Fiordland, Sub-Antarctic, Ross Sea
December 28, 2022 - March 20, 2022
This page is a way to save and share some images and words from
my voyages on Heritage
Adventurer. I was aboard for 5 voyages - first (V1) a
12 day voyage to Campbell Island, Auckland Islands, Snares.
Stewart Island and Fiordland; then two Ross Sea voyages (V2 and
V3) that included Campbell/Auckland/Macquarie; then Fiordland
and Stewart Island again (V4); and finally a voyage up the coast
of New Zealand from Fiordland to Auckland with stops along the
As I visited
many locations multiple times I have chosen to organize this
page geographically (more or less north to south) rather than
Sorry - I
have made no effort to make this page work well on smaller
screen sizes, and, as usual, my editor has been far too lenient.
click on most images to get a higher resolution version.
I had made 2 previous Ross Sea voyages with Heritage Expeditions -
2001 as a passenger and 2017 as a guide. These were aboard the 50
passenger ex-Soviet research vessels. That was great, but Heritage
Adventurer is a whole different story. She is a lovely,
comfortable, modern, superb, luxury cruise ship. Here is a little
I was in cabin
319 - formerly a guest cabin - very comfortable. I mostly had it
to myself. The bar/lounge was also the presentation space. The
food was the best that I have had aboard any expedition cruise
ship - with delightfully friendly service too. On Deck 7 are the
Observation Lounge (with Observation Deck above), Swimming Pool
(only filled with sea water for a polar plunge), spa pool, gym and
sauna. The driver is lowered to the water with the Zodiac then the
passengers board at the gangway.
For V5 the Fiordland/Stewart Island visits were followed
by a transit along the east coast of New Zealand. We visited
cities including Christchurch, where I led a city tour and
wondered if I would meet anyone I knew. I didn't, but it felt
strange. Most stops were at nature reserves and predator free
islands. The final, most northerly visit was to the Bay of Islands
including the grounds were the treaty between Maori and Queen
Victoria was signed in 1840.
For V1 we spent most of our time in Dusky Sound visiting
historic sites related to James Cook's visit of 1773 and Richard
Henry plus making some bush walks through the rugged and muddy
rainforest. The only real photo opportunity was our early morning
cruise of Milford Sound including Bowen Falls and the bottlenose
dolphins riding in the bow wave in the reflection of the bow.
On V4 we had some wonderful light in Dusky Sound and more
Bottlenose dolphins playing in the bow wake in front of the bulb.
V5 was a last visit to Fiordland including an
Oystercatcher and a dolphin encounter from the bobbing Zodiacs
V1, V4 and V5 all visited Stewart Island - but only on V5
did anything strike my fancy. On that voyage we had a nice visit
to the nature reserve of Ulva Island with parakeet, sea lions and
No landings are allowed at the
Snares - only Zodiac cruising - the Snares is one of my favorite
spots for cruising. For the first 2
visits I was not confident enough in my driving to take
photographs. In both cases conditions were difficult - with
strong winds on V1 and big swells on V2. They were toward to
edge of my comfort zone. I drove successfully in both, adding
greatly to my confidence level. And in both cases the wildlife
viewing was super. Seas and rocks full of Snares Crested
Penguins and NZ fur seals, lots of tricky navigation in caves
and inlets, and the most birds I have been among on the sea as
we drifted in a flock of Bullers Albatross actively feeding on
the fish we could see beneath the boat. Happy PAX and happy
guide. On V2 someone caught a photo of me as a driver. On V3 I
rode along as the Naturalist for crew driver (doing the blah
blah in guide-speak).
On V4 I was also doing the
blah-blah. The penguins and Bullers were still there and I caught
a Salvins albatross in flight too.
On V1 we did Zodiac cruises in
Carnley Harbour and Musgrave inlet - both great but again no
pictures as I was driving. Then 2 landings on Enderby Island: at
the site of the Hardwicke settlement and at Sandy Bay. At
Hardwicke only the graveyard remains - with graves from the failed
settlement and of shipwreck victims.
For V1 at Sandy Bay, the Hooker Sea Lion
colony was in full on pupping and mating season. More action, sex
and violence than a Tarantino movie. The bulls were battered from
their battles. The pups were cute.
Here is a short video to give you a little idea.
