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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Zodiac cruise in Paradise Harbour

Over lunch we sailed back to Paradise Harbour and this time as we sailed into it we got a better opportunity to enjoy the scenery.  Large swathes of brash ice covered the surface of the water with bergy bits providing convenient platforms for the odd seal or penguin.

We were also lucky enough to spot couple of humpback whales, mother and calf.  Even to a novice whale spotter like me, you could tell the distinctive arched motion as they move, and we all waited in hope of seeing the tail coming up.
Humpback whale tailfin
We weren't disappointed as they both dived a couple of times giving us a great view of the black and white underside of their tail fins.  I was pleased that  I just about managed to get a shot of it.
In the afternoon, Nic and I took the zodiac cruise. The general plan for the zodiac cruise is to have a chance to get up closer to the ice, and have a hunt around for any wildlife that might be nearby.
Because the captain keeps a reasonable distance between the ship and any icebergs, not surprising given the reminder of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that they are smaller than they really are.

It is so hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the ocean and islands, let alone the continent itself, and if you can't grasp just how enormous they are, then you can't possibly realise how big the icebergs are.  Getting up close to even the little ones, and seeing that they are not little at all, helps you to get a better perspective.

And it is fascinating to look at the different forms that the ice takes. In particular you can see the ones where the ice has turned over, so that the section that was below the water is now on top.

This is when you get to see the fabulous dimpled effect on the ice, or can see the steppes that the water creates.  There is more that I could say about the different types, colours and textures of the ice, but as we are now going to the Weddell Sea at the end of the year I'll save it until then.

Much of the water surface in Paradise Harbour is covered in brash ice. The ship ploughs through this easily, but it is a different story in a zodiac.  The drivers are all practiced at getting through, but you can see they need to pick the path of least resistance, and even then they get stuck every so often.

Blue eyed shag
Generally this is because the motor has got blocked by the ice, and they have to work it free, but sometimes they just reach thicker ice that they can't pass through, so have to back up and go around it.  But despite a few problems we got about pretty well.
We passed the Argentine Brown station, where the original buildings were destroyed in April 1984 when the station leader started a fire because he didn't want to stay here for another winter.  The people were rescued by a US ship. I assume he had timed the fire for when he knew a shop was scheduled to be nearby, as being left out and exposed once the fire had burned out would almost certainly be deadly.
Crabeater Seal
Our first wildlife was the small nesting site of blue eyed shags (keep the smutty comments to yourselves please, we've already done them all!). Their home is a steep multi coloured rock face.

Like the snow, the rock can be turned different colours by various natural elements.  They can be blue-green from copper deposits, emerald green from mosses, or orange and yellow from lichens.

Leopard Seal
As we were watching the birds, we spotted a couple of crabeater seals.  Crabeaters are apparently the most abundant type of seal, but despite their name they don't eat crabs at all, they eat krill.  They weren't overly keen on hanging out with us so we watched them for a short while but then left them alone and carried on around the bay.

We soon spotted a leopard seal on some ice and got up fairly close to it.  It kept an eye on us but didn't seem bothered by us at all.  In fact it was so unimpressed that it proceeded to do an incredibly long and very bright red poo.  The bright red was from the krill that it eats.  I can only assume that the huge amount of poo meant that a lot of krill had died to satisfy his appetite.

Hearing from another zodiac that a second leopard seal was lounging about on a different bit of ice, we went to check that out.  This one didn't stay on the ice for long and for a moment we thought we'd driven it away, but we needn't have worried.  It was taking an interest in us, and was swimming nearby to the zodiac, circling around us and popping up regularly.
After  a while, a second zodiac turned up, but that didn't bother it either. It just kept on swimming even closer around us, between the zodiacs and underneath them.  We had already been told that it is not unknown for the leopard seals to take a bit at a zodiac, so our drivers were keeping a watchful eye to see if the seal turned aggressive and we needed to leave.  Happily though, the seal showed no sign of attacking, and just kept swimming around right next to us.

We watched him for a while, and then figured it was time for us to head back.  The idea was to leave the second zodiac alone with it.  However the leopard seal had other ideas and followed us.  It carried on swimming after us for a while, but eventually gave up and went elsewhere.  One theory about it following is that it likes the bubbles in the water created by the motor, but we preferred to think that it just taken a liking to us.

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