Co-ordinates: 64˚ 49’S 62˚ 51’W
Weather: Blue skies and sunshine
Air Temperature: +3˚C.
Today turned into a really exciting day! This morning we landed at Waterboat Point and visited the Chilean base of Gonzalez Videla. The weather was absolutely glorious – and we were all able to take the sort of photos you can see in coffee-table books of Antarctica.
The landing started at 8.30am and was actually a dry landing, on to a jetty. The base commander and various staff were there to greet us and we made our way along a path in the direction of the main buildings. On either side of us were hundreds of nesting gentoo penguins, most of them sitting on eggs. There was so much going on: courting penguin couples bowing to each other, penguins stealing pebbles from each other’s nests, penguins being pecked at as they tried to make their way deep into the rookery, even penguins mating. Best of all was the opportunity to see two leucistic gentoo penguins, an extremely rare sight. Instead of black feathers, their colouring was a faded grey-and-white, making them stand out quite distinctly among the crowd.
When we’d gazed our fill and taken many, many photos, there was the shop and “museum” to explore. This was more by way of a photo gallery, the shop walls being lined with historic pictures of the early years of the base, which were particularly interesting to a historian such as myself! Next on the itinerary came a visit to a lookout point on top of one of the buildings with 360˚ views of the surrounding scenery.
Waterboat Point is almost on an island and is linked to mainland Antarctica only at very low tide by a causeway, which was exposed for our visit. Finally, at the furthest point of our walk, there was another expanse of gentoo rookery to gaze upon, stretching away along the rocks of the shore – and also a Weddell seal. This part of the coast has historical significance too, as for over a year it was the home of two young men who formed part of the British Imperial Expedition of 1920 -22. These two men hitched a ride to Antarctica on a whaling vessel and spent a winter sheltering under a water boat (hence Waterboat Point) whilst carrying out a full scientific programme. They had to kill 200 penguins to survive, and only finally got home again thanks to the kindness of the Norwegian whalers who had helped them initially. That must have been the worst organized and least successful Antarctic expedition ever.
In the afternoon Conrad, our Expedition Leader, sprang a surprise on us. He was fitting in an extra landing before our scheduled stop at Cuverville Island! This was great news and very welcome, especially as it gave us the chance to stretch our legs and do a significant hike. Those of us who felt fit enough (I only hesitated a brief moment!) went ashore and climbed high up the hill on Danco Island. Conrad and the Expedition Team had done a fantastic job of digging ice steps to enable us to climb off the beach and then creating a winding path up the slope to a superb viewpoint. We could see snow-capped peaks stretching away into the distance and the sea was a deep blue. We finally paused, gasping for breath, at a small gentoo rookery. (The penguins climb so high because these areas are blown free of snow early in the season, enabling them to build nests and start the whole reproductive cycle much earlier than the penguins nesting close to the shore).
Some guests stayed to admire the penguins’ antics and the spectacular Antarctic vista, but most of us toiled on a bit further, to the top of a snow slide! Descending was far faster than going up and although I enjoyed the slide just once, others were climbing up and trying it again and again. Shouts and squeals of laughter filled the air as we shot down the ice chute and a good time was had by all.
And the day wasn’t finished yet. The Expedition Team drove the Zodiacs over to nearby Cuverville Island and the ship followed. A mere 40 minutes later we were ready to make the third landing of the day. This was for everyone as it did not involve any climbing or walking a significant distance. Here we found another large gentoo penguin rookery whose inhabitants were unusually welcoming and curious. Many a time we had to pause to allow penguins to cross our path as they hurried along the penguin highways. We were enjoying looking at the gentoos and they seemed equally intent on staring at us, craning their necks to get a closer look at all the red-parka-ed visiting penguins! The views from Cuverville Island were postcard perfect in the sunlight of early evening and we ended our landing at 8pm, well content with the day. Dinner followed and we all headed for bed – tired, but happy.