Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Leaving Ushuaia – to Puerto Natales via Punta Arenas

We left Usuhuaia by bus to Punta Arenas (Chile). Will miss those sunsets… I’m not sure what the longest border in the world is, and while I’m sure a quick Google would sort that out, I’d lay a bet that Chile and Argentina would have to be up there. Chile does have biohazard controls on entering the country, much like NZ does (so no meats, cheeses etc.) you have to get a boat to leave Tierra Del Fuego as it’s an island. Who knew? You probably, but I didn’t.

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Punta Arenas was a nice enough place actually. Wasn’t really expecting it to be, but it certainly was. We could have taken the bus all the way to where we wanted to be (Puerta Natales), but that would have meant getting it at 11pm or something, so opted instead for breaking the journey in Punta Arenas. Admittedly didn’t get up to much, except for going to an ATM and getting some cash out (a somewhat novel experience coming from Argentina). Had a nice sushi, very nice little hostel (Downtown Hostel – Hostel Del Centro), and that was that.

First impressions of Chile were certainly positive though. Seemed fractionally friendlier (Argentina already seems nice enough), definitely seemed to be more prosperous / functional. Again, super brief impressions and based on very little, but still.. good.

Very thankful for the Open Street Map app – as discussed previously – OsmAnd+, really makes finding your way around easy. Managed to find white fuel (coleman gas) – called Bezina Blanca here. Couldn’t find it in Argentina. While my stove is the MSR international, it’s happier burning the cleaner white fuel, so got 1L of that for the walk around Torres Del Paine. Also got a couple of (very expensive) dehydrated meals. If you’re coming internationally and going hiking, my advice is to bring stuff from home if you can. Also, replaced my camelbak water bladder as it had sprung a leak. Very nice being able to find good outdoors shops. Again, cheaper in Punta Arenas than in Natales, or so we were led to believe ;)

Next morning, a bus to Puerta Natales, gateway to the Torres Del Paine massif, our ultimate destination in Chile. Puerta Natales is another nice little town. Definitely catering to the tourists, which it could do a little more for I think, at least food wise. I reckon you’d make $$$$ if you bulk imported freeze dried meals from NZ and sold them there.. not sure how easy it’d be to get setup.. but there’s definitely a market!! Great little hostel in Little Patagonicos… well, the rooms were a little noisey, but the internet worked well enough, the kitchen was well supplied, very clean, and the staff was extremely helpful. Nice place, would recommend. If there was one disappointment, it was that our room looked out onto a beautiful brick wall, rather than the absolutely stunning landscape which the raspberry pi would have done justice to in terms of a timelapse ;) And yes, I searched for available wall sockets, buffink. In fact, annoyingly the Americanish style wall sockets they have here, have a very slightly smaller diameter than the adapter I bought in the airport… seeing as we’re only going to be in Chile for the one hike, I didn’t bother getting a new one. I still love love love my multiplug adapter though, that worked fine. If you can find one of these, get one… best thing ever.

Went out for a crepe and a coffee for my birthday, opting to wait for a meal until after we get back from the 10 day hike.. Maaike also smashed me at Tantrix (the day before my birthday luckily, so the day wasn’t completely ruined ;) … she has the beautiful green loop.

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A very quick note on some hiking & app tips

I have really made use (too much use?) of our Garmin 62. Apparently discontinued now, but I’m sure things like it are still around. On our friend Hamish’s excellent advice, we subscribed to the satellite imagery. It’s only $30 USD for a year, and you can get it worldwide. Very handy when trying to navigate.

I also found this site which has all the open street map data available for download in Garmin format. Very handy as then you can just upload it all into the GPS and you have all the contours, tracks etc. Very useful – at least so far in Argentina, remains to be seen what the other countries are like.

Still on hiking, our friends recommended getting an MSR whisperlite international. The international version, as then you can burn unleaded as well as kerosene (rather than just white gas). I slightly wish I’d got the dragonfly as it allows for better simmering. I haven’t been able to find white gas here (did find a nice datasheet with different countries translations of fuel types in it). I’m not sure if it makes a difference, shortens life / will lead to blockages to use unleaded. Need to do research! That said, filling up the bottle with unleaded costs $2 . $2 for about 10 nights cooking (if you’re careful and just firing it up to boil water). Very impressive.

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Also, on friends Neil & Frances’ suggestion, bought Primus Eta pots from telemark pyrenees online. I got the 1L and the 1.7L pots (doesn’t look like they have the 1.7L in stock at the moment). These are great. They stack together, they have a heat exchange system so use significantly less fuel, boil in minutes on the MSR, are non-stick and have a built in strainer (should you need it). Very happy we bought them.

