Saturday, 4 February 2012

A Century and a half...what an Antarctic cruise!

So, I see this is to be blog post number 150!  Rather apt considering this follows one of the best cruises I've ever done, and certainly the best Antarctic/South Georgia/Falklands cruise I have ever done.  We were so spoilt with the weather I almost got sick of saying to people "Man this weather is awesome, you guys don't realise how lucky you are!".

We set out from Ushuaia and headed up to the Falklands.  Pretty smooth sailing and some nice sightings of cetaceans, with some bow riding dusky dolphins as we left the Beagle Channel, then a close pod of hourglass dolphins which allowed some photography, and then we hit the Falklands.  It was my first visit to Bleaker Island, but what a great place.  A couple of freshwater ponds with breeding black-necked swans, some tufted and silvery grebes, and a bunch of white-rumped sands and two-banded plovers.  Nice start!  The rockhopper colony was fantastic, with half grown chicks running around and creching, and massive Imperial shag colonies.  All made for some great photos.  Stanley in the afternoon gave us a chance to walk around from the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth to Gypsy Cove..  A great walk with some botanising and birding along the way.  I tried to discourage everyone from looking at the disheveled lone King penguin moulting on the beach at Gypsy Cove..their first King penguin - it should have been 1 of 60,000 breeding pairs in South Georgia, but oh well!  I got a few minutes back in Stanley to run up and catch up with Kay McCallum who we had stayed with for many weeks back in 2004 when we were married in the Falklands.  Was great to see her and chat, even if only for half an hour!

Then it was on to South Georgia where we completed something nine landings (inc zodiac cruises) in three days.  We managed every landing with weather being stunning almost throughout, something that is very rare on South Georgia.  A zodiac cruise at Elsehul was first up, but of course the highlights for me were Salisbury Plain (with 60,000 breeding pairs of king penguins), my first visit to Prion Island with breeding wandering albatrosses, St Andrew's Bay with even more King Penguins, Gold Harbour, and Cooper Bay.  South Georgia is a stunning stunning place, and if you ever get the chance to go to Antarctica, make sure it includes at least a few days in this absolute jewel.

Then it was down to the South Orkney Islands where we made a landing on Coronation Island.  Massive chinstrap colonies, and I managed to find a leopard seal as well.  We had five seal species during the two zodiac cruises I did, so pretty awesome, again in pretty sunny conditions. Looks like a pretty rugged place, and can't even imagine spending the winter there as my good mate Rick Price has done on more than one occasion!

Then on to Elephant Island, where as with the rest of the trip, the seas were flat, the winds light, the skies blue, and we made a landing on Point Wild!  I venture to suggest the weather was not much like that day for most of which Shackleton's men spent camped there!  Absolutely stunning to land there and see the place up close.  Those guys were damn tough, it's hard to believe they all survived, but they did, and Point Wild can't have been the most relaxing of places to spend the best part of a winter.

We then headed down to the Antarctic Peninsula, with a sneaky day in the Weddell, including a landing at Brown Bluff (where the wind got up to 90 knots as we got people back to the ship in the zodiacs...needless to day a few people - inc me driving - got a little damp!), Devil Island, and some cruising in Antarctic Sound.  Very nice day.  Then back up and around to a few spots with a stunning pod of killer whales in the Gerlache, beautiful humpbacks and calves, before an absolutely stunning day at Neko Harbour and Paradise Bay, with an evening cruise in stunning conditions in the Le Maire Channel.  Wow!  Just doesn't get any better.  We then rounded off with a great day at Port Lockroy, Cuverville and then onto the South Shetlands.  The last day was a big one with Bailey Head (YES- my first landing here at this legendary place and driving too!), Whalers Bay, and Pendulum Cove, and the Hannah's Point...whew, four landings!  After all that, we did something like 27 landings, and really needed a rest on the Drake on the way back, and it was the Drake Lake!  Fantastic.

So I am now in Buenos Aires, having had a day wandering around Costanero Sur birding.  Looks like I will head there again tomorrow and then may get a day with a guide on Sunday, before heading home.

