Thursday 12 January 2023
We are still sailing when we wake up this morning but Macquarie Island comes into view as we are having breakfast. It is a relatively late start this morning while we wait to clear immigration, and also because the 3 rangers on the island refuse to start work before 7.00 their time even though we are at 9.00 a few metres away! It is a very silly situation. We also discover that even though our phones are set to flight mode and I haven’t even turned on Wifi – the Australian cellular service is operational and has changed the times on our phones to Australian time.
All going well we will visit 3 sites on Macquarie Island – Sandy Bay today and 2 further sites tomorrow (one the northern isthmus and the other much further south). Thankfully the prevailing wind is westerly here and we are on the eastern side. We are told that there are 268 days of strong winds each year plus another 74 day of gales, and that the temperature is usually between 0 and 5C – so we aren’t holding out for a warm calm day.
Only limited numbers are allowed on shore at any one time so some people are transferred to a 3rd zodiac group – we now have penguins, parakeets and albatross. We will all get 2 staggered 2 hour visits to the island today as there are different penguin colonies at either end of the bay. As the Penguins went out first last time we will be last today so we don’t get our first outing until 1.30 and the last at 5.30. We have a lecture from Yulia this morning about the Ocean Currents that affect the earth’s weather and of course the various impacts of climate change.
Our eager anticipation to see the penguins is heightened by the wait. It is colder than we are used to and with a significant wind chill factor so we don extra layers. We do have a walk on shore but not enough to build up any great sweat. Where we land the shore is crowded with penguins and seals: elephant seals this time and at least 2 different sorts of penguins – king penguins and royal penguins. There are colonies of both sorts of penguins at this site but they line the beach and rocks as well. The elephant seals stay mostly in big blubbery piles with the occasional move to turn over or to emit a blubbery sounding grunt.
On the islands there is a 5 meter rule, meaning that you should try to stay 5m away from the wildlife whenever you can (unless they come up to you). Here that is very difficult and it is hard to decide which you have to go closer to – the elephant seals would cause you more damage but seem less concerned by our presence. We often have to stop to get out of the way of a group of penguins heading into or out of the water along the beach.
We are in the first zodiac to shore this afternoon and head quickly to the ladder at the left hand end of the beach. The previous steps were demolished and we are grateful to the 3 rangers for building a ladder so that we are able to access the path up to the royal penguin colony up on the hill. On the way we pass through a giant petrel breeding site but we only see a couple of birds that were looking very tatty as they were moulting. The royal penguin colony is huge and we spend our allotted 15 minutes absorbing and photographing the activities. It is a hive of activity (and smell) with piles of fluffy brown juveniles in amongst the bustling adults. These penguins have the jauntiest ‘hair-dos’ with bright orange tufts that are off on rakish angles blowing in the wind. It is amusing watching them strutting around. The colony stretches across the wide flat area and over to where a stream leads down to the beach. Back on the beach we watch long lines of royal penguins making their way down the muddy track to the beach emerging filthy dirty at the bottom and then heading down to the sea for a wash.
Where we climb the ladder there is another stream with a bit of a lagoon area where there are a scruffy lot of king penguins standing. It seems that the untidy ones who are moulting are banished from their colonies until they are more presentable. There is a lot of preening going on and there are feathers flying everywhere. After watching them for a while we walk along to the other end of the beach stopping regularly to watch bunches of penguins waddling to and fro from the water and seeing the interactions of those standing along the water’s edge.
I am totally unprepared for the sight as we round the corner at the far end, where there is an enormous king penguin colony stretching far into the distance. There is a rope that marks the boundary beyond which we are not allowed to go but as I sit on a rock an inquisitive penguin comes over to check out my boot with its beak. There is so much going on in the colony and we watch the equivalent of fisticuffs with penguins smacking each other with their wings, or calling for their mates and turning their backs on ‘wanna be mates’, another group stood around calling to each other and parents fed their younger offspring.
We head back to the ship for what turns out to be just enough time for a comfort stop and a cup of tea before we have the opportunity to head out in the Zodiacs for some underwater photography (or for us just a chance to see things from the water and observe the penguins swimming). We have about an hour out on the water and then are dropped at the beach again for our second 2 hour stint on shore. This time we stay mostly out on the rocks and watch penguins picking up courage to jump into the surging tide amongst the kelp. On the more sheltered side we watch an enormous elephant seal trying to hoist itself up onto the rocks in amongst the penguins. Although it looks a bit menacing, the penguins don’t really seem to be at all perturbed. Anne lies down on her stomach to photograph some penguins and they decided instead to come over and investigate her camera. There are masses of the brown skua and we watch a big fight over a fresh kill.
Then we decide to go for another visit to the large king penguin colony and sit again watching the antics until it becomes far too cold to sit there any longer. We head back to the zodiacs and arrive back at the ship at 7.30pm with just enough time for a quick shower before dinner.
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