Sunday, January 15, 2012

Magical Macquarie Island ~ Part I

Long ago when I read poet Mary Oliver's words, 
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life..............

November 3, 2011 ~ first view of Macquarie Island ~ the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) station to the left.

...................I had no idea I would some day be leaving the safe comfort of my day to day world behind, and taking my precious life to adventure in the wild and unfamiliar region of the sub-Antarctic Islands.

Words, even pictures, cannot truly show the amazing beauty of Australia's Macquarie Island Nature's a faraway place where one has to stand alone in the silence and breathe it in.

Just a speck in the vast Southern Ocean, the island is almost brand-new in earth science terms, appearing above the waves less than 700,000 years ago. It achieved World Heritage listing in 1997. Geologists, archaeologists, ornithologists, expeditioners and ecologists are the few people who visit here......a lonely spine of land described as 'one of the wonder spots of the world'.

With precipitation 300 days a year, long periods of clear skies are rare here, but breaks in the clouds can bring short bursts of we were lucky to arrive in brilliant early morning sunshine. By 8 o'clock we were riding Zodiacs for our landing at Sandy Beach near the ANARE station.

Welcomed by many basking locals................

.......and smartly attired birds.......

.........we came ashore, bundled up warmly in those red parkas, to spend the morning in this amazing place.

Gentoo penguins with their distinctive red beak and white eye-flash are quite timid birds and stay on the island year round. Breeding on the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands, there is a population of about 5000 breeding pairs here. Sadly their number is dropping, due most likely to over-fishing of their prey.  

Four species of seals breed on Macquarie. Of these, the southern elephant seals are the most numerous having recovered from the slaughter of 19th century sealing when, after the fur seals were decimated, they were targeted for oil. It's estimated that now over 3000 cows give birth here each year.

Southern bull elephant seals are gigantic weighing up to 3000kg. The ladies are quite petite next to them, just 300kg, as you can see here where a little romance was going on later in the afternoon - November is the end of the breeding season. The young one was pushed from its mother when this bull, the 'beach master' made his choice from the many ladies lounging around. They breed in 'harems' with the strongest males controlling a harem of up to 50 females. Their name comes from the short trunk-like nose of the males. 

Wouldn't you just love to know what those King penguins were saying?

This picture above gives you a better idea as to the size of the bull seals compared to the King Penguins...thankfully they live in harmony on these beaches.

Well, nothing lasts for ever. It was quite a shock when the sun disappeared and, although not really cold, because it was almost Summertime in the southern hemisphere, snow started falling..........

..............and I haven't seen another snowflake since that day. Where is our Winter?

The storm was brief and gave another dimension to the surrounding landscape. Soon the sun reappeared and stayed with us the remainder of the day.

Late morning we returned to the ship for lunch.  Orion then repositioned a little further along the island to Sandy Bay for the planned afternoon expedition.

In my Macquarie Part II post, I'll share more photos of the beautiful penguins, their breeding grounds, their inquisitive youngsters........and how they love to have fun at the beach!

Dear readers.  I've noticed that since yesterday the Comments link has disappeared at the bottom of this post! Perhaps you stopped by and wanted to make me happy with a little comment, I love to get them, but were unable to do it!  Yikes, Google seems to be at it again, changing things and leaving many of us in the lurch - several people are complaining of this same problem.  As I haven't been able to come up with a fix myself I'm just hoping the Google crew get their act together SOON!  

Edited Monday - seems to be OK now - comments enabled on my new post of today - still don't think you can comment here on this post though.  Guess Google decided to switch me over to their new format, now I just need to learn how to blog again!