After visiting Baily Head on the eastern tip of Deception Island earlier that morning, it was impossible to see the opening in the caldera we were about to enter. Suddenly, what seemed to have been a closed wall widened, and a narrow channel opened up before us: Neptune Bellows. We slowly sailed into the caldera of the active volcano which once created the island in the first place. The entrance was nothing short of dramatic: the steep cliffs of the caldera around us, a layer of clouds preventing us to see the top of the mountains, and steam coming off the water in a small lake and the beach. The desolation of the landscape was further stressed by huge, rusty containers of the abandoned whaling station and the heavily decaying buildings. Ice had drifted into one corner of the bay; seals were lying on top of some of the ice shelf. We came very close to shore, and it took some time for us to anchor; unfortunately, we had run aground. I was in the very first zodiac to go ashore, and we landed on the black stony beach amidst steam coming from the volcanic ground.
After a short briefing, we walked towards Neptune Window, a lower part of the wall of the caldera. On the way, we saw small boats half buried by the ground, huge whale bones as a grim reminder of the whaling past of Deception Island, skeletons of small buildings, and thick ice floes on the shore of the beach. A short hike up to Neptune Window gave us the opportunity to look out over the sea behind, while at the same time allowing a great view of the caldera below us. We had to be careful approaching the edge: the staff marked the limit to where we could go. This is, after all, an active volcano, and eruptions in the late 1960s and early 1970s have shown the destruction it can still cause. From here, we walked down again, for a closer inspection of all the many different things to see. I tried to venture through the thick chunks of ice on the shore, which made for a very wintery scene. The wooden boats which were half eaten by the ground, the rusty metal parts in it made for a curious sight. The whale bones were clearly old and falling apart, it seemed actually amazing they had lasted such a long time.
I came back to the landing site, and walked to the enormous cylindrical containers once used for storage of whale oil. To my surprise, I found graffiti on it, and also, parts that were taken out - this was done during the last earthquake and used as a shield against the stones falling from the sky. Around the corner was an old wooden building, also clearly damaged and displaced: the earthquake of 1967 and 1969 had seriously damaged the nearby research station as well as these old ones that were in such a bad condition that entering them is not advisable. Crossing through a riverbed which still had grey layers of snow in it, I reached a small cemetery with two graves for whalers, and wondered if there could be a more miserable place to die than Deception Island. The hangar, once used when the island was frequented by small planes, turned out to be half full with slowly melting snow. The very last zodiac zoomed us back to our still grounded ship: we had to wait until high tide would free us. Meanwhile, the activity of the afternoon was the infamous polar plunge: a dive into the freezing waters of Deception Bay wearing just a bathing costume. The medical doctor was standby, and everyone was attached to a line for just in case. Unfortunately, the number of passengers taking the plunge was insufficient to make the entire staff go in as well, so they had the pleasure of seeing us go crazy while having a good laugh or taking pictures - or both. Actually, the plunge turned out to be quite OK, but the water in the jacuzzi was so hot that I plunged a second time. By the time the high tide lifted us, another problem posed itself: the floating ice in the caldera had now blocked our only exit to the sea. At that moment, another ship sailed in, breaking the ice, followed by a small yacht which almost got stuck in the ice. Once we reached the ice field, it had closed again, and our captain diligently steered our ship through the ice before sailing away from Deception Island.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Deception Island (Antarctica). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Deception Island. Read more about this site.