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Day 17 - March 19, 2011 - Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 37˚03’24”S, 12˚18’06”W
Weather: sunny, partly cloudy
Air Temperature: C + 16
Wind: 10 knots


After two days of waiting and between rescue operations, we finally had good luck and the swell was not too big so our guests had the unique opportunity to land on Tristan da Cunha. It was just a marvelous day. Good weather, nice sea conditions and dry landing in the port of Edinburg of Seven Seas.

All operations started early in the morning. I was on the first excursion, where the plan was to do the Basewalk-Hike, a strenuous 5 to 6 hour hike. At the pier the safety officer of Tristan da Cunha spoke to Expedition Leader Robin West and Tour Operator Dawn that today it was not possible to do this walk due to safety reasons. It was raining during the night and so part of the hike that lead through steep grass patches was very slippery. But this was no problem at all, in 10 minutes we had an alternative plan to still do a hike although not so long and to still see some of the interesting natural features of the island.

15 minutes later we started from the harbor. 11 guests, Will Wagstaff our Ornithologist and myself mounted a 4x4 vehicle, driven by our guide. The ride to our “Basecamp” took us about 20 minutes, through an amazing landscape. A poorly asphalted road was leading through pasture landscape surrounded on one side by spectacular cliffs with outlook to the open ocean and Inaccessible Island, and on the other side nearly vertical uprising cliffs to the top of the Queen Mary’s Peak.

The first part of the walk was along a gauge, which took us to a spot with a stand of the native island tree (Phylica arborea). The tree belongs to the Myrtle family; so approaching the stand there was a very pleasant scent in the air. Some of them were flowering with nice tiny white flowers. While I was looking at the plants and explaining to our guests, my colleague Will was looking out for birds and especially for one bird: the Tristan Thrush. I was luckier than Will, having the Island Tree just in front of me, and Will only hearing the sound of the thrush.

The next ascent was on a grass-covered hill up to where the natural vegetation of the volcano slopes starts. Will was still looking out for his Thrush, giving explanations why we couldn’t see it, and I was looking out for the next botanical highlight, the Bog Fern. A true fern species that has the appearance of cycads, and that grows only on the Tristan archipelago. After a strenuous ascent, our group reached the site where the fern was growing and I gave a short “recap” on the vegetation of Tristan da Cunha, because the location was just fantastic to look over to the pasture land and the potato patches beneath and at the same time standing between native vegetation.

The downhill hike was a little bit slippery, but all went good and so we continued our walk to the potato patches, an interesting farming system, and of course the most important crop of the island. From there our group took the opportunity to get down to a black volcanic sand beach and had a beautiful view over to Inaccessible Island. On the way back there was a short rain shower going down but it was actually quite refreshing after the hike.

In town I had a short break, and used the time to do some souvenir shopping, because the possibility to come back to the remotest inhabited island is very slim.

At two in the afternoon the “Volcano Tour” and the “Potato Patches Tour” started. Around 50 guests were joining us on both tours. Accompanied by two local guides, our guests and my colleagues Robin Aiello, Claudia Holgate and myself were heading over to the famous potato patches of Tristan da Cunha. Explaining sights along the way, our two guides gave an insight into the life and society of Tristan. But also the potatoes, as well as the “rat day” and “sheep shaving day” had their place in the stories of our two guides. So it seems that life on Tristan is not so monotone as one assume due to the remoteness of this island.

It was not until 17.00 that our group returned from the patch walk. Taking the last Zodiac back to the ship saying and waving good bye to extraordinarily friendly people is always very hard, but I’m sure that all of our guests and the crew will never forget such an unique day on such an unique island.

The evening on the Prince Albert II was filled out with a special recap on the oil disaster of Nightingale Island and short briefing about the program tomorrow on board, as always separated for the German speaking and English-speaking guests. As always, dinner was excellent but today tasted even better to me after such a delightful day on Tristan da Cunha.

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