Antarctica: Orne Harbour

The third expedition day in Antarctica was a spicy one! This was day 5 of our time on the Ocean Endeavour and we’d had 4 amazing expeditions so far. All totally different to each other. Well, March 7, proved to be a different Antarctica experience to the previous days, especially to the glorious sunshine and views of our afternoon at Neko Harbour, the day before.

Sunrise from the deck

Another day, and another early alarm to grab some sunrise photos. I might have been tired, but there were only so many chances to see an Antarctic sunrise, so I layered up and headed out on deck at 5.45am to see where we were this morning.

It was relatively cloudy, but there were a few hints of pink in the sky today! Plus the dramatic Antarctic landscape we’d all come here to see. Even when cloudy it was still spectacular.

It might not have been the perfect weather for sunrises but we did get some nice colour in the sky, and a taste of the wind that was to come!

Cruising into the wind!

Our standby call for the morning expedition was 8am. After my sunrise viewing I’d headed off to breakfast and we were informed that the high wind meant our planned landing in Orne Harbour wasn’t going to happen, but we were still going out for a zodiac cruise.

Orne Harbour is a cove 1.6km wide, indenting the west coast of Graham Land talong the Danco Coast on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Gerlache in 1898.

There was a bit of a mad rush to get down to the mudroom, but the photo group all eventually made it, and we were quickly out on the zodiacs and heading into some windy and rough conditions. The wind meant it was one of the coldest expeditions of the cruise, but we quickly found some wildlife to make up for it.

My zodiac was being skippered by Bruno, who had just returned from a covid isolation. We joked that he had missed the beautiful weather of the previous expeditions, straight into some ferocious Antarctic conditions!

The Antarctic fur seals were hanging out on the rocks, seemingly oblivious to the unfortunate conditions.

It was snowing on us and there were 50 knot winds (93km/h), so lets just say it wasn’t ideal shooting conditions. We did quickly come across this seal who was going for a swim. Our zodiac was bouncing all over the place but we all attempting to get some shots of him swimming.

Bruno was doing a great job trying to position the zodiac around the rocks where we could then position ourselves in front of the seals. It wasn’t easy, but a few of them were posing for us!

Just hanging on the rocks with snow fluttering down on them! The seals played like toddlers, sliding in and out of the water and showing off when they knew we were watching.

About half the ship had made it out into the zodiacs, and the weather was continuing to deteriorate and we could see people being tossed around in the wind and spray. Our zodiac of photographers was having a wonderful time, challenging ourselves to stay in the zodiac while trying to get anything useful with the camera, but challenges are good!

Hello Chinstraps…..

Up until this expedition we’d only seen Gentoo penguins. Today we finally found colonies of Chinstrap penguins.

Chinstrap penguins inhabit a variety of islands and shores in the Southern Pacific and the Antarctic Oceans. Its name stems from the narrow black band under its head, which makes it appear as if it were wearing a black helmet, making it easy to identify. Chinstrap penguins weigh between 3 and 5kg and are approximately 71 to 76cm high. Unlike many penguin species the male and females are roughly the same size and look almost the same.

We found our first Chinstraps on their own and then some colonies of Gentoo penguins with a few cheeky Chinstraps hiding out to the side. See if you can spot those Chinstraps amongst the Gentoos….

It was so funny seeing a few little Chinstraps hanging out with their Gentoo friends. Mind you it was at times hard to see what we were taking photos of through the snow and bobbing zodiac…..

Chinstraps on the waddle…..

We didn’t get to land on this expedition, but Bruno got us into some great positions to watch the penguins up the hills. The long lenses definitely came in handy! This group up the hill had a little waddle along, following each other in often comical fashions.

Hello there little Chinstraps! The are exceptionally cute…….

You can tell who the leader is here………

…… and the snow kept coming!

As we cruised amongst the ice we had plenty to look at. Snow falling on the cold water, a seal trying to investigate our zodiac, and plenty of penguins!

This group of Chinstraps, high up on the icy hill were amusing to watch. Running everywhere and playing like small children. They were running, sliding, playing follow the leader, and of course fighting!

