King penguins

Farthest south!


Day 20 - Macquarie Island


     This journal is constructed as one web page for each day of my journey, including the arrival day in Auckland, and the final two days, which I spent in Hobart.  I have tried to keep the picture images of a reasonable size for easy web page loading. 

To see a much larger view of (practically) any image, just left-click on the photo.

     At 2:30 a.m., we got an announcement that there was an aurora australis on display.  We have only begun to have nights, and the last couple were shrouded in clouds.  But, we had clear skies this (past) evening, and many of us hurried up to the bridge, and outside, to take it all in.

     The aurora stretched from horizon to horizon, passing overhead.  Its main section was composed of broad bands, dimly lit.  Also, there were ribbons further south - one to the east, one to the south and two to the west - that would alternate between getting brighter and dimmer.  I was most surprised by how fast it was . . . moving, or rippling across the sky.  I had thought that it would be a rather static feature (pardon the pun), but it was quite dynamic.

     There were no clouds to speak of, although we did have a half moon, and a faint glow to the west (the residual sunset?).  The stars were bright, and the constellations of Orion and Scorpius formed anchors for the aurora, on opposite sides of the sky.  The ship's GPS put us at 55º 55'.  While we were watching, we saw a couple of shooting stars.  It was far too dark to take any pictures, and by 3 a.m. it had faded quite a bit.

     Despite the early morning call for the aurora, I was up before the breakfast call.  It was a beautiful, sunny, day and we are approaching Macquarie Island.  The sight is fantastic - blue skies, green cliffs, and we had a great cruise up the coast, to the research station.  All of the crew members commented that we were quite fortunate to see the island under such perfect conditions - apparently, it rains about 325 days a year here.  In fact, many of them were just as eager to take pictures with the sun brightening up the place.  [Rod, Kirsten, Jane and Nigel had worked on Macquarie Island at various points in time.]

     Along the coast, we passed a number of penguin colonies - pretty much taking up all usable space around the island.  This place is home to King penguins, as well as Gentoos and Rockhoppers.  As we passed by a King colony, at Lusitania Bay, many hundreds, if not thousands, swam around the ship and we were treated to a wonderful show.  I was surprised at how much they looked like ducks when they are swimming along on the surface.

     We reached a place to lay anchor, at Buckles Bay, near the main research station, located on a narrow, and low, isthmus, on the northern end of the island.  Then, we began to disembark, via the zodiac boats, for a nice, long, visit, with lots of walking-around opportunities.

     Macquarie had been used, originally, as a place where penguins (and seals, to a lesser extent, as I understand it) were harvested for their oil.  Men would work the island, non-stop, for many months, rendering and storing up this oil.  At the end of the season, a ship would return to pick up them, and their cargo.  There are still many of these old facilities (they call them "digestors") around the island, including on the isthmus, where we walked around.

Along the coast of Macquarie Island.  King penguins swim alongside us. Research station on the isthmus.

Kings march along the beach.  An historic penguin digestor. Elephant seals molting.
     We were able to walk about a kilometer along the western shore here, escorted by a park official.  We saw Gentoo penguins, for the first time, and quite a few seals laying around, weathering out their molting phase.  Also, bones of dead seals, dead penguins, and lots of ropey, slimy seaweed.  Rod picked up a couple of bull elephant seal teeth - monsters!  We saw one Rockhopper here, but it was injured and may well have hopped its last rock.

     A handful of us headed north, past the station, to see some more Rockhoppers, but molting seals were in our way, and we could only see a half dozen, or so, from afar.  Many returning parties got a zodiac cruise by these rookeries, but I stayed so late, that the churning waters cut short any such detour.

Gentoo penguins.  Walking along the western shore. A Rockhopper penguin.
     We stopped by the cafe/store in the heart of the research station.  They have a "leave your boots outside" policy, so we're all pattering around inside in our thick wool socks.  I picked up a tee shirt, and cap, as well as a few postal souvenirs.  They had fixed us up with hot drinks and snacks, and it was quite pleasant to relax here for a brief spell.  But, soon enough, I was back outside poking around.

     There is a memorial on the island, with a plaque and an upright anchor, in honor of those who had died on the island.  The island was first used, on a year-round basis, during Mawson's expedition to Antarctica, from 1911 to 1914.  It provided (just barely, under the right conditions) the ability to hear, and send, signals between Australia and Mawson's base.

Penguin pots at research station.  Memorial on Macquarie Island. King penguins on a mission, or not.
     On the landing beach, there were loads of King penguins, marching to and fro, seemingly with a purpose in mind, but, really, they reminded me of junior high school students at recess.  They are a curious bird, and seemed especially so with regard to our Russian crewmen and their red outfits.  Up the beach a bit, there were two bulls practicing their fighting skills.  The season for gathering up the females has long since past, and there is no territory to protect.  So, the "fighting" didn't appear to be especially violent.

A beach full of King penguins.  Who is the most intrigued? Seals practice fighting skills.
     Once back on board the Kapitan Khlebnikov, it was time to prepare for tonight special theme - "Black and White."  Bottles of champagne to the best dressed for this event.  I went as a penguin, wearing a black tee shirt, and my black sweat pants.  Tucked under my collar, and in the front of my pants, was white hand towel from the room.  I added an orange cap to serve as some kind of a bill.  I got many favorable comments and even won the "best dressed" award in my dining area.  I think, though, that it was my impression of an Adelie, that won the day for me.  I would stand up and stretch out my neck, like the ones we have seen.  Departing the dining area, I walked over to the stairway, in the awkward style of the Kings (sort of side-to-side, with head bobbing), and I paused at the threshold.  Then, I hopped out the door, and out of sight.  That sent the whole room roaring with laughter.  Well, maybe you'd have to be there ...

     I did my impression a couple of more times, before joining David, Marian, Betty and Bethan (who had a great Orca outfit) in the bar to drink down the champagne.  Great fun and a great day.

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