After 2 trips working as a zodiac driver and lecturer with Heritage expeditions to the Sub-Antarctic islands (link to my trip here) I got the chance to be a part of an Expedition to Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands. This is a 30 day expedition that crosses the Southern Ocean and spends 9 days in the Ross Sea with landings on the Antarctic continent itself. This is the real thing in other words. The weather conditions at the bottom of the world can be intensely cold and can change very fast so you have to have your wits about you at all times. As a zodiac driver my job is to take people ashore in the zodiacs (rubber boats with outboard motors) and then to guide them around onshore. Some days it’s easy, others it’s bitterly cold, windy, wet, your fingers go numb and you get covered in icy spray. The see a series of VIDEOS of this trip put together by two motivated passengers Steve and Heather you can LOOK AT THIS POST.
When on board the ship between landings my job is to run the bar, entertain passengers and do educational and entertaining lectures for the 48 passengers on board. It’s an amazing job, it varies from day to day, sometimes minute to minute and comes with huge responsibility. One serious mistake and someone can be hurt very easily. In this part of the world there can’t be any mistakes as you are completely out of range of helicopter rescues. In other words….don’t stuff up!!
Throughout the voyage I kept a trip log and took thousands of photos. Below is a day to day log of our journey…enjoy!
Left the port of Bluff after a day and a half of changeover during which we loaded supplies, fuel and water and did any jobs that needed doing.
Passengers arrived at 2 30, customs at 3 and we departed at 4. As we reversed out of the dock and turned our bow for the open ocean the first albatross soared past us. An albatross is good luck on the ocean and this early in the trip it can only mean good things to come.
The pilot jumped back onto the pilot boat at the entrance to Bluff Harbor and as we rounded the corner Stewart Island came into view for the first time.
The seas are calm and the ship hardly moves.
All the passengers seem really nice and after a wonderful dinner of lamb and salmon everyone is in bed at 9 30. We plan to zodiac cruise tomorrow around part of the Snares Islands.
Day 2, Snares Island and Sea
At 7am this morning we awoke to the sight of the Snares Islands just to the west of us. We had breakfast and got the zodiacs ready for the cruise around the shore of these rugged islands. The passage through from Bluff was amazingly calm and we were able to tuck in behind the island and get enough shelter to load all the passengers safely into the zodiacs and off we went toward shore. This is my 5th time passing the Snares and the first time I was able to go in the zodiacs. The last 4 times the sea has been too rough to launch and on one occasion we didn’t even go to the island but rather, aimed straight for Auckland Island in heavy swells.
The zodiac cruise was absolutely amazing and such a positive way to start the trip. We cruised through huge sea caves lined with kelp and seaweed. Up on the rocks were lots of New Zealand fur seals and sea lions hauled out. 2 big male sea lions put on a show for us, fighting each other for the best rock to sit on. Looking at photos later we could see the losing male had large tooth marks on his neck. We saw hundreds, maybe even thousands of Snares crested penguins, a few Snare’s Island tomtits, one fern bird, lots of Antarctic terns and kelp gulls.
Later in the day from the bridge we spotted 3 small pods of dusky dolphins.
And the calm seas continue!
Day 3 Enderby Island
We woke in Port Ross and started the day early with breakfast, a briefing on the day’s activities and some cut lunch making.
We got into the zodiacs at 9am under a blue sky and landed in Sandy Bay near the small DOC huts. I led the way across the boardwalk to the northern side of the island. Along the way we saw some nesting southern royal albatross in the distance and as we arrived at the northern cliffs we were greeted by a magnificent display of light-mantled sooty albatross soaring in pairs above the cliffs. For the next 6 hours we walked clockwise around Enderby Island, along the stunning western cliffs, past Derry Castle reef, through the thick tussocks, along North West Bay, through the enchanted rata forest and back along the coast to the zodiacs. We found 2 amazing grassy slopes where we could enjoy lunch and afternoon tea. The group was so enthusiastic and fit that we got around the island in record speed but still got to see all the wildlife that we wanted to see. On the list were giant petrels, skua, sea lions, fur seals, tomtits, red-crowned parakeets, gulls, sooty shearwaters and Auckland Island teal.
