As we leave Sea Spirit snow is falling thickly and doesn’t stop until we reach Half Moon Island. This is home to thousands of Chinstrap penguins but just for a few more weeks as they finish moulting and then take to the sea for winter with this season’s chicks.
Half Moon Island has a very peaceful feel about it. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but several people express a similar sentiment. The Chinstrap chicks are nick-named the “rock n’ roll” penguins because they are full of life, always on the go and they love to get in the muck – there basically right up to their necks in penguin poop!
They jump their way down scree slops from rock to rock with reasonable grace and balance, in fact it isn’t long before we are also adopting the penguin stance with our arms outstretched at a 45 degree angle for balance.
The island is quite large and we are free to meander across most of it during our three hour landing. In the further-most corner is a very large Weddell seal lying on a rock close to the water. So confident and self-assured in her place in the pecking order, she doesn’t even open an eye, let alone lift her head. One nostril opening and closing is the only sign this big beast is actually even alive. I’m fascinated with how much her mouth features look like the king of the jungle, the lion.
We find a quiet spot on a rock to sit and contemplate as this afternoon is our last landing before we head back across the dreaded Drake Passage. On my left is a steep scree slope which appears to be moving as it’s covered in Chinstrap chicks bobbing up and down. In front of me, blanketed in snow, is a gently sloping hill down to the water, across from here are steep mountains, glaciers and icebergs. To my right is a large snow covered plateau. The sun is peeking through and aside from the calls of the penguins and the odd grunt from a Fur seal, the predominant sound is that of the ice creaking and groaning. Every so often thunder-like sounds reverberate around the mountains as another piece of 10,000 year old ice carves off and falls hundreds of metres into the Antarctic waters to begin the next stage in its lifecycle.
How perfect is Antarctica?