Absolutely Amazing (Just the tip of the iceburg)
Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
147Trip End Apr 28, 2010
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When the alarm went off on Tuesday morning, I couldnīt get out of bed fast enough. The boat was laying flat, instead of rocking back and forth, and outside should be Antarctica! So I grabbed my coat and headed out, and sure enough, there it was! The sun was up, but not yet out from behind the mountains, and it was a balmy -3.3 degrees C. We were in Foyn Harbor, with the peninsula on one side -- snow covered mountains rising up from the ocean -- and Nansen Island on the other side. From the boat, the land gave the impression that it was one large bay, with the mountains blocking the view of the channel that separated the island from the mainland.
Out on the docks before breakfast, we saw the first whales of the trip -- two of them, off in the distance by the mainland. Too far off to identify with certainty, they were "almost definately" humpbacks
After breakfast, we went out on our first Zodiac cruise. A Zodiac is a small rubber inflatable boat that is used around here to get up close and personal with the iceburgs, or to shuttle people between the cruise ship and the shore. The passengers had been divided the day before into two groups, and our group (The Penguins) would be the first to cruise.
Although the Zodiacs can fit up to 15 people, we only had eight per boat to make things a bit more comfortable (and, more importantly, easier to take pictures). John and I were on the first boat, and we headed away from the ship, to get up close and personal with the snow and iceburgs. The views were absolutely fantastic, and all of the grown people on the boat were having little fits of giggles more suitable for a five year old at Christmas time. The sun was shining, and the temperature had climbed to 0 C -- absolutely beautiful
One of our first sights to take in, after the snow and ice, was a small island where there were remnants of boats used for whaling quite a while back. A group of Antarctic cormorants (birds) was situated on top of the group of rocks. We pulled closer and closer, then eventually stopped at the shore of the island. We had been told that we wouldnīt be landing in the morning, just boating, so to get off and set foot on the island was a very pleasant surprise!
When we landed on the island, someone spotted a lone Gentoo penguin at the top of the hill. Our first penguin, putting on a nice little show and posing for the cameras! We climbed around the island for a bit, taking in the fantastic views and loving the fact that we were, after all, in Antarctica.
But, alas, it was quickly time to get back on the boat. We headed into a brilliant little bay, checking out the great shapes and formations of the snow, when someone on our boat asked "isnīt that a seal?" We pulled a bit closer, and sure enough, there was a crabeater seal resting on the shore. S/he had a quick look at us, lifted one flipper in a bit of a wave, then went back to ignoring us
We headed out in the opposite direction, towards the peninsula, where a few whales could be spotted circling and feeding. This time, they could clearly be identified as humpback whales --- three of them -- and we watched for a while until they swam away.
At this point, we headed back to what we originally set out to see -- the wreck of the Governoren at Enterprise Island. This ship was used for ship-based whaling back in the day, when it caught fire and started to sink. The captain managed to get it close to the island, running it aground to save the crew, and the remains can still be clearly seen. Although the metal hull of the ship was pretty cool, even better was the iceburg floating nearby with two crabeater seals on it.
As we zoomed back to the ship, we passed another small island with no fewer than eight fur seals relaxing in the sun. Sadly, though, we didnīt have time to stop -- our time was up, and it was time to let the next group go out and explore.
As we were leaving the first landing site, we saw two more humpbacks, rather close to the boat
Our second landing on Tuesday was on Danco Island. As the zodiacs pulled up on the rocky shore, we swung our feet over, avoiding the small iceburgs as we stepped out. This island is home to a colony of Gentoo penguins. And they are cute! We spent nearly three hours on the island, climbing up the hill and watching penguins. This late in the season, the breeding, laying of eggs and hatching of the eggs are all complete. The chicks, in fact, are nearly the same size as the adults, and just about ready to take off on their own. The adults are going through a molting phase, after which they will head out to sea for the winter, not returning until spring (about November).
We watched as the penguins -- hundreds of them -- waddled around, chased each other, brayed loudly, made a nest (why? itīs a little late for that, buddy....) and, in general, stood with their backs to the wind, trying to stay warm
Climbing back down the hill (we had climbed up to a lookout to see a glacier), we saw a minke whale. The hill down was quite slippery, due to the snow that was starting to fall. So I took the easy way down -- I sat on my bum and slid. I had to stop, though, because there was a penguin in my way.
At the shore, we spent some time watching small groups of pengins jump and swim through the water, then come waddling up to the shore. At one point, a seal (probably a crabeater) came off the shore and swam in with the penguins. This, of course, raised the question -- how did we miss the seal on shore not 100 feet away from us???