Second excursion for the day
Since breakfast I have slept for a couple of hours and now at midday, I will complete the description about this morning’s excursion while the ship sails the 16 miles to Moltke Harbour further south.
When a little before 2pm the anchor was lowered, I realised I had missed lunch. I knew room service meals were part of the deal so 15 minutes after ordering I sat in my plush towelling robe, eating a small serve of fish and vegetables while looking out at the magnificent scenery, and listening to the grunts of the elephant seals from afar. Occasionally a snow storm would flurry by and then rain. I felt sorry for the first two groups who were already onshore or making their way. I remember how impossible it was to take photos yesterday in that weather.
This stopover has a beach lined with lumbering elephant seals, but I understand the idea of this landing is that we walk inland a little around the base of a largish ‘hill’. This afternoon I am scheduled in the group for the last departure from the ship at 4.45pm. Whether I go will be weather dependent. The first map below is from Google and the second is from the Poncet/Crosbie booklet.
As we entered Royal Bay and headed for Moltke Harbour, the outlying land was in sun. However, towards the harbour beach, the land was under cloud and engrossed by a storm. See below a selection of photos taken from my balcony on arrival.
Once I had a look at the ‘beach’, I created this video with wind and elephant seal sounds.
On the snowless rocky mountain sides, the evidence of gradual disintegration is apparent in the massive scree slopes. These potentially sliding rocks are interspersed with low vegetation and grassy tussacs. All on exceptionally steep surfaces.Again, I had to persuade myself that going back onshore was in my best interests. How easy it would be to do nothing – but that would mean I would have no new memories. Ridiculous, of course. So back on with all the heavy unwieldy clobber and clump to the waiting zone, through the boot cleansing station, onto the Zodiac and off we went to shore.
Onshore again, I listened to a briefing about what to find where, and away I meandered. Moltke Harbour is renowned for colonies of Gentoo Penguins, a type I had not previously seen.
I navigated my way around the harems of elephant seals some with dark seal babies less than a few weeks old, walked across the strong currents of many streams without getting water into my boots and without slipping over on the uneven rocky base, through muddy grassy clump areas towards the base of a distant small mountain.
At that point there was little snow but where patches of snow lay, clusters of King Penguins stood. On the rocky edges nesting Gentoo Penguins were going about their business.
Our Expedition team had told us not even to pick up and keep a small stone thinking the loss of such an object was of no significance to the environment; what we observed these Penguins doing made clear the reason for that instruction. The Gentoos use pebbles to help build their nests. I was about 10 feet away from this set of parents when I made the following video – see here. Notice the male collects a pebble in his beak and takes it over and drops it into the nest to help build it so that when it rains the nest will drain and the egg/s won’t be on the ground getting wet. Down the hill came another Gentoo who was waiting for an opportunity to steal pebbles from that nest. We see both parents stand their ground and then yell to make their territorial rights clear. I cannot express clearly in words my profound pleasure in seeing how these Gentoo Penguins have evolved to be able to survive in such a hostile environment, and how they were unafraid of us and wasted no time as they went about their nesting business.
The afternoon experience continued with a circular track that meandered over the small plain at the base of the mountains. I watched dashing waterfalls cascading down the high slopes and feeding the plethora of creeks and rivulets that I needed to cross from time to time.Watch this video to see one gushing waterfall and listen to the sounds of the wind.
Occasionally I was surprised when I nearly walked into the space of a weaner elephant seal who had wandered inland on his/her own; their brownish body lumps often seemed like the muddy bumps punctuating the landscape. Perfect camouflage.
The variety of sounds that the elephant seals make surprised me. I came across a very vocal group trying to be together on the same ground in a stream and, as each moved, they were communicating loudly accompanied by a background of some human voices, and rough wind sounds. View this video.
Throughout this walk of about one to two kilometres, widely spaced snowflakes floated through the air. Magical. Not too cold. No wind. No rain so it was easily possible to take photos. At one end, the decision had been made that we could climb a snowy incline, clamber onto a slate like rise and then wander ever onwards to higher vantage points over the harbour.I chose not to walk this, rather I strolled across the plain and along the beach and stood silently for a long time in order to look at the rocks, and to look thoughtfully at the seals. I wanted to remember these things, rather than needing the prompt of a photo in the future.
Eventually, when strong wind gusts flattened the water and pushed it onshore dramatically and I had spent two hours on land, I joined a Zodiac group returning to the ship.
Showered. Off to the lounge and joined a cluster of Australians that seems to be becoming a cohesive and regular pack at the end of each day. We have a drink, a debrief, then go off to a formal briefing for each next day, before dining together on a large table. It works. I don’t know whether some people would feel comfortable in such a grouping if they hadn’t travelled much; the chatter is mostly about the experiences of places visited and most people have been on several cruises of discovery. I made a point of spreading my time across a range – after all, I can tell my few stories again.
Finally, bed beckoned, and another extraordinarily wonderful day ended.