This was Antarctica at its best.
A short time was then spent amongst the ice floes. By now there were a few more birds about. These included Giant Petrels, Antarctic Petrels, Southern Fulmar and Snow Petrels. We had an excellent view of seven Adelie Penguins on top of a high floe and of a very fine specimen of a Crabeater Seal. Ten to fifteen million are estimated for Antarctica and the species is the most numerous seal on earth. An interesting sight for those on one Zodiac, was of seeing a Fulmar having observed a fish, then fly down to take the fish which it proceeded to eat on the surface. A few dead fish, one of the same species as seen yesterday, were noticed on the edge of floes and Trevor took an excellent photograph. It really had been a spectacular morning.
At 10.15, the engines were started and we began working our way east to check out the ice conditions. Two pods of large Orca were seen nearby, as they worked their way around the ice floes.
For the remainder of the morning we spent time enjoying our photos and some of us when on the bridge at 12.15 had an excellent view of a large Humpback whale. Samuel spotted it first off the port bow however, it then was seen when aft of starboard and was perhaps feeding on the surface. There three rafts of Short-tailed Shearwaters which was most impressive. There had to be thousands of them, and they have flown down to East Antarctica from Tasmania.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch with meat balls and pasta, then many of us took advantage of the beautiful day. By early afternoon, we were still in a north-north east direction below blue skies and bright sunlight, with high cirrus cloud above. A few birds about and there will be less as we soon head northward.
Part 3 of “The Last Place on Earth” was screened and Nathan then assembled us in the bow for a group photograph after which, hot cocoa, enhanced with something special was served. The afternoon was beautiful with scattered floes over a Prussian blue sea as we continued the journey on an easterly direction.
A large whale perhaps a Humpback was sighted at 6p.m. and at 6.35, Nathan alerted us to a large iceberg. This passed close to the ship and the Captain did a circuit, during which we saw pronounced bands of ice, such as Samuel had described in his lecture. Below the iceberg was 2400m of water, which meant the berg had to be afloat. Numerous Snow Petrels were about and there was a halo to one side of the sun.
The meal with Ribeye and fish was excellent and at 8.45, a large Leopard Seal was close to the ship and very kindly obliged for the paparazzi. By now we had begun turning from an easterly course to one of south.
At 9.15 the final event for the day, was a briefing in the lecture room. Nathan outlined the best option for us and a decision will be made tomorrow. At present the aim is to push south if possible, in to an area shown on the satellite imagery as open water, then see what we can do. Stuart gave a special thank you on behalf of all of us, for Nathan and the Captain’s efforts so far and the fact that we have achieved a great deal. So it is fingers crossed for tomorrow.
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 16: 31st January
Southern Ocean – Zodiac cruise; Polar Plunge; Superb Humpback and Fin whale viewing, as we departed the ice
Noon position: Latitude: 65 o 47.106’S; Longitude: 145o 47.032’E
Air temperature: 3o Water temperature: -1oC
The engine was started, anchor lifted as planned at 6a.m. and we were on the move by 6.15. We were amongst young ice floes on a calm sea with a foggy morning, so no sunrise for us today.
By 06.30 the ship was moving though about 6/10ths of floes on calm water. David sighted a row of three whale “footprints” each about 4m across, was sighted and the temperature outside a mere 2oC. The few birds about, included a few Antarctic Petrels on floes, Snow Petrel, Cape Petrel, Giant Petrel and a little later an Emperor Penguin. Our position was 65o36.28’S; 145o56.332’E, with the Captain and First Officer, studying with binoculars, the ice for the best possible route to take. Later the ice thickened then opened out again as we proceeded on a course to the south.
Today 104 years ago, Mawson was a day off arriving at Aladdin’s cave on the final stage of his solo journey and another week would pass before he reached the hut and his men. He wrote
“Spent all day making new and better crampons. Great difficulty in getting screws and nails-have pulled theodolite box to pieces and now take them out of the sledge meter, cooker box, etc.”
We had breakfast at the usual time of 8.30 then Nathan arranged a Zodiac cruise in the floes for any of us wishing to have a further look at the ice and wildlife and this got under way at 9.30. At 8a.m. a grey sky above, however the sea amongst the floes was calm and all in good spirits.
Five Zodiacs were put over the side and all except three of us set out for what proved to be an excellent excursion. We spent some time weaving in and out amongst large and small ice floes and eventually Nathan, with assistance of the bridge, tracked down a seal. We then located a very fine Crabeater which certainly gave David and the rest of us, the seal of approval. The seal was a two tone, silvery and darker cost creature and entertained us with use of a flipper to scratch its face and other fore-flipper and rolled about on the snow covered floe. We had a close look at its teeth and overall body shape and the seal had to be one of the best we had seen.
From here we had close viewing on another floe of a young Adelie Penguin, which standing erect, continually extended and shut its flippers, before we then relocated for a close look at a large iceberg. This berg, one of several we have viewed at close quarters, was a very fine example with distinct layers of previous snow deposition and large caves at its base, out of which waves were periodically flowing then breaking. Apart for these features, the most beautiful turquoise and ultramarine shades were enjoyed at close quarters. This will add to the very memorable experiences, we have had in Antarctica. We were able to gain a good impression of scale while maintaining a safe distance.
On 13 December 1913 after departing Cape Denison, Mawson with reference to ice caves in a barrier [ice shelf] they were passing, wrote on the 29th
“Caves often Gothic arch shaped. I suspect caves are shelled cavings-in of formations above sea-eaten-out foundations. This would happen in weak spots, particularly above old crevasses.”
The bridge was then requested by Nathan to start one engine and the ship was moved to a position of open and calm water so we could be collected. As we relocated a small pod of Minke Whales was seen along the ice edge. By 11a.m. we were back on board.
The Polar Plunge now got underway with 15 enthusiastic participants. Samuel was official photographer in a Zodiac operated by Connor, while Agnes took further photos from the top of the gangway and David assisted with towels and looking after any clothing. A keen observer albeit briefly, was a Cape Petrel on the water nearby. Once ice was moved away with aid of a bow thruster and the Zodiac, Rob became the first to leap off the platform and emerged saying “It’s not all that cold!” Rob was followed by Rod, who filmed himself then Brian, who loudly emitted before he left the platform and hit the water, “God Save the Queen!”
Diana was the first lady of our group and was followed by Hassan and our two Enderby Trust scholars, Helen and Karen. Harry (Harrison) the final plunger, also filmed himself and soon after the final plunge, a Minke Whale surfaced near the stern. Of the expedition team, the Polar Plungers were Chris and Simon.
That was not all. A penguin named Norman observed, Nathan when on the landing, had a wave fill his Sorrels and then received two wet feet.
At 12.15 Nathan advised, that following discussion with the Captain, “It is with a heavy heart, that we now have to leave Antarctica. It will take us three to four hours to return to the edge of the ice, then the second engine will be started, and we will set course for the Balleny Islands.” Five minutes later with the Second Mate, Evgenii, now at the helm, our ship slowly turned to begin the sad process of leaving Antarctica behind and to head on a new course to the outer edge of the pack.
A special mention has to be made of today’s excellent and nicely presented lunch. Along with the usual fresh salad, our chefs produced small rounds of gnocchi in a pea sauce, topped by almonds and ricotta. An extremely moreish chocolate slice followed, and we then adjourned to write our diaries, look at photographs and to enjoy our last views of ice floes that have been with us the last few days.
At 2p.m. Samuel, perched on a chair placed on a hatch at the bow, reported whales blowing and a short time later, there was the magnificent sight of two Humpback Whales in front of the ship and then continued along the port side, occasionally leaving their “footprint” of fine bubbles on the surface, as they sounded. Then soon afterwards, a Minke, or going by the tall, bent, dorsal fin, was possibly an Orca, surfaced beside the port bow. Chris took excellent photographs and one of a Humpback fluke, which showed the characteristic white markings, which uniquely distinguishes individuals.
Further Humpbacks were sighted and a Leopard Seal was passed on a floe.
At 4p.m. David presented his final Mawson lecture. This was the 5th especially done for our expedition and was titled “Perpetuating Mawson’s Memory”. The main focus was on efforts by Australia, to conserve Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison, which unfortunately for circumstances beyond our control and not for lack of trying, we were unable to visit.
The presentation began with a discussion on the various structures at Cape Denison and followed with a description of the huts as recorded by Mawson (during his post AAE visit) and Harold Fletcher during the BANZARE in 1931. Mention was made of the French expedition, including the Leader Dr Paul Emile Victor, who visited in the early 1950s and comments on the condition and work undertaken by Australia in the 1970s-80s with in particular the two private expedition visits and work done by Project Blizzard.
