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.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Devil's Island and Vega Island

Today's trip was taking the helicopter out to Devil's Island with a walk across the sea ice to Vega Island and the adelie penguin colony.  We were first out today, which was nice because when we arrived the walk was almost pristine.

The helicopter trip was again great with even more fabulous views of different types of sea ice, including parts where initially it looked like open water, but when you got closer you could see that it was still ice, but just very clear, perhaps with a layer of water on top.

We landed next to a huge lump of rock and some icebergs that were frozen into the sea ice.  It was a strange feeling to know that you are walking on sea ice and seeing those trapped bergs.

The expedition team had already set up a tent on the ice as an emergency shelter, just in case we got stuck there for any time, and they had been out to check out a safe route across the ice, marking out any huge crevasses that we might be in danger of falling down.

I'm not sure that some people took that entirely seriously until they realised that the only way the seals that we saw would be this far inland was if they had got up through a hole in the ice.

Being amongst the first to cross, we had the advantage of being almost completely alone in a mostly untouched landscape. We also had the disadvantage of treading the path, which meant that we - or more accurately I - kept managing to tread in the really deep soft snow where you sink in up to your knees. Very glad I had on my waterproofs. 
Aside from being quite a tiring way to walk, there was always that split second when you realise that your foot is going down further and can't help but think of those seal holes and wonder whether you will just be up to your knee in snow, or whether you are about to end up with a very wet leg!

Part of the way across the ice we came across the seals hauled out by a small iceberg.  There were three weddell seals and a crabeater, none of whom seemed the slightest bit concerned to see us.  They had a quick look at us then went back to their dozing.

We just about managed to stay on our feet on the really icy bit, avoided the crevasses, and after about forty five minutes reached the penguin colony.

We clambered up the very slippery edge (we saw one person come a cropper there later) and were face to beak with the adelies.

Last time we were in Antarctica, the chicks were almost grown up and so except for the penguins that were moulting, we could get quite close.

This year though, the penguins were on their eggs, so we had to keep a bit more distance so that they didn't get disturbed and possibly abandon their eggs.

We still were pretty close, and once they could see we weren't a threat, quite often a penguin or two would walk right by us.

We did see quite a few abandoned eggs around the nests.  Most of these were probably from young penguins that weren't ready to breed yet, or inexperienced parents.  But most eggs were safely tucked up under an adelie, protected from the skuas that were flying above looking for a meal.

Mind you the skuas had their own eggs and were highly protective of them.  We must have walked a bit too close for them at one point, as when we stopped, we were buzzed by the skua.  I told Nic to duck and he did so just in time; otherwise I think he may have felt the skuas claws on his head.  We moved away a little and they seemed satisfied with that.

We watched the penguins for a few hours, both the ones in the colony and those that were making the long trek across the sea ice to get to the water and hunt for food.

You have to admire the way these little creatures waddle such distances over the ice, often having to leap up to get over a ridge, or toboggan themselves along with their flippers to save a bit of energy.

They are clearly so much better adapted to the water, but they are far more fun to watch on land.
Eventually we made the trek back to the helicopter, pausing again to look at the seals that were still resting.

When we arrived, we discovered that the helicopter flights had had to be suspended due to bad weather.

This was a surprise, as we were having lovely sunshine, but as the expedition staff always said, the weather in Antarctica can change very quickly and be very different only short distances apart.

Ten miles away back at the ship they were have strong cold winds, some snow, and had had to move the ship into a calmer area both to enable the helicopters to fly, and to prevent the ship from getting iced in.

They only had to suspend flying for about an hour, but it reminded us all that Antarctica can be an inhospitable, unpredictable and therefore a dangerous place to get caught out in.

Thankfully, we were stuck in the nice weather area.

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