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.’

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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.

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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

One Year in Tasmania

Videographer Simon Treweek. Photo: Robyn Mundy

In a recent blog about Maatsuyker Island, I spoke of an island visit from two shiny videographers Simon Treweek and his mate Nick ‘Noodle’ Nain-Smith. During their stay the boys experienced the full brunt of Tasmania’s Southern Ocean, with knock-down winds, lashings of rain and tantalising bursts of sunshine. I doubt anything could have dampened their enthusiasm, for in 24 hours the boys soaked up the island with their cameras to create the 3-minute video Maatsuyker.

Now, not one but two of Simon’s adventure-plus videos, The Edge of the Earth and Maatsuyker, are shortlisted in the One Year in Tasmania Adventure Film competition 2017, part of the Cradle Mountain Film Fest. I thoroughly recommend grabbing 3 minutes then another 3 minutes from your own crazy adventures to view them. Have your say in The People’s Choice Award, open now until May 2nd. To vote, simply like♥ your favourite(s). Links to my two faves below:

Photo courtesy of Simon Treweek


The Edge of the Earth: Surf photographer Stuart Gibson grabs inspiration from Shipstern Bluff, the heaviest wave on earth. Directed by Simon Treweek, this high-octane video won Simon an overnight stay at Maatsuyker Island, courtesy of Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.

Photo: Simon Treweek

Maatsuyker: Visit a mysterious island that Tasmanians hear about every day in the weather forecast but that few have ever seen. Directed by Simon Treweek. 

 

Image of the Week

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In our final weeks at Maatsuyker Island, my partner Gary and I had the joy of sharing the island with the Friends of Maatsuyker Island (FOMI), a fun-filled volunteer group who visit the island each year for an intensive working bee. Amongst the hard workers was photographer James Stone. On the second morning of FOMI’s stay, I made my way down to the lighthouse at first light to carry out a routine daily check. Rounding the corner I did a double take at the sight of a camera and tripod standing untethered on the path, where it had stood overnight. With the relentless winds at Maatsuyker, snagging a time when you might find your camera and tripod in the same place as you left it is a noteworthy event in itself. But when I saw the results of James’ photography, the aurora shown above, and a second image below, I was the one blown away. I invited James to share the story behind his stellar images.

James Stone_IMG_9227As a night sky photographer and self-confessed aurora-addict I couldn’t believe my luck when an aurora was predicted for my first couple of nights on Maatsuyker Island, Australia’s southernmost lighthouse and maybe the best location from which to view the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights outside of spending a winter in the Antarctic. This was in conjunction with clear skies and no wind – conditions exceedingly rare on this exposed lump of rock in the Southern Ocean, renowned for being amongst the wettest and windiest places in Australia. Despite a very early start to get to Maatsuyker I knew I had to stay up and make the most of this incredible opportunity.

The lighthouse stood as a stoic sentinel as the lights danced high in the sky behind, the peace of night broken only by the cries and bellows of the seals on the rocks far below, and the occasional muttonbird swooping by. Being my first night on the island, and with restoration work going on in the lighthouse, I wasn’t sure if I should venture inside, but chanced sticking my head through the door to shine my headtorch up the stairwell, illuminating the windows and lantern room for effect. I would loved to have posed for a silhouette shot on the upper gantry but didn’t think I had better risk it without permission. Next time…

I watched the display long into the wee hours of the morning, in awe of not only the stunning night sky, but my spectacular good fortune to be able to be there, in that location, under those conditions, a unique and truly memorable experience.

Eventually tiredness overtook me and, placing my tripod in a sheltered spot out of the wind and flightpaths of birds, I left my camera clicking away shooting a time lapse until its battery ran out. Meanwhile I staggered back up the hill to bed.

For keen night-sky photographers, James shares his camera settings, and a second aurora image below: Camera: Nikon D750, Lens: Nikkor 16–35mm f/4, Exposure: 20seconds @ f/4.0, ISO: 5000. Be sure to check out James’ brilliant time lapse sequence on Vimeo.

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Beneath the rainbow

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Any title that includes Rainbow is bound to conjure images of crystals and incense sticks. Nope, there’s not a tinkle of glass nor a whiff of sandalwood to be found in this post, only photographic proof that it is possible to see the end of the rainbow, and live a serene life beneath it. We’re talking Maatsuyker Island, site of Australia’s southernmost lighthouse, the island where my novel Wildlight plays out, within cooee of the south-west corner of Tasmania.

Our six months of caretaking and weather observing at Maatsuyker Island has come to a close. Now, even more than our first few days of treading paved roads, it feels like crashing back to earth. The work on the island was hard, the living conditions cold, and the wind rarely stopped blowing, but perhaps all these challenges contributed to us having the time of our lives. And even though we turned into eating machines, we each left the island many kilograms lighter, and fitter, thanks to hauling lawnmowers up and down slopes, wielding brush cutters, digging drains and tending a large vegetable garden, plus all the walking. It’s a win-win formula that I’m naming The Maatsuyker Diet.

