National Geographic photographer Alison Wright shares some of her favorite highlights along the European coastline--from enjoying a glass of local ruby port in Portugal to biking England's picturesque Tresco Island.
The medieval walled city of Saint-Malo has birthed explorers and privateers, and risen like a phoenix from the rubble of World War II to become a stunningly picturesque small city known for its authentic character.
We awoke this morning to blue skies and calm seas as National Geographic Orion made her way through the Cook Strait towards our afternoon destination. The ocean was so calm that albatrosses and gannets were stranded flightless on the water, as there was not enough wind for them to fly. New Zealand fur seals occasionally rested on the surface of the water as well. What a magnificent crossing from the North Island to the South Island of New Zealand, and in absolutely perfect conditions! After lunch, we disembarked to Abel Tasman National Park. Three hundred years after Abel Tasman first sighted this beautiful location, the park was designated in 1942 at the height of World War II! Our groups hiked and kayaked in this beautiful national park with its golden beaches and beautiful second-generation forest. Back on National Geographic Orion , we were treated to a scrumptious dinner, a fitting end to a beautiful day!
Today we woke up to a beautiful sunrise! The swell was looking a little big, but once we made it to Isla San Benito Oeste, we were able to tuck away from it and get some beautiful weather. The beach landing was at the base of a small fishing village with lots of interesting little houses and a chapel. This is definitely a secluded island. Some of us completed a long hike to the peak of the island at a 660-foot elevation. Others took it slow and hung around the elephant seal haul out. The females had young pups nursing, and the rest were napping with the occasional argument taking place. Along the trail, we managed to see Cassin's auklet burrows everywhere! We also observed some human-made burrows for the auklets that were placed for nest monitoring. After the hike, we went on a Zodiac tour of the island and managed to see all four pinniped species found in Mexico: elephant seal, harbor seal, Guadalupe fur seal, and the California sea lion. What a treat! We also saw blue herons, black turnstones, terns, and two species of cormorants, brants and double-crested. The geology of the coastline was beautiful. After our morning of activities, we returned to the ship for lunch and started on our way to Magdalena Bay. While we cruised, we enjoyed two talks, one on whales and one on camera composition. After dinner, there was a watercolor activity where we painted whale tails.
We’ve had a bright and beautiful day, well south of the Antarctic Circle at 67° 33’ south latitude. This morning, we explored Bongrain Point on Pourquoi Pas Island, where Adelie penguins waddled their way between nests and the sea. Meanwhile, many of us hiked the lateral moraine alongside the glacier. From the top, we enjoyed great views of Marguerite Bay. In the afternoon, we arrived to a rarely visited bay, with stunning scenery and glassy calm seas. We kayaked among countless small bits of ice and saw a few seals resting on the ice, as well as glaciers and tall mountains as a majestic backdrop. Our activities were capped off by the Polar Plunge – a fun and very invigorating (and voluntary) jump into 0° C (32° F) water.
Before breakfast and from the north, our ship approached the famous Lemaire Channel. The narrow channel is ornamented with magnificent black cliffs on both sides. The cliffs stick out of a steep glacier belt at low elevations. The clifftops were hidden by overcast clouds. The channel is so narrow that a large iceberg could completely block the passage. Luckily, all icebergs within the channel were small or medium-sized, and National Geographic Endurance made it through. At the southern exit of the channel, we spotted Pleneau Island, our destination for the morning landing. A shallow sea near the island trapped hundreds of icebergs driven by wind and currents until they were grounded. Two of them were especially remarkable. One was in the shape of a bridge. An opening in the iceberg was decorated with huge icicles. From one side, guests on the Zodiac cruise could take an ice-framed photo of our ship. The second massive iceberg had an enormous cave that was carved by ocean waves. The cave was about 30 meters high at the entrance and about 50 meters deep. A landing at the island and Zodiac cruises were offered to guests. Pleneau Island is home to about 3,000 pairs of nesting gentoo penguins. The island is almost completely covered by ice and snow except for multiple small, smooth rock outcrops that protrude through the snow. These clear openings were used by nesting birds. The sky cleared after lunch. We sailed through the Lemaire Channel again in the opposite direction. The ship repositioned to nearby Hidden Bay, where we had two afternoon rounds of Zodiac cruising. The bay was surrounded by spectacular peaks and sparkling glaciers. Guests enjoyed the Zodiac cruises and a very interesting presentation about science experiments in the Southern Ocean. Before dinner, National Geographic Endurance set its course for Ushuaia across the Drake Passage.
We headed into the infamous Drake Passage last night after five days in Antarctica, so today's slightly later wakeup call and breakfast were a welcomed change of pace. A day at sea, however, does not mean fewer opportunities for wildlife spotting! Large numbers of seabirds flew all around the ship, such as southern giant petrels, Antarctic prions, and Cape petrels. We observed several light-mantled albatrosses, considered by some to be the most beautiful of that spectacular family of birds. In the early afternoon, several of the less commonly seen Antarctic petrels joined the fray, distinguishable from the artistically patterned Cape petrels (known also by their Spanish name 'pintado,' meaning painted) by their more orderly black and white plumage. While sea days spent heading back north from Antarctica provide time for reflection and processing of our experiences over the last few days, the lecture and enrichment program also continues. In the morning, Undersea Specialist Emmett Clarkin spoke about the ocean currents that keep Antarctica cold and insulate it from the rest of the planet, while Naturalist Elise Lockton gave a long-anticipated account of Sir Ernest Shackleton's famous Imperial Transantarctic Expedition. Finally, Naturalist Maria Intxaustegi presented some of her experiences working as a marine archaeologist. After a hearty dinner of Japanese okonomiyaki, we gathered once more in the lounge for a showing of the documentary Around Cape Horn, in which Captain Irving Johnson recalls his time sailing aboard the bark Peking from Europe around Cape Horn to Santiago. This film puts the historic significance of our spectacular ocean crossing into fitting perspective, especially as we hope to catch a glimpse of the famous lighthouse and monument at Cape Horn tomorrow morning.