My White Christmas
We had our first Zodiac cruise here. It was a beautiful setting and we cruised right up to icebergs. Due to the transparency of the water you could see the mighty mass beneath. The differing shades of blue were fantastic to observe. We also visited the Guvernøren wreck. It was the first time we saw seals lounging on icebergs as though they were the most comfortable of couches. A humpback whale appeared in the vicinity to top off a memorable cruise. We returned to the ship to be met by Frances offering us hot chocolate with a drop of rum. Mmmm.
Following our morning’s activity the ship sailed along Wilhelmina Bay with its stunning vistas enhanced by passing seals and penguins resting on icebergs and the constant presence of fulmars and petrels. Upon reaching Orne Harbour we togged out for another landing. Not an easy task but well worth the effort. We landed at Georges Point and trudged through deep snow to visit Gentoo and Chinstrap rookeries. It was our first close contact with a rookery. The antics of the penguins were very amusing as was their struggle to traverse the long, uphill distances to their rookery. They nest on mounds of pebbles and there is a constant battle to thieve pebbles from other nests to reinforce their own. Because the rookeries are on exposed rock they tend to be uphill on windswept sites. God love the penguin because it is not made for walking. They waddle in a very distinctive manner with flippers/wings outstretched. They walk as though they have had both hips replaced by an inept surgeon. They have made `highways´ where the snow is flattened for easier passage. However, several penguins had decided to brave the snow and kept falling down flat on their faces. We also got to witness their reaction to one of their only predators – a Skua. These birds are almost as large as the penguins themselves and swoop down over the rookery searching for the eggs and chicks of unwary penguins. One was obviously frustrated by its futile efforts and we watched in awe as it snatched a Snowy Sheathbill clean out of the air. It devoured it stripping long chunks of meat with its cruel, sharp beak.
We returned to the ship for a sumptuous supper but interrupted our dinner after the main course to go ashore again. We headed to Cuverville Island where high tides and deep snow left us with a length of beach only a few feet wide. We watched the penguins struggling down to the shoreline, entering the water and swimming. They may be awkward on land but they are built for the sea. They flash by at astonishing speeds sometimes porpoising out through the air. They clean themselves very thoroughly too. These ablutions are necessary because the penguins literally shit where they sit. They squirt out a spray that oftentimes lands on their unsuspecting neighbour. The rookeries are covered in guano and the stench is unbearable. Penguins may be cute but they are very loud and stink. It’s rare to find such a juxtaposition of the senses; your eyes are loving every moment whereas your ears and nose are begging that you leave.
We returned to the boat where the chefs had excelled in preparing a lavish buffet of desserts. I stayed up late and celebrated Christmas with my new found friends. We had brought back a small, almost completely clear iceberg so we had ~2,000 year old ice for our drinks! Despite the age profile of the other passengers being considerably older than me we had great fun together. We got to see sunrise/sunset. I’m not sure which as it never got fully dark. It was a fantastic day which we thought would be the highlight of our trip.