This led into the late Sir Peter Derham’s Technical Committee, of which David was a member, followed by establishment of the Mawson Foundation ably chaired by Mr David Jensen. The achievements during the latter period were outlined and the site as it is today was described along with mention of the replica hut in Hobart and the various collections in Australia; particularly at the Mawson Institute and South Australian Museum Adelaide.
Final comments focused on recent publications including the debunking of Mawson and how we can assist the Mawson’s Huts Foundation and Dr Pat made reference to a book which is recommended reading; Antarctic Destinies – Scott, Shackleton and the Changing Face of Heroism by Stehanie Barciewski.
By 8.30p.m. the ice was virtually gone and most of us had prepared for an early night, or so we thought.
On three occasions, Nathan urged us to go out on deck. Snow in the form of light spicules was occasionally falling as we observed beside the ship, five Humpback Whales along with five Fin Whales. Chris said, there are over 10,000 Humpback whales in Antarctic waters and in winter, these migrate to Australia, New Zealand and as far as Tonga. There is he said, a similar number of Fin Whales.
Because of our close proximity, this proved to be a rare privilege. The ship position at 9p.m. was 66o03.227’S; 147o15.700’E.
As the Humpback Whales fed or played on the surface, we observed the nature of their bushy blows from the twin blow holes and the violent nature of the exhale of their breath. This could perhaps be described initially as a deep ‘whoosh’ followed by a high-frequency whistling sound; just like scratching one’s finger on glass or the scratching of metal, as they exhaled. An excellent recording and footage was obtained by Helen, one of our Enderby students and the whales tended to do three blows before diving.
The Humpbacks often rolled on a side, displaying a flipper with the characteristic knobs along one edge (also observed on the head), which is a feature of the species, or on one tail fluke, that was occasionally flailed on the surface. On occasions we were treated with the entire fluke as they dived and voices at the bow were heard to say “Show us your tail again!”
We also had a close look at the knobbly head and once some of us viewed the immense size when a whale was just below the surface. Because of the curious behaviour when on the surface, we thought they may have been aware of our presence in the bow. As Dr Pat said, perhaps they “were just playing around, like the [Crabeater] seal earlier [in the day]”. This could also have been social behaviour while feeding and the species curiosity with people present is well documented.
The shear bulk of the glossy black-dark grey mammals with their white under surface and can grow to 17m long and weigh 40kg (90,000lbs), when viewed at such close quarters, was quite extraordinary. Most of us are unlikely to ever witness such an event again.
The Fin Whales were not with us very long however, they impressed us with their length and speed at which they moved. These huge baleen whales can grow to 22m, occasionally over 26m and can dive to 230m. The species is very streamlined and have as we witnessed the distinctive tall blow when they exhale. We did not see them long, as they moved away toward the ice edge and tended to keep together.
We also observed at close quarters, a long raft of Tasmanian Short-tailed Shearwaters. These appeared to take off as a whale neared, which suggested there was perhaps a food source on or near the surface, being taken by the birds and the whales. We even had a rare sighting for this area, of a Campbell’s Albatross, first spotted by Samuel.
We were very grateful to Nathan, Samuel and of course Captain Igor, who moved the ship for us, making this evening the perfect end to our departure from East Antarctica. Many photographs were taken and even the “pocket point and shoot operators” obtained something; even if it was only half a whale’s body or a sea scape.
Although many of us remained up until a late hour, an early night after such a great day, was called for and we retired as we look forward to more interesting activities, before the end of the expedition.
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 17: 1st February
Noon position: Latitude: 65o 09.743’S; Longitude: 147 o 01.69 ’E
Air temperature: 4o Water temperature: 0 oC
After all the excitement last evening we got up to a calm sea and overcast sky. At 7a.m. two whales were viewed off the port side and at 8a.m. a nice berg was visible to port, with a further iceberg on the horizon. A few shearwaters and other birds were about. Our position now was 64o33.963’S; 150o39.327’E, and the air temperature a warmer 2.5oC.
At 10 a.m. Chris gave a most interesting and at times an entertaining lecture titled “An Introduction to Whales of the Southern Ocean.
He began with saying the earliest written account dates back to Alexander the Great in the 2nd Century AD. We then learned that there are two Classes of Mammalia for whales – Carnivera and Sirenia of which the later described as Cetacea, includes the Odontoceti or toothed whales, such as dolphins, porpoises, Orca and Sperm whales and the Mysticeti or baleen whales, such as those we have seen during the expedition.
Fossil evidence indicates that the whales originate from a land-based animal. These gradually became adapted to life on sea with the front limbs becoming flippers and the pelvis and hind limbs, now only evident as two small bones now within the body. The transition from land to water were graphically portrayed with a film slip “In for a swim”.
The lecture then focused on the baleen whales and their physiology including – warm blood, breathing of air, bearing live young which suckle for milk and blow holes (like nostrils) on top of the head. Of interest was the use of ‘vocalisations’ to locate and catch prey, the diving ability and how, the heart and lung rates with decreased oxygen and by slowing down, have enabled certain whale species to adapt and feed.
Chris then made reference to the Food Web and concluded the lecture with descriptions of the various whales some of which we have seen during our expedition.
It appeared this morning that we were not clear of whales yet, as a fine display was seen by Ben, of a Humpback about 11a.m. and at noon there was the occasional Shearwater and other birds about, the sea was calm and sky dominated by scattered strato-cumulus and alto clouds.
We viewed Part 4 of The Last Place on Earth at 3p.m. and how Johansen who had saved Nansen during the Arctic drift, was eliminated from Amundsen’s South Pole team and with Scott’s party, how the motor sledges broke down and were abandoned, to not be seen since 1916, this by Shackleton’s Ross Sea party.
By then, course had been changed slightly although further ice was later briefly about the ship.
At 5p.m. Samuel gave an excellent lecture titled “Sea ice, the Eighth Continent. This lecture followed on from Samuel’s earlier presentation in icebergs and began with a recap on the three types of ice followed by some historic examples of expeditions which became trapped.
We then examined the question as to what is sea ice, of which 7% covers the planet and 12% the world’s oceans and the fact that due to the tilt of the Earth, when it is dark in the Antarctic, it is the opposite for the Arctic. Satellite imagery since 1978-79 has enabled us to gain knowledge of the extent of sea ice, for both the polar regions.
Discussion then focused on the formation of sea ice which for polar regions the freezing point for water is -1.86oC. The various terms were then explained. As the sea freezes, frazil ice with crystals 2.5mm long and 1 mm wide forms. As they accumulate grease ice is formed. And depending on conditions a sheet of ice termed Nila that is initially 1-3cm thick, is created. This can be broken up by the wind into pancakes with upturned edges, which then thicken and coalesce. As the sea ice thickens, brine is created in channels and rapidly sinks to the sea floor initially as long brinacles.
There is an extensive vocabulary which includes ice floes (flat/low drifting ice), fast ice (attached to land), hummocks, rivers (such as tide-cracks, ice free in winter); polyna (open areas of sea water); water-sky (sea water reflected on base of cloud) and sastrugi (wind-blown snow which freezes and forms ridges). The lecture concluded with the importance of sea ice to animals and people; particularly in the Arctic regions and the consequences for reduced sea ice to climate including the albedo in which 90% of incoming solar radiation is reflected) and life generally.
At 7p.m. we had a useful recap. Nathan mentioned that last evening the chart indicated, we were over 2000-3000m of water and that there were two “seamounts” on the bottom and up to 180m high. This could explain a concentration of food for the whales and birds. At 7.15 a further Humpback Whale was sighted.
Nathan suggested that “with whaling not affecting too much of this particular area, it appears the whales may be making a come-back.” Samuel and Chris then contributed with comments on the whales and Crabeater Seals, the latter painted on Bellingshausen’s expedition in 1820 and also described later on D’Urville’s expedition.
We again enjoyed an excellent meal with a French “papillote” presentation for blue cod and vegetables, along with very moorish Scotch fillet. Nathan announced that we had to progress a little further north and then turn south with an ETA at the Balleny Islands 11p.m. tomorrow night.
At 9.15p.m. a new announcement advised 20-25 whales were ahead of the ship. This brought us all on deck and as we drew nearer, we were treated to a second display by Humpbacks, which included breaching; the fluke display pre-diving and other activity. Of course more photographs enhanced our already fine record. At this time the ship position was 64o18.199’S; 154o04.562’E.
