Homage to the wild

Returning home from the icy south, especially at the tail end of an Antarctic summer, is a play of the imagination. I have an image of the ocean already settling with the winter freeze, the penguin rookeries now empty, whales heading north to temperate latitudes, and summer’s window, which tolerates visitors of the human kind, sliding firmly closed.

Every part of Antarctica’s summer offers unexpected rewards. The key is to drag on the insulating layers and get out in it, regardless of the weather. I took the images below during March and April 2019 voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. It is always tempting to single out photos from ‘best weather’ days, but I’ve resisted. The times when we venture out in wind and snow, when the cold bites and the warmth of the ship feels like heaven to return to, are when I feel most alive.

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Tabular bergs break from ice shelves far down in the Weddell Sea and travel north with currents to round the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. ©Robyn Mundy

 

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This katabatic wind sprang to life unannounced in Royal Bay, South Georgia. ©Robyn Mundy

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On this same day, the trip from shore back to the ship earned a nod to the skill and fortitude of my expedition team mates. ©Robyn Mundy

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I’m a sucker for a spectacular sky. These lenticular clouds at Jason Harbour, South Georgia, demanded a stop in the Zodiac to bring out the camera. ©Robyn Mundy

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Salisbury Plain, South Georgia. This colony of king penguins with their brown fluffy chicks is a sight to behold. ©Robyn Mundy

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This young humpback shared itself around our Zodiacs and kayaks for over an hour, spyhopping, rolling, diving beneath each boat and extending a flipper. He/she was so attentive to each of us that my colleague Roger later said, ‘It felt rude to leave.’ Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. ©Robyn Mundy

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Ant2019 by Katherin Jafari

This season we shared a voyage with dear friends from Perth, WA, who embraced Antarctica and got to experience every kind of weather. Good on you, Katherine & Kev! ©Katherine J.

Arctic jewels

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Home again on the tail of three magical Arctic voyages aboard Polar Pioneer, exploring Svalbard and East Greenland. While every voyage sees a keen focus on wildlife—that dream of seeing the mighty polar bear, King of the Arctic—Svalbard and East Greenland are crowns crammed with all kinds of precious gems, from the large to the tiny. Here below are some of the wonders I love about the high north. I hope you’ll enjoy them too. — Robyn Mundy

ROCK

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Gateau Point, Scoresbysund, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

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Bjørneøer (Bear Islands), Ø Fjord, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

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Lake Noa, Blomsterbugten, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

ICE

20180807-RM-Kongsbreen IMG_2237Kongsbreen, Svalbard ©Robyn Mundy
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Kapp Stewart, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

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Røde Fjord, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TUNDRA

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Broad-leaved willow herb  ©Robyn Mundy

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Mouse-ear chickweed  ©Robyn Mundy

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Snow buttercups  ©Robyn Mundy

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Purple Mountain Saxifrage  ©Robyn Mundy

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Arctic cotton grass  ©Robyn Mundy

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Tundra reflections ©Robyn Mundy

WILDLIFE

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Arctic fox in summer coat, Ytre Norskøya, Svalbard   ©Robyn Mundy

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Muskox, Harefjord, East Greenland  ©Robyn Mundy

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Svalbard reindeer, Kap Lee, Svalbard  ©Robyn Mundy

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Polar bear, Kvitøya, Svalbard ©Robyn Mundy

ALONG WITH A TRIBUTE

…to MV Polar Pioneer, our ice-strengthened Russian workhorse that makes it all happen year after year. For those of us who have been working with her since her maiden voyage in 2000, it is bound to be a sad farewell this time next year, the Arctic 2019 season being her final with Aurora Expeditions before she steams away toward shiny new adventures.

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MV Polar Pioneer ©Robyn Mundy

Antarctica

 

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King penguins at Gold Harbour, South Georgia, in the early part of the Antarctic summer. ©Robyn Mundy

What a crazy and unexpected year 2018 has become, thanks largely to a new part time work role that I happily agreed to, having exploded into a juggernaut. The consolation I hold onto (and it’s a big one) is that my efforts might make a positive difference. But with many hours consumed, I have turned into an absent friend and non-communicator. My work desk, once stacked with writing research and photos and scribbled notes of dialogue, has been taken over by To Do lists and a utilitarian work diary, Week To A Spread. Christmas cards relegated to the side table are gathering dust, remnants of glitter glinting from their envelopes, the senders, still waiting to be acknowledged, unaware of how precious their greetings are to me. (I’m sorry. I’m sorry). A stack of novels waiting to be read occasionally glares at me from my bedside table; they’ve all but given up. I’ve abandoned testy Twitter and gone for Instagram — a voyeur rather than a contributor — because there’s something lovely, and effortless, in ‘liking’ a world of beauty, travel and glee beyond my own.