Finally, bought an Ortlieb V Shot camera bag. It’s waterproof, decent padding, slightly larger than it needs to be for my camera, but it does have some clever cut-outs and loops than you can use to strap it onto your pack. I’m not sure if it’s the intended design for the loops etc, but I reckon it must be ;)

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Anyway, was happy once I’d worked out how to keep the camera on the outside of the pack (else, it’d be too much hassle always opening and closing the bag). It hasn’t been too annoying to hike with yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Apps

Osmand – open street maps for android
Bought the OSMAnd app. It’s a nice interface for open street maps, and I can download all the countries for offline storage (and navigation, does not require internet)

AirBnB
Simple decent app for AirBnB

Google Translate
This thing is amazing. You can download the languages for offline use again (godsend!). It has this wonderful feature where you simply hold up the app with the camera on to some text, and it translates it on the fly. I must take a video, it’s really really beautiful and impressive tech.

XE.com – currency exchange
Again, very handy app this one, for knowing what you’re actually paying

hostelworld (tentative)
Have downloaded this one on a friends recommendation, will see how it goes.

Well, I think that’s about it for the moment, it’s amazing how far things have progressed so quickly. Does feel a bit cheaty at times, but still, very handy.

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Laguna del Caminante y Paso de la Oveja

Final hike out of Ushuaia, this was to Laguna del Caminante and up over Paso de la Oveja. Nice walk this one, not has hard as the first one, much more interesting than the National Park. A goldilocks kind of walk.

Map above courtesy of wikiloc.

We did the walk from East to West, seemed like the best way to do it. Nice enough walk up the valley, track easy to follow and mostly clear of barriers (the odd beaver lake..). Nice hanging glaciers to look at on the way up.

 

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We walked all the way in to the lake, found about 5? other tents there (it is popular ish). There had been snow on the ground, and the best spots were taken, so it was a cold enough night. Yes, our tent has a decent groundsheet, but still, we got wet through it a bit, or there was condensation, whatever, it was a little damp that night.

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The next day it was still snowing on and off a bit, so, we opted for a lazy day!!! WOOOOOOOHOOOOO, Maaike doesn’t seem to believe in relaxing half as much as I do. It was a glorious day, full of eating biscuits, reading books, eating more biscuits, playing cards… and… moving the tent to the best place on the lake!

 

 

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The following day, Friday 15th, it was (as forcast) a beautiful day, and we went for a walk on the far side of the lake and up an along the ridgeish / contouring . Very nice walk, stunning lunch spot. Beavers swimming in the lake below (little *******s!)…

 

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Maaike took a lot of pictures of flowers (quite happy with our TG-3 camera – thanks Steve & Michelle for the suggestion). The TG-3 is waterproof, shockproof and has a very nice macro lens on it. It’s perfect for us hiking as we can just put it in a pocket and forget about it. Very happy so far.

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Then the next day we walked out. It was an easy enough walk, do keep to the true left of the valley at the saddle, the cairns seem to lead you astray (just look at the map!)

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Easy at least, until about 3km from the end where there was a good bit of tree fall.

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Anyway, a great hike, would definitely recommend it, even just up to the lake is nice, though I did enjoy our traverse a lot :)

This may very well be the last post with lots of pictures.. I’ve been writing these (and Antarctica) up at our AirBnB in Ushuaia which has really great internet. I suspect the upcoming posts will have a lot less pictures!

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Tierra Del Fuego National Park

Of all the places we visited out of Ushuaia (and it was only 4 hikes we’ve done to be fair), the national park was my least favourite. A good thing if you’re reading this and contemplating coming, as it was the only place that we had to pay for.. It’s on the border with Chile, and, well, there are more than a few flags flying around the place.

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We did some walks at a few different places. I admit, I was again disappointed in the track state. I get that NZ is wonderful, and I know Maaike will hate me for bashing Argentina at all, however, they take $15 USD per person entry into the park, and have only a few marked trails. Incidentally, the fee is cash only… most convenient, would be interesting to trace it!. So yes, I would expect the tracks to be at least fairly clear of fallen trees, and I’d expect that the areas that are getting destroyed (turned to mud) through wet ground and people making ever wider circles to get around; would have boardwalk. They did have boardwalk in places, but it never seemed to be anywhere that needed it. While I am saying this, our AirBnB hosts have said exactly the same, so I don’t think I’m being unfair.

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The hill above, Guanaco, was one we climbed in the following days.

