Day 9 |
Dec 30, 2011

Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula 

By Luciano Bernacchi, Naturalist, Birder, Glacier Guide

Co-ordinates: 65º50.55’ S, 062º32.34’W
Weather: Overcast, High Clouds, no Wind, overall very good
Air Temperature: 1ºC
Pressure: 1006 hPa

Today was a truly Antarctica day, in terms of scenery and wildlife. Day started early at Cuverville Island, a popular and favourite landing for many in the Peninsula as it offers excellent wildlife, views and walking.

After an early breakfast together with the Expedition Team, we landed ashore in the scout boat, conditions were good and disembarkation was quickly underway. I was to lead the 45-minute ascent to the top of the island, so we first gathered the hikers and started the walk. The rest of our guests would land a little later. About 60 guests joined for the walk since the weather was so inviting, no wind, high clouds, and perfect visibility.

Apparently the previous days had been warmer and the slush/corn snow had hardened and frozen, so the snow was quite hard and slippery. Slowly but surely we made our way up and negotiated the switchbacks to the summit. The group was doing just fine, and I made several rest stops and photo stops. Once on the top there were a lot of happy faces, and we all stayed over an hour on the broad summit, overlooking the Herrera channel, Danco Island, and the higher ice-covered peaks. Even though it is a short hike it gives all the feeling of being in a summit, with an unforgettable 360 degree view, I love this spot, and today was probably the best weather of all the times I have walked up there.

Guests made their way down and at the lower slopes where the snow had softened a bit, many even tobogganed and slid down, some of our younger guests even climbed partially up again to slide once more, the kids had a lot of fun indeed.

As I walked down I heard in the radio that there were whales nearby, and some of our Zodiacs were actually whale watching around some very cooperative Humpback Whales. Expedition Leader Robin West soon had all Zodiacs on the water, and all the Expedition Staff jumped in boats, to bring as many guests as we could to see the whales. Luckily everyone had great, close views of them. I remained on shore to clear the landing site and collect the emergency gear before heading back on board the Silver Explorer.

During lunch we repositioned to nearby Neko Harbour to offer both a landing and two one-hour Zodiac cruises around the area. Neko Harbour is what many picture when they think of what Antarctica has to look like. Ice and mountains everywhere, glaciers calving into the bay from all corners, crystal clear waters that allow you to see the underwater part of the icebergs, and the swimming penguins, leopard seals, whales, etc.

After taking the first half of the guests on shore, we left together with other Zodiacs on a cruise. The first encounter was a Leopard Seal resting on a floe. I manoeuvred the boat quite close and spent a few minutes looking at this beautiful predator. We continued cruising around the bergs and I picked some ice from the water as I talked about ice formation and about glaciers. Some other Zodiac drivers and expedition staff members had seen a Minke Whale, so we approached and had a few brief but good looks at it. It was then time to swap groups at the landing site, and start a second Zodiac tour.

I left toward the area where the Minke was and we found another Leopard seal. And then, after some wonderful views, the Minke appeared! Thereafter followed what is the very best whale encounter many of us have ever had. A couple more Zodiacs were in the area and we all gathered, floating peacefully, as the whale kept swimming in circles checking every single boat, turning on its belly, blowing right next to the boats, passing under us, and spy-hopping. We actually spent over an hour in close contact with this beautiful animal, a memorable experience for all of us. In the meantime the Leopard seal on the nearby ice was also putting on a bit of a show: yawning and moving its flippers as if asking for attention.

The onboard videographer and photographer Richard Sidey was on my boat and besides the usual great photos he could also film the whale underwater as she swan under our Zodiac a few times, almost touching it.

It was time to return on board and as I drove back to the Silver Explorer silence amongst the guests meant they were all digesting the moments we had just experienced.

The day still had more to offer as Humpbacks were also seen near Cuverville again as we sailed out. Evening Recap & Briefing and a wonderful dinner afterwards were the perfect ending for this unforgettable Antarctic day.