Day 7 |
Dec 06, 2008

Neko Harbor & Cuverville Island

By Robin Aiello

Position: 64°40.6’S, 062°37.1’W

Weather: Cloudy with sporadic snow storms. Clearing to bright sunshine in the afternoon

We arrived in Neko Harbour at 6:00am, and were disembarking for the landing by 6:30am. Half the group went directly to the landing site to explore, while the other half went on a Zodiac tour of the nearby harbour. As we approached shore, we were amazed to see the multitude of ‘penguin highways’ leading from the shore up the snow hill to the scattered gentoo penguin rookeries. The highways are the pathways that the penguins use to go to and from the sea. With constant use, the snow becomes packed and the trails are created.

Many of us walked a ways up the snowy hill for a beautiful view of the nearby glaciers. It was also a wonderful vantage point for looking at the ship. We wandered close to the Argentinean hut (for emergency use only) and stopped awhile to watch the funny and animated gentoo penguins go about their daily routines.

The weather was incredibly variable – one moment if was calm and bright, but the next the winds picked up, the fog rolled in, and the snow started to fall. These snow storms lasted only about 30 – 40 minutes, but they reduced visibility so much that at times we could not see the ship.

One of the highlights of the morning was watching a huge chunk of ice calve off a large iceberg that was floating in front of the ship. We could all hear and feel the rumble as the ice fell.

After an hour and a half ashore, we swapped with the guests on the Zodiac tour, and headed off for an amazing tour of the bay. The icebergs came in every imaginable shape – long and flat, tall and fragile, and there were even some with arches. And the colours! Amazing shades of blue and purple and turquoise! Our drivers would periodically stop the engines so that we were drifting in silence, allowing us to hear the sounds of the icebergs. It was fantastic – they actually squeak and groan. We were also lucky to see three different types of seals hauled out on the icebergs – a crabeater, a Weddell and a leopard seal.

Once back onboard, the Prince Albert IIsailed for our next destination – Cuverville. En route, we sailed down the Errera Channel. This is amazingly scenic, with steep snow-covered mountains on either side. We gathered out on deck enjoying the views and the relative warmth of the sun, which had come out for the afternoon.

At 1:30pm, we were off again – this time to land at Cuverville Island! The skies had cleared and the sun was shining, making the snow glimmer and sparkle. In order to get off the shore, we had to make use of one of the penguins ‘highways’. In fact, since the snow was so deep and soft (there was a lot of recent snowfall in the area) we had to make use of one of the penguin highways to walk from one end of the beach to the other. It was so much fun – but not so fast – we had to stop to give penguins the right of way every time one approached the highway. Sometimes the gentoo penguins would simple stop and stand there staring at us.

In addition to the gentoo penguins, there were several pairs of skuas. These large brown birds fill the ecological niche of gulls – they are scavengers that will raid penguin rookeries to steal eggs and chicks. On several occasions, we watched skuas fly in, grab an egg and carry it in their beaks to a safe isolated place on the snow. They would then break the shell by jabbing it with their strong curved beaks and proceed to eat.

The sun was shining brightly and lit up the hundreds of icebergs sitting just offshore. From the top of the hill, we could see across the bay, which was strewn with icebergs, to the rugged mountains behind. It seemed like you could see forever with such clear skies.

We were all back onboard safely by 5:00pm in time to get ready for the Venetian Club dinner. It was fun to dress up in our finery and join some of the officers and other Expedition Team members for dinner in The Restaurant.