This week at the station
This week at Macquarie Island: 26 April 2013
The journey south
While the rest of the team were tucking into a hearty Beef Wellington back at VJM , a few of us were tucked away in distant parts of the island tucking into our own feast. I was on the latter part of a trip down island, and had stopped in at Tiobunga Hut for the night. A scrumptious meal of braised steak, eagerly prised from the can, accompanied by a tin of potatoes, re-hydrated corn, peas and beans was demolished in a ravenous fashion. Dessert on this occasion was a cup of tea and some fruit slice biscuits.
It was the end of day seven of a nine day trip that traversed the length and the breadth of the island. A total of 110 kilometres was covered which was a good test for my boots. By all means this is not a huge distance, but combine it with some rugged terrain, a burst of early season hail, snow, sleet and a gusting 45 to 50 knot westerly winds and you certainly feel that you’ve earned your tucker at night.
The primary focus for the trek was to assess the current status of some of Macca’s most important residents – the wandering albatrosses. Researchers earlier in the season, had confirmed the presence of breeding birds on the southwestern corner of Macquarie Island. Armed with GPS coordinates, my task was to assess the current status of the nesting and report back.
My route south was via the undulating eastern shoreline to Brothers Point Hut, past the royal penguin colony at Sandy Bay. I caught up with Angela and Leona and their hard working rodent detection dogs for the night which included a generous dessert of apple custard swirls in exchange for a few fresh rations brought from the station larder.
Hiking south the next day, I then dropped in with Nick and Mike for the evening at Green Gorge. Teams are going well there. I then continued south for the next night’s accommodation at the luxurious Waterfall Bay hut.
Still trekking south, I passed the enormous king penguin colony at Lusitania Bay and catch up with the MIPEP crew of Steve, Karen and Tom working down at Hurd Point. Special mail delivery on this occasion for Karen, a hand delivered letter from family at home. I took a short break from walking too far that day, with some royal penguin observations around the Hurd Point area. The colonies are now rapidly diminishing in numbers – heading off shore for winter feeding grounds. Soon the only evidence that the birds have been here will the large abandoned rookeries. They’ll be back in spring to start the breeding cycle all over again.
Heading to Caroline Cove, it was time to undertake the most important task of the trip and check on the status of the albatross chicks. This isolated corner of the island is very much the domain of birds. Sheer cliffs, craggy weathered basalt spires rising 200 to 300 metres above the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean. Perched high on some of these seemingly inaccessible spires, a simple nest, a turret of plant matter and mud, sitting aloft almost oblivious to the elements, a single albatross chick, partially protected from the chilly winds by stands of tussock grass.
Observations made, careful notes taken from concealment of the tussocks, I moved on. A number of nests were checked in the Caroline Cove area but I had one more to check further north up the coast. Not all good news, however, as one of the nests noted as being active earlier in the season was empty. Other nest showed activity, either adult birds or chicks, but winter in these parts of the subantarctic can be long and harsh.
Time to think about heading home! I arrived back on station just in time for a hearty seafood laksa thanks to chef Tony.
A day afloat
Finally, the day had come. After being set back the previous afternoon due to rising winds and over a month land bound, we were all keen to hit the water. Tony (Chef), Barry, Patty and I set off on our boating induction under the watchful eyes of Marty and Greg. The induction was combined with a sojourn south to relocate a few passengers and their tools to Brothers Point Hut for some much needed maintenance.
After initial safety briefings and a thorough check of the IRB’s sea worthiness, we all suited up and followed the tractor down to Landing Beach. If you’ve never worn a dry suit, the required apparel for water craft operations, it’s like wearing a baggy wetsuit that can be quite challenging/entertaining getting into or out of.
Before launch, the boats were sufficiently loaded with all our survival kit and the packs and equipment of those heading down island, so finding a seat was a bit of a challenge.
Once on the water, we headed straight for Brothers Point without too much delay as the ever changing weather of Macca dictates that all necessary objectives be met while the going is good. There are so many differing factors involved when landing and launching from individual sites that you can never be guaranteed access to where you want to go.
Yet the weather gods smiled on us and with the boats in capable hands, we bid farewell to our passengers, their packs and equipment at Brother’s Point and gratefully re-arranged ourselves to more comfortable position.
The trip down made me appreciate the boats capabilities as we covered a stretch of the East coast. During the week prior, in field training, I walked that part of the coast in approximately three to four hours, while we covered it in 45 minutes in the boats, with a lot more equipment than I could ever carry.
On our way back north to station, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to take our time and appreciate the abundant wildlife on Macca and just admire the island itself from our unique viewpoint. Even though it’s coming into winter and the majority of animals have left the island for the time being, there is still so much life here to observe and attempt to catch on film.
We finished the day with a quick look up at North Head, which has more to it than first expected and some interesting names such as Gorilla Head Rock and Goat Bay (sorry folks, no gorillas or goats anywhere). Thanks to Marty and Greg for a great day out and many thanks to Lionel, the consistently excellent landing beach facilitator.
Birthday celebrations for the Doc!
Age 26 with 57 years experience! With an impeccable memory - as he states that he apparently remembers at "one year of age" the Sputnik launch - we say Happy Birthday to Dr Clive Strauss!
We came together on Saturday to celebrate the Doc’s birthday with balloon streamers and party poppers. The chef, as always, cooked a feast! Self service veggie, chicken, lamb and fish kebabs followed by a beautiful cake - the Doc got to have his cake and eat it too.
ANZAC Day dawn service
It was with pride that the whole team gathered at the flag poles at dawn to commemorate ANZAC day and mark the 98th anniversary of the first landings by Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915.
With head torches at the ready, Craig, Chris, Nancye, Tony and Mark gave readings and prayers as the wind and rain swept off the ocean across the beach.
Thanks to Tony and Greg, the communications technicians, we were able to play the ‘Last Post’ on the isthmus before observing a minute’s silence and reflecting upon those who have died to protect our way of life, those on deployment now, those who have been wounded both physically and emotionally, as well as those who have stayed at home to support personnel on deployment.
As the dawn began to break the mood was sombre and contemplative.
Lionel, Josh and Patty then raised the flags to half mast.
The New Zealand and Australian national anthems followed before we returned to the mess for the traditional ANZAC ‘gunfire’ breakfast.