This wonderful little island, just 34 kilometers long and up to 5 kilometers wide, has a maximum altitude of only 433 metres, yet its astonishing abundance of wildlife makes a huge impression on those who hop out of the Zodiac boat and paddle ashore. So pull on your wellies and parka and come along!
Here is the final episode of my November visit to Macquarie Island, last stop on the journey to the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia.
The sunshine continued after the morning snow, this alone was very unusual. We felt truly blessed to see the beauty of the land, and the colors of the sea, in crystal clear southern light when we headed back to shore for the afternoon expedition around the Sandy Bay area.
The Kings were still plentiful and enjoying an afternoon stroll along beach.......
......and we were permitted to join them in 'Penguin Alley' where of course they had the right of way.
Love the molt on the one on the right, has to be a lady wearing a perfect scarf like that!
Meanwhile, our first close encounter with Royal penguins happened at the shoreline. What fun these birds had playing in the surf.
This one was obviously checking out the ladies.............
.......made his choice, then proceeded to offer her a nice smooth pebble as an engagement gift......
.........whispering sweet nothings and complimenting her on her elegant coiffure no doubt..........
............and whoops, before you could say how about a nice dinner out first, there was more of that afternoon delight going on in the shallows!
Continuing along the beach, we passed a long line of Kings standing in the sunshine, and then proceeded to climb up the more gentle sloping cliffs via walkways constructed to protect the native flora.
With no trees on the island, plants and megaherbs provide sheltered nesting habitats for burrowing birds. Macquarie lies in the path of the 'Furious Fifties', the winds that circle high southern latitudes, unhindered by any continental landmass.
I walked here alone, leaving one group and, before joining the company of another at the top, was able to just stop and take it all in. The silence was softened only by the breeze and an occasional bird cry. I admit I became very emotional seeing such raw, unspoiled nature all around me.
When I turned and looked, the view inland was breathtaking. At my feet was a Royal penguin rookery with thousands of birds on their nests, most protecting an egg.
They build their nest by making a shallow hole in the sand or a weeded area, lining it with plants and stones. Two eggs are often laid but only one chick survives. The egg is kept warm by both parents for 35 days, in rotating 12 day shifts. After hatching the male cares for the chick for 10-20 days while the female brings food, krill, fish and squid, for both. At about 20 days the chicks form a creche for warmth and safety and the parents continue to feed it 2-3 times a day. When the chick is 65 days old it will have adult feathers and head out on its own.
It was hard to leave this beautiful place...............it really did feel like tilting on the edge of the world, wrapped in almost indescribable natural beauty.
- They have been around for 50 million years
- The first ones lived in the Antarctic, New Zealand and South America
- The biggest fossil penguin ever discovered stood 5 feet 8 inches tall - no modern penguin is that tall
- Penguins differ from all other birds in two respects - their wings are really flippers, and they do not fly
- There are 17 species - 7 live in the Antarctic, the rest are scattered throughout the Southern Hemisphere. There are no penguins in the Northern Hemisphere
The next three days were spent crossing the Tasman Sea - referred to by Australians and New Zealanders as 'The Ditch'. A rather rough 900 miles to Tasmania.........and then the welcoming sight of Hobart in the early morning light.
Hobart, Tasmania at dawn from the cabin.
Hope you enjoyed coming along with me to the sub-Antarctic islands. It was an incredible journey.
If you missed Part I of magical Macquarie Island click HERE
and for Part II click HERE
Soon I'll share Australian adventures. Not a penguin in sight but other interesting birds, unusual animals, and of course delightful people.