Monday 9 January 2023
We awoke to a relatively calm morning to discover that we hadn’t yet made it to The Snares Islands as expected. There is an unusual easterly swell of about 4m that means the usual plan of finding shelter in the lee of the eastern side of the island needed rethinking.
We set sail again whilst we have breakfast (another mind-boggling selection of food of every description), arriving in time to set off for our Zodiac adventures around 9.00am. The steep granite cliffs tower up from the sea with the tops forested with large tree daisy species. Under the canopy are shrub hebes, ferns and large leafed megaherbs. Mass of sea birds swoop around the cliffs. One of the books describes it as a ‘sea bird city, with high density occupation across almost all suitable habitats’.
We have been divided into 2 groups – the Penguins (us) and the Parakeets so as to get the best Zodiac experience. Today the Penguins will go first and the Parakeets once we get back (and we will swap orders each time so that everyone gets equal opportunity). We haven’t yet been down to the Mud Rooms so we follow the PA announcement for instructions. We have to dress in our warm waterproof gear (the temperature is about 11C) and make our way down to deck 3 to the Mud Rooms to retrieve our allocated sea boots and life jackets from lockers matching our room numbers. We queue to be loaded into our zodiacs – 7 adventurers and 2 crew (including our zodiac driver Ian who comes from Alaska). Loading is a precarious operation with the swell and we have to get our timing just right, helped by 2 crew in the zodiac and 2 crew on the loading platform, transferring us over using the sailor’s hold to sit down and hold on quickly.
All on board we are shuffled into our positions, getting the weight distribution right to help Ian manoeuvre us around the swells (thankfully he has done this before). We have to wait for our buddy zodiac to be loaded as well before we set off towards the main island. The main nesting grounds of the Snares Crested Penguin is on the eastern side of the island so we have put in to the south and try to make our way northwards to be able to see them.
The craggy rocks are spectacular, fringed with bull kelp and surrounded by a multitude of birds swirling and swooping around them. The surging swells make our journey interesting but any thoughts of concern are banished the moment we see penguins bobbing and porpoising in the waves beside us, and then a seal twirling along with us as well. We aren’t allowed to land on The Snares anyway but even getting close to shore is a challenge today. Our zodiac drivers manage to get us pretty close so that we can get a great view of the adult penguins interacting and leaping around on the rocks, in and out of the water. Their nests and chicks are hidden up in amongst the trees so unfortunately we don’t get to see any chicks but we see several places where there are well worn tracks up into the trees. And when we look more closely there is a constant stream of penguins going up and down the slopes.
Our ship has moved around the island to try to find a more sheltered spot so we go round the other way to meet up with them. Although there is a large swell, it is just magical to see a constant stream of birds swooping and gliding just above the waves. We see Sooty Shearwater, Buller’s Mollymawk albatross, Salvin’s albatross, fairy prion, arctic tern, brown skua and black backed gulls. Often we would be accompanied by gangs of the crested penguins playing in the water beside us.
We found a sheltered cove with an inlet that Ian took us down to a delightful lagoon area that was filled with penguins and with seals and sea lions basking on the rocks and playing in the waves (some of the young trying out new skills). There were hidden beaches where penguins were hanging out and we were even treated to a good view of a Snares Island Tomtit. We heard a fernbird but didn’t get to see it. We could see the old Meteorological station on the hillside too, nestled in amongst the tree daisies.
The cliffs seemed to get steeper as we headed north and we saw lots of caves and crevices formed by the sea. Albatross were often nesting high on the hillsides above the caves. Further round we came to the famous ‘penguin slide’ – a steeply sloped hillside where the penguins slide down into the water. Some looked like they were having an amazing time, while others dipped their toes in only to be swamped by a wave. Going back up looked much harder work (apparently penguins have ‘scaled’ feet that helps with the grip on the rock).
Sadly it is time for the human Penguins to head back to the Heritage Adventurer for another (as Ian called it) Eating Event while the Parakeets take their turn in the Zodiacs.
Freshly showered (and some laundry done) we head to the Dining Room for lunch and are yet again staggered by the vast range of different food available, with full on cooked meals and wine should you wish or the lighter salad options that we went for – this of course allow room for a little dessert as well. It all seems a bit much and I have Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) as there are so many things that I would like to try. We are fortunate that the ship is sheltered on the western side of the island that is now surprisingly protected against the current conditions rather than the usually prevailing westerly swells of southern ocean.
Now there is some time for us to download photos from this morning and for me to write this before a full afternoon of activities. We have:
An Introduction to the Auckland Islands (our next stop tomorrow) and a briefing on tomorrow for Port Ross/Enderby Island. We hear that there is a fair chance that the weather will be around 10C and misty/drizzly (as it is for most of the year).
A Biosecurity screening in preparation for landing there – we have to thoroughly clean all of our gear, removing any seeds etc from Velcro and pockets, clean and sterilise boots; sign a biosecurity form and have it checked by a crew member.
A History of the Auckland Islands – a fascinating snapshot of failed settlement, shipwrecks, wartime surveillance and research.
Then Welcome Cocktails (actually just champagne) with Captain Denis where we get to meet the Ship’s Officers – including the Hotel and Events managers, wait staff, bar staff, chef, doctors, cabin staff etc.
It is Alla’s birthday and we are sharing a table with her and Josef, along with new friends Sue (yes another one, from Tauranga) and Genevieve (from Palmerston North). We are treated to more champagne to go with the even more sumptuous than yesterday’s dinner – because it is our Welcome Dinner. We have 6 courses! – appetisers, soup, sorbet, mains, dessert and for us a birthday cake that is delivered with great fanfare by the entire kitchen/wait staff singing loudly (and then they do it all again because there is a second birthday). Anne presents Alla with a stuffed penguin (complete with sounds) from the ship shop from us all as we are now deemed to be stand-in family.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea