A day in Paradise – 21 March 2017

Thursday 23 March 2017

Today we set foot on the continent of Antarctica proper! Neko Harbour has claimed a special place in our hearts as our first continental landing. We stepped onto the shore of a rocky beach surrounded by a wall of massive blue glaciers. A colony of Gentoo penguins welcomed us, many still fluffy from their moult. As none of us have had our fill of Gentoos yet, we delighted in another chance to get to know them.

Neko Harbour (photo Sonja Heinrich)

One determined penguin needlessly kept up with his nest maintenance (breeding season is long gone). We watched as a parent penguin broadcasted its return from sea with a loud squawk. Its chick scrambled to his side and feverishly pecked at his beak, eliciting a generous regurgitated meal. Suddenly, the parent penguin took off in a sprint across the rocks with the fledgling racing to keep up. If the parents didn’t force exercise on their chicks, they would remain sedentary, always waiting for the next meal.

Penguin feed (photo Sam Wilson)

After this spectacle, it was time to… undress? Antarctic sand between our toes, we all hurtled into the sea as synchronously as possible for the much anticipated polar plunge. The water was stunningly cold, but we managed to stay in long enough for a photo! Our CTD recordings later revealed Neko Harbour held the coldest water we’ve encountered so far, a chilly subzero temperature at -0.28 °C. Scarily close to saltwater’s freezing point of -1.8 °C, it took us a good half hour to regain feeling in our toes. Thankfully Lars only told us of his leopard seal spotting after we were warm and dry back on the ship.

Polar plunge (photo Sonja Heinrich)

Our next stop was the Argentinian Base Brown, wedged into an area called Paradise Bay. We soon understood where the name comes from. The weather here was phenomenal and totally un-Antarctic – in the sunshine the temperature was a balmy 12 °C. We cruised through the glassy sea in our zodiacs, marvelling at striking blue copper embedded in mossy rock cliffs, intricately chunky icebergs and a colony of Antarctic shags nestled precariously on rocky perches. Every few minutes we heard thunder, as parts of surrounding glaciers crumbled off creating mini tsunamis.

In Paradise Bay with an ice halo around the sun (photo Naomi Tuhuteru)

Base Brown was no longer in use, so the main inhabitants here were Gentoo penguins and several cunning snowy sheathbills which terrorized some of the penguins. Because penguins won’t eat food off the ground, the sheathbills tackle chicks just as a parent offers it food, knocking its meal onto the ground, thus ensuring their own feast. After watching the spectacle repeat itself several times, we hiked up a snowy hill for a beautiful view of the mountain-framed bay and Plancius floating serenely amongst icebergs.

A group photo in paradise (photo Lars Boehme)

Back at the ship and anchored in the middle of Paradise Bay, we bundled up for a BBQ dinner outside on the deck. We drank mulled wine and beers in front of this jaw-dropping Antarctic backdrop. Then, ‘It’s Raining Men’ came on, and here we can end the blog with a quote from our beloved SK, “What happens below the Antarctic Convergence stays below the Antarctic Convergence.”

BBQ time

Written by Lizzie Scott


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