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.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Deception Island

When Delphine gave us our briefing about what we would be doing today, we were a bit taken aback to hear that we would be having to get up at the crack of dawn.

We had known that we would be coming to Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands, and that it was worth being on deck to watch the arrival, but we hadn't expected it to be so early.

But she had explained her reasons, and we were all convinced that it would be worth it.

So it was that we were on deck, at 6am in the cold mist of the early morning, to see Ortelius make its cautious way through Neptune's Bellows. Deception Island is in fact a volcano. Not an island with a volcano on it, just the tip of a very large volcano sticking up out of the ocean.

And it is an active volcano that is overdue an eruption. Though we were assured that there are plenty of devices measuring activity so there should be good warning for us to escape to a safe distance.

In a previous eruption, many many years ago, a small section of the wall of the volcano collapsed, allowing the sea to flow into the crater, or caldera.

Ships can sail in through this narrow 255m gap, called Neptune's Bellows, but have to be very careful of Ravn Rock which sits just beneath the water and has claimed ships in the past.

The volcano is huge.  The diameter of the caldera is an enormous 15km.  And it is somewhat surreal to be sailing into the heart of an active volcano, but be surrounded by ice and snow.

The captain navigated his way through the bellows, pushing the ice out of our way as we went, and we were soon safely approaching the old whaling station where there was a pre breakfast landing scheduled.

And for those who were crazy enough, this was also the opportunity to take a polar plunge - not usually so much a swim in the antarctic seas as a quick dash in and out.

We took a look at the weather - snowy, misty and cold - and decided that as we had no intention of getting in the water, there were no penguins here, we had done similar before, and we could get a long range view of the whaling station from the warmth of the ship, we would skip this landing and get in early to a leisurely breakfast instead.

When everyone was back on board having breakfast after the short landing, the ship moved to a different position in the caldera, and pushed its way into some of the sea ice.

From here, Delphine had arranged with the helicopter pilots that we would all be taken up for a short flight around the top of the caldera, to get a birds eye view of this unique island.

This is not something that the trips usually offer, so it was a great opportunity, and why we all forgave Delphine the 5:45am wake up call.  The mist had by this time lifted a bit, so although visibility wasn't amazing, it was good enough to get a fabulous view of the volcano.

As we passed over rim and looked out across the vast expanse of the crater, we could only just about make out the tiny form of our ship, wedged into the ice, which gave us some perspective on just how big the caldera is.  you can just about see it on the very left side of this photo, about half way up. It was a great extra to the trip and we all enjoyed it.

Back on ship, they had lowered the gangways either side, and we were able to get down on to the sea ice and walk around.  With no wildlife to look at and no science stations to visit, this felt a bit like when the schools close due to snow and everyone just goes out to play.

The type of snow doesn't really make good snowballs we discovered, but people were making snow angels and posing for silly photos, and just generally having a bit of fun in the snow.

One of the silly photo opportunities came about when the crew lowered the front mooring line over the side of the ship.  Of course it was ridiculous to think that people would take photos of each other with this huge rope in hand pretending to pull the ship; but we still all did it!  And we also all got together for a big group photo in front of Ortelius.

All in all we had a good morning on Deception Island, and were definitely ready for our lunch.

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