Neko Harbour and the Lemaire Channel

Nov 25, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

Yesterday was so sunny and warm that we had to keep reminding ourselves we were in Antarctica.  This was not the case today.  It was eminently clear from the frigid 45 mile-an-hour gusts, which lifted the snow from the mountain slopes above Neko Harbour and blew it hard across our faces, that we were on the southern continent.  As our noses dripped, they grew cold, then numb.  Our hands, too, were numb from peeling off our mittens just long enough to snug up our parkas.  There was little we could do to stave off the cold…AND WE LOVED IT!  This was the Antarctica that we had read about; that we had seen in the documentaries; that we imagined when we thought of the heroic explorers dragging themselves across the continent.  We had enjoyed our earlier days under Bermuda skies, but now we understood what this continent was capable of.  And instead of fleeing back to our ship for hot pads and hot totties, we embraced the weather and hiked high up above the landing.  Gentoo penguins stood stoically on their nests, backs to the wind, with only a few uttering their bray-like calls.  Many of us hiked further, past the highest penguins, to a bluff that overlooked a magnificent glacier.  Only yesterday, the same glacier had calved producing a wave so large that it swamped the landing and took with it another hapless ships’ life jackets.  When it was time to head back down, some of us took a shortcut.  We threw caution to the wind and hurled ourselves on our bums down the snow-covered slope.  One by one, guests slid, then rolled, then cartwheeled down the hill, arms and legs (and hats and walking sticks) flailing about.  You could hear their squeals and laughter all the way down at the landing.

After lunch, National Geographic Orion headed further south.  Our destination was the Lemaire Channel.  “Kodak Alley,” “Pixel Pass” - the origin of the various names bestowed on this scenic channel was obvious.  It was a beautiful and narrow pass, bordered by steep mountains and glaciers, and chock full of ice.  On the other side, we passed by the Ukranian Vernadsky Station.  A small inflatable boat with several bundled humans approached from the distance and waved us down.  We soon realized that they were researchers from the station, and, having spent the entire winter there, were eager to socialize with us.  So after dinner we headed to the station and were given a tour of their facility, which was great fun.  The evening was capped off with shots of homemade hooch – Ukranian vodka – at their wonderful little bar.  Soon, there were smiles and rosy cheeks on everyone’s face, which lasted the whole Zodiac ride back to the ship, and late into the night as we laughed about another amazing day.   

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About the Author

Andy Szabo


Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Andy moved from the whale-impoverished shores of Lake Ontario to the west coast of British Columbia to pursue his passion for marine mammals and marine biology.  Andy received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Victoria, and was subsequently awarded his doctorate through the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.  His graduate work focused on the maternal behavior and foraging ecology of Southeast Alaskan humpback whales; however, he has also participated in studies focused on other marine mammals, including blue, fin, grey, sperm and killer whales.

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