Make it to these co-ordinates and you may just be lucky enough to see an emperor penguin, maybe up to as many as 11000, it all depends on the time of year. One of the highlights of Mawson station is its proximity to emperor penguin colonies. Auster and Taylor rookerys are just a stone’s throw away from our home.
The sea ice was opened up a few weeks ago to recreational travel on quad bikes (minimum ice thickness of 400mm). Cookie and a few guys set out last weekend to make their way to Macey hut, then on to Auster rookery some 58kms away. Unfortunately for them the sea ice was not as thick as we would have liked. Being only 380mm in one spot the party unfortunately had to make a retreat back to station, unable to complete the journey…………..
One week later myself, Pete.L, Pete.C and Keldyn hoped to finish what Cookie and his troops had set out to do. Another restriction down here (for our safety) is limiting our speeds to 30km/hr. So to make it all the way to our destination we would be riding our quads for around two hours. That’s two hours at temperatures of bellow 20C and wind chills taking us close to- 40C. With only 5 hours of good light left in the day, as soon as the morning kalabatics receeded to a marginal speed of 30-35knots, we left station. The sun’s recognisable orange seemed like a rip in the cosmic fabric. Out on the eastern horizon a tear between land and sky had been created by the sun. It was as if some invisible cotton and thread would be able to sew the rip closed and as such pushing back a vivid and blinding light that now seemed to bulge its way out. On our right and to the south west lay the great white (blue) Antarctic plateau. Our quads sped across the frozen sea like oil on water. Apart from the freezing temperatures and occasional blowing snow, our journey north east was very pleasant. Every ten or so kilometres we would stop and drill the ice looking out for unsafe measurements. I really wish I could easily describe our situation. For me it’s our circumstance that makes these sorts of adventures all the better.
Thousands of kilometres from Australia, now in the throes of an Antarctic winter with little if no hope of any sort of external rescue, travelling on 350hp Honda quad bikes over 40cm of ice with an open ocean underneath possibly over a kilometre deep, picking a safe track through grounded ice bergs, on our way to possibly witness the march of the emperor penguins and doing so on a day when the sun rises only at 10am and sets close to 3pm. The blues that radiate from all of the frozen water is amazing. Cornflour, azure, powder, baby and of course iceberg blue appear on ice cliffs, bergs, shadows thrown by islands, the sea ice, tide cracks, frozen leads and many other shapes that give this landscape is uniqueness. Riding through all of this, and with hours to whittle away in my own mind, I look out at the environment and it’s beauty, soon mesmerized, time seems to slip away.
So here we are. Having stopped off at Macey hut to check our accommodation out, which is only about 8kms away, we end up at the Rookery. Auster got its name from a pilot flying over this area back in the 50’s, he named this spot and islands after the type of plane he was flying……. life was simple back then……………..hard no doubt, but defined and simple. It’s not so easy to name thing down here anymore.
I’m going to venture here a few more times guaranteed. So I’ll let the photos tell the story for now and later I’ll fill you in on just what it’s like to come face to face with one of earth’s most regal and hardy Antarctic dwellers. The Emperor Penguin.