This post is part of a series on a 21 day trip (18 days at sea) to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica on the ship Island Sky run by Polar Latitudes. For an introduction to Antarctica and information on additional shore and zodiac excursions, see the previous post.
Antarctica – Day 3
We woke to another low ceiling morning, however, the seas were calm, the calmest we’ve seen.
The morning zodiac excursion was at Spert Island. Although there were a few penguins, fur seals and a Weddell seal the excursion was mostly about the landscape of towering rock formations and glaciers.
The side of the island closest to the ship had calm seas but as we wove our way through the rock formations the back side had considerable swell with crashing waves. It was exhilarating as Scotty timed the waves and sped through the narrow corridors between sets. In several places the rocks form wide, high-arched caverns. At one location they drove the boat into the cavern and back out again.
As we rounded the island through more formations the seas calmed. Here there was more wildlife and glaciers. In front of the glaciers there were also sizable icebergs that floated in from elsewhere and got trapped here. In several spots were a few penguins, fur seals and a Weddell seal hanging out on a rock in the middle of the water in front of a glacier.
There were good examples of the green and pink snow algae that cover parts of the glaciers. The snow alga, a natural occurring phenomenon, is toxic to humans.
As usual the photography was difficult with the rocking boat and most passengers not getting down on the view side of the zodiac. Don and I were in the back near the driver, Scotty, making it that much more difficult. Scotty, however, was very accommodating watching over me as I stood trying to get a shot over the other guests.
Some guests did not like this excursion as much as the other excursions but I thought it was great fun combined with magical landscapes despite fewer animals.
We had just over 2 hours in the zodiac.
After lunch, on the way to Hydrurga Rocks numerous humpback whales were spotted in the near to far distance. Lots of fluke sightings but none very close to the ship.
The low-ceilinged sky continued in the afternoon at Hydrurga Rocks. The islet is off the coast of a long glacier. The rocky terrain is home to chinstrap penguins, Weddell seals and shags, a type of cormorant. This was the stinkiest place we visited. You could smell it long before the zodiac landed. The site is also much dirtier or poo covered than some of the other landing sites. The old dirty snow was covered in pink and green snow algae. Despite the less than pristine conditions the site did have an abundance of wildlife starting with chinstrap penguins and their chicks on the top of rocky bluffs on the way in to the landing area.
Once on shore the guides had a path marked that wound through the rocks over a snowy area and up over more rocks, slippery from penguin guano, down to the sea again. Along the way were numerous penguins and their chicks, mostly on the top of the rocky areas; Weddell seals lazing about in the snow; fur seals playing in the water; shags on the higher rocks and a few penguins near the water’s edge at the end of the trial. The trail was difficult for some due to the slippery and rocky conditions. I thought this sight had great vignettes to watch the whole way with the fur seals play fighting in the water below and the adult penguins interacting with the chicks on the rocks above.
On the way back one Weddell seal was more active and was making its way over the rock and up the snow bank, a slow cumbersome ordeal as he undulated over the rough terrain to the softer snow.
After this excursion one guest told me that this was her favorite stop to date. Another said that this was the worst of the trip and couldn’t understand why they would choose to stop at such dirty place.
We had an hour and a half on shore.
After everyone was back on board they did the polar plunge. Those that wanted to dressed in their bathing suites and came to the back of the ship where they put on a harness and jumped off the side of a zodiac and climbed a ladder back into the boat. For some it’s a rite of passage on a trip to Antarctica. For me, I had zero interest in jumping into below freezing water.
This evening dinner was available on the lido deck. Not far into the meal service humpbacks were spotted not far from the ship. Then more and more whales were spotted. None too close but numerous whales, spouts and flukes. To add to the excitement it started snowing. Then the orcas arrived, more and more of them. First fairly far from the ship but eventually they swam under the boat and popped up on the other side. A crazy scene with all of the diners on the upper deck running from side to side spotting whales, oohing and aahing at every fluke. We must have seen more than 20 flukes and as many orcas during the dinner service. The light faded into darkness, near impossible to get a good shot with our dinner getting as cold as the ocean water. Such fun.
Antarctica – Day 4
When I pulled back the curtains to look out the window this morning I was expecting to see more fog, like every other morning, but instead it was an incredible scene of snow and ice, the light just starting to color the sky. This was what you imagine when you think of Antarctica.
Guests were starting to gather on deck even before Nate, the excursion leader, called us out at 6:30 to take in the magical scenery also known as the Neumayer Channel.
Port Lockroy and Jougla Point
This morning’s excursion was a two-parter – a stop at the post office at Port Lockroy followed by a land excursion at Jougla Point to see the Gentoo penguin colony.
Port Lockroy isn’t much of a stop, with very limited space on the tiny island. Passengers aren’t allowed to go further than the post office/gift store and museum. 4 women man the tiny research station/post office where they study the penguins on the island. While you can see a few penguins on your visit it is mostly about the post office and museum. The museum shows what life was like at this outpost station between WWII and 1962 when it was closed.
Just across the water is Jougla Point where there is a small Gentoo penguin colony on the rocks. This colony was of particular interest and a good photo opportunity as they had young chicks. They youngest we’ve seen on the entire trip. Most of them were from a second clutch, meaning the first eggs laid and hatched but didn’t survive. So late in the season many chicks from this second clutch won’t survive either. Even though it’s a messy sight, covered in penguin poo and mud, the penguins are mostly on the rocks above the poo with great mountain views behind them.
We had a combined 2 and half hours for both landings.
After lunch we were supposed to go back up the Neumayer channel but there was too much ice so we had to continue south and head up the Gerlache Straight instead. In the straight we found more orcas. None terribly close to the ship but fun to watch none the less.
In the late afternoon low-ceiling clouds turned in to fog as we left Gerlache Straight.
At 5:30 Nate officially announced that the afternoon zodiac excursion at Fournier Bay was canceled. He said they spent too much time avoiding icebergs and chasing orcas. This was disappointing as it would have been an opportunity to see humpback whales up close.
The weather was cold but pleasant enough for dinner on the lido deck. There were some humpback whales about but not as many as the evening before, and still at distance but against a backdrop of glaciers. They were surface feeding with more possibilities of head views. There weren’t as many flukes but rather shallow dives followed by more feeding.
February 13 and 14, 2023