Field training completed, packs packed and it was time to get to work ‘down island’ for the parks team, Shelley and Kim. Trip plans approved, and the weather forecast looked ok. After heading up the infamous Doctor's track, we waved farewell to Dr Rob and Station Leader Derek at the top. Once on the plateau, snow dusted the feldmark and a lovely 35 knots blew in from the west. Happy to be heading south, it was ear to ear smiles between the snow showers and gusts to the face for us. Have you ever had numb teeth from smiling? We have.
Walking down into Green Gorge, water spouts out to sea and high cirrus clouds moved at pace above, hinting at incoming weather. Gale force winds were predicted for day two so we opted to enjoy a Macca (as we fondly call Macquarie Island) hut day. We spent the day baking bread, playing cards, exploring the local area and enjoying the famous Green Gorge shower, much to the amusement of the resident king penguins.
Day three dawned perfect (by Macca standards) so we hiked south again to Hurd Point. Shelley’s face of excitement at the top of the “jump down’ will remain the stuff of legend. On the beach we were greeted in true Macca style by the raucous sound of royal penguins, gentoo penguins with moulting in full swing, elephant seals snoring, fur seals playing in the tussocks and the ocean waves smashing onto the pebbly beach. Once inside the hut, like most people who visit, Shelley contemplated working from there for the rest of the year. Hurd Point hut is a spacious abode with four bunks, a cosy kitchen and an incredible window view that sits on the southern tip of the island. Providing a refuge for expeditions, it is a spectacular place nestled in the tussock grass just above the beach, within a stone’s throw of a royal penguin colony. The wildlife viewing is world class and the scenery next level. Steep scree, cliffs and 200+m grassy slopes dominate the vista to one side of the hut and on the other side, the Southern Ocean pounds on your door step. You truly feel like you are at the end of the earth.
The next few days were all about work. With low winds forecast we serviced the wandering albatross remote monitoring cameras, collected scats and were immersed in the wonders of the south. We spent time in awe of everything! The beauty of the southern end of Macca at sunset, between snow showers...actually any time it is not raining sideways...is magnificent. It’s the kind of place that grabs your soul and humbles you. The scale of the landscape distorts time and space and reminds us of our mortality, a mere blink of an eye in geological timescales. The steep cliffy 300m high hills of the island become mountains, with slopes dropping into the sea. Birds with 3m wingspans soar around you, owning their kingdom. As the clouds whizz by and the tussock flows in unison on the slopes, nature thrives in all her glory to the sounds of albatross calling on the wind. There is no place on earth where I would rather be.
The walk home via the wildness of the west coast, up the southern featherbed and back to station was also something special. For me witnessing the ‘return of the tussock’ and the growing of the moss since I was last here a few years ago was simply spectacular. Sharing this place with someone who also loves wild places was amazing. The eradication of vertebrate pests here was a herculean effort and has resulted in Macca slowly returning to her former glory. Witnessing the plants return is an experience I feel so privileged to live. Ten days seems like a long time to be away, however within a couple of days of being back on station we were already planning our next trip down island. Although, even on station, you only have to pause a moment to see Orcas swimming past, gentoos nesting on our doorstep and seals lazing around. With the plateau stretching away to the south you still see and feel the wildness of Macca every day. What an incredible place to live and work.