Our objective today is to go as far south into the approved collection Zone B as we can.
Fred and I left Base Camp at 08:15 and headed south. We had made an agreement to leave cameras untouched until we were across ground we had previously travelled as we knew more photos stops would just slow us down. I’d like to say we stuck to the agreement but NO. By the middle of the Nularbor we were snapping away again.
At the base of Mt Andre / Nularbor a small group of King penguins approached us and commenced the usual meet and greet process that we have come to expect from them – more photos.
We continued on south and were soon at the northern end of South West Bay where we stopped to take in the view. The bay stretched out to the south, the wind was coming in from the west, the waves were crashing in on the shore and the misty rain was creating an blurred view of the Kildakelly headlands.
A group of 8 huge male elephant seals that had hauled out onto the beach at the base of Kildakelly Head took our attention and we spent 30 minutes watching and photographing before continuing south. We crossed a small glacial stream and noted several very small fresher water streams that just disappeared into the sand.
We crossed the Schmidt glacier stream right on the shoreline where it spread out into many small flows and then we continued south to Erratic Point. The surf at this point was whipped by the wind and reasonably rough as it smashed onto the large rocks 10-20 metres of the beach.
We had been observing a greater volume of marine debris on the western beaches and Fred and I completed a count of bottles and other debris items on 100metres of beach at Erratic point area. The results were enough to make me feel physically sick!
I was surprised how badly this affected me but here we saw the impact on Heard Island from those many 1000’s of kilometres away. The gully was awash with waste. In a 30m stretch we counted –
- 55 600mm – 1.5l plastic drink bottles
- 7 cleaning product plastic bottles
- 1 very large plastic flows (1m circumference approx.)
- 1 large marine float with antenna
- 2 polystyrene floats
- 1 gas cylinder
The good news from this location was that we saw out one and only (to date) Macaroni penguin. We came across this little guy as we climbed the ridge (old moraine) out of the gully. He sat all alone on the very edge of the 5m drop down to the beach looking seaward. It was almost as if he were asking “how did I get left behind? Maybe he was sick and unwilling to take the plunge and go to sea?
Cresting this ridge brought even more “new” views to comprehend. There was a Gento penguin rookery to our left (inland) approx 100m and 300m approx further south was the Vahsel glacier.
Fred headed directly down to the beach while I took a short detour to the Gento rookery.
Black and white – they were the overriding colours in this landscape. The black of the beach sand and rock and grit of the moraine debris on the ice, the white of the glacier ice. And amongst all this the flashes of gold of the King penguins.
We turned inland and followed the stream back to the first of the lagoons that we had seen from the ridge. There were King penguins here and they made great photo subjects with the glacier as a backdrop.
Further up the stream we came to the next lagoon with small icebergs floating in it – more photos!
We turned north here and regained the ridgeline , we were in a new world again. Lush green moss, azorella plant that flowed over rocks like a waterfall and Kerguelen Cabbage. It was sensory overload – we had seen and experienced too much since leaving camp.
We were in an area that formed a small basin area – sheltered from the light wind and could see north to Atlas cove and the Braveheart was just visible anchored in the bay.
I convinced Fred that I had to “summit” the small rise approx 50m to the west, once another higher point was in view and off course I continued on. As well as the HUGE views north to Atlas cove I now had a view to the east, a lush green valley with several streams running down it from the Schmidt glacier and at the base of this cliff was a large penguin colony. This was a no brainer – we had to descend and make a detour up this valley.
We slipped out way down the northern side of our ridge, crossed a freshwater stream and made a small height gain over kilometre (approx) distance to the penguins. This was a real penguin experience – thousands of king penguins and chicks from this years hatch with their brown down still to shed. And the smell was overpowering.
We spent about an hour watching the penguins before setting off for Base Camp. This required us to return to the West Bay beach to pass the glacial stream, cross the Nularbor and then the final stretch into Base camp.
If you enjoyed this glimpse into Heard Island like my page as I’ve got more stories coming as my Heard Island Expedition continues.