Antarctica, Day 9: Neko Harbor and Port Lockroy

December 28, 2019

Paul Kay

We’re traveling Antarctica on Silversea Cruises. Today, we visited Neko Harbor and Port Lockroy. Here’s how our day went.

Neko Harbor

Weddell Seal, Neko Harbor, Antarctica

 Hey, there

Neko Harbor is home to lots of gentoo penguins and Weddell seals.

The harbor is an inlet of the Antarctic Peninsula within Andvord Bay, approximately seven miles south of the Errera Channel. We sailed here overnight from nearby Paradise Harbor. Adrien de Gerlache discovered Neko Harbor during his Belgian Antarctic expedition (1897-1899). He named it after the Norwegian whaling ship, Neko, which often used this bay.

We had a briefing on this harbor the day before and heard it’s famous for calving ice. The landing spot is on a rocky beach. After we landed, we’d have to get off the Zodiac quickly. If calving did occur, it might create a mini tsunami that could capsize a Zodiac.

This morning, we learned the winds were 30 MPH; the Zodiac ride would be wet. Since we’d already seen lots of gentoo penguins and Weddell seals, we decided not to take this expedition.

Silversea Hikers, Neko Harbor, Antarctica

 We skipped this hike; do you blame us?

Instead we monitored the expedition from our suite balcony. We watched our intrepid Silversea hikers zigzag up the glacier for the view.

Brown Skua Nesting, Antarctica

 Snug as a skua in a rug

The seals and penguins are near the landing site. But a skua nesting spot lies at the top for the hikers.

Skua tend to breed here and move north after the chicks can fly well enough to make the trip. The skua is a fierce bird of prey. It’s frequently found near penguin rookeries. It steals the penguin eggs. If that fails, skua feed on fish.

Gentoo Penguin Rookery, Neko Harbor, Antarctica

 Stay away, Skua!

The poor penguins. They fiercely guard their eggs, with the male and female taking turns protecting the egg while the other searched for food. We noticed they frequently gather together for safety in numbers. In the sea the penguin is quick and agile. But seals and whales hunt them. A group of penguins is a colony, rookery or waddle. Rookery is the word our expedition team uses. But these terms only apply to penguins on land. In the water, a group is a raft.

Blue Iceberg and Glacier, Neko Harbor, Antarctica

 We never tire of the blue ice...

You might come to Neko Harbor for the seals and penguins. But the icebergs and glaciers are equally impressive. Everywhere we looked, there were ice sculptures and mountain signs to take in.

Neko Harbor, Antarctica

 ...or the blue water

After our stop at Neko Harbor, our Silver Cloud sailed to Port Lockroy. The sun was out, and the sea turned to blue as we headed toward Port Lockroy.

Port Lockroy

If you’ve read about Antarctica, you might have heard of Port Lockroy. It’s well known for having the southernmost post office in the world. But it didn’t start out as a post office. French explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, discovered Port Lockroy during his 1903-05 expedition. He named the area after the politician who financed his voyages.

Between 1911 and 1931, whalers used the harbor of Port Lockroy. During World War II, the British built secret military bases in Antarctica to keep out enemy forces. Port Lockroy’s Base A was one of these. After the war, Base A transitioned to scientific research until 1962. Port Lockroy fell into disrepair until 1996, when it was restored to its original state.

Port Lockroy Gift Shop and Museum, Antarctica

 Even Antarctica has a line at the post office

The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust paid for the renovations and restored it to a museum, post office and gift shop. The shop’s sales fund maintenance for Port Lockroy and other Antarctic monuments. Just four people staff the post office. Together they process 70,000 pieces of mail during the five-month tourism season. We heard its history from Lucy, who rode over on a Zodiac. She described the history of the port and why we needed to be careful in the gift shop and museum.

She and three other women live there for five months out of the year. Every year, more than 200 people apply for these four positions. Lucy is in her second year and really enjoys what she does. It’s hard work so many tourists coming every day from daybreak on. Since it stays light until eleven o’clock in the evening, I hope she’s not working 22 hours a day!

Hut and Gentoo Penguin Colony, Port Lockroy, Antarctica

 The penguins love the museum

Port Lockroy also has plenty of penguins. They’re everywhere!

Our expedition leader said there are more than 1,500 gentoo penguins—probably more. You can smell them (or their guano) from far away on the pure Antarctic air. Much like other areas, summer is when the young penguin chicks hatch. The first chicks hatch in December and grow to half their parents’ size in a few months.

Skuas fly all around, too, trying to steal penguin eggs or chicks. One of the benefits of having so many penguins in one place is they defend against skuas as a group. While we know it’s part of nature, luckily we didn’t see any skua attacks or penguin defense.

Tomorrow, we’re supposed to sail to Snow Island, which is an unscheduled stop Silversea snuck in for us. There’s supposed to be a large group of elephant seals there and maybe some crabeater seals. We’re looking forward to it. It’s another early morning tomorrow, so I’ll sign off now. Good night!

That's it for Day 9 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!

Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.

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Planning Our Antarctica Trip
Cruising Antarctica 101
Reading: Antarctica
Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea
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