We couldn’t get used to two things… How bone numbing cold our hands got paddling and how easy it was to while away time watching penguins – Shooting through the water like missiles on a bizarre and bumpy course (who said penguins can’t fly?!), waddling along well worn tracks along the shoreline, popping up out of the surf one by one and generally going about their lives.
As we neared Cierva Cove (named after the Spanish chap who invented the autogiro) we saw and smelt the 5-6,000 strong colony of gentoo penguins. Gingerly we picked our way along the shore, avoiding the pink stained rocks of the rookeries. We had literally never seen so many penguins in one space, as the chicks fell over each other in search of a playmate or food from their parents, whilst some of the adult penguins posed meditative-like and others lay ‘belly-flopped’ on the stones.
Walking along the beach to the farthest end of the shore, we picked our way through whale bones, washed out and bleached by the Antarctic sun. Further along, the main rookery came into view that stretched for a good km and then some.
We never tired of how blessed we felt paddling – through swathes of brash ice, slipping across tranquil and glassy coves or navigating our way past tricky and tight-nit ice floes. Even our epic return to the ship in gnarly white capped conditions, took us onwards to our next exciting experience. Once in a lifetime, for sure.
At Port Lockroy (home to the Antarctic post office plus colony of adelies) we were greeted by tufty moulting chicks along the craggy shoreline as we surfed ashore. Similar to Detaille Island’s restoration of Base “W”, the British Antarctic Heritage Fund had put its volunteers to good uses, renovating Base “A” as well as monitoring the penguin colony.
We were pleased to learn from Flo, one of the volunteers that regular interaction with humans had had no ill-effect on the colony at Lockroy; with half the island off limits to all but penguins, a four year study had concluded no damage done… Probably just as well, as we were literally tripping over penguins who seemed just as keen and curious as we were to see the painted images on the walls of the old living quarters and pick up souvenirs from the post office.