Final Landing: Deception Island, South Shetland Islands

Chinstrap penguins stroll along the ash covered beach at Whalers Bay, Deception Island - a stark contrast to the pristine snow and ice we'd just left on the peninsula.

I approached the bar on the ship that had been my home for the past few weeks and nodded as the bartender held up a bottle of beer. I smiled as he handed it to me, enjoying the daily ritual that had formed between us since leaving Ushuaia.

As I sipped my beer, I felt a sting of sadness as I realised this bubble of alternate reality would soon burst, like a pin making contact with a balloon. For almost three weeks now, I had left the outside world behind and enjoyed the world’s most remote and unspoiled continent with like-minded strangers who had become both travel companions and friends.

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Kelp Gull Chicks, Whalers Bay

This was my second trip to Antarctica, being unable to accept my first expedition with Quark as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. It had followed a similar path to the first, through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. I’d returned to familiar locations, with different wildlife behaviour and weather conditions creating new experiences. And I’d explored new sites through the excited eyes of someone seeing it for the first time.

Although it was our last day in the Antarctic Peninsula, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the adventure. And as we had one more day of potential landings in the South Shetland Islands ahead of us, I replaced my melancholy thoughts with the anticipation of what tomorrow might bring.

I turned my attention to our expedition leader who had begun his daily briefing and was about to announce the plan for our final day of excursions:

“Weather permitting, we will make our way through Neptune’s Bellows to land at Deception Island”.

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Chinstrap Penguins, Telefon Island

My initial reaction was one of slight disappointment. I’d visited Deception Island on my first trip to Antarctica and whilst it is rich in history and geology, the wildlife sightings are sparse in comparison to the abundant populations I’d experienced in other locations. I’d enjoyed visiting the location on my first trip but it felt like an anti-climactic end to the second one. I was still craving adventure and the thrill of discovering new locations.

But before I let my melancholy return, I remembered one my favourite quotes:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

I approached our final landings of the expedition at Telefon Island and Whaler’s Bay with enthusiasm and excitement– and ironically returned to the ship with some of my favourite photographs of the whole trip!

A chinstrap penguin walks away from remnants of the whaling era that have been left to ruin at Whalers Bay at Deception Island - symbolic of leaving such eras in the past, not to be repeated.

Chinstrap Penguin, Whalers Bay

About Deception Island

Deception Island is an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands. It is accessed from the open sea through a narrow channel at Neptune’s Bellows that leads to a horse-shoe shaped sheltered harbour. Its landscape is symbolic of its history, with remnants of a whaling era sitting on ash-covered land. Whaling peaked in the early 1900’s before its decline some decades later. A British Scientific base was then established before volcanic eruptions in the 1960’s drove the scientists away.

After a period of inactivity, Deception Island now receives two groups of visitors each summer: scientists working on the Chilean and Argentinian bases and tourists…like me.

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Whalers Bay

 Visiting Deception Island

Our two landings provided a variety of options for passengers with different interests. Hikers enjoyed a walk along a volcanic rim on Telefon Island and an uphill climb towards views of the peninsula on Whaler’s Bay. History buffs took a step back in time as they explored the rusting boilers and tanks, ruined boats and buildings that had been left behind by whalers and scientists. And those with varying levels of interest in geology found themselves caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of our on-board geologist.

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Weddell Seal, Telefon Island

I found myself slowly walking back and forth along the shore, lost in my thoughts as I soaked up the solitude and silence that I find so energising and unique in this part of the world. I spent time by a sleeping Weddell Seal waiting for it to wake up and pose for my camera – it didn’t. I sat by the water waiting for chinstrap penguins to awkwardly exit the water onto land – they did. I watched kelp gull chicks feeding from their parents and brown skuas splashing in the water.

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I was sitting in a monochrome scene – with chinstrap penguins, ash-covered land, grey abandoned buildings and snow covered volcanic mountains – but my mood was vibrant. I reflected on an incredible three weeks in a part of the world that had once again overwhelmed me with its beauty and uniqueness. And I knew that although this may be my last landing on this particular trip, it wasn’t going to be my last landing in Antarctica and its sub-Antarctic islands.

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Chinstrap Penguin Feet, Telefon Island

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Chinstrap Penguin, Telefon Island

A Nest of Ruins

Kelp Gull Chick, Whalers Bay

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Chinstrap Penguin, Whalers Bay

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Chinstrap Penguin, Telefon Island

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Great photos! Your post and photos bring back lovely memories of our Antarctic expedition cruise a while ago. Did you go for a polar plunge and wallow after in the steamy geothermal waters bubbling up through the black sand?

    • Not this time, but I did the polar pounge at Deception Island a couple of years ago on my first trip – didn’t bathe in the geothermal afterglow though, was a swim out to a zodiac and straight back to shore to change back into our clothes in the icy wind!

  2. I visited Deception Island on my visit to Antarctica and had a great surprise there – an Emperor Penguin – it apparently stayed for 3 days based on information we heard from another company who were saying at the same time as the Quark trip I was on. As our Expedition Leader said you know something exciting is happening when the guides start running to see a penguin.

    • Wow Rob, what an incredible experience – seeing an Emperor Penguin is my dream! What an unusual sight to see one so far north from their usual haunts, must have been amazing to see.

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