Classic Antarctica Trip Log (6 - 18 Jan, 2018) - Sunday, Jan 14

Sunday, January 14: Deception Island & Hannah Point
January 2018

There seems to be no end to the fine weather. This morning’s destination was Deception Island which is famous for being blanketed under a pall of low cloud, but today was enjoying high cloud with breaks for blue skies and sunshine. The island gets its name because it looks like a 'normal' solid island until you get round to one position and can see through a gap - Neptune's Bellows - that reveals the caldera (flooded crater) of a volcano. Neptunes Bellows was so-named because of ‘the gusts that blow in and out as if they came through a trumpet or funnel’.

The captain had to manoever ‘Le Lyrial’ very carefully through Neptune’s Bellows because there is a submerged rock in the entrance. The rusting remains of a whalecatcher on one bank is witness to a captain who got it wrong. Once inside we could look around the broad caldera to the ash-covered shores, still partly covered by snow. In the distance there were the remains of the whaling station that operated between 1911 and 1931 and where the British later had a station. It was damaged by a volcanic eruption and abandoned in 1969, the neighbouring Chilean base having been demolished by an eruption the previous year. Only the Argentine station remains and it was later joined by a Spanish station. Deception is also famous for the first aircraft flights in Antarctica which were made by the Australian Hubert Wilkins in 1928.

Our destination was Telefon Bay named for a Norwegian freighter the Telefon. It had gone aground not far away and the crew escaped to Deception Island. The ship was then refloated and brought round to Deception Island and beached. Next year, she was repaired, refloated and sailed to Punta Arenas, Chile. Our trip ashore at Telefon Bay consisted of a steady hike up a slope to the lip of a small crater where geologist Daria explained the volcanic scenery. It was a pleasant, not too taxing walk among interesting scenery.

We had another good look at the caldera scenery as we left Deception Island, squeezed back through Neptunes Bellows and into open sea. Time for lunch during the short passage to the afternoon’s landing at Hannah Point.

Hannah Point is a very special place. It is a wildlife paradise, even by the standards of the places we have already visited. Because of the abundance and diversity of wildlife and its sensitivity to disturbance, it is closed until 10 January. Moreover, only 50 visitors are allowed ashore at one time and we had to split into small groups for guided walks. One reason for taking especial care was the numerous nesting giant petrels. Unlike penguins, for example, giant petrels (known as stinkers by generations of Antarctic visitors) abandon their nests when approached, leaving the eggs and chicks vulnerable to their neighbours. Another reason is the unusual amount of vegetation. It was mostly a sward of green algae that looked like a rather rough snooker table but there were profuse growths of lichens on the rocks and tufts of Antarctic hair grass, one of the two ‘higher plants’ in the Antarctic.

The main attraction, however, was the colony of chinstrap penguins who had well-grown young. The chicks were becoming too large for their parents to cover them and they would soon be gathering into creches. One of the features of a chinstrap colony is the way one penguin starts to display – pointing its beak at the sky, flapping its flippers and trumpeting. Then others join in until there is a noisy cacophony of flipper-waving penguins. There was another little treat at Hannah Point: a pair of macaroni penguins. This species nests mostly farther north but a few pairs are to be seen in the South Shetlands. The macaroni is distinguished by the plumes of orange plumes on its head and the name comes from the traditional song: ‘put a feather in his hat and called it macaroni’.

Although our stay at Hannah Point had to be brief, we were then ferried across to Walker Bay where we could visit groups of sleeping elephant seals and a collection of fossils that had been gathered by previous visitors. Daria was on hand to describe the minerals and fossils of ferns and trees.

And so we returned from our last landing, after ‘another fine day in paradise’. There was a widespread feeling that the cruise had exceeded all expectations and the last landing was the best of the lot. 

Click Here to read 'Monday, January 15: Drake Passage'