When I received the news, way back in July 2011, that I would be spending a winter at Mawson, the first thought to flash through my mind was emperor penguins. I had seen photos and watched documentaries but had never actually seen an emperor penguin up close. Fast forward to July this year and finally I had my chance.We were heading out to Macey Island and then on to Auster to see the Emperor penguin colony, which gathers there on the sea ice each year to breed.
Our small party, consisting of my good self, Mel and Bron (with Bear Grylls), made all the necessary arrangements for the journey.
- Hägglunds ready-check.
- Food and water-check.
- Communication gear-check .
- Survival packs. All there.
We were ready to go. All we needed now was a suitable weather window. We did not have to wait long. It came on Friday the 13th July. We set off.
Poor surface definition and low cloud made the trip out there very slow and arduous. However, we persisted. Finally arriving at Macey Island hut some 5 hours later. We set ourselves up in our new temporary home, unloading our supplies from the Hagg and getting the gas heater working. The plan was to stay at Macey hut that night and head out to Auster, and the penguins, early the next morning.
After a good night’s sleep we awoke early, had a hearty breakfast (toast and a cuppa) and set off.
Auster is about a 40 minutes Hagg ride from Macey Hut. We were fortunate that the weather had improved considerably compared to the previous day and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise. So good in fact that we stopped to take some photos (as good expeditioners always do).
On to Auster.
We found the colony and the wait was over. There they were. Huddled together en mass, cold and isolated. Truly a remarkable sight. We had a welcoming committee of five emperors out to greet us. They were just as curious about us as we were about them. We kept a respectable distance and sat back to enjoy the sight before us.
After a while (and many photos later), the extreme cold began to take effect and we decided to sneak away quietly, back to the relative warmth and comfort of the Hagg. There was one more thing to see while we were at Auster. A jade iceberg was within sight of the colony so we headed over to take a quick peek at this unusually coloured object. My first thought was that it looked very similar in colour to the much prized “Mawson Green Diamond”. In fact, it is just ice. Green (or jade) ice results when seawater freezes beneath ice shelves. So, keeping a respectable distance once again, out came the cameras and we got busy taking some shots of the awesome scenery surrounding us.
After this, we jumped back into the Hägglunds and returned to Macey Hut to reflect on what was a truly amazing day.
“Would not be dead for quids.”