MikeAndClare: Onto the great white continent…

Our first zodiac experience on this expedition was to a gravelly beach in Neko Harbour on the actual Antarctic Peninsula. For many of us, this was our official arrival on the 7th continent. The name “Neko” is from a factory whaling ship operating here in the 1910’s & 20’s.

The weather for our visit was mixed. We had some rain (so much worse than snow!) and a strong wind cropped up to blow ice floes in on the beach and make our zodiac departures “quite interesting”.

Neko’s claim to fame is smelly and noisy gentoo penguin rookeries which host thousands of the cute little fellows and their new chicks. Beforehand, we are given strict instructions on how to treat the penguins, which are basically, stay a good distance unless the come to you (which they do, often), give them right of way, and don’t walk on the penguin highways which are the obvious beaten tracks that the gentoos like to use.

Gentoos are the third biggest penguin after the emperor and king varieties.

A number of skuas circle the rookeries and land frequently, looking for unprotected chicks. The adult penguins despatch them easily, but an isolated chick would be easy game.

From the beach, it’s possible to walk up a steep hill to a rocky point which overlooks a glacier. The Lindblad staff mark the safe track for us with red and yellow flags, small equivalents of lifesaving flags on Australian beaches.

It’s a pleasant enough walk, and helps wear off breakfast, but a lot of older (and some younger) passengers make heavy work of it. Lindblad staff and Orion crew are fantastic in the amount of care and personal assistance they offer frail expeditioners.

These conditions are hard on cameras and batteries. Everyone has their own favourite way of keeping equipment dry and lenses clean.

They are variously successful. Plastic bags are popular but problematic. It’s raining and spraying but not heavily, so using a hand towel seems to be workable.

Lens cleaners get soaking wet quickly, and we don’t have a great solution here. Batteries are best if kept warm. Professionals have a separate battery back they carry inside their coat.

Mere mortals like us keep spare batteries in coat pockets.

Biosecurity concerns are paramount for ventures to the shore. Everyone’s boots and outer clothing were inspected and if necessary cleaned the day before, and we signed off on protocol. Before getting into the zodiac, we dip our boots into some “pink solution” (we think it is the duPont virucidal disinfectant Virkon S), and when we get back, we brush the boots before using the pink brew again.

Tripod feet get the same treatment. And for our security, to make sure no-one gets left behind, there’s a tag board when you mark yourself off and back on the Orion. We take off our life-jackets and leave them near the shore in barrels, so making sure all life jackets have been removed is an extra layer of security.

Getting on and off the zodiacs is a ritual of great care.

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