Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Day 7: Macquarie Island

Deceased elephant seal, Macquarie Island
Today's excursion involved a guided tour of the base and surrounding with  Ranger Helen. It seemed the young 'weener' elephant seals were even more curious than at Sandy Bay and several passengers enjoyed close encounters with inquisitive pups who came close to check them out. What a comic scene with colourful, plastic-wrapped adventurers sprawled out on the sand coming nose-to-nose with eight-week-old seal pups. What must they have thought of us?

Gentoo penguins with nearly fledged offspring stood to attention as our group made for the historic base, first established sixty-ish years ago. It is clear that station staff are a cheery, stoic sort of lot relatively resistant to the privations of remote life. The couple of team members who came aboard for a meal hooked into the grapes and fresh fruit like crazy. Back on base, we were treated to a fabulous Devonshire Tea in the mess hall and mug-for-mug, the base coffee was a clear winner. Souvenirs were disappointingly scant, but we posted our postcards and stamped our passports all the same.

Entertainment for the afternoon was provided by the meteorological guy releasing one of his twice-daily balloons carrying little boxes of sensors the size of Dick Smith kits with tiny antennae like twisted paper clips. “Get your pictures quickly, as I won't be hanging on for long in this breeze.” and away it went, quickly disappearing in the low-hanging mist.

A UNESCO World Heritage site for its geological value, Macquarie Island has had several lives. First as a sealing base where the massive 5-ton elephant seals were stripped of their blubber and rendered. Then it was the penguins' turn in the pot before finally the whole place reverted to a protected nature reserve and scientific outpost. Much time is now devoted to the eradication of feral pests like rabbits and rats. Cats were successfully removed about eight years ago – all at great cost.