HAPPY NEW YEAR….AURORA STYLE!
At 0900 we were in the zodiacs, never mind sore heads and lack of sleep from the New Year festivities. Astrolabe Island was the destination of our zodiac cruise, and what a beauty it was! The outer-side of Astrolabe Island—a dramatic formation of peaks known as the 'Devil's Teeth'—felt quite oceanic with the swell of the Bransfield Strait, but once in protected waters we sat back and enjoyed the natural wonders: weddell seals slumbered on the snow, southern fulmars wheeled past lichen-encrusted cliffs, and pairs of cape petrels chittered and chattered at their nest sites on high crags.
Those amongst the staff who have visited Astrolabe before were in agreement that the icebergs were at their finest, some festooned with adelie penguins and imperial cormorants, others weird and wonderful shapes. The overcast sky and bright sunlight intensified the tropical turquoise blue reflected from submerged ice, and the piercing blues illuminating within the bergs. Sir Douglas Mawson, the great Australian polar explorer, remarked that Antarctica is a world brilliant with colour. How right he was. Our paddlers also enjoyed a glorious morning on the high seas, meandering through bergs and stopping to absorb the natural surrounds.
Back onboard after a delicious lunch the hallways looked deserted as many took to their bunks for a much-needed nap. Gary woke us from our slumbers in the late afternoon as we approached Deception Island, the southernmost island in the South Shetland group. Deception is an active volcano that last erupted in the late 1960s, then early 1990s, destroying former British and Chilean bases. The entry into the island's caldera was dramatic, and it was all quiet on the bridge as we steamed through the perilously narrow channel of Neptune's Bellows.
Once inside we made a landing at Whalers Bay, where we were able to stretch our legs along the 2-kilometre beach. Steve Kirkham took his running shoes ashore and may well have been the first to run 8 kms at Whalers Bay. The rest of us headed in different directions, fossicking amongst the old huts, or stopping at the remains of the old cemetery where, in the early 1900s, 40 Norwegian whalers were buried. Whalers Bay, with its digesters and large rusting tanks, is a haunting reminder of a bygone era when whaling was a thriving industry. Along the beach, whale boats lay buried in the sand, while Antarctic terns nest in the splintered remnants of old wooden barrels. The view from Neptune's Bellows was splendiferous, looking back across the bay, and in the other direction, out to sea.
Despite the nip in the air as the breeze took hold, 20 certifiable expeditioners donned their swimmers, strode down the gangway, and fearlessly leapt into the frigid 2°C water. There was much huffing and puffing as wet, shivering bodies scaled the gangway at breakneck speed and raced to the sauna to thaw out.