We had one more superb kayak trip through the misty stillness of Graham passage. Once again the silence was so intense that I kept doing the yawny thing to try to unblock my ears. There was just the occasional cheerful chatter of a passing Antarctic Tern, and the gentle splish of kayak paddles, to convince me that I hadn’t gone deaf overnight.
The snow covered rocky mountains gave way to full-blown ice walls every so often.
We were becoming a bit spoilt, because we were now EXPECTING to hear the blow of a whale cracking the quietness. This time the great blast came from very close to the cliff. I am still programmed to think that the whales will favour the deeper water in the middle of the channel, but here they seem quite at home close to the edge…..wherever there is food (krill) I suppose.
It was another pair of Humpbacks, mother and calf again I suspect.
Everything about Humpbacks is thrilling, especially their habit of throwing those enormous tail flukes up when they do a deep dive. It is a popular misconception that all whales do this, but in fact only a handful of species do (although they are the most well-known). Humpbacks and Sperm Whales.
These two gave us a great send-off with both throwing up their tails in a suitably snowy and icy Antarctic setting. We did glimpse another Humpback and a Minke whale as we were leaving a mini-beach after taking a break, but that was the last of the whales seen from the kayak seat. No complaints from me, we had seen as many in six days and forty-four miles of paddling, as I had seen in fifteen years and twenty-four thousand miles previously.
The icebergs havn’t really had much of a mention yet….the hole in this one made a convenient perch for a prowling skua. Up to no good for certain (as usual).
Our last kayak trip was a circuit of Half-moon island. As usual the penguins just got on with their daily routine as the kayak flotilla slipped quietly past in the background.
The Weddell seals showed marginally more, but still only a passing, interest in us.
So that was it, our last paddle in Antarctica. It was time to get out on the pontoon at the back of the ship. The weather was suitably antarctic as a light snow started to fall.
It was farewell to the Chinstraps, the most characterful of the penguins..
We watched the last of the snowy crags of Antarctica fading into the distance as the ship headed north and started to roll in the swell of the open sea of the fabled Drake passage. But there was no time to relax because Drake passage is chock full of marine marvels, including the most charismatic bird in the entire world (which just happens to have the longest wingspan as well)…the Wandering Albatross.
Here’s a pictorial summary of what we saw from the back of the ship during the two day crossing back to Ushuaia. No written commentary because it was not seen, or photographed, from a kayak.
These next two are the ‘Great’ Albatrosses, with the greatest wingspan of any bird on the planet…..a mere 11-12ft.
The Black-browed Albatrosses in Drake’s passage nicely demonstrated how they use even small waves (such as this, the bow wave generated by our ship) to ‘surf’ along.
A few final pics from Ushuaia and Iguazu (North Argentina/Brazil) on our way back north.
We have arrived back in the UK and been battered by wind and rain ever since. The wettest and windiest February on record. So opportunities for kayaking have been few and far between, but there has been plenty of time to reflect on the enormity of our short time spent in the enormity of Antarctica.
Its size is indeed one of its superlatives. If the Antarctic continent was the size of your house, the three hundred miles we ventured into it wouldn’t get us much past the front doormat.
It is quite impressive that such a desolate place, without a hint of vegetation, could have stimulated our sensory centres so much that every kilo, mega and terabyte of capacity within our whirring craniums was stuffed to max capacity.
There’s so much we didn’t see that makes it even more remarkable. No litter, not a hint of any plastic pollution in the sea, and hardly any sign that humans exist, or have ever existed. The occasional other ship, one or two yachts, a few scientific bases and tumbledown whaling stations.
For me personally it was the whales that made it so very, very special. The huge tail rising far out of the water is jawdropping enough, but it is the blow that is the signature sound of the Antarctic. It perfectly complements the limitless vista of rock, snow, and ice. It is hard to believe that only half-a-century ago there were hardly any Humpbacks here, in fact during the previous fifty years the numbers got so low that they very, very nearly didn’t bounce back. The population was virtually annihilated when whaling stations were set up in the area in the early 1900s. They came as close to the brink as it is possible to get.
That made our close encounters even more thrilling. How fantastic is it that this pair of Humpbacks just swam round and round us (blowing an amazing THIRTEEN times on the video…and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time), obviously taking a look at us. You can see them slowing down and doing some tight turns to stay in amongst the group of three kayaks. Real gentle giants.
Whales are BIG in so many ways.
This is the standout clip. Taken from the kayak seat, of course.