Hourglass dolphin busting through the surface

Chilean skua on Bleaker Island

Rockhopper chick testing its wings

Adult rockhopper amongst the creche

Comin' to get you...

Goose feather on Bleaker

Pembroke Lighthouse

Ferns near Gypsy Cove, Port Stanley

Magellanic penguins near Gypsy Cove

Wandering albatross at sea

Macaroni penguins to scared to get in the water

King of the hill!

Leucistic fur seal pup

Kings, kings everywhere!

Looking from the top of Salisbury Plain


That kid don't need no more food!

Wandering albatross stretching its wings on Prion Island

Crash landing!

The colony at the top of Prion Island

Wandering albatross on the nest on Prion Island


Fur seal pup nursing

South Georgia pintail at Stromness

Stromness Whaling Station

Reindeer at Godthul

Gentoo chicks stretching it out

Chasing for food!

Giant petrels cleaning up a penguin

St Andrew's

Courting kings


King in snow

King with a rainbow

About to mate

St Andrew's

Looking out over the colony

North meets south

The embrace

Boisterous sub-adult elephant seals

Giant petrels tearing apart a carcass

King penguin running through the colony

Feeding the chick

Arriving back at the colony

Skua with a scrap of penguin



Gold Harbour

The egg

The beach at Gold Harbour

Leucistic fur seal checking out a king

Leucistic fur seal

Macaroni having a shake

Coronation Island, South Orkneys, massive chinstrap colony

Cape petrels following the ship on the way into Elephant Island

Against the light

Elephant Island

Across the bay from Elephant Island

Chinstrap swimming

Monument to the Capt of the Yelcho, Luis Pardo Villalon, who took Shackleton back to Elephant Island to rescue his men

Bergs in light

A closer berg

The bluffs of Brown Bluff

Adelie still building with stones

Adelie colony at Brown Bluff

Rick Price poised like a coiled spring

MV Clipper Adventurer, just before the 90 knot winds!

March of the penguins

Devil Island

View from the top

Adelie chicks on Devil Island

Fluffy Adelie chick

Chasing for food

Bergs and light

Big tabular berg

Female killer whale

Breaking the surface

Big male killer whale

Nice sunset!

Bergs and sunset

And more

Last one...

Awesome zodiac cruise

Cape petrels feeding on krill beside a berg

Big cave archway

They left their mark...whale bones

Weddell seal scratching

Gentoo and chick panting in the heat

A humpback dives

Dive dive

With a berg in the background

Stunning close views of a humpback calf about to break the surface for a breath

The calf

And again




Early morning light

And again

Humpback breaks the surface

Bergs and sun

Flat calm coming into Neko Harbour


The ship at Neko

Gentoo surfaces

Gentoos heading out to sea

A visit by a minke

Castellated bergs

Crabeater sleeping

Berg reflections

Young Antarctic shag

Young Antarctic shag diving

Ctenaphore or comb jelly

on the way into the LeMaire Channel, ah Una!

Lots of ice in the LeMaire

But we went in anyway

Light on the hills in the LeMaire

Gentoos at Port Lockroy

Antarctic shag

Skua about to land and harass penguins

Not on my watch buddy!

Go ahead make my day!

Oh dear!

Part of the gentoo colony on Cuverville Island

Humpback right by the ship

Just round the corner from Bailey Head, Deception Island

More chinstraps than you can shake a stick at!

Coming back to the colony

The rocks etched by penguin claws on Hannah Point

Skuas make short work of a dead gentoo chick

A giant petrel killing a giant petrel chick, a very strange and disturbing thing to watch


  1. What breathtaking, beautiful, wonderful photograph !! all. many touching ,excitement sights comunicates itself to me.
    What that's great !. Thank you !
    Tokiko said.

  2. Stunning photography Brent.
    Maybe one day!

  3. Wonderful photos. What a dream!

  4. Thanks for the kind words Tokiko, Paul and Glenda. Glad you liked the images, it certainly is a stunningly beautiful place and one we have to protect!

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  6. Oh no, not another penguin pooping! Brent, what amazing photos as usual, making me feel so envious. Thank you. Dot