Paradise Bay is our stop for the afternoon and although it’s stunning it’s not the scenery that initially helped get its name. It was known as paradise to the whalers, which braved the elements to seek their fortune in this area of the Antarctic. It paid off for many of them, but the devastation to the Blue, Sei and Fin whale species was catastrophic and none have truly recovered to this day.
The bay is home to numerous glaciers, so many in fact that some remain unnamed. It’s a great time to visit as while it is still classified as summer, the ice is starting to join together in the water signifying it’s almost the beginning of the next season.
We zoom around in our Zodiac and John, our guide and driver, takes us in amongst the ice. It’s a crunchy sound initially as we cross over from the water into the ice but then it sounds like crystals tinkling. Waves of ice cascade with the movement of the boat only stopping when they hit an iceberg ahead of us.
Cliffs rise straight up from the water and they appear to be moving with the large numbers of cormorants who have chosen to nest here. As the parents swoop in, similarly to penguins, the young cormorants adopt behaviour which borders on harassment, until they receive the regurgitated recently caught fish. The young then thrust their heads deep inside the adults’ throat desperate for their supper.With so many birds present we know krill is plentiful here and we keep our eyes peeled for whales. It is literally minutes before we see two Minke whales gracefully surfacing. They continue along the seam where glacial ice meets sea water and now knowing how quickly they disappear we don’t dare reach for our cameras.
Now it’s time for our second continent landing at Almirante Brown where the Argentineans have a research base, although it is not occupied at the moment.
A great yarn is recounted of a popular navy doctor stationed here in the 1940s. After their 12 month tenure is up, the ship arrives to take them home. The doctor to told he is to stay for another 12 months as there is no doctor to replace him. Disgusted in this, as the ship leaves he takes the gasoline supplies and sets the research station on fire, however as they ship is sailing away from them, no one spots the flames leaping 30 metres into the air. The now, very unpopular doctor is forced to stay in a very small out-shed with the other 20 odd men until they can alert another ship passing by to rescue them all. As the doctor was a military man, once rescued, he was then court marshalled when he got to Buenos Ares.
We begin our assent and after a short time the terrain is vertical and our boots disappear into the snow. Our efforts pay off when we reach our summit looking down 140 metres to where we have just been zipping around in the Zodiac. We’re above the cormorants nesting spot so it is now us that have the bird’s eye view.
One of my clients is a great New Zealand company called ecostore, we have these fantastic t-shirts and there is an internal competition to have your photo taken in the coolest places wearing it – I think I might take the cake on this one!
Coming down is easy. Our track has become a homemade snow slide and with our arms outstretched like penguins for balance and our boot heels for brakes, it’s one fantastic ride to the bottom.