It was a cloudy day and it was snowing, making it seem like it was impossible to step out of the ship. Just after breakfast, the clouds started disappearing slowly, making way for the sun, and the winds were less than 5 knots. According to our expedition leader, it was the perfect time for us to get out and do our landing as planned. It’s not the snow or the clouds, it’s the wind that’ll make the landings possible (or not).
Mikkelsen Harbor is a 3 km wide bay, discovered by Nordenskjöld on his Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904. The harbour later was used by whalers for mooring factory ships. It is named after the Norwegian whaler Captain Klarius Mikkelsen. Very unusual for these times, Mikkelsen was accompanied by his wife Caroline who later became the first woman to set her foot on Antarctica, at the Vestfold Hills, on 20th February 1935. In Mikkelsen Harbor we find the tiny, flat and rocky D’Hainaut Island (less than 1 square km). On the island, we find a Gentoo penguin colony, a few unoccupied huts from Argentina, a radio mast, a boat and whale bones.
After a short chilly ride on the zodiac, we got off on the harbor which was a slippery slope. We were greeted by Antarctic Shags, snoring seals and resting Gentoo penguins including all their stench. It’s a sensory overload for your eyes, ears and nose.
We hiked on our set pathway avoiding the penguins highway (pathways only for penguins to walk about). The penguins are a delight to watch, their awkward wobbly gait, their constant search to find the right stones for their nest and their curiosity towards us, you could watch them for hours together. We went close a few rookeries, some penguins were loud and others resting with their eggs or chicks.
Though the temperature was close to or below freezing, the sun and the hike got us all sweaty. We had to take off our Parka jackets cause it got really uncomfortable.
As we made our way back to the cruise ship, we realized we had been on the harbor for over 3 hours, which just flew by.