The next day, we walked along the coast to the next campground. There was a paid one with toilets and showers, and two free ones which we thought looked way way nicer, so, opted for the free one. Maaike did a walk to the border, while I chilled out by a lake, ate biscuits and did a little bit of Spanish practice.

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Then the next day we did a walk up Guanaco, which was definitely the highlight and did have very nice views out over the Beagle channel.

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Then back to Ushuaia.

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Sierra Valdivieso circuit

We had meant to do this hike last thing before leaving ushuaia, as we thought it would be the hardest, however, two friends from the Cruise – Isidor and Michele, wanted to do it, so we decided to go along with them.

There’s a nice visualization of the route on the garmin adventure site by a Paul Schwanitz (good work Paul!). The track may once have been popular, but it doesn’t look like it gets that much use now.

It was hard work. Sure we’d just come off a cruise and were fat and unfit, but still, it was a hard trip. In the map below, I’ve very very roughly outlined the route (there is a track in places, the pinkish bits); where it is marked in red, the track basically doesn’t exit and you’re following little animal tracks, maybe a bit of old track, then it’ll peter out..

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Anyway, first off walk up towards the passes, passing an hut along the way. I think it’s free to use?

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I was shocked and stunned at the lengths some people, Maaike included went to keep their feet dry. In NZ, I generally just walk through the streams accepting wet feet. Maybe that’s because there’s less wood around to make a bridge out of, but, generally speaking, it’s a lot safer to just wade through the water rather than make some slippy bridge to go over.

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Turning up the right ridge to the pass and following a few cairns, then up over the passes themselves. We had a bit of a snow slope to go up, but it wasn’t icy when we went across it, so just kicked steps in and off you go.

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And then a descent down the other side, through beaver country (more on those feckers later), and then our first campspot (S54.64517° W68.25648° WGS84)

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Next day was a beast of a day, through a forest which had been burned, accidentally, by fire wardens. Story seems a little too good to be true, but anyway, huge chunk of forest was burned, and the way we were going (around one valley and into the next) wasn’t an official track anyway. It was hard going, loose rocks, trees all over the place.. hard.

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I didn’t take any pictures of the “fight” (hard undergrowth) but it was pretty dense in places. We happened across a very nice little campsite, basically by luck, S54.62020° W68.33524° (WGS84). Neatly between a couple of small waterfalls, really lovely spot to camp, wish I’d taken a picture :) It was a good choice to stop there, it was about 17:00, and we’d hoped to get further, but there probably wasn’t a decent campsite for easily another few hours (and that was the first decent spot for hours too). Phew! I mean we’d have made do for sure, but the ground was level and dry..

Next day, first few hours was more fight, stepping up through what looked to be high enough cliffs around lakes, but, once you got close enough there was generally a way you could haul yourself up. It was a good thing that Isidor and Michele were happy with a climbing, exposure, heights etc. In retrospect, it was fantasic that they’d come along, but lucky that we were all of a good enough skill level to get through it without tears & still being friends!

The second half of the day was lovely though, open tops, clear views over the lakes, very nice walking.

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A word on beavers

Beavers are absolutely terrible ;) Well, they are in Argentina anyway. They were introduced in 1946 for the fur trade, and while, according to wikipedia there are eradication efforts, it certainly didn’t seem to be working well. We saw dams everwhere. They ruin the landscape and make the hiking hugely harder, as you have to go around the destruction..

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We were cursing them by the end of the trip.. I really hope they can pull together the money to eradicate them, but it’d be a huge project now, not even sure if it’d be possible.

Anyway, good day on all – another reasonable campsite on a river flat, in beaver country, so maybe it won’t be there if you try: S54.68399° W68.33147°(WGS84)

This was our last night with Isidor and Michele, they were doing it one day quicker than us, and had a bus booked… real pleasure hiking with them though.

Next day we had a slightly lazier start, and then walked out. Isidor had a guide from wikiloc suggesting to make the river crossing at S54.69555° W68.26302° (WGS84) which is indeed what we did. Again, didn’t take a picture. The river was already reasonably high (though not swiftly moving) at that point, perhaps a crossing further upstream would have been sensible, and there were trees downstream too so really not a good place to lose your footing. I was ever thankful again for the river crossing course I did with the Canterbury Uni Tramping Club. It’s simple stuff, but rivers are one of (if not the) biggest killers in NZ backcountry trips. Anyway, Maaike and I crossed safely, but I was still happy to be on the other side.

More windfall trees making life hard, beavers, but did find a nice enough campsite (S54.70795° W68.22847° WGS84) for the last night.