At 10.30 the ship was able to circle a very fine iceberg. This had two huge openings along one side and appeared to be not far from breaking apart. With the evening light, the sapphire and turquoise colours of the ice in the evening light, along with the berg set against a beautiful sunset, was well worth the time spent on deck. Many of us did not retire for some time and continued to enjoy the wonders of the Southern Ocean.
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 18: 2nd February
Southern Ocean - We leave the ice. Blue whale
Noon position: Latitude: 64o21.277 ’S; Longitude: 156o13.493 ’E
Air temperature: 3 o Water temperature: 1 oC
Nathan mentioned this morning that we entered the ice at 2a.m. and by 6a.m. required another four hours before we reached ice-free water. At one stage last night, there was zero visibility and this morning the fore-deck was covered with snow.
About 7a.m. we were at 64o51.948’S; 156o52.429’E, and on a course of 305.5o with the ship doing 6 knots. At 8.40 the decision was made not to penetrate the ice any further and to retrace our course to the north, then north-east, followed by south. We were now aiming for the south-east corner of Buckle Island, with a new ETA of 11pm. The temperature outside was 2oC and in addition to a large tabular iceberg to port, smaller bergs were caught up on the floes.
There was plenty of birdlife as well and this included Snow Petrels, Southern Fulmar and at least one Emperor Penguin. It was, however, the large number of Crabeater Seals that was of great interest. We began to see these from 9.15 and one floe had seven including one with a mottled coat, and other groups was four or three. The numbers then decreased to two or one on the floes. At 9.27 and around ten minutes after the bulk of the seals began to appear, the total was 28 and further seals were seen. The ship position then was 64o40.514’S; 156o34.819’E.
By 10.20 we were near the ice edge, a second engine was engaged and a further two Crabeater Seals, was the last sighting we would have. Soon we were making progress in open water.
At 10.30 David gave a lecture titled “Heroes that History Forgot”. This focused on the comparatively little known, Ross Sea party of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17. Most people are familiar with the disaster involving the loss of the Endurance and it is often stated that Shackleton never lost a man. This is true for the Weddell Sea party, but not so for the Ross Sea party.
The focus of the lecture was on the depot laying to Mt Hope at the bottom of the Beardmore Glacier for Shackleton who planned to cross the continent with motor sledges and dogs, the illness suffered from scurvy, loss three men (including the leader Mackintosh), the drift of Mawson’s former ship the Aurora and the rescue of the seven survivors by Shackleton who went as a passenger, when the seven survivors were rescued on 6 February 1917; almost a century ago. Some of the men from both parties went on to serve in World War 1. The expedition marked the end of the “heroic-era” 1895-1917.
Mention was made of some of the surviving men David had met – Dick Richards GC to whom the lecture was dedicated, Irvine Gaze and Morten Moyes, the latter having been a member of Mawson’s Western party in 1911-14 and various next-of-kin. Various books on the subject, two of which are in our on-board library were briefly discussed.
By noon we were on a calm sea with a gentle swell. The ice edge was now well away to Starboard. A large berg was passed on the port side and may be the last berg many of us may see. Lunch today was delicious seafood chowder which had prawns, mussels and fish and turmeric. By the time lunch was over, the ship was rolling a little and a few pieces of ice were about.
At 3p.m. we watched Part 5 of The Last Place on Earth. Amundsen has arrived in the vicinity of the South Pole and Scott and his men men have reached the top of the Beardmore Glacier.
In our southern part of the world, we had at 4p.m. ice mostly remnants of floes and smaller pieces, was still in the water along with a few distant ice bergs.
Samuel had a good audience in the Lecture Room at 5p.m. for his lecture titled “Antarctic seals”. The presentation was particularly appropriate, considering the many seals we saw today in the ice.
The lecture began with reference to the four species of seals and that there are 130 species of marine mammals and discussion was then on the eared and true seals. The main features of the true seals include no external ear; presence of fore and hind flippers with true seals having short and smaller fore flippers useful for swimming. Leopard Seals use flippers also for steering. The eye which can detect colour, is used for diving; whiskers for navigation; they are able to use ecolocation and have a highly developed sense of smell.
An interesting habit is that Weddell Seals can sleep while on the surface of the water and their calls are even heard through the ice. Deep diving was also mentioned, with the Weddell able to dive 500-600 meters, as recorded satellite trackers. Much of the diet is tooth fish and young born on the ice attached to land can grow to 35kg in one month.
Crabeater Seals feed on krill, for which their dentition is specially adapted. They have a long neck and snout and are rarely seen on the coastline. This seal often has scratches on the body, perhaps caused by Leopard Seals when they are young and scratching about the head is caused by females during attempt by males at mating. This species is known to dive to 500m although is usually only 20-39 meters.
Leopard Seals have a long body and large reptilian-like head, with the female the larger than the male and can attain 500 kg. Samuel said the life is not well known and in winter they feed on krill and fish while in summer penguins are taken.
Little is known about the Ross Seal which has large eyes and is the smallest seal. The species has distinctive markings and is known to “sing”.
The lecture with its wonderful photographs, continued with a brief discussion on the 1972 Convention for the protection of all seals south of 60o; variations in the colour of seals and finally, an identification quiz for the audience on the various Antarctic seals.
At 6.22p.m. we moved from seals to whales, with an announcement from Nathan on the Bridge that a Blue Whale, perhaps the largest animal ever known and measuring up to 34m in length, had been sighted to port and Kim managed to obtain a photo. There was a mass exodus to various parts of the ship which had a position of 63o31.158S; 156o29.767 E. This was not all.
A Minke Whale was sighted and then a pair of Humpbacks was seen breaching to port. This was a superb display and Tod managed to photograph one vertically in the air and almost clear of the water, while at the same time the second whale also vertical, was in the process of diving. The whales breached on three occasions.
By now the ship was coming under the influence of a good swell and we were reminded to maintain one hand for the ship and one for yourself. At 7.20 two Fin Whales were seen, although the disappeared quickly.
Now we are expected to arrive at the Balleny’s tomorrow, most of us decided to have an early night.
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 19: 3rd February
Southern Ocean – Balleny Islands
Noon position: Latitude: 66o 01.2 ’S; Longitude: 161o 30.3 ’E
Air temperature: 1.5 o Water temperature: 1 o C
Last evening was very comfortable with only an occasional roll from the light swell and this morning we rose to a grey sky with a temperature outside of 2oC. We were doing a nice 11 knots on a course of 141.5o. At 8 a.m. we were at 65o26.895’S; 160o14.753’E.
We were now heading for the Balleny Islands and of interest on the chart, was an area to port, known as the Balleny Seamounts. A seamount is a small and steep mountain rising from the ocean floor, and can be a major shipping hazard in uncharted waters. One of these was noted at a depth of 61m and of particular interest was the reference to sand, gravel and mud. These are erosion materials and reflect a much lower sea level in the past. The chart indicated sediment had been sampled in three places at 60m. In 1916 the Aurora when in the region, undertook dredging and also reported a mud bottom, recovering what was thought to be gold, but was iron pyrites.
At 10a.m. we enjoyed Part 6 of The Last Place on Earth with Amundsen and Scott both attaining the Geographic South Pole and with the last supporting party having previously been sent back from the top of the Beardmore Glacier.
At noon Dr Pat gave us a guest lecture titled “The Seal and the Scientist. Are we cousins? How a New Zealand scientist (Dr Mont Liggens) defined the relationship between the physiology of the Weddell Seals and humans.” This was an excellent lecture which while only lasting 20 minutes, was supported with clear, easy to follow tables, along with good slides of Weddell Seals and use of the white board.
For the unborn child, there is now good evidence that the child sends early signals to the mother and that this precipitates birth. Sir Graham Liggens found that administration of cortisol allowed survival of previously doomed foetal lambs. Work with Dr Ross Howie, then proved to be the most significance advance in obstetric care over the previous 20 years.
About 1968 there was a high mortality with Weddell Seal pups and it was the work by Sir Graham Liggens, that led to his invitation from Woods Hole Institute in the US, to visit to Antarctica and to establish if there was a link between pup survival and cortisol levels.
Weddell Seals for their size also dive an unparalled 700-800m for about 70 minutes, compared to an elephant seal diving to 1500m. Dr Pat explained, there are three reasons – food, sex and instinct (seals stick together), with food the most likely.
The main adaptions that a Weddell Seal has for diving can be found in the human foetus – high haemoglobin and myoglobin; collapsible chest; rudimentary venous valve on right of heart; venous blood stored in vertebrate column (and other bones, to withstand pressure); ability to counter current exchange (arteries and veins are close together) and high relative fat content.
