The afternoon excursion
Into Fortuna Bay, we headed towards Whistle Cove. The first two maps are from Google and the third is from the Poncet/Crosbie booklet.
I could see the new snow has dusted the once empty rocks of this morning and the beaches are covered in snow.
Four or five metre waves crashed into the Level 2 restaurant windows during lunch. We all gasped loudly as each window wash surprised us. In pleasure not in fear.
It didn’t rain this afternoon when we disembarked from the ship nor at any time after that. I could have taken a camera. I should have taken my camera but didn’t – for fear of rain and difficult wetness again. What a loss!
I plodded carefully for about 1 km before returning to the landing/departure point. What did I see? A deer antler – evidence of the now eradicated introduced animal, maybe 10,000 brown furry baby King Penguins (perhaps the size of my normal backpack when full and round), thousands more of their Mums and Dads and some new adults singing songs for a partner – in one plain. Elsewhere other smaller clusters of King Penguins stood, and occasional individuals walked along sometimes next to our red coated penguin-like walks. Unconcerned about us in the main. I was tapped on the shoulder by a fellow passenger and he pointed down; when I looked, one large adult walked around my legs seemingly unperturbed.
For the first time we saw a fur seal with a small female harem of fur seals and a fur seal pup interspersed amongst a layabout collection of a few elephant seals. The latter are the ‘logs’ that seem to litter the snow covered beach in the photo below.The seals were sometimes concealed in the tussac grasses and when we walked, sometimes we needed to take divergent paths to and from our Zodiac landing, in order to avoid agitating them. Once the females start arriving from months at sea, they become excited if not aggressive and therefore dangerous.
We walked about one kilometre to a super-sized colony of King Penguins; with my clown length boots I plodded slowly trying not to slip on the thin melting snow layer, which covered the grass and mud, and not to trip on rocky ground especially when crossing streams. The area was relatively flat and exposed and strong gusts whipped across the water and across this plain; sometimes I had to spread my legs wide and brace so as not to fall over. This was real. This wasn’t a photograph or a film. I could feel the air, hear the callings of the birds, penguins and seals, and smell the odour that would become a natural and expected part of all the landing excursions. With the accompaniment of the visuals, I felt almost overwhelmed by this multi-sensory experience.
Looking up at the mountains, which rose from the shore about 50 metres back near the beginning and perhaps 150 metres back from the shore when we reached the large King Penguin cluster, I seemed to stop breathing – the scale and shape of these was completely awe inspiring.
A mini avalanche of rock was visible down one slope – perhaps the slide happened this afternoon because the rock was clear, and this morning’s snow storm would have powdered it. By the way, when we entered Fortuna Bay the old snow was a given but the rocks on which snow had already melted/departed were powdered with the new snow. Within the three hours after our arrival that new snow was gone, and the greenness of the grass and the grey brownness of the rock was again visible.
During this landing we were free to walk at our own pace and were allocated roughly two hours to walk across the area (within Expedition Team controlled limits) and return. I never felt rushed and my slow plod and many standings just looking and thinking and seeing and experiencing fitted easily into that time allocation.
Back on board, showered, clean and dry, I headed off for a recap of the day and a briefing from the Expedition Team about tomorrow’s excursions. After two landings we felt that a routine was developing and that each future trip onshore would become easier. A terrific day. A day of great privilege.