Well, enough of that. Time to post a few images with a reminder that just back there, just beyond the corner of my sights, lies another world. Antarctica. I hope you enjoy this photo selection from four voyages, November through January, to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. It’s not all blue skies and sunshine. You’ll see a dolloping of wild weather and snowfall which, for those of us onboard, often makes for some of the most memorable moments of all.

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You think getting ready for work takes a long time? For this chinstrap penguin at Hydrurga Rocks, preening is a major undertaking to coat every individual feather and hard-to-get-at spot with waterproofing oil before heading back out to sea. ©Robyn Mundy

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What makes this glacial berg so blue? The bluest ice is often very old ice from far down in the glacier, compressed under tremendous weight. Air bubbles have been squeezed out of the ice, allowing light to penetrate deep into the ice and reflect blue light waves. The penguins don’t mind a bit of blue ice either. ©Robyn Mundy

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About one in every 300 Antarctic fur seals are born blonde. No one but we onlookers seems to take much notice. ©Robyn Mundy

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No getting chubby on one of our Antarctic expeditions. Our boys take healthy eating to heart… 😉

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But our wonderful stewardesses and Hotel Manger sneak a few extra tidbits onto the plates 🙂

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Early season at Enterprise Island, where pancakes of ice form with cold overnight temperatures. Nearing winter, these pans coalesce to form a sheet of sea ice that covers the ocean until the following spring. ©Robyn Mundy

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Skontorp Cove, and who can resist a glacier on a perfectly still morning? ©Robyn Mundy

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Kayaks and Zodiacs lashed down as we cross a wild Scotia Sea. ©Robyn Mundy

 

 

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It’s not only the remarkable place but the people we travel with that makes working in Antarctica so special. ©Robyn Mundy

Image of the Week

Cavorting Arctic fox kits, Hornsund. ©️Karen Povey, 2017

This northern summer I voyaged to Svalbard Archipelago with a host of adventure travellers, including Karen Povey, a passionate nature enthusiast, wildlife conservationist and all round good sort to have aboard an Arctic voyage.

Karen is a talented photographer, so when I saw this gobsmacking* photo feature on the cover of the trip’s voyage log, I invited her to share her image and the story behind it. Over to you, Karen:

My July trip to Svalbard was truly one of my life’s highlights. One favorite experience was our landing in Hornsund on the archipelago’s main island of Spitsbergen. We scrambled, often on hands and knees, high up a nearly vertical slope of dense moss to the base of a kittiwake nesting cliff. As we clung to our precarious perch an arctic fox appeared, effortlessly trotting by, nose to the earth. Astonished, we watched the fox briskly snatch up chicks that had fallen from the rocks above. Soon its mate appeared and they alternated foraging forays, mouths stuffed with downy prey. Upon descent, it became apparent why they worked so hard in this brief season of plenty – they had a den occupied by at least eight active youngsters! Watching the kits tumbling in play while we stood yards away was beyond thrilling. I don’t know how long we stayed transfixed, immersed in the awe of nature (and the dedication of parents!) in this amazing place.

A second image from Karen to complete the story: Many mouths to feed. ©️Karen Povey, 2017

©️Karen Povey

My thanks to Karen for sharing her fabulous Arctic fox images, along with this self portrait taken in the Cascades: an outdoor girl just enjoying the back yard of her home state of Washington, USA.

*I couldn’t resist an excuse to slip in ‘gobsmacking’, a new Australian word that featured during our voyage 😉

Top Shelf: Vi Wilson

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Like to meet an exceptional photographer whose first camera was a Box Brownie, who has never had formal training, who neither markets her photos nor runs a website, but whose images of landscape and nature have won more national and international awards than many photographers dare dream?

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Meet VI WILSON, landscape photographer, fellow adventurer and friend. I have sailed with Vi several times to the high latitudes, most recently aboard Polar Pioneer on voyages to Svalbard and East Greenland. I invited Vi to speak about her photographic journey, and to share this selection of gobsmacking images, all taken during our September Arctic adventure.

If you listen quietly enough life will whisper its secrets to you.
—Rasheed Oghunlaru

Greenland Splendour

Markers of a Journey

‘Ever since I was a small child I have been drawn to the ever-changing beauty of land, sea and sky. It is inevitable that the focus of my image-making portrays this. But growing up in a working class family in Albany, Western Australia, money was always in short supply and at 15 I had to leave school to find a job. There was no encouragement to pursue a career. Out of my three pounds, five shillings and seven pence wages, I was required to give my mother one pound board.’