However as Dr Pat said, the bad news is that seals are when ascending, are vulnerable to predators and it is important to resupply their organic needs with as much oxygen, as soon as possible.
At 12.33 we had an excellent view of a Humpback Whale flukes as it dived, this again coinciding with a raft of Shearwaters. A number of Southern Fulmar were also about and there are several breeding colonies on the Balleny Islands, with Young Island the northernmost, sighted at 12.45p.m. Fifteen minutes later, the somber grey and black rock faces, surrounded by ice and snow, gradually became visible.
The Balleny Islands at 66o55’S; 163o20’E we headed for consist of three large (Young - uncertain who he was, Buckle, after JW Buckle a merchant and Sturge, after J.T. Sturge another merchant) and two small islands in the group, along with the Balleny Seamount (308m) to the north. The islands of volcanic rock are glaciated and trend north-west to south-east for approximately 100 nautical miles. The highest peak is 1524m, with this on Sturge Island.
They were discovered by John Balleny, commander of the sealing vessel Eliza Scott, on 11 February 1839 and named in his honour by Captain Francis Beaufort, Hydrographer to the Admiralty. An accompanying vessel the Sabrina commanded by Thomas Freeman, was caught in a storm and neither ship nor crew were seen again. Balleny was the second to land south of the Antarctic Circle (the first was Bellingshausen who named Peter 1 Island) and on return to England with only 200 seal skins, he faded into obscurity.
They were next seen by Ross and later by Scott and in 1936, by during the Discovery 2 expedition. In 1958 the French expedition visited and in the 1960s the NZ/US Balleny Islands Expedition took place when a landing was made.
As we progressed down the west coast of Young Island, the echo sounder was on continuously, so as to keep watch for any rock near the surface. The island was glacial geomorphology “in action”. Topped by an ice cap, this reached down steep slopes to terminate in an ice cliff. In places where there were shallow, valley-like recesses, cirques were forming with ice within, then reaching down to the coast to form a lobe-shaped crevassed glacier in the lower margins, that terminated in a coastal ice cliff. Above the ice cap, cloud, white as reflected from the ice below, merged with a dark grey sky. The coastline can be only be described as forbidding.
Near the end of Young Island, the ship was turned, to provide some shelter in the bow and at 3.33p.m. a mighty blast from the ship’s horn, signaled we had crossed the Antarctic Circle at 66o33.34’ South and we were now in the Antarctic region.
We assembled in the bow where Nathan, atop a hatch cover read the oath.
‘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 Sir 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 rigors 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 … 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.’
We then drank a toast of mulled wine and the Mark of the Penguin was applied to the forehead by David and Agnes, using a stamp made with cardboard and plastic this morning and many photographs were taken. Those new comers who wished, were then fire hosed by Connor, with cold Antarctic water.
At 5.20 we were approaching the north end of Buckle Island. This was a similar landscape with an ice cap and below, talus slopes that were snow and likely also, ice covered. Two flocks of Southern Fulmar were seen, with an estimated to have at least 75 birds in one and 50 in the other.
The glaciated landscape was beautiful, with ice falls coming down from the ice cap that was for a while, partially clear of cloud; a rare sight. Nathan, Samuel and Phil went out in a Zodiac to try and locate a landing site however, the swell was too much. By 6.pm. we were over 138m of water and our position was 66o44.326’S; 163o02.755’E.
The bar opened and a very fine dinner was served. Starter was smoked salmon Carpaccio with cream fraiche and caper berries, while for the Main, there was choice of Roast pork or Lamb rump. All agreed the meal was excellent. For Michelle’s birthday David led the charge with the cake and a very vocal Happy Birthday, for which Nathan and colleagues also joined in.
By 8.45 we were passing the end of Buckle Island followed by Sabrina with the Chinstrap Penguin colony and the impressive Monolith, a lava plug left after the surrounding volcano has been eroded, with a nice blue iceberg nearby.
Nathan announced at 9.15, that with the swell and waves from the south and wind from the east, along with 1oC (plus wind chill), that unfortunately we would be unable to make a landing. We appreciated that he and the Captain had done their best, and we now set a course northwards to Campbell Island 865 nautical miles away, with a speed of 10.5 knots needed to maintain our schedule.
Many of us after a final look at the Ballenys opted for an early night. In retrospect we have today, seen a locality that very few can say they have visited.
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 20: 4th February
Southern Ocean - Enroute to Campbell Island
Noon position: Latitude: 64o 11.169 ’S; Longitude: 163 o 28.031’E
Air temperature: 4o Water temperature: 1o C
We had a further comfortable night and at 01.45a.m. when at 66o09.951S; 162o11.372’E, a few of us, saw a Russian research ship Akademik Treshnikov. The ship named after an eminent scientist, and previous Director of the Institute of Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in Leningrad now St. Petersburg, was on a multi-national, sub-Antarctic expedition. However because their permits were late, a landing if possible, could only be on Macquarie Island
This morning the sea was a little choppy and at 7.45a.m. we passed a well-weathered iceberg. A few birds about included a Wandering Albatross, Black-brow Albatross, Prions, Cape Petrels and shearwaters. We were now approaching the south end of the Macquarie Ridge and on a course of 014.7o and moving along at 11.8 knots. The position was 64o58.762’S; 162o59.861’E.
The morning was cloudy with scattered strato-cumulus and the air temperature was 3oC and at 9.15a.m. we had 753nm to run with an ETA about noon on 7 February. The weather forecast is good, with wind on the starboard that will later swing to the west. Nathan said we should be in the shelter of Campbell Island by the time a 25-35 knot westerly front arrives.
Yesterday some of us commented about the regularity of the top of ice cliffs. This is basically an optical illusion.
The ice cliffs are all about 20m high because this is the thickness of what we term the “rigid ice” or top zone on the seaward face as seen by us. When the ice is a lot thicker than 20m, plastic flow happens and the cliff moves forward to thin the ice. We need to remember that unlike glaciers at temperate latitudes, such as the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in New Zealand, Antarctic ice is frozen to the ground. Below 20+m crevasses also flow and then close. We saw some of these in the front of one of the lobe-like glaciers on Young Island.
Today a full programme was arranged and this began at 10 a.m. with the documentary “Icebird”. Although over 25 years old, this excellent programme was made at Cape Bird on Ross Island, and produced by Natural History Unit New Zealand in Dunedin.
Following a general introduction to Antarctica, the life cycle of the Adelie penguin and to a lesser extent the South Polar Skua was covered. The males come ashore in October, to build a nest of stones, often using the original nest and are followed by the females who after mating lay one or two eggs. The male incubates the egg and the female returns to sea to feed. Late mating may produce chicks however these do not survive the short summer.
There was wonderful coverage at each stage of the young penguins life, until such time as it can fend for itself then go to sea, where compared to flying birds, it has to adapt to living in water and the presence of predatory Leopard Seals. The programme concluded with the life cycle of the Adelie complete by late January and the colony now bare. With the onset of winter, temperatures begin to fall rapidly and new sea ice freezes to the land.
The next documentary was at 11.45 and titled “Frozen Planet”. The BBC production was a fine example of Sir David Attenborough’s outstanding narration with well-chosen words coupled with fine photography.
The programme which opened with the dramatic scene of Sir David Attenborough on the side of steep terrain in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica began with a description of the polar-regions as being “places of superlatives borrowed from Fairy tales”. We then moved to the North Pole followed by the High Arctic with Polar bears giving birth nine months after conception and then moved to Greenland with its icecap, six times the area of the UK, sapphire lakes and the fastest moving glacier on the planet at 40m/day.
Following life on the Tundra where it takes hundreds of years for a shrub to grow, the programme moved to the treeline with its warm, humid air and then to the Taiga forest which stretches around the planet and has a third of all trees.
The Antarctic regions, in contrast to the Arctic is surrounded by ocean, has “great waves unchecked by land” and seas “bursting with life” and has an ice cap with 70% of the world’s fresh water. Dramatic footage showed a pod of Orca creating a wave which then tipped a seal off an ice flow and was “game over” for the seal. This was reported during Scott’s 1910-13 expedition and as the narrator said, “perhaps this hunting is the most complex in the natural world”. Camera teams now moved to Mt. Erebus where three film parties working with scientists, recorded the “fumeroles” formed by escaping gases, Orca “spy-hopping” and benthic life on slopes below the sea ice.
