Ship's Route:
From 11 to 12, 13, 14, 15
Monday, 26/11/2001 Neko Harbour
Noon navigation report from the bridge:
Location:Neko Harbour
Latitude:64°50'S
Longitude:062°33'W
Speed:At anchor
Air Temperature:8°C/48°F
Sea Temperature:0°C/32°F
Wind Speed/Direction:  Light

We steamed south through the evening (steamed is actually an anachronistic term here, because the Adventurer uses two large diesel engines for her propulsion and for generation of electricity) into the ever thickening, but still relatively loose pack ice. By the time most of us were up and about we were positioned just off Cuverville Island, where the Captain held the ship in close so we could see a small colony of Gentoo penguins (about 4,500 pairs), who were waddling around on the ice and snow, waiting for the melt which would reveal their nests from last year.

Further south still and we rounded a headland and entered the Erreira Channel, where we were greeted (fleetingly) by a lone Minke whale. Soon thereafter we had arrived at our morning destination: Neko Harbor. The ship dropped anchor beside a the terminus of the massive Rudolf glacier, towering hundred of feet above, often times vanishing into the thick low clouds and mists that swirled above. The morning was quite still, and the water was as smooth as glass, and indeed looking into the harbor was like looking into a clear slate blue mirror. Gentoo penguins were swimming about the ship on their way from feeding in the open water and the nearby narrow gravel shelf that served as a beach. These stocky flightless water fowl were incredibly agile in the water, and as fearless in this element as on land -- they would frequently swim past our zodiacs, proposing like dolphins.

The peace and tranquility were only broken by the muffled sounds of our zodiac engines, which were quickly silenced as we all gathered once again upon the actual Antarctic continent.
Neko Harbour is an old whaling center, but remnants of that trade are gone, brought down by the fierce winter storms and buried beneath the snow and ice. A small bright red Argentine refuge hut, complete with a pair of sheath-bills standing as ornaments the roof, was the only sign of man (aside from ourselves), and it required a determined effort and great expense from the Argentinian government to keep even this tiny shelter maintained.

The snow and ice was still some two meters thick over most of the land, and as we stood on the gravel and rock of the beach, Gentoos walked over on the ice and peered inquisitively down at us. As we watched them watching us, our attention was quickly directed back toward the harbour as we heard a loud crack, followed by a booming crash and splash caused by a chunk of ice calving off the glacier.

Penguins continued to come to and from the water, passing right by us (and sometimes treading on our boots) in their haste to get onto land or into water. There was only a small distance we could hike, but for the most part we simply stood and stared, and occasionally took a photograph.

Of all of the places we have ever been, and of all the experiences we have ever had, Neko Harbour was by far the most sublime, and easily the highlight of the entire trip. There was beauty in every form and hue, and it was ever changing as the clouds swept pass, sometimes obscuring all but the most immediate of our surroundings, and other times opening wide to reveal the sun and an entire new spectrum of color, light and wonder. It was emotionally painful to leave.

Like people bereft of will we stumbled back into our zodiac, still gaping at everything around us, and returned to our ship. Our guide took pity on us and set a very slow and circuitous course around the harbor back to the ship.

There was a very pleasant surprise awaiting us back on board the Adventurer. The hotel staff had arranged for a picnic on the rear deck, overlooking the calm waters of Neko Harbour on one side, and the towering face of Rudolf glacier on the other. We dined outside in the most grand dining room of all time, enjoying our location, our friends, and delighted to be alive and there then. We were able to enjoy this idyllic scene for another two hours before the ship slowly crept away, and we resumed our journey south.

In previous galleries I have removed as many duplicate or near duplicate images as possible to save space and download time. For Neko Harbour I was much less discriminating, because every image of that morning is precious to me, and I wanted to share it with all who visit our trip report, and who have managed to actually stick with the wandering narrative this far.

An Antarctic Picnic

Gallery

Paradise Harbor

As we left the perfection of Neko Harbour behind we passed by three Minke whales and a very large leopard seal resting on an ice flow, probably digesting its most recent meal of krill -- or penguin. We slowly made our way south along the coast, passing through dense patches of growler ice that was thickening rapidly as the day progressed. We arrived at Paradise Harbour soon after lunch, and while there was no place for us to land here this early in the season, we were treated to a two hour zodiac cruise through the ice. Words utterly fail to describe the majesty of what we were privileged to experience that afternoon, and so we will let the gallery speak for Paradise Harbour.

Gallery

Lemaire Channel

Our final goal for this day was to push as far south as possible, but the as the ice began to close in, our hopes for reaching the antarctic circle dimmed. We made good progress passing through the Neumayer Channel,
a spectacular narrow passageway through ice corridors, and continued south, passing the old British station at Port Lockroy. Towering mountains lined either side of the Peltier Channel, into which we passed, and then out again, where we spotted three orcas ahead in the distance. We could also see the entrance to our ultimate destination: Lemaire Channel: if we could pass through this scenic beauty, we would make the antarctic circle. As we entered Lemaire we could see the sunlight glowing brightly from the far end of the channel, and wondering what this might signify, we pushed forward. As we cruised south we could see storm clouds gathering to the east, hanging dark and ominously over the mountains, and then, like encircle arms, an equally foreboding line of darkness extended up and over the mountains on the west side of the channel. But directly before us, almost at the very end of the Lemaire was a solid line of white: the pack ice had been forced into this narrow outlet, possibly by the approaching storm, and now barred our way.

While disappointed, our spirits were still high as the ship turned around and made way to Port Lockroy, where we would lay in anchor for the night. Dinner was superb, as usual, and we talked long into the night with our fellow guests and staff, for we would leave the waters of Antarctica the next day, and we did not want to miss any of our precious remaining time by squandering it with sleep. After midnight we finally drug our physically weary bodies to our bunks and drifted off to sleep. The next day would bring its own surprise and a new type of adventure.

Gallery

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