Scenic enough for you?
I was hot by the time it was our turn to go on land. As you can see by the photo, I’d unzipped my jackets and pulled up one of my merino tops, just to let some cool air in. This was definitely not what I was expecting from Antarctica!
The wrap around sunnies that I’m wearing turned out to be a good buy. They’re polarising, so any glare from the sun on the snow was mitigated. Some of the people in our little group weren’t so lucky…
The crew had prepared the landing site for us, with one path going up the hill, while the other stayed down near sea level, near 3 Gentoo penguin rookeries.
Being unfit, I stayed down on the lower level, which I regretted afterwards. I didn’t let my perceived level of fitness hold me back again. I was surprised by how much I could do. (aka: EVERYTHING.)
At this stage of the year, the penguins are mating, building nests and starting to lay their eggs. There have been some really heavy snowfalls this winter, so their mating season has been delayed.
It didn’t seem to put a dampener on their ardour. We saw lots of baby penguins being made.
I saw many penguins making their way up from the sea, carrying stones in their beaks to make their nests.
They were so intent on their task. They’d walk up along their penguin highways – and occasionally on ours – carefully carrying a stone. If they tumbled and fell, which happens surprisingly often, they’d be unflappable. They’d pick themselves up and carry on. Sometimes they’d stay lying down and take a sip of snow, as if they’d been planning to do this all along.
Each year a pair of penguins will lay two precious eggs.
We saw a Skua fly away with a stolen egg, then land a few feet away and start to eat it.
I know that the skuas need to feed their babies too, but it was still sad to watch.
One of the guides said, “ It’s worse later in the season once the chicks are born. The Skua scavenge on dead birds and live chicks.”
I’m really glad I didn’t get to see a live chick being torn apart, or dangling helplessly from a skua’s beak as it dragged it away…
One of the most important rules when on land is that you don’t interfere with the penguins. If one crosses your path, you have to stop and let it pass. They have brains the size of a walnut, so sometimes they get confused and forget where they were going, so they just stand and stare at you.
We always try and keep a 5m gap between us and them.
When we first reached land, I headed off down the path on my own and had a good 10 minutes of alone time, just watching the penguins in the rookery and looking at the scene around me. I could still hear voices, but the noise of the penguins was far louder.
I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. Here I was, standing a scant few metres away from these wild things, while the backdrop of huge chunks of ice glittering in the sun was all around me.
Not many people get to experience this.
Especially with weather like this. I crossed my fingers and hoped that it’d continue.
I saw penguin courtship behaviour, where they bow to each other very solemnly. I didn’t get a video, unfortunately, but it was very formal and medieval courtly love, like an ancient dance.
I saw a couple of clumsy penguins losing their balance and tipping over.
Then I saw a few hundred more. Honestly, for such pretty birds, their design is far more suited to the sea than on land.
But that just makes them all the more endearing.
Words cannot do justice to the absolute beauty and majesty of this place. It’s incomparable.
All too soon it was time to go back to the ship.
We got back into the zodiacs, feeling so privileged to have been able to experience this perfect morning. Bad weather can blow up here in a matter of minutes, so come what may, we’ve experienced this absolute pearl of a time.
The plan is that while we’re having lunch, the ship will take us to a new location, where we’ll go out and explore.
On the way back to the ship, I had a ‘Venice’ moment. I was sitting front of the zodiac and we were whipping along. Wind was buffeting my face and I closed my eyes, just as I did in Venice as we were about to enter the main canal. When I opened my eyes, there was the beauty of Venice laid out before me.
Today, I closed my eyes and let the wind buffet my face, just as I did then. When I opened them, there was the blue ship framed by white icebergs. It was stunning, in a totally different way to Venice.
How lucky I am to be able to experience both.