Before the existence of Antarctic Treaty, many nations laid claim to parts of the continent and adjacent islands. These claims more often than not overlapped with each other. Many countries started building stations on Antarctica for the sole purpose of laying claim to a piece of land.
Then in 1961, the Antarctic Treaty declared the continent to be a scientific reserve that only scientific research activities were allowed. This was an important step that helped to keep this region in its unspoiled, pristine state. For us, seeing the land as it is gave substance to the whole concept of environmental preservation.
Our first stop was Wilhelmina Bay, we are less than 20km from Antarctica mainland. With all the floating icebergs in the bay, it was a kayaker’s dream playground.
We were all outfitted in dry suits, so we might last slightly longer if we fell in the ocean. Of course that’s not going to happen because we are professionals. That’s right.
Blue ice seen from our kayak
Tracy taking a break (being lazy) from paddling
Icebergs take years to melt completely
This large berg was relatively young and still retains much of its original shape
One of Tracy’s favorite things to do here is picking up various pieces of ice and keep them. All this ice hoarding had to stop before we are sunk be the weight.
Yeah! Another piece! That's what? 23rd?
We were wearing neoprene gloves to keep our hands warm. The paddles also came with neoprene hand covers. Between the two, our hands were never cold although they were constantly wet.
The ice covering Antarctica was formed over hundreds of thousands of years. Any large piece of ice floating here is more likely than not older than us. It is a humbling thought.
Ken and Natasja
There's our ship (dark gray shape) on the other side of the ice float
The kayaks were quite sturdy. We enjoyed crashing through thin ice at full speed. It’s also a good way to brake. As always, some people took this to the extreme.
Um, that is THIN ice?
Our afternoon was spent on Cuverville Island. There was a large population of Gentoo Penguins here. We started seeing them swimming around the ship when we were close to the island.
Gentoo penguins jumping around our ship
Ice debris in the water
90% of the iceberg is underwater - if you still remember from high school physics
A beautiful sculpture of ice
There's penguin footprints all over this little berg
A iceberg floating near the beach, seen from our zodiac
Close up view of the intricate patterns on the ice
High school physics could be wrong - this one is 90% above water. Ha!
Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins nest on exposed rocks away from the beach. On a land mostly covered by snow, this often means a a long climb up, sometime very steep.
This is a mild climb, but long
Penguins can glide on their bellies much faster than walking, but the visibility is not so good when crawling around, so they still walk around most of the time.
Adult penguins have few predators on land. Thankfully the polar bears and foxes are on the opposite end of the globe. However, there are predators that prey on their eggs and young. Skuas often manage to steal eggs from inexperienced parents.
A Gentoo examines an egg eaten by a Skua
Penguins do have many predators in the water, with Leopard Seals chief among them. We did not see one up close, but had heard stories of kayaks harassed by them on the last cruise. Nathan’s (our kayak guide) kayak was hit by one and almost flipped over.
We were just colorful obstacles to the penguins. They will calmly circle around us.
Our ship's doctor, Mark, is also an avid photographer
David, our ship's resident artist, painting on the beach
The water is clear and shallow here. It is perfect for observing penguins swimming.
This one just came out of the water. It's think about what to do next.
Love their pink orange feet
A gentoo penguin shooting out of the water
A large iceberg seen from the beach
A kayaker examining an iceberg.
Kayak program is offered here as well. We opted out to spend more time on the beach with the penguins.
He's worth it.
Gentoos build their nests with small pieces of rock. If they see one of appropriate size, they often pick it up.
Gentoo with a stone chip
Now that's hardly an appropriate sized rock
Penguin feathers could completely insulate their body from water, thus allow them to keep their body temperature in the frigid ocean. In order to maintain this ability, penguins need to keep their feathers clean whenever they could.
This one is rolling in the water to clean its feathers.
Fresh out of the ocean
Yoshi, the ship's Japanese translator, filming penguins on the beach
We were given a sight seeing tour amongst the icebergs before all of us were ferried back to the ship. Antarctica actually wasn’t so cold in early summer. The temperature hovered around freezing most of the time. However, sitting on a speeding Zodiac with cold sprays of sea water on your face, it’s a different matter.
That's a huge one
Look at the icicles on this berg
Mouth of an ancient beast
Small wave-like patterns on the otherwise smooth surface
If you think coming to Antarctica on a ship is an adventure, how about coming here on a sailboat? Yup, craziness.
It's the Spirit of Sydney, crewed by half a dozen Australians (surprise!).
One of the guys on the sailboat
A storage tent set up by crews of the sailboat
We also saw a small group from far away, reportedly playing music to the penguins. I forgot what their purpose was. Great idea though.
Close up of the glacial ice
What appears to be a cave on the packed snow
For some reason, they all face the same general direction
At night, people from the sailboat were invited over for dinner. Turned out they were there for an expedition to the south pole. Talking about adventures.