After an excellent lunch of battered chicken, chips with sour cream, salad with a chili sauce and a fine cookie, at 3p.m. we once again assembled in the Lecture Room at 3 p.m. where Samuel gave a presentation on his 15 months living at Dumont D’Urville Station.
Samuel began by giving a brief history of the early French expeditions, along with a background on the climate at Dumont D’Urville with the maximum warm temperature +5.9oC and the lowest -27.8oC. The station is not far from Mawson’s original AAE and the station and has recorded a maximum wind speed of 212 km/hr in 1970, with 147 days up to 100 km/hr. In 1976 326 km/hr was recorded with 100km/hr in less than ten seconds. In 2006 during Samuel’s winter there was 17 days with wind to 115 knots and 10 days at 140 knots.
We were given a clear outline of the station and the main buildings, which includes a two level accommodation block, laboratory and meteorological buildings, post office and radio room, freezer building, marine laboratory and power house with three generators, two back-up units and a water distillation plant. During Samuel’s 15 months, there were 23 men and three women; one the Base Commander and Doctor.
Samuel shared his personal life and memories including the work he was doing with nine species and part of a demographic programme for sea birds and seals. This included banding (begun in 1966) along with counting chicks, adult and weighing Weddell Seals. Banded Skuas from here have been reported north of Japan.
We also learned about the social side of life and once a chess game was played with nine other stations. If they wanted to play against Vostok Station, they were instructed by the Russians to use Morse code. On a further occasion he inadvertently left his window open and found a meter of snow inside. Samuel had an excellent series of photographs and said fond memories include the Aurora Australis, the calls of Emperor Penguins (which he studied extensively) although he did miss his family. His final image was a dedication “To the boundless silence”.
At 5p.m. we were again in the Lecture Theatre for the final showing of The Last Place on Earth. To mark the event, a large bowl of popcorn was made courtesy of the chefs, with assistance of Helen and Karen and this was much appreciated by the audience. David provided a few comments at the end after which the bar was opened.
We enjoyed an excellent meal again and at 7.35 Nathan announced we had about 620 nm to go with a new ETA at Campbell Island of 1-2a.m. The wind is still from the south-east and will move to the north-west. The ship was still rolling occasionally and the night is expected to be reasonably comfortable.
Day 21: 5th February
Southern Ocean - Enroute to Campbell Island
Noon position: Latitude: 59 o 43.150’S; Longitude: 165o 56.350’E
Air temperature: 6o Water temperature: 3o C
We had a comfortable night with just the occasional roll and surfaced this morning to a spell of blue sky, scattered strato-cumulus clouds and rain forecast. We were over 3466m of water, the air temperature was 8oC and we were forging along at 11.3 knots. There was not a lot happening outside and Chris reported sighting a Wandering Albatross which impressed him by the size.
The ship rolled occasionally during the morning we were, however, able to view the excellent Australian production titled “Last Ocean”. This focused on the tooth fish industry in the Ross Sea. The fish originally termed Chilean Sea Bass a similar species to the Ross Sea fish, is known as the Patagonian tooth fish and was caught out of South America. The fish was next sought by vessels operating commercially from New Zealand. The fish were caught by “long lining” and at least one vessel was lost.
In recent years CCAMLR based in Hobart, have at meetings endeavoured to gain protection for the Ross Sea and to try and limit the taking of the fish, for which not a lot is known about them. They are thought to be long lived and they are important to the diet of Weddell seals and perhaps Orca.
Late in 2016 Russia and China agreed to support the other countries, with the result that the Ross Sea Marine Sanctuary, the largest such protected area in the world ad with a small area set aside for the fishery, comes into force in December this year.
The ship lurched several times this morning and our chefs and stewardesses are to be thanked for the effort in ensuring that we had lunch which today was an excellent mushroom soup with bread rolls, fresh salad and a very nice cake.
At 3p.m. we watched the excellent Wild South programme “Emperors of Antarctica” filmed and directed by Max Quinn. Max was part of a Natural History NZ film crew which made 13 visits of 85 k each way in an 11 month period during which, they filmed for the first time the arrival of the birds at their colony before the winter.
The programme began with retracing the history of 1911 when during Scott’s second expedition, Dr Edward Wilson, Lieutenant Henry (Birdie) Bowers and Apsley Cherry Garrard did the same journey. Instead of the sledging trip by foot taking 19 days, the journey 80 years later took eight hours by Hagglunds tracked vehicle. After five weeks away, the Scott expedition men returned to Cape Evans in nine days.
The filming was excellent and never before had detail been obtained such as the exchanging of the egg between the female who had fasted and male who then took over the incubation with temperatures as low as -30oC. The male now fasted and was 45% lighter by the time the female returned. The chick was handed over as quickly as possible. By October both adults left leaving the down-covered chicks to fend for themselves and learn to swim
We viewed a second David Attenborough production at 5p.m. This was titled “Winter” and again began with the Arctic before moving to the Antarctic. As previously, there was wonderful and unique footage and we learned many new facts. The Weddell Seal for example, the only mammal in polar regions to remain in winter.
The Emperor Penguin was again covered and Samuel from his own work mentioned, that both male and female generally come ashore together and then mate. The female leaves leaving the male to incubate the single egg. The female returns when the chick is born. The male then leaves.
Lectures and the quiz were postponed and by 7.35 the ship was rolling and pitching and we had experience some good rolls with one to 35o. The evening meal however was the usual high standard. The San Francisco fish chowder and chicken dish were both extremely nice and the sorbet – peach and mango with a dash of lemon along with raspberry sorbet with a dash of lime, both in a Tuile, received many favourable comments. Most of us then disappeared to our cabins.
Day 22: 6th February
Southern Ocean – Enroute to Campbell Island
Noon position: Latitude: 55o26.545’S; Longitude: 168o 00.515 ’E
Air temperature: 9 o Water temperature: 2.9 o C
NEW ZEALAND’S WAITANGI DAY
There was a fair bit of rolling and pitching during the night, however this morning we rose to scattered cumulus clouds, a weak Cerulean blue sky and sunshine. The sea was still confused with the wind from the west, around 15-20 knots, the sea still from the north-west and air temperature of 6.5oC. At 7.45 we were at 56o 14.709’S; 167o 37.637’E and had by 8.40 a.m. 210 nm still to run, at the speed of 11.1 knots. We had passed over water of 4810m deep and were south-east of Macquarie Island.
This morning lectures and documentaries were cancelled and Nathan recommended we stayed on our bunk. Nevertheless most of us rallied to enjoy a nice sandwich, which we made using a selection of topping. And, one must not forget the cookies with passion fruit sauce.
Soon we will be at our final stop on what has been a splendid expedition. We now come to Campbell Island.
Campbell Island was discovered in January 1810, by the same mariner who discovered Macquarie Island; Captain Frederick Hasselburgh of the whaling ship Perseverence and was named after a Sydney-based company, Campbell and Co. The name of the impressive harbour we entered was also taken from the ship. Hasselburgh was drowned in the harbour, together with Elizabeth Farr, a young woman born on Norfolk Island, and a 12 or 13 year old Sydney boy, George Allwright.
The island became a seal hunting base and the seals here, were almost totally exterminated. The first sealing boom was over by the mid-teens of the 19th Century and the second brief spate of sealing was in the 1820’s. John Balleny’s expedition called here in 1838
In 1874 the French scientific expedition led by Captain J. Jacquemart and many localities were named at this time. The expedition later returned under A. Bouquet de a Gyre to examine the Transit of Venus. A technician M. Juris died and is buried on a small headland at the head of the harbour. Other explorers later followed.
In the late 19th Century, the island became a pastoral lease and sheep farming took place, along with a few cattle, until expiry of the lease in 1931; a casualty of the Great Depression. During WW2 a Coastguard station operated and after the war, the facilities were used as a meteorological station until 1958, when a new station was established at Beeman Cove. This became fully automated in 1995, and the post office here also closed.
The island is now gazetted as a scenic reserve and with removal of cattle and sheep in the 1970s and 1980s brown rats were exterminated in 1992. The island was declared pest free in 2003 and was the largest rat eradication in the world. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is administered by the Department of Conservation. Wildlife and flora have recovered considerably since the eradication.
The island is the dissected remnant of a volcano. Basement rocks are schist and are overlain by Cretaceous sandstone, conglomerate and carbonaceous mudstone. In the Palaeozoic era (dating from 2mya) the island was glaciated. The island has wonderful botany with an Upper alpine zone, Lower alpine zone and a sub-alpine zone. This has become home to Southern Royal Albatross, Campbell Island Snipe, Pipit, Teal and many other species.