Bjorneoer

With hard-earned savings, Vi bought her first Box Brownie and the path to photography opened. ‘The world was there as I saw it. I never questioned or analysed why it was important to record it, although on many occasions I have been spellbound by the sheer magic and emotion of the moment. I was once told that I was an instinctive photographer, and to some extent I think that is true. Often you just know but the challenge then is how.’

Landscape Suspended

We see things not as they are, but as we are.
—H. M. Tomlinson

I decided it was time to learn about photography and it was on a 2005 trip to Antarctica that I heard the first whispers about why I make photographs. More recently at a photography workshop I was given an assignment to ‘identify images which are markers for your own journey.’ As I sorted through images something surprising happened. Similarities were emerging. I began to see things that really did say something about me. The images were serene but ordered. There were patterns and shapes; there was light and shadow, strength and vulnerability, emotion and rhythms—like music. My music. Music in landscapes. My need to capture the beauty around me had been ever present but the reason remained elusive. I feel enormously blessed and grateful to have discovered it.

Lillehookbreen

Arctic Light

‘It was such a privilege this year to travel to the Arctic with Aurora. The wildlife and scenery of Spitsbergen, the pack ice, and the absolute grandeur of Greenland have the ability to leave one speechless and filled with awe. I suffered from an acute case of sensory overload.’

Quiet Morning

‘Trying to capture and convey my emotional responses to this kind of splendour is not always easy, but when a viewer responds positively to an image, there is the satisfaction of knowing that perhaps I did – just a little bit!’

Landscape photography: pointers from Vi Wilson

Romer Fjord

The landscape is about light, and that can be capricious and elusive. Absolutely the best times are the golden hours in the mornings and evenings. This can be a challenge where there is 24 hours of daylight, so sometimes it is a good idea to change the camera settings to record monochrome, as it gives an immediate idea of whether a scene might work as mono. This can work rather well in the middle of the day, but the camera needs to be set to capture RAW data. The image can always be restored to colour in post processing.

Gateau Point

Sometimes trying to capture the whole scene can work, but at other times, it is good to explore shooting vertical, or zooming in to focus on details. There is the far landscape and the near landscape, and both have their place.

Sand and Foam

 

Arctic Garden

Tripods are a blessing and a curse! In some situations the circumstances just don’t lend themselves to using one, so it is important to keep an eye on the speed and ISO, especially when using a long lens on the camera and shooting from a bobbing zodiac, or a rolling ship. If you are able to use a tripod, also use a cable release, delayed shutter release, or mirror lockup.

Frozen World

Increasing the ISO can increase noise but there are some good noise reduction programs on the market. However, they should be used with care or they can make an image look over-smooth and plastic.

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Vi, in closing, a question I always like to ask my guests: will you tell us something you cherish about your life?20170707-RM-photographer Vi Wilson at Hamiltonbukta-IMG_6670 cropped
I cherish my good health and my family, and the privilege of being able to witness the wonders of the natural world.

 

My thanks to Vi Wilson for sharing her creative journey and these beautiful images of Svalbard and East Greenland. Photos ©Violet Wilson, 2017

Quotations from Rasheed Oghunlaru and H. M. Tomlinson provided by Vi Wilson.

 

Image of the Week

Cold coast, pointy mountains, polar bear

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Spitsbergen, main island of the Svalbard archipelago. ©Robyn Mundy

Procrastinating about writing, I was seized yesterday with the urge to back up my computer, RIGHT NOW, THIS VERY MINUTE. In the process of tidying-up I lingered over images, including these, photographed last season on a flight from Tromsø in northern Norway, to Spitsbergen, the main island of the Svalbard Archipelago.

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Looking across to Hornsund on the south-west coast of Spitsbergen. ©Robyn Mundy

I’ve been flying to Spitsbergen since Polar Pioneer, the small ice-strengthened ship I work on, set off on its maiden voyage in the year 2000. It’s a rare reward to look down upon this wild place and gaze across its breadth. And you know it must be good when the pilot manoeuvres the plane so that both sides can gain a clear view.

This icy part of the world earns its title: Svalbard translates to cold coast, Spitsbergen, to pointy mountains. Svalbard is also territory to a large population of polar bear. To encounter this mighty animal roaming across its foraging ground is a heart-pattering thrill of any voyage.

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A female polar bear foraging on pack ice in north-east Spitsbergen. ©Robyn Mundy

Image of the week

image

©Robyn Mundy

Soviet Chic 1981

Honestly, who needs a smart phone? There are many things I love about MV Polar Pioneer, the Russian ice-strengthened ship I work on seasonally in the polar regions. While this stout little vessel has undergone plenty of remodelling to bring it into line with 2016 adventure travel, it still retains relics of its 1980s charm from its cold war days as a hydrographic research and “listening” ship. This vintage phone, used for daily communications throughout the ship, sits on Chief Engineer’s desk and is still going strong. Nazdarovya!