There is plenty more to see at
Sandy Bay with the Southern Rata in full blossom, the Yellow Eye
Penguins, and the ever vigilant Skua
For V2 the Sandy Bay action
had cooled a bit as the season had progressed, and the drizzle
persisted most of the day. The Light Mantled Sooty Albatross
were nesting on the cliffs, the Southern Royals and Pippits were
in residence, the megaherbs still in bloom, and likin' the
For V3 the beach was empty but it was all about the
Souther Royal Albatross soaring along the cliffs and "gamming"
along the boardwalk.
For the V1 visit to Campbell Island the megaherbs were in
full bloom, the Southern Royals were nesting, and the Zodiac
driver enthusiastic. While not captured in pixels I spent an
unforgettable 20 minutes in the evening on the way down from the
Southern Royal breeding colony with many birds in the air riding
the wind currents and swooping low (within a few feet) as the
chattered to their mates in the tussock. Woosh. Wow.
Bay on Macquarie Island is one of my all time favorite
wild places. V2 was my third visit and did not disappoint,
especially as we had a beautifully fine day - albeit windy.
Within a few hundred meters walk along the beach and up into the
hillside are active King and Royal Penguin colonies and piles of
sleepy or playful Southern Elephant Seals.
Elephant Seal breeding season
was finished, so those on the beach were the molting young
adults - often engaged in a bit of roughhousing.
The Royal Penguins, one of the crested penguins, are found
only on Macquarie with close to 1,000,000 birds. The colony at
Sandy Bay is spectacle of movement and noise - and an assault on
the nostrils as well. At this stage of the season the chicks are
in creches so that both parents can be at sea for feeding. The
movie may help to get some idea of the colony, heading to the sea
on the beach, and returning to curiously check me out.
The Royals are stout busy
little birds. We saw one attacked by several Giant Petrels and
Skua and fight them off. And they have these gorgeous hairdos.
The stars of the beach for
most people are the King Penguins. These are second in size only
to the Emperors. They are awkward and humorous on the beach but
extraordinary in the water diving to 250 meters to catch their
They are extraordinarily
beautiful. I find the interplay of the shining silver, white and
orange and the patterns that they create irresistible.
Kings take more than a year to fledge after the egg is laid -
and the later stages are brown down. Naturally there are other
interesting in the Bay including the Macquarie Shag
(coromorant), kelp and a successful Skua.
Macquarie was raped and pillaged over the years by fur sealers
then elephant sealers (for oil). When these were all gone they
started rendering the penguins for oil too - in "digesters".
This was all stopped in the early 1900s and, happily, the
wildlife has recovered.
For V3, as I now have nearly enough penguin photos, I just
let the curious Kings and a Skua come to me.
The majority of Sea Days are between Macquarie and the
Ross Sea but sometimes in the sub-antarctic too. We are always on
the lookout for icebergs, whales and flying birds. I especially
enjoy the Pack Ice. On both V2 and V3 we had relatively severe
storms - 50 knots and 12 meter swell at the worst - lasting 36+
hours. The programme was cancelled and we rode it out. We had a
bit of broken crockery, but no injuries. The ship performed
superbly and few people were seasick.
On V3 we had an excellent afternoon with many Humpback
Whales very near the ship. You can hear a bit of excited chatter
on the video clip.
Then, on some evenings when the sun set, we had sunsets.
This one is from the last evening of V2 as we approached Bluff -
with dolphins swimming by the ship.
The day of the V2 landing at Cape Adare was truly
exceptional. The conditions were flat calm, some sun, and minor
swell. Here is how it went for me: Up for coffee then 2 lectures -
geology and photography. Lunch from the buffet with Queen of
Pudding and Custard for dessert (desert at lunch is decadent, but
I am getting used to it). A slow approach to the rugged Cape
through the pack ice and tabular bergs - with a stop for an
extremely rare Ross Seal spotting. The clouds were low and the
lighting subdued - a dramatic backdrop for this dramatic place.
The Adelie Penguins were everwhere - in the water, on the ice
floes, and especially on the land as there are ~500,000 nesting
pairs at the Cape. The earth is stained red from the gauno. Then
into the Zodiacs at about 3:00pm to land on a steep rocky beach.
As the shore party walked down the beach to access the historic
huts we disturbed ~100 Skua which rose and wheeled overhead.
