National Geographic Orion began the day navigating some spectacular tabular icebergs as we made our way towards Brown Bluff. Our guests slowly woke to incredible vistas, and glimpses of sunshine on snow, as we prepared for our first landing on the Antarctic continent.
After breakfast we disembarked for our expedition morning at Brown Bluff, where Adélie and gentoo penguins lined the beach, alongside beautiful ventiform rocks, carved into smooth sculptures by the harsh Antarctic winds. As the Zodiacs navigated the shallow, rocky beach to get our guests ashore, and a solitary leopard seal patrolled the shoreline carefully watching groups of penguins return and depart from the water. The undersea team geared up for a dive, hoping to catch a glimpse of our predatory observer while recording footage for the evening’s presentation.
The plan for our afternoon activity was to head to Paulet Island, in the east of Erebus and Terror Gulf, to visit another penguin colony. However, Antarctica, a world where the unexpected occurs with predictable reliability, has little respect for plans.
As we cruised we began encountering seals, and whales, and then more seals, and more whales. Until expedition leader Andy Wolff finally succumbed and called off our visit to Paulet, and instead organized Zodiac cruises amidst icebergs and a plethora of wildlife.
The decision turned out to be an inspired one, as our guests had views of stunning ice amphitheaters, playful humpbacks, leopard seals, Wilson storm petrels, and even a juvenile emperor penguin. At one point we were left not knowing which way to look, with the juvenile emperor and a leopard sharing an ice floe in one direction, and a humpback cruising, and occasionally fluking, only meters away in the other direction. The fog and cloud cover, which on another day may have dulled the afternoon, served only to increase the feeling of drama.Tom Ritchie, who has been coming to this continent since before many of the other staff were born, treated us to stories from his many years in Antarctica in the evening, leaving us excited for several more days on this wonderful expedition.