Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Back from field training.
We've just come back from a 4 day trip around the island for field training. Photos from the trip and a map showing where we went are on the home page. The weather was back to its usual self for the first couple of days- drizzle, wind and low cloud. Despite the change it wasn't too cold and the walking was pleasant.

The first day took us up the steep plateau access called Gadgets Gully then along the Island Lake track to Bauer Bay hut. It's very similar to walking in alpine Tasmania but there are no trees and a few new species of plants, including native cabbage and broccoli looking plants. We dumped our packs at the hut and went for a wander along the coast to check out Duck Lagoon, a potential core site. As we walked around the coastal pillow larva our fellow scientist (geologist) Ryan found it hard to contain his excitement, he really is passionate about his work! Luckily Keith led the way and kept us moving, steering us round the Giant Petrels- huge birds that are extremely nervous around humans. An encounter within 100m during breeding time can cause all the adults to flee and leave their young, resulting in a collapse of the colony.

Soon enough the afternoon light began to fade and we made our way back to the hut. It was a nice surprise to find all the field huts are very well set up and stocked with all the food you could ever need. Every hut has a few bunks, sleeping bags, gas stove & oven, gas heater, CD player, electric lights and VHF/HF radios. All the power is generated by adjacent remote area power supply (RAPS) which consists of solar panels and a wind turbine. If you need extra power to run a laptop you can fire up the petrol generator. After a sumptuous beef curry (we carried steaks from base) and the evening radio sked it was off to bed.

Day 2 took us up to the Overland track, which runs the length of the island, and south to Waterfall Bay hut. Again the fog was heavy and views were limited so we just kept on trundling along. The most impressive part of the day came as we reached the top of the eastern escarpment and dropped down steeply beside a royal penguin colony. We sat for a while to watch them before hungry tummys prompted us to make for the hut. Waterfall Bay and Brothers Point huts are called 'googies'. They're basically a pre-built fibreglass sphere, squashed to look like a smartie. They're flown to the site by helicopter and lowered in to a metal cradle. They're really well designed with all the facilities and every space utilised. Another great dinner and it looked like the weather was clearing.

Early risers were treated to glimpses of blue sky through the googie windows. We packed up and headed south before climbing steeply back up to the plateau. The cloud had cleared and the wind had increased, gusting above 40 knots. It made travel slow and tiresome, sometimes it was hard enough just standing up! We more than relieved to arrive at Green Gorge hut and settle in for a relaxing afternoon with the penguins. At this hut you can walk ten meters to the beach, sit down and within minutes there'll be a group of inquisitive penguins checking you out- amazing! From the headland above the hut we watched the albatross landing on their precarious perches above the sea. Ryan rocked us all to sleep on the guitar.

Final day and headed back for VJM (the station call sign so everyone calls it VJM). We wandered back along the track to Brothers Point hut, another googie, then along the coast from there. While walking on the coast was hard on the legs the scenery more than made up for it. Hundreds of elephant seals, royal penguins, king penguins and 2 fur seals. Weary legs and a few hours later we reached station for a hot shower and a drink!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Today was tourist day.
By 07:00 the zodiacs were making their way from the mothership to our shores, laden with keen and interested oldies looking forward to a tour of the station. They were greeted by the appointed team of guides and shown around the isthmus before being treated to a devonshire tea from Fiona in the kitchen, much appreciated! Needless to say the Macca calendar for 2006 and numerous t-shirts were on sale to promote and support the island. By 11:30 they were on their way south and we could once again relax for 'smoko' (the daily morning tea break).

Unfortunately we heard from the Marina one more time over the HF radio in the early afternoon. One of their punters had copped a crane hook to the side of the head and the doctor on board was seeking a second opinion from Dr Helen (our station doctor). The zodiac ambulance arrived and out she shot to confirm that he should be fine to continue the voyage, not many options other than 4 days of sailing back to Hobart.

The rest of the day consisted of sorting and getting ready for the weeks ahead. Laid out our gear in the lab, did some odd jobs, raided the field store for equipment and packed for our upcoming field training. A few showers came through this afternoon while we relaxed in the mess. At the 4pm station meeting Tim (our station leader) formally welcomed us to the island and introduced us to the Friday tradition of pizza and home brew by the bar. Fantastic!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Welcome to Macca!
After three and half days drifting through the Southern Ocean we've finally arrived on Macquarie Island (aka Macca). Our journey began in Hobart on board the Marina Sveateava where we were greated by 6 fellow scientists bound for Macca, 47 Russian Crew, 12 Aurora Expedition leaders and 99 middle aged punters preparing for the adventure of a lifetime.

Luckily the ocean was kind to us and we only endured a constant but gentle roll created by the moderate swell. While most of our time was spent sleeping in our bunks we did manage to rise and taste the Russian fare laid out in the dining rooms or spot the odd albatross from the bridge.

Excitement grew as the island approached us, gradually increasing in size on the horizon. As we rounded the northern tip and anchored in Buckles Bay excitement turned to haste as we loaded up zodiacs and sped away from the mothership. Landing on the beach we were greated by the many smiling faces of the island winterers who led us up to the station.

An afternoon of guided tours, getting settled, a fantastic roast and we find ourselves tired but ready for the adventures to come over the next few months.