A common question when speaking with folks on the topic of travels in and about the great southern continent is ‘did you see the emperor penguins?'
Alas, too many times I have had to simply say ‘one or two'. Not so on Sunday!
Mawson’s blue and yellow Hägglunds, under the leadership of Captain Pete Layt and First Mate Doug McVeigh saw to it that another six expeditioners were taken out on a glorious, crystal blue still day to Auster Rookery.
As if the three hour bumpy journey out over the sea ice through groves of majestic and melting bergs wasn’t fabulous enough (!), a few stops to drill for depths of ice, then ‘This is the spot! Just a short walk from here'.
The regal birds had relocated this season about 6 kms south east of their old haunt to a far more salubrious location, a beautiful sheltered ice amphitheater two or three kilometres across (makes you wonder how they all agree on such decisions).
So, for those of us that see this incredible sight for the first time, it is, for want of a better analogy — like being in Happy Feet.
Chicks all fluffed up in big downy suits, chirping for all they're worth, wings-a-flapping in the heat (−3° C) and the nannies seemingly orchestrating some sort of order in the crèche.
Thousands of birds large and small spread over this massive arena all going about some sort of important business.
We kept our distance and stayed low and still and it still didn’t take long for the official welcoming committee to waddle up to our location for an inspection. Once their initial curiosity was satisfied, a few of them decided to lay down also, happy in our company, a magical moment of a close encounter with totally wild animals!
Many happy snaps, then time to go.
The journey home was broken with a stop at Macey Island Hut, where the comical Adèlie penguins amused us all with their rock stealing antics.
A rare photo shoot opportunity at a couple of massive jade bergs a little down the track followed, with dessert at Paterson Island to inspect a small herd of Weddell seal mums and pups, so laid back, our group barely warranted a change of position for them. Although one young one was most entertaining slipping and sliding for a better spot to get a big mouthful of snow.
A unique day ended back at station with yummy pizzas for dinner and with eight weary but hugely impressed expos.
Until next time, Clint.