Magic. The huts are from 1898 (Carsten Borchgrevink) and 1912
(Scott Northern Party). The Borchgrevink hut is the first
structure build in Antarctica and the home for the 10 men who
first overwintered. Many of the artifacts have been removed for
preservation, but a few, and the artwork over one bunk, remain. I
spent considerable time monitoring people in/out and cleaning the
penguin guano off their boots. Not a great deal of fun, but there
was ample time to wander around the colony. The chicks were in the
creche stage - with both parent going to sea to return with to
feed them. Adelies are fun birds anyway - actively stealing
pebbles from each other for nest building - but the feeding chases
in which the chicks pursue the returning parents are hilarious.
Apparently this helps to confirm that they are feeding the right
chicks and gives the chicks some exercise. The aroma was pungent
to say the least, and there was always something to see. The
landing didn't end until 10pm by the time both groups had been
ashore (we are not allowed to have all 140 PAX ashore at the same
time). By then the light was just getting better and better as we
lingered on the beach. Back to the ship for a 3 course meal, then
a shower and up onto the Observation Deck for the midnight sun.
Going to bed was difficult, but sleep was a requirement for the
next morning's landing.
The difference in Cape Adare
in the 4 weeks between V2 and V3 was stunning. V2 had ~1 million
birds going wild. V3 had a few hundred stragglers. At least we
had a beautiful day, it was easier to get closer to the historic
huts, and the guano had all dried up.
The western edge of the Ross Sea is bounded by an area of
the continent called Victorialand (for the Queen of course). The
trans-Antarctic mountains run along it, and there are several
landing sites including the Possessions Islands were we landed on
V2. I like monochrome in the evening/night of our 24 hour
Ross Sea and
Traveling in the Ross Sea in V2 meant passing through or
dodging the sea ice. I certainly slows the ship, but can be
beautiful, especially at "night" and is quite full of life
including leopard seals and snow petrels - and when away from the
ice the sea can be a mirror and play with the light in the wake.
As with the sea further south, during V3 the sea was
re-freezing by making pancake ice floating in the gentle
wave of grease ice .
Ross Ice Shelf
The southern limit of the Ross Sea are Ross Island and the
Ross Ice Shelf. The shelf extends 800 kilometers east. I have come
to expect ends-of-the-earth type places to be wild and dramatic.
This end-of-the-sea place is certainly both.Spot the porpoising
Adelies for scale.
On V2 our time at Ross Island was extra extraordinary.
Certainly the most remarkable of any period that I have spent on
any expedition. It went something like this:
Tuesday January 24
8am - 10pm After our cruise along the
Ross Ice Shelf, we were off Cape Bird and could see that McMurdo
Sound was packed with sea ice. The weather forecast was for a
clearing southerly wind so the Captain turned the ship into the
ice and we picked our way slowly along, breaking and pushing ice
floes as required. We made 1-2 knots and were passed by the US
icebreaker Polar Star. By mid-afternoon the wind had not
arrived and the swell was piling the ice up behind us. The Captain
judged that there was risk of the ship being trapped by this ice
build-up, so we turned and made our way back to Cape Bird.
10pm - 1am The sea ice had cleared
from the immediate Cape Bird coast, so we navigated into the
clearing, launched the boats, and had a nice cruise along the ice
cliffs, penguins, seals and ice floes. As we cruised the ice
closed in and it was a bit of a maze getting back to the ship. The
wind was starting to blow from the south.
Wednesday January 25
8am - 1pm We had a normal morning. I
gave my talk on the Nimrod Expedition, had lunch and
sorted photos. The wind continued from the south.
1pm - 5pm The sea ice had again
cleared from the Cape Bird coast so we approached and launched the
boats into moderate to heavy seas with 25 knot southerlys for a
landing at the Adelie colony. I drove in conditions that were at
the limit of my comfort zone, but was able to swap with another
driver ashore. During the landing the winds built to 30 knots with
gusts to 45. The colony was great, but walking the beach was not
easy in the sandblast, and the conditions for the Zodiac transfers
were gnarly. The winds eased while we were ashore back to a more
6pm - 7pm Aaron and Samuel were landed
and climbed a hill with a view south - old fashioned ice charts!
