Day 15 – Wednesday 24th January 2024
Along the Ross Ice Shelf
The morning started off with a cold wind coming from Erebus into Cape Evans, the Ross Ice Shelf had not broken enough for a passage down to McMurdo station so Heritage explored the option of checking the ice breaker passage. Upon arrival, it was clear that the passage had iced over and was not suitable for a vessel such as Heritage. We were lucky enough to witness the United States Coast Guard Icebreaker the Polar Star “re-break” the passage, although we were still unable to follow due to the ice being particularly thick this year and even the Polar Star was having issues breaking the ice all the way to McMurdo.
We then proceeded to travel along the ice shelf edge to look for cetaceans where they are known to forage, we were very fortunate to encounter numerous type C orca pods where the guests spent the majority of the day taking photos and capturing some great memories.
With co-ordinated efforts from the Captain and Heritage crew, the Murihiku rōpu was able to fly a drone directly from the Heritage Adventurer along the Ross Ice Shelf to undertake research through the use of photography and videography of orca that patrolled along the ice shelf. This lasted the majority of the day lasting more than 5 hours of “whale watching”. The vessel then headed back to Cape Evans to spend the night and assess the weather for the next day’s activities.
Day 16 – Thursday 25th January 2024
Eastern side of Ross Island and Cape Bird
The anchor pulled up at 2am to move further east from Cape Evans around Ross Island in the hope of a landing at Cape Crozier with a further assessment of the Ross Ice Shelf. 8 hours of travelling later we arrived to low visibility, high winds, and choppy swell, with the fast ice not having receded on the eastern side. We were met though with some glorious views of the massive ice sheets, but in the end, it was decided to head back around towards the western side of Ross Island seeking shelter.
An impromptu stop was had at Cape Bird on the western side of northern most tip of Ross Island due to calmer seas and sheltered winds. The rōpu saw an opportunity to fly the drone around the seal and penguin colonies to contribute to the research aims. Regina and Colin got some great footage while the rest of the rōpu visited the nearby penguin colony, and Tāne Tāmati enjoyed his first landing on the Antarctic Continent by identifying and photographing the geology. Although short, it was good to get onto land and stretch the legs, knowing how the weather dictates where you can go in this vast landscape.
It was decided to head back to Cape Evans to Anchor for the night, in the hope of some better weather and perhaps some release of the fast ice to try again to reach McMurdo Station the following day.
Day 17 – Friday 26th January 2024
Cape Evans - Along the Ice Shelf minke whales in the bay next to Cape Evans.
We arose to a beautiful morning with clear skies and stunning views of Mt Erebus, an early start for passengers as the fine weather meant a 6:30am morning zodiac and another opportunity to visit Scott’s Hutt for those who didn’t get the chance or had limited time. This was a great time to reflect under the maunga and we were greeted with 6 minke whales before the morning activities were over.
The plan was to check out the channel into McMurdo along the ice shelf to see if there were any possibilities of following it safely, while there, mass orca were sighted and the decision was made to stay along the ice shelf and view the orca pods, as the ice channel was still not suitable for a McMurdo visit. The Murihiku ki te toka rōpu saw this as an excellent opportunity to gather further footage for the programme the 5 rōpu members consisting of Riki Parata, Luka Finn, Karlee Nicholas, Regina Eisert and Colin Aitchison along with Yuri Martynova as the driver.
The rōpu launched a zodiac to get up close and personal with the numerous orca moving along the ice shelf. Armed with drones, an underwater camera, GoPro’s and DSLR cameras, the rōpu spent the good part of half the day manoeuvring to take footage of the many pods of Antarctic type C orca. Of the many highlights of the trip, this day was definitely up there, when the boat was surrounded by orca, up to 8 or 9 individuals at one time, coming alongside the zodiac with their inquisitive nature and eyeballing the rōpu on board the boat. Some great shots and great experiences had by all. Once the orca had left the Heritage had parked up beside the ice, and the rōpu were lucky enough to stand on the ice shelf before heading up to the boat for a BBQ on deck with a view of Mt Erebus.
The late afternoon saw the wind pick up and it was time to say goodbye to the lower Ross Sea and the Ross Ice Shelf to slowly start making the trip back North.
Day 18 – Saturday 27th January 2024
Franklin Island, back up towards Cape Adare and Robertsons Bay
After a full night steaming north, Saturday morning we found ourselves 92 nautical miles from the Ross Ice shelf at Franklin Island where we anchored for a landing. The rōpu also took this opportunity to go for a zodiac ride around the northern end of the island to look for whales but none were sighted. Some great photos were taken of the wildlife and the island from the sea. The rōpu then made a landing to yet another Adelie penguin colony, more Weddell seals and a huge male elephant seal, strange to see this far south, but not uncommon. We didn’t know at the time, but this would be our last landing down at the Ross Sea, as we headed north that afternoon to check where the latest ice had congregated in the hope of getting to Robertsons Bay near Cape Adare.
Day 19 - Sunday 28th January 2024
Another full nights steaming in the hope of another landing at Robertsons Bay, near Cape Adare. Another night and morning of pushing through fast ice and the congregation of ice around Cape Adare meant that a landing was not possible. Because this was the last day planned down in Antarctica, it was decided a zodiac cruise would be suitable for the guests and rōpu to take in the last of Antarctica before heading northward towards home. The zodiac cruise was a time to reflect on our time down at the ice, the historic heroes that first came down here, and the Ngāi Tahu associations that the rōpu had learnt and been a part of over the last 3 weeks. The zodiac cruise was met with crabeater seals, Adelie penguins, inquisitive skua, and snow petrels circling the zodiacs. After about an hour and a half, the wind picked up and all zodiacs headed back to the mother ship where we set sail for a long voyage north to Campbell Island and then home. Our time to reflect highlighted how special a place the bottom of the world is, the species and people that dwell there, the history of discovery, and the future opportunities for all countries was at the forefront of our thoughts.