2005 – This was my first trip to the Antarctic – only seen on maps as a wobbly line around the South Pole, visited by intrepid explorers, some came home while others perished in the extreme cold.
On the journey south from Lyttleton, New Zealand to the Ross Sea, we made a stop at one of the sub Antarctic islands – no sign of habitation but we did see the remains of an old metal container for boiling down whale blubber on one of the inlets – there had been an attempt by a small group of whalers to live there but they found it too difficult so the site was abandoned. We were able to go ashore and climb through tunnels of wind sculpted vegetation up to higher levels where albatross were nesting – we were careful not to get too close, they did not seem to be worried by our presence.
While we were at sea I organised some workshops for passengers, drawing painting and some book making.
On the ship again to experience the vast expanse of ocean, the convergence of currents and the ensuing rough weather, then the excitement of seeing the first iceberg and the first sea ice, nilas and pancake. We witnessed the attempts of killer whales trying to up-end small slabs of ice to get to the seals basking on the upper surface. As the ship ploughed ahead, the pink krill lined under surface of the ice was exposed and a huge crack opened in front of the ship.
We had arrived – was it Antarctica? There were black rocks surrounded by snow and ice in the distance, hard to know where the land began.
An amazing docking of the ship next to the ice shelf, a walk on the ice to see Emperor Penguins sliding down a slope on their chests, really large birds up close and very vocal as they chatted to each other.
The penguins, the seals, the whales and the birds made me realise that It is far from an empty continent.
This ship had two small helicopters on board. Champagne was being served on top of a breakaway iceberg so passengers were transported from the ship to the bar… looking down into the crevasses below made me breathe a sigh of relief when we landed, better still with a glass in hand. Two more helicopter flights, the first to the abandoned Russian base, Leningradskaya. They must have been in a hurry as the huts still had equipment in them and half filled with snow and ice. I wondered if the fuel tanks were leaking into the landscape. The second flight was to the dry interior – in this desert the remains of a seal lay on the ground, its skin still intact stretched over the desiccated frame. How did it get there from the sea? Sometimes I had the chance to do some drawing on site, I soon realised that doing a wash was impossible as the brush froze into a non-pliant tool.
Transport from the ship to land was made in zodiacs – the transition was sometimes very scary when there was a lot of movement in the sea – a couple of Russian crew members were there to help the sometimes airborne into the safety of the boat.
I found it very moving to be inside Scott’s and outside Shackleton’s huts – you could imagine what the confined conditions were like, see where they slept and what the food was like, still there stored in huge tins, and the piles of blubber outside the buildings to be used for fuel. These were the first structures built for human use in the Antarctic.
The final stop before arriving in Hobart was Macquarie Island – what a wonderfully windswept isolated unique place. Royal penguins greeted us on our arrival by diving and cavorting around the ship as we approached land. Later I sat in the middle of a group of them on the shore, they stood as high as my seated height, so I felt that I was somehow included in the tribe… I did not feel that with the elephant seals!
After our arrival back in Hobart I found it hard to readjust to normal life after experiencing the the vastness of the ocean, the ice and the incredible wildlife.
I am very grateful for this experience, it made me realise that we all should feel responsible for helping to protect this part of the world and the thought of masses of tourists visiting Antarctica every year makes me feel very nervous about its future.
Liz Jeneid, July 2022