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02/15/2009

Neko Harbor, Cuverville Island

We grabbed a coffee and headed out on deck to watch as the Minerva meandered around scattered icebergs and brash ice in spectacular Anvord Bay. Soon the ship’s progress slowed to a halt, the zodiacs were lowered, and we set out for the lovely Neko Harbor. For many of us, this would be our first time actually setting foot on the seventh continent!

Neko Harbor was named for the Norwegian floating factory ship Neko, which used to enter the protected harbors of the region in the early part of the 20th century. Today, the site is dominated by a small orange refuge hut, and a gentoo penguin colony with extremely friendly and curious chicks. Many of us decided to make the hike to the ridge line above but were distracted by the fuzzy chicks, which stood watching us from both sides of the path. Once past the colony, we ascended a steep snow-covered hill and cut back to a rock outcropping from which we could see Anvord Bay in its entirety. It was a sight to behold!

Down below, we sat and watched the penguins, and absorbed the scene in its entirety. A massive glacier with cerulean blue crevasses cascaded down to the sea adjacent to the boulder-strewn beach. On occasion, huge chunks of ice calved off into the sea, joined by loud cracking sounds and large rolling waves which crashed high up onto the shoreline. It was a magical morning indeed.

Back on the Minerva, the grills were lit and preparations made for an Antarctic barbeque out on the pool deck, hosted by Executive Chef Tony Wilson, Maitre d’ Greg Newman and Hotel Director Lech Straszewski. The band played on despite the cold, and we danced between courses and cocktails. Bananas Foster was the perfect finale to a perfect meal, and we thanked the staff profusely for braving the elements to put on such an extravaganza for us.

After lunch, we arrived at Cuverville Island, a dome-shaped island which is one of the most verdant places in all of Antarctica. We landed on a cobble beach, and had the opportunity to wander either direction down the shoreline. On one end of the beach, we could make out the deteriorated remains of the stone nests constructed by the nesting gentoos back in November. The chicks were nearly full grown and hardly in danger of predation by South Polar skuas, though they quickly reassembled back into their tightly grouped crèches when a low-flying skua cruised overhead.

There was time for a zodiac tour at the end, the highlight of which was a stop at the “bar boat”. The staff poured us champagne and we toasted to all we have seen and learned on this trip “south”. Upon arriving back on the ship, we began to assemble in the Lounge for the last of our Recaps when a call came from the bridge that humpbacks were everywhere around the ship. The Minerva had arrived in Dallman Bay, a known haunt for humpbacks during the southern summer, and this had certainly held true today. Groups were scattered everywhere we looked, many of them lunge feeding. This feeding behavior was driving krill to the surface, and Antarctic terns were taking full advantage by plucking up stunned krill off the water’s surface.

Recap followed with review of the whale species we had encountered on the trip, a note on sustainable seafood, and a bit about why ice is blue. At dinner, the ice-covered land out the windows soon faded to cloudy sky and before we knew it, we were in the Drake Passage en route to Ushuaia.
 

   

Morning light at our continental landing at Neko Harbor

Another helpful Gentoo chick resets our marker flags

We have close encounters of the finest kind with the curious Gentoo chicks

Under a light snowfall we enjoy another midday BBQ on the Pool Deck

As a final treat, we discover a champagne boat as we leave our last landing at Cuverville Island.


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