At 2.30p.m. we were treated to the viewing of what can only be described as an inspiring production. “Ice and the Sky” produced by Wild Touch Productions, examined the career of M. Claude Lorius.
Claude Lorius now in his 80’s and when as a 23 year old, he became fascinated with snow crystals. This led him to becoming a glaciologist with his first Antarctic expedition, taking place 300 km inland from Dumont D’Urville Station in 1956, in preparation for the IGY 1957-58. It was a 28 day trip with Tucker Sno-cats to the site for the proposed underground station, where tunnels were dug to provide storage for supplies. Science began almost immediately and data was sent by radio to Dumont D’Urville.
At Charcot Station Claude Lorius studied snow crystals and observed variations between those deposited in winter, to those in summer – “a nugget was in a pile of ore [and] the quest for knowledge kept us sane.” He began pondering as to how climate evolved and over a decade did 22 missions. By 1965 he was analyzing air bubbles and was looking for evidence of dust and radio-active elements which had been introduced to the Upper Atmosphere.
By the 1970s human activity on the planet was suspected and anew science station was set up with Russian scientists at Dome C on the Polar Plateau and established snow was accumulating at 10cm/yr. Research then moved to the Russian underground Vostok Station where -90oC was recorded. He was then 52 years of age. Drilling continued in 1984 with Russians and support from the US National Science Foundation. This was at the height of the “Cold War”. Ice cores were stored at -57o and the Russian drillers operated to over 2000m depth with 20 tons of ice 150,000 years old returned to France for analysis.
The final hole at Vostok led to retrieval of 3603m of ice spanning 420,000 years and from this the first bubble of Co2 was analysed, leading to the discovery that there were four eras of glaciation. There proved to be a link between temperature and Co2 levels and sea levels were found to have varied to 120m. Results were confirmed by scientists around the world.
At 4.15 we returned out Antarctic jackets and are well and truly nearing home now.
Agnes gave an excellent presentation on the Antarctic Treaty, to a full house at 5.25. The lecture began with details as to who owns Antarctica and for the seven claimant nations, the historical background and time at which the claim was enacted, was carefully explained with clear photographs and captions.
Reference was then made to the IGY 1957-58, with 12 countries and 48 stations operating in Antarctica followed by the Antarctic Treaty signed in Washington 1 December 1959 and in force from 23 June 1961.
The Treaty System was then explained along with the Conventions, concerned with protection of seals 1972, marine living resources 1980, the Madrid Environmental Protocol 1998 which superseded the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources 1988. This was a followed by discussion concerned with Environmental Impact Assessment and finally on the matter of the future for the Treaty.
Late this afternoon light rain was falling and a few Southern Royal albatrosses were seen. We then adjourned to the Bar/Library where Kiwis on the staff gave us a marvelous series of Maori songs, other oratory and Dr Pat provided an interesting ten minutes on the background and subsequent history concerning the Treaty of Waitangi. We were very impressed with the fluency and knowledge of Maori, spoken by Dr Pat, Chris (who also played the guitar) and Phil.
A special Waitangi Day diner was provided and is worth mentioning here. The Starter was green lipped mussels with spaghetti and herbs; the Mains were New Zealand lamb shoulder or Stewart Island salmon and the Final was Kiwi meringue. By now tomorrows programme was on the wall and preparations began for our time at Campbell Island.
Day 23: 7th February
Noon position: Latitude: 52o 32.971’S; Longitude: 169o 09.948’E
Air temperature: 13o Water temperature: 10 o C
We put down two anchors in Perseverance Harbour at 3.28 a.m. and it was nice to be in some shelter. This morning a brisk westerly was blowing and it was 7o outside. In the night our two anchors because of gusting west wind, resulted in the ship being dragged back some 60m.
As the surroundings became more distinct, some of us enjoyed views of rocky volcanic outcrops and vegetated lava flows, old glacial terraces other ice-moulded landforms and olive-green scrub, extending from the water’s edge, to merge with tussock higher up. Lava flows and ash showers were also visible on wave washed cliffs and hillsides were clothed in tussock grass and thick Dracophyllum scoparium scrub.
The sun was on the hills by 7.15 and we were able to have a good look at our surroundings. As Nathan said, one can have all seasons in one day here and rain at some stage is always possible and this indeed happened.
For today two options were available – a 10-11km (return) km walk to Northwest Bay; and a shorter walk up a boardwalk of about 8km (return), to Col Lyall and the Southern Royal Albatross colony.
With the departure of the Northwest Bay party of 18 (including two staff) most of us, remaining headed out in the Zodiacs at 9a.m. The wind was gusting and there was occasional rain as squalls from the west.
This was an excellent introduction to the wildlife of Campbell Island. We began by cruising around the shoreline in the hope of spotting a Campbell Island Teal. This bird thought to be extinct was re-discovered by Rodney Russ on Dent Island in 1975. A total of 20 birds were found and in 1994, seven were returned to Mt Bruce sanctuary in New Zealand. In 2005, 55 were sent back and the following year, 54 were released on Campbell Island.
Unfortunately this morning we did not see a Teal however there was still much of interest. This began with New Zealand (Hooker) Sea Lions cavorting off-shore including a large male seen mating while on land, there was several large black males with their harems and a cow elephant seal resting in tussock grass. Of the birdlife, we had excellent viewing of Kelp and Red-billed Gulls, Campbell Island’s Shags, Giant Petrels, Arctic Terns, Pipits, Silvereyes, a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and possibly a Rockhopper Penguin.
We had a look at the wharf from which stores were landed for the WW2 Cape Expedition then landed at Camp Cove and had a close in section of the Sika spruce, planted by Lord Ranfurly about 114 years ago. We then motored past Garden Cove and site of the French Transit of Venus expedition and were soon on the ship; albeit a little damp from a rain squall. In the water a raft of shearwaters appeared to be attracted by fish and Dr Pat pointed out a small water spout. It had been an excellent morning with great views of the surrounding landscape. Needless to say the lunch table was full of chatter and the pizzas were excellent. By now the “long-walkers” were enjoying the other side of the island.
The next item on the programme was a tramp up a board-walk to Col Lyall. This got underway at 1.30p.m. and our mission was to see, a major nesting area for the Southern Royal Albatross. A sudden hail and rain shower struck as we were about to leave and most of the afternoon was sunny.
We greatly enjoyed the leisurely walk which took us initially from the concrete slipway by the former New Zealand Meteorological Service huts (Comment from Tod – “Not much of a second hand shop!”). We then passed through Dracophyllum, ferns and other plants, as we wound our way up and past Beeman Hill, with its columnar basalt nicely visible.
Soon we were in open country with a few native orchids seen beside the board-walk and down in a valley could see the two huts of the WW2 Coastwatcher’s station. Some restoration of these is being undertaken by the Department of Conservation.
Karen with the last group which included Dr Pat and David spotted a juvenile Campbell Island Snipe. Good photographs were obtained and the bird then decided to conceal its beak in its back plumage. David remarked to Dr Pat “Perhaps it does not like the wind in its nostrils?” to which the good doctor replied “I don’t either.” By the end of the day, most of us had seen the elusive bird with David who thought he may never see one, having sighted five, including a pair of juveniles.
There was, however, more to come as we were treated to magnificent flying displays of Southern Royal Albatross soaring on the air currents. It seemed to some of the staff, there were many more on nests this year than the last; certainly about Col Lyall. One albatross had constructed a new nest beside the board-walk and at such close quarters we briefly observed (it was necessary to set aside the board-walk) the immense body size.
As the afternoon wore on, we had wonderful views of “gamming” with on one occasion, three albatross landing together and then providing us with a wonderful display, of a loving courting couple. It was also interesting to see a bird land and begin bill “clappering” and a mewing sound; almost like a cat. At least one chick was reported by Agnes and sadly the remains of a dead adult not present a year ago, was near the board-walk.
Most of us walked to the end of the more recent and wider board-walk and here were rewarded with fine examples of the purple daisy, Pleurophyllum speciosum, and a further more prolific species also in flower, Pleurophyllum hookeri.
In spite of the strong wind whipping up from Northwest Bay, we enjoyed superb views. Some of us found a sheltered place to lie amongst the waving tussocks and found this to be as Pete put it, “A good place to contemplate the meaning of life.” On the return we had a great view of the landscape and down toward Northeast Bay.
Now to the Northwest Bay party of explorers led by Samuel and Phil. This proved a wonderful excursion, which took in great views including Dent Island and wonderful wild life. Very high, clumps of tussock grass, was seen and a large number of Southern Royal Albatross, including one with a chick and near the site of the whaling station, an Erect-crested Penguin was identified by Samuel. Some Campbell Island Snipe were also seen.
