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, April 2, 2012

Petermann Island and pink snow

In the morning we were on the move again, this time just a little way back north to Petermann Island.  It was very windy and to start with it was doubtful whether we would be able to take the zodiacs out to make a shore landing.  But the captain and expedition leader pulled out the stops for us and sent extra crew out so that the zodiacs could be launched and we could get on to the island.
As the group I was with was waiting to board a zodiacs, we could could see the sea being whipped up by the wind and sprayed distances across the surface.  We watched the people  in the zodiac ahead of us getting very wet as they left, and we prepared for the worst.  However we were lucky, because as we set off, the wind dropped slightly.  It was still a bumpy ride, and we still got wet, but not as much as we'd expected.

Petermann  island has been used by whalers and scientists in the past, but there is no base here.  The only building is an old Argentine red refuge hut from 1955.  There are a few other signs of human life though.

There is a cairn on the hill, and a cross that commemorates three men from BAS who died in 1982 attempting to cross the sea ice back over to Faraday Station where we we we're yesterday.  It just goes to show that even with relatively modern technology, Antarctica can be a very dangerous place.

Nic did the hike up the hill, he is the one in the green jacket in the phots, and spotted a few Adelie penguins, while I did another photography workshop.  The Adelies are recognisable by ompletely black head with just distinctive white rings around the eyes.

Adelie Penguin
The majority of the penguins here were gentoos again, but this is as far south as they go. They are not the hardiest of the species, so they don't get as far into the depths of Antarctica as the Adelies.

We both managed to spend some time watching the fur seals on land.  When I was watching them, they had a little spat, but it seemed to be resolved quickly without any real trouble.

Unlike the leopard seals, the fur seals are not predators of the penguins, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are completely at ease together. I was watching while a penguin started to approach a fur seal, but as soon as it got close, the fur seal got up. The penguin turned and fled, with the fur seal giving a half hearted chase.

It isn't just the seals that bother the penguins though. The skuas will go after the penguin chicks and sometimes even an older penguin. They are often flying over and around the colony, and the penguins understandably get quite het up when they fly overhead. The penguin doesn't have much to defend itself with, but they have a good go with running about, sqwarking and flapping their wings wildly. Of course sometimes the skua wins and we saw a few eating their prize.

I quite liked watching the penguins here as the little bit of sun that we got had obviously woken them up nicely. They were playing in the rockpools and jumping around on the rocks.

I managed to get myself into a good position to watch a few make their way over a pile of rocks that clearly took some effort.

It amused me the way that they prepare themselves to jump, getting they body all arched, and then launch themselves. Most of the time they made it, but I did see a few desperate scrabbles to right themselves when it went wrong.

 The snow on Petermann is amazing. I know that we all know about that rather dubious phenomenon of yellow snow, but here they have pink and green snow.

This is caused by snow algae which are single cell organisms that live on the snow at high altitudes or latitudes.  It can also make the snow red, orange, yellow or grey.

Of course sometimes the pink or orange snow is because of the guano. But here it was the algae, and it looked fantastic.

The plan for the afternoon was to visit to Charcot Island and Pleneau Bay but the wind hat got up even stronger after lunch, so it was too windy to disembark.  We had to wait a while for the mountaineers to make it back, and take the ship as close as it could get to shore to make it possible to collect them, but after that we sailed back up through the Lemaire Channel.

In an earlier posting I mentioned the winds of around 20km per hour at the South Pole, but that is nothing here.  Antarctica is considered to be the windiest place on earth, with katabatic winds creating force 8 gales for over one hundred days of the year.  For those of us less familiar with the ranking of gales, the katabatic winds reach speeds of  320 km per hour.  And there is very little warning when they approach.

Fortunately the winds we were experiencing weren't at that level, but they were pretty strong.  I went out onto the lounge deck at one stage and quickly had to come back in because it was so cold, but I couldn't close the door on my own.  It took all the strength of both Nic and me to pull it shut.

Our anchoring place for the night was Paradise Harbour.  This was a very sheltered location, and we weren't the only ship hiding out here tonight.

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