The continent of Antarctica is one of the largest on the planet, and surprisingly, it is really difficult to land here. During the summer months, only 2% of the continent is not covered in ice (with steep cliffs along the ocean) and the weather is unpredictable, at best.
We were able to make our only landing on the continent at Brown Bluff. It gets it name because there is, ummm, a brown bluff. I know, I have an incredible grasp of the obvious.
You can see where we are (#21) on the map:
The beach stretched for several kilometres and after coming ashore, the wind really picked up, This is what I thought Antarctica was supposed to be like: blowing snow and extremely cold. I am wearing four layers of clothing and I truly appreciate the parkas we were given as they kept us very warm (and the wind out).
At times, the weather did clear up a bit, but it was still quite frigid.
A lot of Antarctica was formed by volcanic activity, thus are a lot of igneous rocks. There were many large boulders along the shore made from this volcanic rock:
And to give you some scale of size, here is my lovely wife standing next to a boulder:
Adélie Penguins get scared quite easily, so you have to walk carefully and slowly. If you do not do this, a lot of your photographs will look like this:
I kept my distance and used my Nikon D3, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G, Nikon TC-20E III Teleconverter to capture these funny little birds. I had my Hydrophobia Rain Cover on the gear as it was snowing heavily at times, so I wanted to protect the camera/lens from excess moisture.
Here are several groups of penguins getting ready to go back to sea to feed:
And of course, we needed the obligatory tourist photograph 🙂
If you are patient enough, you will get some nice closeups – just remember to remain stationary for several minutes (I know, I am repeating myself, but this is so important). I was rewarded with the following images:
The ocean is always full of life in the Antarctic – if you do not see penguins or seals swimming, there will often be other birds.
A Kelp Gull:
And a couple of Cape Petrels:
These two passengers had an interesting way of attracting the penguins (or they hit the bar way too early in the day). I am not sure if the penguins approached them, but I am certain that they felt well rested when they returned to the ship:
By remaining still, I was able to get some of the Adélies to approach me. They came within a metre or so and these little birds can really move. I think they were faster than me in my Wellington boots!
One of the things that amazed me was that glacial ice is blue in colour. I was astounded that the colour was so deep and rich. They really do stand out in Antarctica.
It was getting to be that time again – we had to return to the Ocean Nova. I have to admit the staff on board (expedition, bridge and catering) have been very professional (and really good to the passengers) and this vessel was able to take us places that larger ships were unable to venture into.
Here she is waiting for our return:
One our fellow passengers took a nice tourist photo of me and my wife just before we boarded the zodiacs. Maybe I can play the stunt double in the next movie about the Grim Reaper.
On our way back to the ship, one of the passengers in the zodiac asked if we could take a detour via the icebergs that were in the bay. Damn – these icebergs were simply beautiful and my camera was put away in the wet bag. The bay was really rough and I did not want to take the chance of salt water ruining the Nikon D3. I did however, have my Panasonic GF1 and pancake lens in my outer coat pocket.
Thank goodness I did… I managed to get these images (not bad for a tiny camera):
The little black speck you see on the top of the iceberg in the next image is a lone Adélie Penguin:
Our only visit to the continent was excellent and I am really glad we had the opportunity to do so. We are now going to set sail for the South Shetland Islands and hopefully our first stop will be Deception Island.
This was also our last chance to see an Emperor Penguin and we did not – we were out of luck. We were told not to get our hopes up too high as it is extremely rare to see them this time of year as they have all returned to sea (penguins only return to land to breed). To “reliably” find the Emperor Penguins, it would require a significantly more expensive and difficult voyage (as you need to travel earlier in the season on an icebreaker) than the one we are currently taking.
Our dog told me he has seen an Emperor Penguin:
Clever little guy, isn’t he?
Tonight, we will be passing through Iceberg Alley on the way to the South Shetland Islands and from what I have heard about it, it is unlike anything I have ever seen before.
My eyes are now open even wider and my camera is ready…
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