When I first heard whispers that there might be a fam trip to Cape Royds, I started praying that the stars would align. It was high up on my wish list of places to visit in Antarctica and this was probably the only chance I would get. Cape Royds is special for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the home of Shackleton’s hut, which is apparently one of the most spectacular huts to visit. Second, there is an Adelie penguin colony there! If we made it to Cape Royds it would be incredible. But, with further to travel than Cape Evans, and a very short window where the sea ice is in good enough condition, who knows if we would make it.Our prep for Cape Royds started the night before; jobs were delegated to the lucky bunch that were a part of this trip. There were lunches to make and equipment to gather, including the necessary pee and poo barrels (yes, we can’t leave anything in the field so it all has to come home with us). In the morning, we were up bright and early. I woke shortly after 5am, rolled out of bed, gathered my gear and sort out breakfast. By 6am we were down in the field center loading the last of the kit into the hags. After a quick head count we scrambled into the hags and got on our way. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and only a little bit of wind was blowing, not a bad start for the day ahead. The trip was predicted to take somewhere between three and four hours. The idea was that three of our field trainers would go ahead on skidoos to check the cracks so the hags could keep rolling. Along the way we made a short stop here and there to allow the back passengers to stretch their legs. It worked pretty well, the hags only caught up to the skidoos towards the end. We had made pretty good time and before we knew it we were there.
At Cape Royds we were greeted by an Adelie penguin to everyone’s delight. Having seen our arrival from a distance, the small penguin ran and slid over the ice in their crazy spastic sort of way to come and check us out. We lay flat on the ground watching our new friend watch us until he inevitably figured out that we weren’t fellow penguins or all that interesting. With the small black and white distraction now off in the distance we rallied the troops together. Our trip leader, Chris, gave us a safety brief and some instructions on where we could go etc. then we were left to our own devices. Seeing the colony was first on my agenda. I headed over to the hill towards the Cape. The first thing that hit me was the ocean. It felt like so long ago since I had seen the ocean. The blue mass with its floating ice bergs was a magnificent sight. The next thing that filtered through was the number of penguins clumped about the rocks. I perched myself on the border of the protected zone- this is a nesting zone so really awesome to see its protected!! From my spot, I just watched and took it all in. I felt like I was sitting in a page out of The National Geographic, or perhaps a scene out of one of David Attenborough’s documentaries. It is one of the places that you dream of but are not sure you will ever find or perhaps, don’t believe it really exists. I can only describe it as magical.
Most penguins were lying on their rock nests keeping their precious eggs warm. These penguins attract mates by having the largest pile of rocks as a result there are piles of rocks everywhere with barren ground in-between. A few penguins, which must of either been young adults or the unlucky bunch that didn’t find mates wandered between the groups of penguins. As I sat watching the penguins a couple decided to come investigate us. After scurrying up the slope and quickly checking us out they were off again. After a while we decided to head up to a different part of the colony. From our new vantage point you could see the ice lined coastline. We tucked ourselves out of the wind and settled in for a while. Groups of penguins waddled around the coast, following each other, waiting for one to jump. After much deliberation, one would finally jump into the ocean and the rest would quickly follow. Safety is in numbers, right? Alternatively, the leader of the moment would ‘chicken out’ and they would all scurry off to another section of coast. I could have stayed there all day watching these amusing creatures run and slide over the ice, their indecisive nature always providing some amusement, or to others frustration as they waited for that perfect shot. But the afternoon was slipping by so we decided it was time to get out of the cold and visit Shackleton’s hut.
After brushing the stones and snow off our shoes we entered the hut. The place is incredible, it’s light inside, unlike the hut at Evans, which is much darker. It is a relatively small hut, I would describe it as cozy. There are heaps of artifacts left in the hut, you could spend a good hour in there looking at the left-over food stores and clothing. Our guide pointed out that on the wall Shackleton had scratched in the walls above the beds the names of his crew as he allocated them space and beds. Like Evans, it looked like the crew walked out yesterday and you could just set up camp and move on in. I applaud the historic trust for their work on these huts and restoring them to the condition they are in now. These time capsules allow us to imagine what these great explorers faced.
The drive home was steady, with one stop made for the ice caves at the Erebus Glacier Tongue. Those that hadn’t seen the caves happily shoved helmets onto their heads and clambered into the cave. Having already seen it before I decided to sit out and enjoy the sun. A few mischievous workmates started a snow ball fight and had people ducking for cover as they tried to hit unaware bystanders. After we had wrapped up at the cave it was home time. Tuckered out from the day many people nodded off as the hag headed towards base. It was a fantastic day, certainly a memory that I will treasure.