The ground was in places fairly soft as Vaughan discovered. Karen called out “Vaughan has disappeared!” He managed to brace himself against each side and was hauled up by Nick and Harrison. All in all everyone enjoyed the outing and the good weather and light helped with good photograph.
We had a de-brief during which plans were outlined by Nathan for tomorrow and discussion continued in the Bar/Library. We enjoyed further discussion over dinner during which at one dining table, Norm was overheard to say “Now I come to think about it, I never know what I am doing!”
With a busy day again tomorrow, we prepared for this with a further early night on calm waters.
Photo credit: S Blanc
Day 24: 8th February
Noon position: Latitude: 52o 32.974’S; Longitude: 169o 09.652’E
Air temperature: 11o Water temperature: 10 o C
At 6.43a.m. and after an early breakfast, eight of us accompanied by three staff, set out by Zodiac to near the head of Perseverance Harbour for the 8km (return) trip to ascend Mt Honey (569m). It was a beautiful still morning with 10o outside, an almost clear blue sky, and many of us on deck, viewed the sun come up near the harbour entrance. A RNZN ship HMNZS Otago on “Operation Endurance”, expected during the night, failed to appear.
At 8.30 most of us remaining, set out in four Zodiacs to further explore the wonderful landscape and wildlife for which Campbell Island we had found, fully justifies its position as a World Heritage site.
We travelled along the south side of Perseverance Harbour and very soon were enjoying a New Zealand Hooker Sea Lion swimming in kelp, with just its head above the water. An area of flattened tussocks indicated where a sea lion colony had been early in the breeding season. This was just the start.
In the course of the next two hours which passed incredibly quickly, we saw a gathering of ten Campbell Island Shags, a Southern Giant Petrel chick, Brown Skua, Kelp Gulls, Arctic Terns, a Yellow-eyed Penguin, two Erect-crested Penguins –one moulting (breed on the Antipodes and Bounty Islands), Pipits and the most wonderful synchronised flying by pairs of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, along with several nests with six chicks seen.
Overall, it appeared that this season had been an excellent breeding one for several species; particularly albatross and snipe.
At 9.10 we sighted a distant figure on the summit of Mt Honey.
As we slowly motored along the coast, David was able to point out to some of us aspects of the glaciated landscape, which along with the science of geomorphology (study of landforms) has long been an academic interest. Old “cirques” that once contained ice, with rock outcrops near the top that once had ice falls, were in marked contrast to those being formed on the Balleny Islands. They were now weathered, vegetated depressions, each with a deep channel of the former outflow river. Former terraces including post-glacial cliffs, ice and water-worn rock cliffs and “recent” boulder beaches, added to the interesting landscape.
We had wonderful views of a volcanic “dike”, caves and spectacular columnar basalt, along with “sills” of lava interspersed with “tuff”; a fine volcanic ash. Stuart found this very interesting and in Nathan’s Zodiac, he provided the benefit of his comparison with similar sites he had seen in Australia.
Nathan also added to our knowledge of the botany, which had from the water’s edge with kelp (on which were purple top shells of snails) and a line of blue mussels, lichens, then a mixture of tussock grass, Veronika (Hebe), Pleurophyllum and fern, before commencing with thick impenetrable Dracophyllum, that had the occasion patches higher up, of Poa tussock.
We turned back just before the heads and at 10.18, were then treated with the magnificent display by Light-mantled Sooty Albatross as the swept overhead or past their nesting sites. For many of us this will remain a highlight of our expedition. At 10.43 we were back on board.
The Mt Honey explorers returned, Dr Pat, remarked there were at his calculation, “31 guts – down and up” and that the climb had demanded a fairly reasonable level of fitness.
On the way up were seen two barely readable signs, a “feast of nesting albatrosses” and near the top was a survey marker while from the summit, a 360o panorama was enjoyed in the “perfectly still weather”. Helen said 8-10 Snipe was seen during the “walk”. The main party reached the Zodiac at 1p.m. and the remainder at 1.35p.m.
The day continued to be fine and many of us including members of the excursions to North-West Bay and Mt. Honey, along with others from yesterday, took the opportunity at 1.30 to make a visit Col Lyall. A further group then had at 2p.m. a second excursion around the head of Perseverance Harbour and there was yet another chance, for a brief trip to the old meteorological station huts, by the now unused and dismantled wharf. It had certainly been a wonderful second day at Campbell Island. Back on board some of us began to prepare our possessions in readiness for departure.
Late in the afternoon a large raft of shearwaters was beside the ship and those who had been at Col Lyall yesterday and returned today, thought there were less albatrosses flying, although did see Snipe.
Ably coordinated by Colette along with Tracey as Master of Ceremonies, a “Whale of a Time – the Shokalskiy Review” was held at 6.15 – 7.30p.m. in the Bar/Library. This involved many of us along with several staff.
The Review began with a presentation by Trevor – “The pub with no beer” (Slim Dusty), followed by “Explorers on an ice floe”, and “Tales from the West Coast” by Dr Pat. A demonstration of “Let’s get physical” was given by Sarah, Chris and Phil; “Our prospects for the 2020 Olympics” was conveyed by Vaughan and Stuart. Griff told us about the “Cremation of Sam McGee” (poem by Robert Service), “The Blacksmith’s dance” was presented by Lesley, Griff, Hugo, Elke, Sarah F, Sarah S, Kathy and Tracey. Alison spoke about “The folk on the Shokalskiy”; ”The Three Amigos” Tod, Rob and Norm (the self-styled ‘musketeers’ of wisdom’) added to the enjoyment; Agnes and Samuel presented “Aux Champs-Élyséés”; David gave a recitation from The South Polar Times produced in 1911 during Scott’s last Expedition, and titled “The Sleeping Bag”. The Review was concluded with “The Explorer’s Dream” – a new composition by Sarah S (sung to the tune of The Drover’s Dream), by Sarah S, Trevor, Tracey, Chris, Rhonda, Griff and Kathy.
The whole programme was hilarious and no one escaped from receiving a mention. Simon even had a special “fruit and mulled wine mixture available, under the interesting name of Simon’s Sangria, a fruit cocktail at $3 a large glass. And of course, we will not forget the press-ups with Sarah achieving 100; Todd 66 and Phil c.25, or the dance and the beautiful song by Agnes and Samuel (on guitar) “Aux Champs-Élyséés” which we all joined in on.
The meal was superb as always and at 7.45, Nathan advised we had 350nm to run to Stewart Island and may expect winds of 30-35 knots from the north. The RNZN ship HMNZS Otago P148, was soon in view and at 8.30 our anchors were lifted and the Heads was reached at 9.10p.m. To port Campbell Island was under a grey evening sky, with scattered cumulus clouds and waves beating at the base of fearsome cliffs. We were on our way home.
Photo credit: C Todd
Photo credit: C Todd
Day 25: 9th February
At Sea – Enroute to Stewart Island and Bluff
Noon position: Latitude: 49 o 53.216’S; Longitude: 168o 47.147 ’E
Air temperature: 11 o Water temperature: 9 o C
The ship rolled a little during the night, however, most of us slept well. At 8 a.m. it was 10o outside and we were moving along nicely at 10.7 knots on a course of 353.4o. Beneath us was 530m of water over the Campbell Plateau while away to the west, lay the Auckland Islands. A few birds including Southern Royal and Campbell Albatrosses, Cape Petrels and shearwaters were about otherwise the sea became calm during the morning.
Today a good programme was organised for us and this began at 9.30 with a lecture by Chris “A sampler of Sub-Antarctic Plants.
Chris began by explaining where the various islands are, along with a brief introduction on each group. These are located between 40-60o and each has a series of bio-climatic zones; such as on a mountain. The zones are modified by air temperature and also by currents. As Neville Peat states “with the aid of a comparatively mild climate and a productive ocean environment, the New Zealand groups support an assemblage of marine and terrestrial species that is decidedly rich compared to most other sub-Antarctic groups.”
Chris then dealt with The Snares followed by the Aucklands, Campbell and Macquarie. On The Snares, there are 20 endemic plants; Auckland Islands 217; Campbell Island 151 and Macquarie Island 45. Introduced (alien) plants, have also managed to establish themselves and we saw for example, clover and dandelions.
Excellent photographs were shown to illustrate the various species and reference was also made to the excellent small field guide, published by Department of Conservation and Galapagos of the Antarctic by Rodney Russ and Aleks Terauds.
