Valentine’s Day began as the National Geographic Explorer approached Half Moon Island, situated in the South Shetland Islands. The guests chose between a long or short hike for their morning activity.
The long hike took the group upwards from the beach, along a ridge, to a viewpoint some 200 feet above sea level and then down a steeper route to the far side of the beach from the landing site. From here we walked along the stony sea front past the Argentinian scientific research station, Camara, encountering gentoo penguins and some lively male Antarctic fur seals along the way. After about two hours the group arrived at the site at the other end of the island, where the short hikers were enjoying their walk around the remaining chinstrap penguin colonies. There were still a number of well-developed chicks on the beach and in the rookery itself.
All around the island, huge glaciers tumbled down to the sea. At regular intervals, there were rumbles of what sounded like thunder, as large pieces of ice broke off from the glaciers’ front. The day, which had begun overcast and cool, turned gloriously sunny and calm by late morning. No one wanted to leave this enchanting setting, but there were still more treats in store.
As the guests arrived back on the ship, John, Holly, and Jessica, our whale research scientists, gave a presentation showing the amazing data they have collected this season, as well as giving us an insight into the lives of these amazing creatures.
During lunch, the ship moved to our last site of the expedition, Telefon Bay, in Deception Island. We had hoped to kayak here, but as we prepared to lower the kayak platform the wind rose and continued to rapidly increase. Though kayaking was no longer an option, we had an exciting Plan B: from the dark, volcanic shore, guests hiked up to a spectacular caldera, situated at the back of the flat, wide beach. Once up on the caldera rim, the wind was howling, which added to the impressive volcanic scenery that could be seen far below.
Reluctantly, everyone returned to the ship, which then, once more, passed through Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance/exit to the harbor of Deception Island and out into the Bransfield Strait. Now we must begin our long journey northward across the Drake Passage and say goodbye to Antarctica, which has kept us all enthralled in so many ways over the last days.