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Neko Harbour and Skontorp Cove

Before midnight we reached Andvord Bay, where today’s morning landingsite, Neko harbor is located. At the beginning the idea was to
drift in the wide part of Andvord until the early morning when we planned the approach to Neko. All started well, but increasing winds
made for a faster drift than expected, while growlers, brash ice and icebergs where all around. To avoid a busy night motoring up and down to avoid them, as we drifted over a shallow spot close to the entrance of the bay, the captain decided to drop anchor. The waters in the fjord are up to 400m deep, but here suddenly a shallow of about 20m comes abruptly up from the sea floor, creating a quiet, calm and iceberg free area around. Just 7nm had to be done to reach the small bay of Neko Harbour in the early morning. Like this we were in good position for launching zodiacs by breakfast time. Andvord Bay was another of the discoveries of the Belgica expedition
under Gerlache command (1897-99), by then they roughly charted and named the area after Rolf Andvord, the Belgian Consul in Christiania (Oslo) at the time. Scattered huge icebergs are floating here and there, but close to the landing spot just a few bergy bits are around. Soon three bells rang to gather all of us in the deckhouse for our pre-landing briefing, followed by a quick scout by our guides to choose a suitable place for putting us ashore. Some care must be taken during our time ashore. Countless penguin highways crisscross the snowy slopes under the Gentoo penguin colonies that occupy the top of the several rounded rocky hills around. Then, walking along the track that climbs the glaciated slopes leading to scenic viewpoints must be done with attention to hidden crevasses. And finally, the tidal glacier that almost surrounds all of Neko Harbour could be dangerous should any big chunks come off while we
are on the beach. In that case, the recommendation is to head up the slopes and gain some height, as big waves can grow on the shallow waters of the bay. Just like the penguins do in these occasions. The length of the beach is a favourite playground for the penguins, and also their way back and forth the sea to their rookeries, offering great photo opportunities while they go or arrive from their fishing grounds, or hang around cleaning themselves before going on their foraging trips. Many of us also enjoyed the small hike to a vantage point with views over the whole bay, with the large glacier front below us. The way down is much faster, with most of the people gone up the hills, the shoreline became quiet, and the remaining ones greatly enjoy the quietness and beauty of the place just slowly wandering around or sitting on a rock. There, besides the always enjoyable penguins, several seagulls are fishing. And Skuas use the big boulders as perches from where to sneak into the penguin colonies to catch eggs or small chicks. We all got the chance to enjoy some time for ourselves on our last landing in Antarctica. Neko Harbour is a great spot on continental Antarctica, and with the
mist and cloud cover opening and closing, it offers great photo opportunities, contemplative moments and also some fun sliding down from up the hills. This landing offered a great farewell to our landings but not to Antarctica itself, as we still plan a visit to the neighbor Paradise Bay this afternoon, where a zodiac cruise is planned. Despite the wintery weather today’s activities represent two more of the
Antarctica peninsula highlights. As soon as everybody is back on board, Europa starts her way out of Andvord Bay. Passing by some of the large icebergs that pepper the area, Europa enters Paradise Bay through a narrow channel where the Chilean Station “Gonzalez Videla” is located. Just after leaving the Base behind, a group of Orcas was spotted, making their way off to the Gerlache Strait. They didn’t stop or become curious about us being there and just continued on their way, nevertheless offering a good though short sight. Enough to identify the pod as the type “B” orca. Their distinctive lighter coloration, smaller size and larger eye-patch than the typical Killer whale we are used to see elsewhere, are typical from this ecotype in the coastal areas around the Antarctic peninsula. We were right at the entrance of Paradise Harbour, a gorgeous bay surrounded by high mountains and huge glaciers, today just visible now
and then due to the snowy weather. Something we can’t really complain about, as we had gorgeous meteorology so far during almost all our trip, so a day of a more typical “Antarctic weather” is welcomed, at least by some of us. Soon Europa stops her engines at the base of a rocky headland of mainland Antarctica, home for the Argentinean Station “Almirante Brown”, there zodiacs and sloopy are launched, amongst drift and brash ice. The idea for the afternoon was to do a cruise combined with a landing at the Base. But after having radio contact with the Argentinean Base Commander, they sadly inform us that due to their recent arrival to their Station, the installations are not ready yet to receive people, that includes the small jetty and stairs where to land. We will use all the time available in the afternoon for cruising around the bay. First driving in front of the installations of the Brown Station, that was built in April 1951. From there we venture below a sheer 80m high basalt cliff, named Shag Crag, after the large Antarctic shag colony nesting on its SW face. There the numerous cormorants are taking care of their chicks and are busy refurbishing their nests with whatever materials they can find, predominantly feathers and algae. The picturesque tour continues towards the ship, now repositioned next to the impressive
Skontorp Cove glacier front. But before a detour through the brash ice and icebergs that fill the bay, brings us to a close encounter with a huge female Leopard seal, which ends up sliding into the water from an ice floe and inquisitive as they can be, she approaches and checks all our boats, for the amusement of us all. These beautiful seals are quite unique between their relatives, as they predate upon penguins, seal pups and fish, representing a great part of their diet, besides the ubiquitous Krill. For that the evolution has drifted them towards a reptilian look, specialized teeth, graceful body constitution and long pectoral fins for an improved maneuverability underwater.
Close by, a Crab-eater seal seems to be waking up from its afternoon snooze over another ice floe. Once everybody got great views of them, we resume our way to the vertical ice cliffs of Skontorp Cove. The glacier front seems to be formed by many tower-like seracs hanging over the sea and impressive ice caves that threaten to calve at any moment. Back on board, the next half of the voyage crew that remained on board for a couple of hours while the others were cruising, boarded the boats and enjoyed a similar cruise, being lucky enough to find other Leopard and Crabeater seals and impressive icebergs, besides the glacier front that towers next to us as well as the busy Antarctic shag colony. Back on time for diner, the boats are hoisted on deck and soon we are leaving Paradise Harbour for the Gerlache Strait and the passage between Brabant and Anvers Islands, where we plan to spend the night. But as we motor our way along the Gerlache Strait, a voice sounds in the internal P.A. system and on deck: feeding Humpback whales have been spotted. Reducing our speed and drifting around we could have a nice approach to a few of them before resuming our way.

Written by:
Jordi, Nilla, Collette | Guides

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