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.

Many thousands of king penguins including chicks in soft downy feathers, standing shoulder to shoulder along a section of rugged coastline at Lusitania Bay. Being observed from a slope above the the colony by the ranger
Penguins at Lusitania Bay
(Photo: Chris Howard)
One of the unique bubble shaped  huts used by expeditionerís working in isolated areas of Macquarie Island
Luxury accommodation at Waterfall Bay. A very welcome sight at the end…
(Photo: Chris Howard)
A uniquely modified water tank hut. These structures were specially built for the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Programme and were flown in place by helicopter. They provide a valuable refuge from the harsh conditions experienced on the island
A somewhat unique style of accommodation built around a water tank and…
(Photo: Chris Howard)
A panoramic view of the rugged mountainous coastline of Caroline Cove on the south-west coast of Macquarie Island. Sheer basalt escarpments rising steeply from the chilly Southern Ocean. A boulder strewn craggy coastline posing many dangers for early sailors and seamen travelling these waters. The Caroline, a sailing ship was wrecked in this location in 1825
Caroline Cove, a very rugged remote section on the southwestern corner of…
(Photo: Chris Howard)
An albatross chick sitting on a nest amongst the tussock grass. This chick has a long tenuous journey ahead if it is to survive and ultimately contribute to the breeding population. Life for this chick in the sub-Antarctic can be very harsh
One of only five active nests known to exist on Macquarie Island…
(Photo: Chris Howard)
The rugged windswept terrain on the west coast of Macquarie Island seen from Cape Star. Freshly fallen snow covers the ground and the heavy grey clouds to the north mean more snow is on the way
The rugged windswept terrain on the west coast of Macquarie Island seen…
(Photo: Chris Howard)
Deceptively lush rolling hills of Green Gorge and the swampy valley floor. The hills in this picture are in fact covered in a very spongy cushion of soft swampy grass that makes cross country walking very slow. The ground in the valley floor is very swampy and wet
Green Gorge Tarn. The rolling hills of the east coast are deceptive.…
(Photo: Chris Howard)

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.

Aaron Tyndall 

Marty, on the left holding up a piece of equipment (EPIRB) while Clive and Patty look on
Learning about the EPIRB before heading out on the water
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The rocky Landing Beach where a boat (IRB) is being launched from a trailer which is in the shallow water, but is attached to a green tractor.
Launching the boats
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Looking out from Landing Beach, with the green tractor at the waters edge and two boats in the water, about 100 metres offshore.  A cloud bank on the horizon with a part rainbow in the centre background
A great day for boating
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
One of the IRB's with expeditioners and equipment, heading south along the rugged, steep sloped East coast. The Nuggets, rock stacks, in the back ground and North Head (station) in the distance
East coast, heading south
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
A IRB in the foreground with the rugged hilly coast in the background. There are many small streams and valleys on the slopes.
Heading south along the east coast
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Taken from one of the IRB's about 100 metres offshore. The shore party of three are walking along the beach up to Brothers Points hut On the far left of picture. Just behind the beach are the steep and rugged slopes
The shore party
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Taken from one of the IRB's. An old hut and penguins on the beach. Rocks and kelp in the foreground and the island protruding up from the beach
The ever changing landscape
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
One of the Nuggets up close. massive rock stack protruding out of the water. The steeply sloped upper part is covered in vegetation of various shades of green and brown. Several sea birds are perched on a gentler sloping left side. As it was near low tide a 'skirt' of kelp can be seen near the water line
One of the 'Nuggets' up close
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Taken from the stern of a IRB. The other IRB can be seen following in the wake. The rock stacks of the Nuggets and the rugged, steep slopes can be seen in the background
Heading north from the Nuggets
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
One of the IRB's slowly makes its way along the coast of North Head. The coast has many protruding rocks and plenty of kelp
Heading up to North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Taken from on of the IRB's. The other IRB following with the steep pointed Tern Rock rising out of the water in the background with the main part of the island further in the background
Passing alongside the east side of North Head
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The strange island landmass that is Gorilla Head Rock. Situated off North Head, the geological structure of it is impressive
Gorilla Head Rock
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Patty wearing s blue binny sitting with Greg and Tony on the boat
Patty, Greg and Tony
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Aaron Tony and Josh sitting in the boat blue sky behind them
Aaron, Tony and Josh
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Josh waving good bay on the beach with his back pack ans walking pole wearing his socks and no shoes
Josh left shoeless on the beach
Tony and greg looking out from the boat the water behind the with a trail of white wash and some land marks in the background
Tony and Greg on the boat
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
The ocean and part of Macquarie Island landscape with a boat up ahead
Out and about

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.

A tray lamb and chicken kebabson the table next to it are two white dishes one with fish kebabs the other with veggie kebabs some piita bread and sauces all sitting on a table with a white cloth
Doctor's Dinner
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Marty, Barry and Mark sitting at the table eating kebabs a tray of sauces on the right
Marty, Barry and our fearless leader Mark getting into some tucker
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Dr Clive Stauss sitting down on a couch leaning forward ready to cut his birthday cake with the knife in hi hand
Dr Clive Strauss and his birthday cake
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Chris, Aaron and John sitting at the bar eating kebabs, balloons and streamers above them
Boys eating up
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Craig with pitta bread and ingredients on his plate and Dave making kebabs
Craig and Dave
(Photo: Patty Villegas)
Tony finishing of his dinner sitting on a stool a white board behind him the bar on the right of him with some balloons and streamers attached to it
(Photo: Patty Villegas)

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.

Three Expeditioners fixing flags to flag poles
The flag bearers
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Group of expeditioners at dawn
The team at dawn
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The team at dawn service on the isthmus
Dawn service
(Photo: Barry Becker)
The team at the dawn service with NZ, Australian and Aboriginal flags in the foreground
The dawn service with flags in the foreground
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Three expeditioners, Steve, Mark and Craig
Steve, Mark and Craig
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Station team in front of flags
The team in front of the flags
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Chef serving breakfast
Chef Tony serves the 'gunfire' breakfast
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Photo of table with menu
The ANZAC Day menu
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Team members toasting on Anzac day in the mess in front of Australian flag
The team gather for a toast
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Breakfast food on a table with a trumpet
The breakfast bar
(Photo: Barry Becker)