Macquarie Island is being visited by a record number of cruise ships this season — 15 visits by 4 different ships.
All ships spend one to two days at Macca. Their first visit is usually to the Isthmus, where up to 7 station guides lead groups of 15 around the station and surrounds. However, Sandy Bay is usually the highlight. Here guests can roam at will amongst king and royal penguins, and, if they’re lucky, get crawled on by curious elephant seal weaners. Some of the ships also do zodiac cruises at Lusitania Bay (a huge king penguin colony), but we don’t generally assist in those operations.
As a TASPAWS volunteer guide, I’ve guided almost all of the visits so far. The first ship was both exciting and slightly unnerving — we hadn’t seen people from the outside world for almost three months! Now that we’re well into the season, it’s like welcoming back old friends, and after two intense days it’s always sad to see them go.
Each ship has a slightly different flavour. The ice-strengthened sister ships, the Akademik Shokalskiy and Spirit of Enderby, which carry a maximum of 50 guests, are always brimming with very avid birders and professional photographers. The former Russian icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, is decked out with a lot of extras for its 100 guests (such as a couple of nine-seater helicopters), while the purpose-built Orion, which also caters for 100 people, very much has an air of luxury about it.
As Macca guides we get quite a few ‘perks’ in exchange for our hospitality. For example, a few weeks ago Bree, Eve and I got our hair cut on the Orion, free of charge. We also often get invited for lunch or dinner, sometimes both — ship guests watch on in fascination as we head straight to the fruit bowl/salad bar. On a few occasions we’ve even stayed the night.
The most rewarding part, however, is getting to meet some genuinely lovely and talented people — both among the expedition crew and guests. Their excitement is contagious, and for me it’s like reliving my own first day on the island. I’ve also seen how the island can change people — some are moved to tears. I know they’ll go back home and tell everyone about how special Macquarie Island is.
By Claudia Babirat