Day 6 |
Feb 06, 2009

Neko Harbour & Cuverville Island

By Andrew Marshall

Air Temperature: 2º C

Sea Temperature: 1º C

Pressure: 992 hPa

Wind: 1 knot

Noon position Co-ordinates: 64º 50' 3" S, 62º 33' 4" W

The sound of the ship gently pushing its way through the brash ice and beautiful vistas of endless glaciers beyond was the greeting for the early risers enjoying coffee and croissants in the Observation Lounge this morning. The Captain expertly guided the ship past huge icebergs so close they could have almost shaved a coat of paint off the hull. We were all impressed with this ice navigation.

After some initial angst about the heavy brash ice possibly impeding our intended landing at Neko Harbour, relief came by way of the public address system, with Iggy the Expedition Leader announcing the landing would proceed on time. And what a landing it was to be. Perfectly still calm conditions allowed the ocean as still and as clear as glass, with intermittent crystals of small bergy bits creating a dodgem course for the Zodiac drivers as they delivered everyone to shore.

An outstanding panorama rewarded those with the energy to climb to the lookout. A scene of penguin-crowded colonies, Christmas cake glaciers tumbling in a frozen motion, crevasses revealing deep glacial blues, ice-filled ocean, and yellow-tinted mountains beyond description. Penguin highways with two-way traffic, some returning with a belly full of fish, others with dirty bellies from the guano in the rookery, soon to be cleaned upon entry into their natural home. They clarity of the water allowing superb views of the perfect 'flight' of the penguin underwater. Zodiac cruising among bergs revealing turquoise saturation below, calving bergs, avalanches and then the unexpected climax to the morning's activities.

Again from the public address, Iggy in a state of overexcitement, announces a Minke Whale swimming around, and around, and around the vessel. The magnificence of this animal revealed to all, and his natural curiosity more than apparent. A prolonged display of behavioural antics ensued, upside down swimming, spy hopping, sharp turns, gliding below the decks now filled with people staring and cheering. Many of us were wondering how the planned afternoon landing could compete with the intensity of the morning, and yet it did in ways we simply could not imagine.

After the scrumptious lunch, landing started in mild and high cloud condition, but the Antarctic weather was soon to show its penchant for change. A couple of hours into the operation, after the largest Gentoo penguin colony in the Antarctic Peninsula had been enjoyed, a gentle snow began to fall on the land and waters around Cuverville Island.

The Zodiac ride home amongst all of the huge grounded bergs was nothing short of a 'winter wonderland'. It is of course still summer down here, but cruising around bergs sprinkled with a smattering of snow, crowded with contours, dimples, hanging icicles, and bubble carved channels was a surreal and immensely satisfactory experience as the dry snowfall tumbled down now more heavily upon us.

After the informative evening recap the dinner service was interrupted by a pod of hot-blooded Orca steaming through the iceberg riddled straight. A whole pod of these magnificent mammals, from the largest of bull males with a dorsal fin over 6 foot in height, to the smallest of babies cruising alongside her mother was witnessed. Another baby was to steal the show after the Orca had staged. A baby Humpback Whale breached continuously for the best part of half an hour, continuing as the ship made a careful approach. We ended up watching in awe as a full display of the majesty of these animals was given right in front of the vessel, and the Captain was kind enough to position the ship to give a view from The Restaurant, for those of us now enjoying the evening's culinary fare.