I’m fairly sure they were showing off for the camera!!!

A crazy ride…..

The weather just kept getting worse. The snow was really coming down, it was extremely cold, and those 50 knot winds had turned into 60 knot winds (111km/h). The zodiac drivers were doing an amazing job keeping us as stable as possible. A return to the ship was discussed between all the zodiacs that were out, but over the radios we heard that they had closed the side gates as it was too rough to get people in safely. So we were (at least temporarily) stuck out in crazy wind and snow.

We attempted to cruise around to get some more shots of the penguins and seals on the rocks, but that was also getting harder. Bruno wasn’t able to get us safely near the rocks much longer, and everyone’s cameras had quite the quantity of snow on them. Thank goodness for weather sealing and/or plastic bags over them!

Despite the photography being probably the most challenging of the whole trip – and I thought I’d gotten used to this shooting from a bobbing zodiac in freezing temperatures caper! We were still having fun, mostly. Everyone on our zodiac was discussing that it was a rather exhilarating experience being out in these conditions. Vastly different to previous days, and not something many people get to do. This was much more like the Antarctica experience some of us had anticipated.

There were quite a few zodiacs out circling, waiting for the gates to reopen so we could head back to the warmth of the ship. Most of the expeditions I’d been keen to stay out to the very last second, but this one I was pretty ready to head back.

The expedition staff said they were still planning to send the remaining groups out once we returned, but Bruno had told us it was unlikely given the weather conditions many more people would get out. Di was in the second half of mudroom groups for the morning, so I figured she hadn’t yet made it out, but it was quite hard to tell who anyone was, through the snow and wind, aside from those on your own zodiac.

We had quite a wait to get back on to the ship, so around we went to get a few more shots. At this point I was fairly sure I had nothing at all from the morning. Everyone on our zodiac was a bit skeptical we’d managed to capture a lot in the conditions. But we’d at least seen plenty. We had Curtis, the ship photographer, out with us on this expedition and even he said it was a long time since he’d had to do ‘spray and pray’ with the camera like we were doing now.

It turns out there were still some great shots from this very Antarctic experience!

We heard that they were now re-opening the side gates and everyone was being called back in. We’d been out an hour now and I think I’d lost feeling in my fingers and face but we had an exhilarating zodiac ride back in!

The wind was crazy and we were being tossed all over the place but it was definitely an experience!

As we made it back to the mudroom, I found Di, all geared up and ready to go out. I warned her what it was like out there and said to be prepared for the cold and wind but it was worth going as it was a wild experience and plenty of Chinstraps. She said a lot of those in the later groups had elected not to go out in the crazy conditions and there were only about 20 people down in the mudroom waiting.

As we somewhat expected they then decided to abandon any more expeditions for the morning as it was getting too dangerous, meaning a few groups did, unfortunately, miss out.

Grey skies and icebergs……

After getting all my wet gear off it was up to the lounge for a hot coffee and to check through the photos from the morning. Our expedition had only lasted about an hour and it wasn’t yet 10am so we had plenty of time before the afternoon outing.

As we cruised from Orne Harbour to the afternoon expedition spot of Wilhelmina Bay, there was plenty to look at. The flat grey skies certainly enhanced the icebergs and the colour of the water around the ice was often a beautiful turquoise.

It was funny seeing birds just hanging out on icebergs in the middle of nowhere! We had plenty of time to eat, watch the scenery go by and check through photos before the afternoon expedition. Despite the grey skies, the wind was dropping and it was looking better for the afternoon’s adventure.

It was wet and snowy all afternoon, but that never deterred people from being out on deck, taking in the scenery and there were always birds and whales around to see.

As we were approaching Wilhelmina Bay there were some seriously impressive icebergs around, and some lovely glassy ocean. What a contrast to the morning!

It was certainly shaping up to be an interesting afternoon out on the zodiacs. We’d entered yet another surreal landscape……

Up next – Wilhelmina Bay…

Our afternoon of expedition day 3 was spent in Wilhelmina Bay, where we had plenty of spectacular icebergs, a mother and calf whale encounter, and some amazing Weddell seals!

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