We invited 2 of the researchers from the island to come on board for dinner and drinks.
Day 4 Auckland Island
Cruising Carnley Harbor. Strong winds around 30-50 knots in the harbor so we anchored behind Musgrave Peninsula to get some shelter from the westerly. 5 zodiac trips later driven by myself and hotel manager Jane, we were ashore on the boulder beach in Tagua Bay. Surrounded by flowering rata and sheltered from the westerly it was a beautiful spot to land. We walked up through rata to look at the old coastwatchers’ hut, left over from World War 2. Along the way we saw sea lions, tui, bellbirds, tomtits and lots of mud!
The return to the ship was windy but the small choppy waves didn’t cause us any problems.
The rest of the day was spent at sea as we start our final passage south. We now look forward to 4 days of ocean before we get to the ice and continent of Antarctica.
Day 5-9 At Sea
The last few days we have been at sea steadily heading south at 11-12 knots in downwind conditions. The ship had rolled to 25 degrees but even then it was very tame compared to punching into a headwind. When we crossed the 60th parallel we gathered all the Antarctic virgins on the bow to be sprayed by the fire hose to appease King Neptune himself.
We spotted the first ice berg at 62 degrees south then crossed the Antarctic Circle at 5 30am and celebrated with an early awakening and a glass of mulled wine in the bar.
Between latitude 60-65 I deployed 5 weather data-collecting buoys one degree or 60 miles apart.
We have had many lectures and movies in the lecture theater. I did weather forecasting, David Harrowfield history, David Drummond (Birdmon) birds and Don different information on Antarctica. We are now 100 miles off Cape Adare.
Woke this morning to the view of Cape Adare surrounded by pack ice. We looked around for a while trying to find a gap in it to get to the beach but it wasn’t to be. After a quick snow storm we launched the zodiacs and did a 2 hour zodiac cruise around the ice bergs and pack ice. We saw some adelie penguins and Weddell seals sitting on the floating ice floes! In the zodiacs you get quite cold as you’re not moving around much and just as we got back to the ship the snow came in again. We are now headed for Franklin Island.
Spent the day in a short lumpy sea heading towards Franklin Island. We hoped to do a landing after dinner but when we got there the waves were too rough on the beach so we just did a few circles and are now headed towards Cape Royds. The sun came out for a bit and the island was stunning sitting under its snow cap. Saw the odd snow petrel, a couple of humpback whales and some skua.
Visited Scott’s hut at Cape Evans and Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds then cruised the ice edge down to McMurdo and Scott Base in -15 degrees.
The morning started very early as we had amazing weather and we wanted to get a full day in. Shackleton’s hut is quite small and is surrounded by moulting adelie penguins. Scott’s hut was much larger and full of an incredible amount of artifacts, from test tubes to a pile of seal blubber and dog skeletons. Very fascinating. We even found 7 moulting emperor penguins behind the hut. At Shackleton’s hut there were 4 adelie penguin chicks and they followed us from the hut all the way back to the boat landing. At one point they came to within half a meter of me. Then, to our surprise, they jumped into the water for their first swim!
We also saw one lone emperor on an ice floe at lunch when we were steaming between the two huts.
Incredible day, the best so far and one of the top 5 days of my life!
Visited McMurdo Station in the morning and Scott Base in the afternoon. Climbed up Memorial Hill after dinner and got back at midnight with the sun just setting. The kiwis from Scott Base came onto the ship for a drink and we had some great laughs in the bar. Stunning clear day, blue sky, almost no wind apart from early morning, glassy calm sea, and lots of re-freezing ice in the shapes of pancakes. Also a minke whale and a pod of orca. The view from the top of Memorial Hill was very special, looking away over the Ross Ice Shelf to the south and up to the top of Mt Erebus smoking away. Hardly a cloud in the sky!