Then the following day, fairly quick trip out and only had to wait 15 mins for a hitch back to town.

All in all a good trip, but hard. It was great not to see other trampers for the whole 5 days, and it definitely gave you the feeling that you were “out there”. That said, we’ve had better views for easier walks here in Patagonia ;), so, if you have limited time, I’d suggest doing one of the other walks first. That said, it beats the hell out of the “national park” (at least the official one), more to come on that in the next post.

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Miscellaneous bits ‘n pieces

I must mention the food on the trip.

There was a lot of it, and it was uniformly excellent.

Every single morning I had a cooked breakfast, followed by pancakes, bacon & maple syrup. It was delicious and decadent, and I miss it terribly.

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Lunch was also buffet, but changed around a lot (often my favourite meal of the day really). Unfortunately I didn’t take any decent pictures.

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And then dinner, the wine was included and unlimited (both wonderful and dangerous). The best thing though was getting to spend time with the other passengers on board, reminded me of commons back in TCD days, good times.


Bridge. Two of the passengers on board were looking for a 3rd and 4th to play bridge. I stepped up, and another passenger did too – perfect. We just played a few times, but I did enjoy it (and realised just how rusty I’d become). I do miss that game. One of the hands my opponents bid (and made) 7NT.. I was most impressed.


Finally, I setup the raspberry pi on our porthole..

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It took pictures every day, every 20 seconds… which I then edited down into one video.. it’s a little bumpy in places, but still… good times!

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Deception Island & Yankee Harbour

Whalers’ Bay is the first bay inside Port Foster as you pass through Neptune’s Bellows at Deception Island. The buildings include the remains of the Norwegian Hektor whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) base, which was evacuated after an eruption in 1967. A 15-minute walk from the landing site up the slope of the caldera will take you to Neptune’s Bellows, from which you can get a view of Port Foster, and on a clear day, you can sometimes see the Antarctic peninsula across the Bransfield Strait.

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Big old volcano deception island. Good times wandering around it, the ground is still warm if you did down a bit. There have been times when the ship has had to stay inside the caldera because it’s impossible to sail out again.. In fact, it was one of the few times that the bridge was closed and passengers weren’t allowed up (captain having to concentrate on some tricky nav)

Whalers used it, the BAS used it, all deserted now though I believe.

Then in the afternoon it was our last landing & cruise at Yankee Harbour

Yankee Harbour lies between Glacier Bluff and Spit Point on the southwest side of Greenwich Island. The harbour is enclosed by a curved stone and gravel bar, and was known to American and British sealers as early as 1820. A tripot from early sealing activities can be still be seen on the spit. Approximately 4,000 pairs of breeding Gentoo penguins nest on the site’s raised beach terraces, and southern elephant seals and Weddell seals occasionally haul out here.

I spent most of the time on shore just sitting down, listening to the scraping and popping of the ice (popping while trapped air bubbles are released), meditating on what we’d seen and done. I just feel & felt so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to see this very unique place, tinged with a little bit of a guilty conscience in the carbon we’d used to get down here, the organisms that we did our very very best not to bring to land, but I imagine every so often stuff gets through that shouldn’t… and just hoping that what with climate change etc. that the special place that is Antarctica will be around in another 5000 years. That said, change is the only constant, and there are lots of things that will have a bearing on that. But mostly, I just felt incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing adventure.

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D’Hainaut Island & Cierva Cove (and SUPping)

D’Hainaut Island is a small, largely flat & rocky island (less than 1km2) that lies within Mikkelsen Harbour on the southern coast of Trinity Island. The area was first charted by Nordenskjød’s Swedish Expedition, and later used by whalers as a mooring point for factory ships each season from 1910-1917. The remains of wooden casks, water boats and whale carcasses dating to this period can be seen at the landing beach, and there is a semi derelict Argentine refuge hut that was established in 1954. The site is home to breeding Gentoo penguins & numerous snowy sheathbills, and weddell & Antarctic fur seals occasionally haul-out in the vicinity.

First off, D’Hainaut Island, (Mikkelsen Harbour, Trinity Island, Antarctic peninsula). Went for a landing & cruise in the morning. On a few of these days we were getting up at 05:30 ish in order to have a landing, then breakfast, then a cruise after. Honestly, it’s a hard, hard life holidaying. I expect much sympathy in the comments ;). However, this morning we didn’t start until 8:30, so could lie in until 7 ish. Happy days.

Anyway, small little island with an Argentinian refuge base on it. I think still occasionally used by scientists?! Then a cruise around the harbour.

