Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Port Lockroy

First sighting of penguins
Having arrived in Antarctica proper, we sailed through the Neumayer Channel  and dropped anchor at Wiencke Island.  Our first destination was the tiny Goudier Island at Port Lockroy, to visit Bransfield House, which is a former British Antarctic Station, now run preserved and run as a museum by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT).
Penguins at Bransfield House
In the early 1900s, Port Lockroy was a whaling station, but during the Second World War, Britain established Base A as part of a secret naval operation.  After the war Bransfield House Base was staffed by small teams, with people each doing a stint of about two and a half years here.  This ended in the 1960s, when the place fell into disrepair.
Port Lockroy
The building was restored in 1996, and is now a historic site, cared for by three UKAHT staff who live here during the summer months to look after this and other historical sites, as well as running the post office and gift shop.  Yes that's right, even in Antarctica you can buy a T-shirt and send a postcard. Well, sometimes you can send a postcard, but I'll come back to that later.  This is one of the most popular stops on Antarctica trips, with around 17,000 visitors a year, because the big cruise ships can safely anchor here as well as the smaller ones like ours.  Of course being a tiny island, they limit it to 60 people ashore at once and no more than 350 in a day.
"How does this work then?"

Someone from the island came on board and told us about the place before we went ashore.  We were lucky that we were here today, as this being the end of the summer season, it was their last day before being picked up and taken out of Antarctica.

Of course while we were all interested in the base, generally people were more excited to already be able to see the tiny looking penguins on the shore, especially those who had not yet had the chance to see a penguin in the wild.

Zodiacs being floated 
As this was our first shore landing, we weren't entirely sure what to expect.  Despite this being the summer, it is of course still on the chilly side, so we had wrapped up warm.  Thermals, trousers and shirt, fleece, waterproofs, two pairs of socks, gloves and glove liners, scarf and hat were the required wearing, along with a pair of heavy duty wellies supplied on board.  Stylish, no, but they mostly kept us dry and if not always warm then at least not really cold.  Add the inflatable life vest, and we just had to turn our cards to show that we were off the ship, wash and dip our boots in the disinfectant, and we were ready to start boarding the zodiacs.

Now getting onto a small zodiac from the steps of a much larger ship can be something of a challenge when the sea is entirely calm, but the crew did a fantastic job of helping us all in and out and thankfully no one went for an unscheduled swim.  The zodiacs were sometimes driven by crew members and other times by the expedition team, and they all got us around safely, though I was slightly concerned when, on one of the rougher trips, the driver counted us before we set off, as off he was concerned about whether he would still have us all in the boat at the other end!

Penguin pecking Tabitha
But today was reasonably calm, and we made it across dry and eager for our first landing.  The island is also home to a colony of Gentoo penguins, and as soon as we climbed up the rocks at the landing site, we saw our first Antarctic penguins close up.  The gentoos here are generally a little smaller than those we saw on the Falklands, and while they are curious, they are not generally quite as bold as their more northerly cousins.  That said they happily live amongst the base and the remnants of the old whaling station, and don't seem at all bothered to have a few visitors wandering around.
Penguin pecking me
The rule here is generally to try not to approach closer than five metres to a penguin, although it is fine if they come to you.  However this was clearly impossible right from the start as walking along the pathway they we all around you.  You would try to skirt around one, only to find yourself right next to another one that was behind a rock.  But again, they don't seem to mind, and you just try harder to avoid the ones that look a bit skittish.
'Flapped' by a penguin
It didn't take long before the first one had taken a quick peck at my boots.  However I was less prepared for the one that, having come up to me, started squawking around me.  If I had gone close to it, I would have thought I had scared it, but it came up to me, and it didn't seem scared.  And doubtless one of the expedition team would have told me if they thought I was bothering it at all. It took a few pecks at me, but also started flapping it's wing fast and beating it against my leg.  I didn't like to try to walk away, as I was concerned that with it moving around me, I might accidentally kick it, so I just stood there.  It soon got fed up and wandered off, but I have know idea why it did it.  It presumably wasn't personal though, as it did it to a few people too.

We did drag ourselves away from the penguins for long enough to look around Bransfield House.  We managed to pick up a couple of bits in the gift shop, but sadly couldn't make use of the post office to send our postcards as the last post boat had already for this year, and they wouldn't now be picked up until November.  We did however manage to get our passports stamped, which pleased us.

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