Today we landed at Cape Bird to see adelie penguins on the beach. The landing was surgey and challenging with lots of waves. There were still some adelie penguin chicks around, looking hungry. It’s late in the season for them and their chances of surviving are slim. The skua around the area were attacking some of them and there were freshly dead chicks around. After the landing we did the polar plunge! Lots of fun for me because I didn’t jump in this time and got to drive the zodiac and take videos from the comfort of my warm jacket. We had about 15 people take the plunge; a great turn out. Lorna lead the way as the only staff member who would do it.
After lunch the ship cruised past Cape Crozier, the place of the “worst journey in the world”. For an hour we passed along the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and saw a pod of humpback whales, a minke whale and a pod of rare beaked whales.
Today we visited the South Korean base in Terra Nova Bay and landed at Inexpressible Island. The weather was absolutely stunning, no wind, blue sky and an incredible view of Mt Melbourne to the north. We landed at Gondwana Base, a very small German base that is empty at the moment, and walked over to the South Korean base where we met our tour guide. He showed us around Antarctica’s newest base. Painted blue, it looks like a spaceship just landed from another planet. It overlooks the glacier tongue which moves 40cm a year.
After dinner we landed at Inexpressible Island with 15 knots of catabatic winds coming off the mountain. The small harbor we landed in was surrounded by ice and was very slippery. We walked along the beach and some people visited the site of the snow cave that Scott’s northern party lived in for the winter of 1911. There were adelie penguins, Weddell seals and 4 old dead elephant seals, a long way from Macquarie Island! As we loaded the zodiacs in the evening light the full moon rose in the northeast and reflected on the water. I’ve decided that evening landings in the sunset are my favourite.
Went past Coulman Island in heavy pack ice and couldn’t get to less that 12 miles from land. We saw an emperor penguin on an ice floe very close to the ship.
Couldn’t land at Cape Adare again and are now headed for the Blaney Islands.
Day 18 at sea
Fog all day with tailwinds. Saw the Blaney Islands through the mist for about 1 minute – just a thin sliver of shoreline.
Headed north now to Macquarie Island
Day 19- 21 at sea
At sea, headed for Macquarie Island. Seas 5-6m from the port quarter. Very rolly sometimes, rolling to about 35 degrees. Maybe a bit more at times. Not many people seasick and everyone enjoying a bit of ocean at last. Saw a few humpback whales.
Day 22-23 Macquarie Island
Sat at Macquarie Island but couldn’t land. We got to do a zodiac cruise at Lusitania Bay but the swell never let us get ashore at Buckles Bay or Sandy Bay. People disappointed but everyone understands that this is the Southern Ocean and sometimes the weather won’t let us do a landing.
Day 24 At sea
Headed for Campbell Island in following seas
Arrived At Campbell Island and got straight into it. We got up at 6am, had breakfast and were dropped off at Garden Cove for a Mt Honey mission. Unfortunately as we walked the first 2 km the wind increased and it started raining. When we got to about 150m above sea level we were right up against the cloud and I didn’t feel comfortable about going on. At this point we found 2 nesting southern royal albatross and got some quick photos between raindrops before starting the return walk to Garden Cove. Upon arrival back at Garden Cove the weather had improved so we continued around the coastline on a muddy track into Camp Cove where we were picked up by the zodiacs and returned to the ship. A great mission in the wet and rain and hot showers felt amazing!
The forecast has got worse so the captain is taking the ship out into the ocean for predicted 40-50 knot gales for the next day.
Gale 40- 50 knots today outside as we did laps up and down the southeast side of Campbell Island.
Today we had an amazing day on Campbell Island. 15 people did the North West Bay walk and afterwards, the Col Saddle walk. The rest of us did a zodiac cruise in the morning and Col Saddle in the afternoon. We watched albatross soaring above us in the wind and the nesting albatross had small chicks under them! For some it was the best day of the trip!
From Campbell Island it is 2 days on the ocean back north to Lyttelton Harbor where the passengers depart and the staff head back to their lives ashore. For me its off to Bali!!