Field training gets underway, the east coast is subjected to huge swells and we sample our first aurora on the island this week

Field training Macca style

Within the AAD, all research stations fall under the same operational blanket, and between stations there is a lot of overlap in form, function, and society. One such overlap is the requirement for field and survival training that all expeditioners must undertake to be allowed off station for recreation or work duties. Three years ago I participated in field training at Mawson station; spent two nights in the field with two other winterers and a Field Training Officer FTO) gaining familiarity with our surroundings, field huts, navigation, field craft, RF communications and general AAD procedures.

Which brings us to last week: I joined up with two other winterers and a FTO to spend two nights in the field, gaining familiarity with our surroundings, field huts, navigation, field craft, RF communications and general AAD procedures.

Thursday saw us wandering off station, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and full of chatter and bravado. And then rather rapidly and rudely we ran into one of the glaring differences between field travel on the continent and field travel on Macquarie Island. It’s called Doctor’s Track!

You see, in Antarctica you get to cruise around in the comfort of a Hägglunds or astride a quad bike like some kind of petrol powered super hero. It’s easy and breezy and convenient. On Macquarie, you get to cruise around on your own two feet, dragging all your essential survival equipment and arguably less essential camera equipment with you along the way. And if you can’t be motivated trudging up 400ft of mud and grass in the cold, wet, and rain, then buddy, you're staying at home.

Doctor’s Track is so named because after using it you're going to need one…and it’s the main highway off station.

Like the wolf of Three Little Pigs fame we huffed and puffed and blew our knees out, but we did eventually make it to the top of the rise and were rewarded with level track for our efforts. We slogged along in magnificent sub-Antarctic wilderness for the rest of the day, making it to our accommodation around four in the afternoon (sunset!). Bauer Bay hut lies about 1/4 of the way down the west coast of the island and is built in what I would call traditional remote hut style.

At Bauer we baked bread, cooked dinner, dried our gear, reviewed good radio communications practices, discussed our plans for the following day and settled in for an early evening to recover from our first day of walking Macquarie Island!

Day two dawned with more uncharacteristically civil weather, and saw us clear of the hut by 9:00am. The day was dominated with off-track navigation lessons and practice, and also with a few short, sharp, practical lessons (on my part) about not stepping in subterranean lakes by accident, and if you do happen to accidentally fill a gumboot with water don’t stop in a buzzy patch to change socks.

After trudging south, then up unto the plateau again, then east through marsh, bog, and hills to the east coast we met up with RIC, our resident Ranger-in-Charge, for a quick discussion about local flora, then dropped off the east coast of the plateau to Brother’s Point hut for our second night in the field.

Brother’s Point hut is a little more aesthetically exotic than the Bauer Bay hut; it’s a ‘Googie’ or ‘Smartie’ hut, a design which I have only ever seen with the AAD. It functions perfectly though, and provided us with a cosy environment to review a few navigation techniques and play hut games well past Macca Midnight (about 2100).

Dawn broke to our perfect weather turning a touch windy, and with forecasts of deteriorating weather we fixed station firmly in our sights and started north along the east coast, aiming for home. Along the way we paused for a morning rendezvous with our old friend RIC again to discuss the tourism at Sandy Bay and the local colonies of King and Royal penguins. Most of the rest of the trek home was across beach boulders with short stints of inland go-arounds through tussock and bog. And then, before we knew it, North Head and station were in sight, and we were back on station. Eager for a shower, a nap, and another chance to get off station.​

By Angus Cummings

Rough weather and auroras

For some, Sunday is a day of rest…and what an impressive day this last Sunday was.

Strong easterly weather pounded the coastline with roaring waves crashing into Garden Cove and all along Buckles Bay. Howling winds rocked the buildings and driving sleet peppered the windows.

Stay inside, stay dry, stay warm — that was the motto for the day.

Then, like a spent balloon, it fell flat.

The skies cleared, the stars came out and we were treated to our best aurora australis to date. The combination of continuing surf with the drop in winds led to a light sea mist that hung ethereally in the foreground as verdant greens and occasional reds danced high in the atmosphere.

It’s the nights (and days) like these that make the journey south so memorable for those of us lucky enough to be here.

By Richard Youd