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.
Cierva cove colony
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.
All together now.. God save the queen….
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.
With our half hour call to kayak, we donned our many layers and with trepidation turned our tags to let the crew know we were ‘off ship’ and headed to the stern deck. Matt discovered why marigolds are the best outer layer for hands, as his ‘seal skins’ were soaked within minutes mopping out our kayak. Not the best start, but thankfully we packed extra gloves and layers in our dry bags.
Paddles in hand, stomachs in our mouths we made our way down the rope ladder into the waiting zodiac before clambering/sliding across the side into our awaiting kayak….bobbing gently in the water. With a water temp of below zero, we gingerly pushed off from the zodiac, careful not to upset the equilibrium and capsize. ‘Skirts’ on, after several attempts and rudder down we were off and in pursuit of Judd as he deftly led us across choppy waters, through brash ice, past the first of many spectacular small bergs “calving” from glaciers.
En route to Brown Bluff
We spotted out first fur seal, happily sleeping on an ice floe and wondered how many more we would see. With hands becoming increasingly numb from the bitter cold (in spite of layers and hand warmers) we were glad to see ahead the flat top of Brown Bluff – our very first landing and sight of adelie and gentoo penguins.
We ‘surfed’ ashore and left our kayaks behind as we crunched a few steps along the beach, mesmerised by moulting adelie chicks chasing each other and their parents along the shoreline (some of them nearly as big as their parents). It was nigh on impossible to observe the ‘5 metre rule’ as the penguins moved towards us, rather than away. We didn’t know which way to turn as we vainly tried to capture images of penguins at play.
Gentoos on the shoreline
Cold hands were completely forgotten as we looked back to see a group of curious gentoo penguins take more than a passing interest in our kayaks!
Flip you for who steers..
Ravenous after our morning kayak session and hours spent on deck, looking out for minke whales, we heartily tucked into our pumpkin soup and homemade bread, swapping stories with our fellow hard-core kayakers. Well we thought we were at any rate!