Monday, 21 March 2016

Gough Island

In the previous post in this series Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands, I described our visit to the two islands close to Tristan da Cunha. Gough Island is also part of the Tristan da Cunha group but, some 160 miles away from the main island, we had to sail through the night to reach this World Heritage Site ...

Thursday, 17th March 2016: Gough Island

The Island, also of volcanic origin, is surrounded by tall cliffs rising straight out of the sea has been described as the “Seabird Citadel of the South Atlantic” with twenty two species of seabirds breeding there. Landing is not allowed, although South Africa maintains a manned meteorological station. Mice introduced accidentally to the island had become a serious threat to seabird chicks and, at the time of my visit, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was launching a campaign to eradicate the mice.

In sunny weather with calm seas, ‘Silver Explorer’ anchored off Gough Island around 2.00 p.m, near a small rocky island hosting a penguin colony and lots of birds. We were offered a Zodiac cruise lasting about 90 minutes to take a closer look along the shore.

In such benign conditions, the Zodiac cruise, the last on the trip, was a real joy. The map clarifies our location. The ship was moored neat the small island marked ‘PENGUIN’. Our Zodiac driver, Tim, headed across Milford Bay, giving us good views of the rugged grandeur of the location. He nosed into ‘ARCHWAY ROCK’ until we could see two small, man-made caves.

Further along the narrow boulder-strewn shore, we passed the site of one waterfall which appeared dry then a second with a little water flowing. Each gust of wind turned the water to a fine mist so little of the water actually fell to the rocks below.

There was an abundance of various types of kelp which lazily oscillated with the movement of the sea. This seemed to encourage the numerous fur seals to frolic, diving, or just sliding, from the rocks into the kelp and then climbing back onto the rocks before repeating the performance.

Next we came to a large arch in the rock leading to a water-filled cave. The roof of this cave had collapsed, allowing us to look up to the sky from within the cave.

Finally, we approached a colony of Rockhopper penguins, distributed across the face of the tall cliff. Beyond the penguins, we could see the tall radio mast of the South African Meteorological Observatory but not the buildings themselves.

It was time to return to our ship, so Tim turned his baseball cap back-to-front and ‘gunned’ the Zdiac’s engine. The sea remained flat calm and the sky was dusted with clouds bringing our trip to a perfect conclusion.

Once everyone was back on the ship, the Captain moved parallel to the shore until we were abeam the Weather Station. He then turned the ship to face the shore and sounded two long blasts on the siren in salute. A man from the weather station was spotted next to the crane used to lift their supplies up the cliff each year. His waving was enthusiastically returned by all the passengers on the foredeck. We afterwards learned that, in a radiotelephone conversation with the weather station, the occupants revealed that they had not even seen a ship for a number of months!

All that now remained was to sail some 1,500 miles across the South Atlantic to Cape Town, a journey which would take at least four days. All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

Since internet service resumed on the ship, I’ve added a few more pictures each day to the album South Atlantic Voyage, but most of them will not be uploaded until I return to the U.K.