They reported a section of thick pack ice - then open water to the
7pm - 8pm The Hotel Crew had planned a
BBQ on the aft deck, so we ate and drank for the quick navigation
through the ice and through the open water of McMurdo Sound to the
edge of the sea ice.
8pm - midnight We had good views to
McMurdo Station and Hut Point to the south. The sea ice was
breaking into large thin plates in the evening light as the Orca
and Minke Whales fed along the edge. We spent several glorious
Thursday January 26 - Australia
Midnight - 6am - Heritage
Adventurer took us back north to Cape Evans and we
disembarked in groups to visit the hut built by Captain Robert
Scott and his team in 1911 for his Terra Nova expedition.
It was from here that he left for the South Pole and never
returned. Due to restrictions only 40 non-staff are allowed ashore
at any time, and only 7 non-staff in the hut. So the landing was
done in 4 groups - each group getting 1.5 hours ashore. Naturally
the Expedition Team needed to be there for each group. The weather
was around minus 5 Celsius with a moderate to string wind. Luckily
the queue to enter the hut was in it's lee. I was in the hut for
several hours as security - but mostly helping to help PAX get a
better understanding of what was there.
6am - 9am Back aboard, Aaron made a
radio call to set staff standby for 9:30am. I got 3 hours sleep.
9am - 3pm We were unable to make our
landing for Cape Royds hut at the closest approach, Backdoor Bay,
so we landing at Black Sand Beach and set a flagged route for the
1.5 kilometer walk over the hill to the hut. This hut was built
for Earnest Shackleton's 1907 Nimrod expedition. It is
smaller than the Cape Evans hut, but I like it better. The
Antarctic Heritage trust has done a magnificent job in the
restoration/conservation of both. The PAX who could make it
enjoyed the hike with Mt. Erebus towering above. Unfortunately, in
my too normal careless way, I fell and cut my hand an a sharp lava
3pm - 8pm For me it was back to the
ship to get my wound patched by the doctor. Bugger. The operation
finished at about 4pm - at which time we had a special afternoon
tea with Vegemite sandwiches and Lamingtons for Australia Day as
we navigated back south to McMurdo Station.
8pm - 11pm Overnight the thin sea ice
had broken out. After a quick dinner the boats were launched for a
quick shuttle for a landing at Discovery Hut. This one was built
by Scott in 1901 for his first expedition in Discovery
and is now dwarfed by McMurdo Station and it's 1500 summertime
residents. I was in the hut as PAX had a quick tour.
11pm - midnight We had a quick shower
and a double Laphroaig.
Friday January 27
midnight - 11am Sleep - glorious sleep
Visits to all three of the
principal huts of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration on the
same day! Truly uniquely amazing - not to mention the wildlife and
chatter among the PAX and staff. Also an dramatic demonstration of
the quickly changing conditions in the Antarctic. It is unheard-of
for the sea ice to be out of McMurdo Sound by 26 January. A sign
of things to come?
The Heritage Expeditions
philosophy of making the most of every opportunity has never been
more clearly on display. Thanks team.
The reason that I had decided
to do the 2 Ross Sea trips back to back is the shortness of
the seasons. In the Antarctic January is spring/summer and
February is summer/autumn. In a normal season the January
trip is about the Adelies and the ice and getting to the
huts is problematic. So, when we reached all 3 huts in
January I was thinking that the February trip couldn't live
up to it. I was wrong. Firstly, the February group got
simply stunning weather - day after day of sunscreen and
light winds. Then, because with a return visit to any of the
huts you see and feel different things. Finally, the
February trip always has more Emperor penguins and whales -
and this trip had both in great numbers and activity -
especially along the sea ice edge during an amazing
A couple of video clips may
help. The shaking in the second section of the Emperor
penguin clip is me shivering!
Even though the sea ice had
only blown out a few weeks before, it was already starting
to freeze again.
As ever the best light was at
Trip Logs and
For each voyage Heritage Expeditions sends every guest the
trip log and slideshow as compiled by the expedition staff during
the voyage. Here are links - note that some of the slideshow files
are quite large - up to 1.5 gigabytes:
V1: Beyond Fiordland:
V2: In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton: Log
V3: In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton: Log
V4: Unseen Fiordland
V5: Best of New Zealand
For the Expedition Show on V3 I wrote a bit of haiku