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Here is my partner Gary with ‘Helga’ the mower. There’s little scope for traditional gender roles on Maatsuyker Island. We divided the mowing and brush cutting work that tends a 2-kilometre-long grass road, 2 helicopter pads, 1 vegetable garden, the surrounds of 3 cottages and 1 lighthouse, 1 paddock, and brush cutting 7 bush tracks, paths and numerous slopes too tricky or hazardous to mow. One round took each of us 4–5 days on a 3-weekly cycle.

A corner of the Maatsuyker pantry at the start of our stay; strawberries from the veggie garden’s poly house; sushi rolls for dinner (my partner Gary’s speciality); during our stay we consumed 42 kgs flour transformed into sourdough loaves and baked goods.

During our first caretaking term in 2010–11 we barely saw another two-legged being, but on this stint we relished the company of several energetic visitors. Long-time friends Katherine and Kevin from Western Australia arrived on a crayfishing boat and stayed for five days. The permits and arrangements took them months, and even then it was nail biting times as the ocean swell and weather was against them both on their arrival and throughout their stay. Katherine and Kev were thankful for the handrails in the howling gales; they very quickly found their footing, embraced nature, and contributed to Maatsuyker with all manner of island work.

The wonderful Friends of Maatsuyker stayed over for two intensive working bees. This volunteer group contributes to almost every aspect of the island. Amongst the hard workers was Mark, who has turned his passion for lighthouses into restoring those around Australia that require serious TLC. Mark made his own way down to Tasmania and donated time and skills to continue work on restoring Maatsuyker’s lighthouse. During his days on the island we would regularly cross paths at first light as he headed down the hill to begin his day, working until late into the nights. He made impressive progress by removing damaging paint from a big section of the inside walls, and repainting top parts of the tower.

An unexpected visitation came from Dutch presenter-producer Floortje Dessing and her camerawoman Renée, who flew all the way from the Netherlands at short notice to produce a documentary about life as caretakers on Maatsuyker Island. Floortje To the End of the World (Floortje Naar Het Einde Van De Wereld) is a popular Dutch TV series which focusses as much on the people who choose to live in remote corners of the world as it does on the the natural wonders of wild places. While they were on Maatsuyker the girls got to experience the brunt of the Roaring Forties latitudes with 6-metre ocean swells and a record wind gust for January. Maatsuyker claims plenty of ‘personal bests’ when it comes to record winds: still to be beaten is its August 1991 squall of 112 knots (207.4 kms per hour), the country’s highest non-cyclonic wind gust. Floortje and Renée embraced every moment of the weather and were fun to be with. I only learned later how big a celebrity Floortje is in her home country, while to us they were simply two sparkling, energetic women who joined us each evening for dinner, washed up afterwards, brought a whopping great round of Edam cheese in their suitcase and followed us here and there on our daily routines.

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Lastly we welcomed Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife video competition winner Simon whose prize was a visit to Maatsuyker Island. Simon and his mate Noodle lobbed in for an overnight stay via helicopter, though with under-par weather conditions it was touch and go whether they could even make it to the island. Thanks to the skilled pilots at HeliRes they arrived safely after a short delay. Without losing another minute, the boys donned wet weather gear and bounded from one end of the island to the other with cameras in tow. In the evening, between ducking outdoors to watch a brilliant sunset, they joined us at Quarters 1 for curry and a pint of home brew beer. Next morning at 0400 they were up and at ’em to watch Maatsuyker’s thousands of short-tailed shearwaters launch off the island. In 24 hours Simon and Noodle succeeded in filming and later producing a professional 3-minute video which showcases the island. I will have that clip available to share in a week or so, along with an interview with Simon.

I could go on about Maatsuyker, but will close with the info below and a selection of photos which I hope express the magic of the island.

The nitty gritty of caretaking at Maatsuyker Island

The volunteer caretaker program is coordinated and managed by Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service who currently advertise the position through Wildcare Inc. every two years. Each applicant must demonstrate a range of skills and an adequate level of physical fitness, and will be responsible for purchasing their own provisions for the six-month term. Part of the Maatsuyker caretaker duties is to conduct daily weather observations for the Bureau of Meteorology Hobart. Many short-term volunteer caretaking opportunities across Tasmania are advertised through Wildcare Inc., the incorporated community partner organisation that provides management and support for volunteers working in natural and cultural heritage conservation and reserve management. Friends of Maatsuyker Island (Wildcare Inc.) is a volunteer group who contribute time and skills to the island, raise funds towards maintenance and improvements on Maatsuyker, run day trips to the island via boat, and conduct annual working bees.