Discovered in 1810, Macquarie Island suffered its first shipwreck three years later and hasn’t really let up. It is not hard to imagine why. The Caroline, Nelson, Eagle and Endeavour are just a handful of craft that have ended their days here. The only way in is by sea but steep cliffs, shallow waters, wild winds and frequently heavy surf combine to make the shore a hazard to visitors. Even getting close is fraught with danger as Mawson’s team learnt on their arrival. On their approach to Macquarie Island, the AAE saw a beached sealing vessel, the Clyde, which had been wrecked on a reef after a particularly bad storm. Under guidance from the sealers, the Aurora edged itself into more protected waters before delivering the team and equipment that were to call this remote spot home for two years.
Morning panoramic view over Macquarie Island
Sitting at 54˚S and 34 kilometres long, the 5 kilometre wide Macquarie Island is almost perfectly oriented north-south. But unfortunately for us the winds and waves have been coming from the north over the past 24 hours – they’re slowly (very slowly) edging round to the northwest but not enough for us to get any shelter. The Australian Antarctic Division base lies at the northern end of the island at the site of the AAE Macquarie Island base, just below a peak known as Wireless Hill where Mawson’s team established the relay station that was to send messages and weather observations back to Australia. It is an awe inspiring sight. The steep green hills and long, low isthmus are temptingly close. But frustratingly we can only watch from afar. The cliffs and beaches are frequently obscured by crashing waves. Even if we could have got the team into the Zodiacs, landing on the coast is just not possible. We don’t want to end up the like the Clyde.
It is a terrible shame. The wildlife looks stunning – we saw lots of king penguins playing in the water around the Shokalskiy and even a couple of orcas (aka killer whales) – but they will have to wait for our return. The weather forecast isn’t particularly good and we could be waiting around a long time before getting onshore. When we called the island to get the weather forecast, we were described as ‘bobbing like a cork’. It sums us up nicely. The island is administered by the state of Tasmania and have just received permission to return at the end of December. We’ll be back. In the meantime, looks like we’re heading off to Antarctica earlier than planned.
Cape Denison holds a special place in the history of Antarctic exploration. A small outcrop of rocks on the remote East Antarctic coastline, Cape Denison is forever associated with one of the most spectacular and often forgotten tales of survival. A century ago it was the main base of operations for one of the great explorers of the south: the Australian scientist Sir Douglas Mawson. Privately funded, three bases and one research ship supported a science team that explored a region the size of the United States between 1911 and 1914. Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition, however, suffered terribly during their time at Cape Denison: a sudden turn of events led to tragedy on the ice, the death of two men, allegations of cannibalism and with the return of winter sea ice, an extended stay in Antarctica. But when they first came upon Cape Denison, Mawson was ecstatic. Greeted by squawking penguins: ‘We were soon inside a beautiful, miniature harbour completely land-locked. The sun sh…
There’s an old sailor’s expression: “Below 40 degrees south there is no law, below 50 degrees south there is no God.” Since the sixteenth century, sailors have spoken in awe of the violent westerly winds and seas they experienced fighting their way across the Southern Ocean. With few landmasses to slow them down, the winds found across 40 degrees latitude often reach speeds of twenty-five knots—about 40 percent stronger than their northern hemisphere counterparts—earning them the title the “roaring forties.” As shipping pushed farther south, explorers realized that these winds form part of a vast storm belt that includes the “furious fifties” and “screaming sixties,” names more reminiscent of terrible rock bands than a major part of our planet’s circulation system. The early hunters and traders didn’t understand it at the time, but these winds are created by a procession of low-pressure systems carried east by the jet stream, a river of cold air hurtling and twisting round the Antarct…
Commonwealth Bay in the
East Antarctic will be forever associated with Sir Douglas Mawson’s pioneering
scientific venture a century ago: the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Mawson’s
team had only intended to spend one year south, but it was not to be. A sudden turn of events led to tragedy on the ice, the deaths of two men, allegations of cannibalism and, with the return of winter sea ice, an extended stay in Antarctica. While the efforts of Mawson and his men laid the foundations for modern
Antarctic science, the region has continued to experience dramatic change. And
it doesn’t get any more dramatic than the arrival of iceberg B09B in 2011. The
word ‘berg’ doesn’t really do it justice though – B09B is a monster. Weighing
in at an estimated 500 billion tonnes, this block of ice is 97 miles long and over
20 kilometres wide. There’s enough freshwater in B09B to provide all of New
York’s drinking needs for 300 years. And it started out even larger. In 1987,
an iceberg the size of Bal…