In this new installment of Expedition Spotlight, Cultural Specialist Alexander Hillary shares his knowledge and passion for the spectacular natural paradise with guests aboard National Geographic Orion.
Across the Northern Hemisphere, spring is in full bloom, and our field staff captured many classic signs of the season: lush, green vegetation; birds of all shapes and sizes; and, of course, baby animals.
Early in the morning we started our activities by visiting Punta Cormorant. We had a wet landing on a green-sand beach formed by olivine crystals. Walking an easy trail we reached a brackish lagoon, where we found Galapagos flamingos. The last part of the trail was a white-sand beach crowded with green marine turtle nests. Spending the whole day at Floreana, we had all kinds of fun. Snorkeling at Champion Islet brought us close to playful sea lions and colorful fish. In the afternoon, we paid a relaxed visit to Post Office Bay. This historical site features a wooden barrel that served as an informal postal service, the first in Ecuador. For centuries, this barrel was visited by pirates and other seafarers who left letters to be founded by other people and taken back home. Our guests continued the tradition by leaving postcards and picking up postcards to be delivered when they get back home.
Glacier Bay National Park is the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit clans. Covering over three million acres of land, this striking environment lends itself well to discussions about primary succession, a characteristic of temperate rainforests and glaciation. National Geographic Venture started its day with hikes and photography instruction around Bartlett Cove. The ship’s naturalists discussed various aspects of primary succession and temperate rainforests while finding baneberry, fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms. The hikes ended with observing the preserved skeleton of a whale named Snow, a humpback whale killed by a ship strike in 2001. Once all crew and guests were on board, the ship ventured farther into Glacier Bay National Park. Along the way, we observed incredible sightings of humpback whales, Steller sea lions, sea otters, tufted puffins, bald eagles, and a variety of other animals. Farther north, we passed by Gloomy Knob where guests and staff spotted mountain goats whose white fur contrasted well with the dark rocky habitat. Finally, guests and staff celebrated the end of another magical day in Southeast Alaska with cocktail hour while viewing Margerie Glacier calving. The incredible landscape of Southeast Alaska, and particularly Glacier Bay, is an awe-inspiring world that lends itself to exploration and conservation.
Floreana Island was the first to be inhabited. Apart from its human history, its wildlife is also spectacular. As the sun rose, we were also getting ready for a very special outing, kayaking in the Post Office Bay area. Temperatures were perfect and the activity could not have been better. As we were exploring by kayak the calm waters in this area, a few sea lions joined us, following us as we go. Soon after, a little group of flamingos joined the area, landing on a sand bank just by where we were. Definitely the best way to start your day, if you like a little exercise early morning. The rest of us opted for a shorter version and went straight to the famous Post Office barrel used as an informal postal service for centuries. The rest of the morning offered an incredibly diverse snorkel or a guided glass-bottom Zodiac outing for non-snorkelers. Later in the afternoon, after a well-deserved rest, we landed on a popular green sand beach at Cormorant Point. From here, we walked down the trail that took us closer to this popular nesting site for flamingos. There are very few of these birds living in the archipelago and today we observed at least 40 of them.
Today was an amazing day on Española Island, one of the oldest and most diverse islands in the Galapagos archipelago. We started our expedition in the morning at Gardner Bay, where we enjoyed the white coralline beach and the company of friendly sea lions. We also snorkeled in the surrounding water and saw reef fish, sea turtles, rays and of course, the playful young Galapagos sea lions. After a delicious lunch on board, we headed to Punta Suarez, where we hiked along the rocky shore and observed many endemic species, such as the waved albatross, Española mockingbird, marine iguana, and Española lava lizard. We were especially lucky to witness the courtship dance of the waved albatross, which was very impressive and amusing. They clacked their beaks, bowed their heads, and bellowed a mating call in a synchronized manner. We also admired the local blowhole, where seawater is forced through a fissure, creating a spectacular spray. We ended our day as light rain fell upon this “world unto itself.”
For our first full day in the Galápagos on board of National Geographic Islander II , we had the opportunity to visit two different visitor sites. Bartolomé, a small island about 1.3 km2 (0.5mi2) in size, located at the eastern side of Santiago Island, and Cerro Dragón at northwestern side of Santa Cruz Island. As the sun rose, our expedition started with a dry landing at the “Escaleras” visitor point. With each of 372 steps on the wooden staircase, we appreciated the unique geological landscape and endemic vegetation. Our 30-minute walk was rewarded with the most iconic view of the Galápagos, as it is the scenic shot from the movie, Master and Commander . Our last activity on Bartolomé was a visit to a beautiful beach where we swam with playful penguins and sea lions, as well as sharks and a variety of other species of fish. To conclude this extraordinary day, we visited Cerro Dragón in the afternoon. After a thrilling disembarkation on cooled lava rock, we did a 1.7 mile walk along a dry forest. On the trail we noticed lush vegetation due abundant rain. We also encountered the famous Galápagos land iguana. At this time of year, we saw males and females close together in their dens.