In the meantime Nick and Debra invited us to inspect the Level 5 Heritage Suite and we were interested in the spacious nature of this accommodation.
We returned to the Lecture Room at 11.30 for two 25 min. productions. The first was on the rat eradication programme titled “The Battle for Campbell Island” and covered the successful development of a suitable bait and complete coverage using three helicopters over five days. The work was successful and in 2000 the island was declared a World Heritage site.
The second programme ”The Impossible Dream” focused on discovery and successful breeding programme in New Zealand, of the Campbell Islands Teal, with the species released at Tucker, Camp and Garden Coves in the 1990s. Following the discovery on Dent Island, of the Teal by Rodney Russ the small bird for which only 25 pair was thought to exist, was recovered from the brink of extinction and since the eradication programme appears to be thriving.
At 2.30pm, the Sea Shop opened for the last time on the expedition and gave us an opportunity to obtain a few other items. Then at 5p.m. Nathan gave a very interesting lecture on the Russian Far East. The ship operates over 3½ months and has three options which explore the rich wildlife, botany, history and the people during “an active programme” with an average of 14 days per trip. The country is unlike anything most will encounter in a lifetime.
By 7.45 we had 90nm to go before reaching Lord River on Stewart Island and by the time we had finished a lovely meal with Irish beef stew or sesame crusted kingfish followed by a brandy basket with ice cream, the ship was beginning to take a few waves from the forecasted northerly. Out timing was however good as we were expected to be in the lee of Stewart Island between Midnight and 1a.m. with the anchor being dropped around 6-7a.m.
Many of us have already begun packing so as to be able to have a relaxing day and enjoyable evening tomorrow.
Day 26: 10th February
Stewart Island and Bluff
Noon position: Latitude: 46o 57.130 ’S; Longitude: 168 o 12.165’E
Air temperature: 14 o Water temperature: 15 o C
We managed to evade the 40 knot northerly and during the night arrived off Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island.
At 8a.m. the air temperature was a balmy 14o, the water 13o and just a light northerly. To port was a beautiful bush-clad landscape, sand beaches and dunes, rocky cliffs and we were accompanied by a Southern Royal Albatross and flocks of shearwaters. Dr Pat observed a White-tail Deer on a headland. Beyond were the Titi Islands where Maori take the Titi or “mutton bird” and in the distance, beyond Fouveax Strait, lay Bluff Hill. Our position was 40o 57.166’S 168o 12,299’E.
Stewart Island is a most beautiful place. It was named for William Stewart who was aboard a sealing vessel in 1809, when sailing from Port Jackson. It is one of New Zealand’s National Parks and is known as Rakiura which recalls glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. The original Maori name is Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui – “The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe”.
The island is rich in early Maori history, including early people who lived on the flightless Moa, other birds, fish and shellfish. They were followed by saw millers, boat builders and fishermen and in the 1920’s Norwegian Ross Sea whalers arrived as part of the Rosshavet whaling enterprise. Remains of the Kaipipi shipyard are still present, and are protected as an archaeological site by Heritage New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.
Stewart Island is well known also for its natural beauty, with extensive bird life including Kiwi. There are extensive walking tracks with huts available and opportunities for hunting deer and fishing for blue cod or crayfish and around 400 residents and a regular ferry service for Bluff along with small aircraft for commuting.
We had a fine breakfast which included French toast done by Tod and then attended at 10, a presentation enhanced with beautiful photographs and titled “Life on the Sub-Antarctic Islands given by our Government Rep. Phil.
This was as Phil said “a personal story” which traced his career since he started with the Department of Conservation (DOC) 20 years ago. With the position of Ranger, he was initially posted to Raoul Island in the Kermadecs, an area north of New Zealand and also on the itineraries of Heritage Expeditions. Here he operated the meteorological programme along with other duties and was with a party of five for 13 months (and incidentally, met his wife there and proposed on the summit of Mt Honey – now beat that!).
Time in Haast South Westland followed where he was involved with a Kiwi recovery programme followed by the Chatham Islands. It was while mountain biking, that he was interviewed for a position on Adams Island in the Aucklands. It was “a stunning place to work” and 2½ months was spent with Gibsons Albatross. This was followed next year with Campbell Island on an albatross leg band removal programme for most of the birds. New bands were put on the most recent birds and former bands retained in a single area.
Phil then spoke extensively about DOC which has a role now solely concerned with “partnership” strategy concerned with Iwi and the Treaty of Waitangi, Urban Conservation (mainly for Auckland the largest city) and the aim to be predator free by 2050 and is important for everyone. Guests fielded numerous questions which covered education, removal of predators and the value of trusts.
The second and final lecture for the expedition was by David. “Hidden Treasure - An introduction to historical archaeology in Antarctica.”
The presentation began with an introduction on the subject of archaeology, followed by procedure, methods applied and the various areas of science which are important to archaeology.
David then explained how he came to be interested in the discipline, which began as a teenager at Awamoa near Oamaru, where the first archaeology in New Zealand was undertaken in 1852 at an early Maori (moa-hunter) site radio carbon dated to 660±54 years before present.
Archaeology in the polar-regions was next discussed and this had reference to the Arctic where excavations have been undertaken on sealing, whaling and other sites. For the Antarctic work was outlined for Cape Evans (1911-13), Hut Point (1902-03) and Cape Adare (1899) where ice was removed from three huts including the methods used.
His own work carried out at Cape Royds and Cape Adare was mentioned along with the development of using new means of excavation, which has included percussion tools and small chain saws. The work by Australia, Chile, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, UK and US was also mentioned and the presentation concluded with a return to Awamoa and work undertaken for DOC as a volunteer.
We were kept busy this afternoon with attending to our accounts, having an interesting inspection of the engine room and receiving our Certificates. Most of us also focused on our packing in preparation for an early disembarkation in the morning.
At 4p.m. we assembled in the Lecture Theatre for a final re-cap and formal farewell. This began with a fine report by Enderby Scholars, Karen and Helen, who each described what they got best from the expedition, and how they would be able to advocate preservation for Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Islands, including tourism. They then thanked Heritage Expeditions for the very special opportunity that has enriched their lives.
We now saw the special DVD of our expedition “In the Wake of Mawson”, put together by Chris, included many beautiful photographs of places and wildlife we have seen and a copy was made available for each of us, which we can then also show others.
Finally Nathan spoke of his appreciation for all of us, Captain Igor and his crew, and introduced the expedition staff, with each giving a brief concluding comment. Tod then spoke on behalf of all the guests and it has to be said, that many of us would have liked to remain on board for the expedition leaving for the Ross Sea tomorrow.
The bar opened and this provided a further chance to talk about the expedition with our new friends of the past four weeks.
Our final dinner was of very high standard and for the record was;
• Traditional borsch
• Pork belly with parsnip remulade along with apple and bean salsa
• Salmon with chile orange salad and green pea risotto
• Lamb rack with fennel slaw, Perla potatoes and horse raddish
• Fruit sorbet and profiteroles
The evening continued and was enjoyed by all with Red and White wines made available by the company and there was ample for all. Chris made a comment which amused all at his table. “There is a strange thing about Russian books. They are written in Russian.”
A special thank you has to be recorded for our two chefs, Connor and Simon, and for Stewardesses, Katya and Victoria.
By 10p.m. we had settled in out cabins for the last time on the expedition and the ship had crossed the strait to meet the pilot at 9.30p.m.
Day 27: 11th February
On arrival in to Invercargill after a hearty breakfast we disembarked and transferred by coach to Invercargill Airport or a central city drop-off.
To conclude, the expedition had been a fine experience in one’s life and for this we have to especially thank Nathan and Captain Igor. The compiler of this Log along with his colleagues very much enjoyed your company, learned a great deal and was grateful for assistance when required. Thank you.
Hopefully there is sufficient detail above, to use in captions for your photograph collection, your diary or for a talk. The ship positions at Noon may assist in compiling an expedition map.
It is now Au Revoir and hopefully not Goodbye.
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" To all at heritage Expeditions,Thanks heaps for the trip to east Antarctica and the NZ subantarctic islands.I had the best time,and without doubt the my best experience ever,what a place and what a trip.Thanks again to Rodney and all involved. "
" I have found all of your staff that I have dealt with over the years very friendly and helpful which is just part of making heritage a wonderful company. If it wasn't for Heritage none of us would get to experience some very special and amazing parts of the globe. Thank you very much. "
" It has been a delight to travel with you!! Your true enjoyment of the natural world is wonderful and refreshing! "