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Then in the afternoon the day we’d been waiting for at Cierva cove. So, Quark offer a few different excursion opportunities. On our boat, you could have Kayaking ($1,000), Climbing ($650ish), Skiing($650) or Paddleboarding ($150). Kayaking, which we wanted to do because Val was the guide, unfortunately had all the spots taken. Climbing (mountaineering) and Skiing were a little more than we wanted to pay, and the thing is, you don’t actually know how many times you’re going to get out. If the weather turns, you might just get one trip for your $650. In the event, they had at least 2 if not 3 excursions each. Paddleboarding was $150 per time you went out.. but you had to have flat calm conditions, and today was that day for us!

Never having done paddlboarding before, it seemed Antarctica was as good a place as any to try it ;) As you’ll see in the pictures, we were maybe 5m from a sleeping leopard seal. We’re not their prey, however, it was still a tiny bit scary!. Interesting how much hitting even a small piece of ice unsettled the board. Still, no one fell in, and even if we did, you had decent dry suits so it would have been fine. It was lovely seeing the penguins swimming underneath your board, and it was so beautifully quiet, and of course, lovely to be away from the main group too. That was definitely one of the attractions again for paddleboarding, only 2 other passengers signed up, so it was a very small number of us.

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Definitely a highlight of the trip for me, our guide Gray was excellent.. super great guy, very chilled, exactly the right amount of instruction, and, while we could have got out other days, he certainly held off announcing the trip until what really was the most perfect day for it.

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Antarctica – Brown Bluff & Kinnes Cove & Polar Plunge

Today we got to stand on Antarctica proper. Not that it was actually a “ticklist” for me, but, this does complete being on all continents, and before Maaike, not that it’s a competition mind, but, if it was, I’d have won ;) (she was first on Antarctica though, convincing the boat driver (Marla) that she had to touch land first)

Aaaaaaaaanyway ;)

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Penguins. It’s a rough life, and rocks are seriously important things. They steal rocks from eachother, and, if caught, well, the one who is being stolen from is not happy! Females (who have already hatched their chick) will have sex with males in return for stones… sneaky things. And the smell.. it’s.. a full rich aroma that’s for sure.

We also went for a cruise around (that was always the pattern, half the passengers would land while the other half cruised, then swap). You can see the chinstrap penguins are perfectly happy on the small iceberg with the leopard seal, they can move faster on the iceberg. That said, I’d have thought once in the water they’d be toast, but maybe not.

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In the afternoon we went for a cruise around Kinnes Cove

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Lots of Adele penguins in the water, videos will have to wait for Europe when there’ll be more time for uploading and editing! Did you know there are only two types of penguin? The white ones coming towards you, and the black ones walking away from you ;)

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We also did the polar plunge. They give you a harness and tied you in too! not taking any chances with heart attacks ;) Water was a balmy 1 degree or so. I cheated and had a sauna first (yes, there was a sauna on board), so it actually wasn’t that bad at all to be honest! We did get a certificate for our troubles too!

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Then we cruised on towards Trinity Island, passing many many massive tabular icebergs on route. It was utterly awe inspiring.. you have to be there…. Tabular icebergs come from the ice-shelves. Big things. We were sailing past them for at least an hour (and of course, we’d been seeing icebergs for most of the journey since the Falklands)

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Elephant Island

What a nuts place this was – Point Wild on Elephant Island. Here it was that 28 men from the Endurance Expedition landed, and 22 stayed for 4 months while Shackleton et al went off by boat to South Georgia for rescue.

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The passengers didn’t get to land unfortunately, above you can see a few of the expedition staff on land, at Point Wild. It doesn’t look like much, and it really isn’t. A very small inhospitable spit of land. The Endurance crew (Wild?! and a couple of others) had rowed 7km along shore to find this spot, it was the best they could do, and it was here that they made camp. What a brutal place to be for 4 months.

There’s a monument to the Chilean captain (Luis Pardo Villalón) who was the captain who rescued them off the Island.

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It’s funny, we had the calmest seas getting there, and even then we were unable to land (ice on the landing and a bit of a swell). Most trips they can’t even see remotely as much as we did, let alone have the opportunity to do a zodiac cruise around the place.

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And then there was this guy, a sleeping juvenile humpback whale. Every 6 mins or so it would come to the surface, have a breath, and sink back down again.

Sleeping Humpback

Then in the afternoon we went exploring around more of Elephant Island.

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The whale above might be a Southern Right, I’m not quite sure, maybe a sei whale. Definitely a whale anyway ;)

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