Tales of a wandering chef

The hunt for the elusive shag

Come to Antarctica, they said. Be surrounded by amazing people (some of them are ok, to be fair), learn new skills (I can now consume 180 bar of air in under 9 minutes while grumbling to myself during fire training), eat amazing food (yeah, not happened yet) and hike 80 km around the island to stocktake lentils and tinned stew in the huts. (Wait, what?).

Throw in a couple of days assisting a ranger with the monitoring of cormorants, (also known as shags - the cormorants, that is, not the rangers) on the wild west coast and, well it’s not exactly running the toasted sanga section at your local RSL.

Setting off alone (comfortably the best way to see the island) on a cloudy, drizzly Monday I hot footed it over to Bauer Bay, where I discovered 38 tins of baked beans from around the same time Mawson last visited. After a quick lunch I continued on to Brothers Point, home of several optimistically titled sachets of Ainsley Harriot “luxury” couscous.

Next morning, cursing myself for carrying 1.5 litres of red wine, 3 wedges of Jarlsberg, half a kilo of chocolate and several other vital survival items all the way to a hut which was already well stocked with 2016 vintage liquorice and milo, it was time to head to Green Gorge. A firm favourite, the Gorge, with its very own freshwater paddling pool, also known as the tarn, is the hut often used as a staging post halfway between the station in the north and Hurd Point in the south. This is probably why the cupboards were bare of sustenance. Except of course, the 14 tins of steak and kidney pie (it’s traditional, honest) and 30 kg of raw sugar.

That evening also heralded the shattering of the peace as Kim the ranger arrived, and the next morning we left the safety of the track markers and went cross country to the west coast to count the Macquarie Island cormorant population. Blue eyed beauties, the cormorant, or shag, breed in several remote and windswept places in the Southern Ocean. They feed mostly on fish and marine invertebrates and are a striking bird that is sometimes overlooked on an island that has more than its fair share of stunning wildlife. Working south from Sellick Bay, stopping to overnight at Davis Point hut (home of some Timtams and noodles but not much else) we found many, many rocky outcrops and many, many smelly wallows, but not many, many cormorants. This was a tad disappointing but not unexpected as they frequently alter their breeding sites. There was however a nice group at Rockhopper Bay, where we climbed the world’s steepest, nastiest ascent to a height of 300 m. Honestly, it felt like 500 m at least.

Splitting up with Kim, I headed north in order to go south (I know, I know) and did a stocktake of Waterfall Bay and then Hurd Point. Hurd had around 40 toothbrushes in the storeroom, presumably for removing the taste of the 50-odd Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies from the mouths of anyone foolish enough to try them.

Macquarie Island is a place that always offers new experiences. I thought it would be a good idea to completely ruin my life by walking back to station in one go. It’s been done before many times but is usually the province of the more deranged type of expeditioner, like doctors and vegans. Leaving in a snowstorm, safe in the knowledge that only 80% of the island is actually uphill in every direction, I made it back to Green Gorge in a decent time of 4 hours and 20 minutes and was feeling good. Somewhat naively, I figured the second half would be pretty much the same before realising I’m actually stupid. Climbing out of fourways, about ¾ of the way home, I realised my stride was now that of a man seven times my already considerable age and all I wanted to do was lie down for a week. But I made it home and would do it again, never. A week later I was walking unaided and even smiling occasionally.

From Nick the Chef and the friendly neighbourhood Macca crew.