Discovered in 1810, Macquarie Island suffered its first shipwreck three years later and hasn’t really let up. It is not hard to imagine why. The Caroline, Nelson, Eagle and Endeavour are just a handful of craft that have ended their days here. The only way in is by sea but steep cliffs, shallow waters, wild winds and frequently heavy surf combine to make the shore a hazard to visitors. Even getting close is fraught with danger as Mawson’s team learnt on their arrival. On their approach to Macquarie Island, the AAE saw a beached sealing vessel, the Clyde, which had been wrecked on a reef after a particularly bad storm. Under guidance from the sealers, the Aurora edged itself into more protected waters before delivering the team and equipment that were to call this remote spot home for two years.
Sitting at 54˚S and 34 kilometres long, the 5 kilometre wide Macquarie Island is almost perfectly oriented north-south. But unfortunately for us the winds and waves have been coming from the north over the past 24 hours – they’re slowly (very slowly) edging round to the northwest but not enough for us to get any shelter. The Australian Antarctic Division base lies at the northern end of the island at the site of the AAE Macquarie Island base, just below a peak known as Wireless Hill where Mawson’s team established the relay station that was to send messages and weather observations back to Australia. It is an awe inspiring sight. The steep green hills and long, low isthmus are temptingly close. But frustratingly we can only watch from afar. The cliffs and beaches are frequently obscured by crashing waves. Even if we could have got the team into the Zodiacs, landing on the coast is just not possible. We don’t want to end up the like the Clyde.
It is a terrible shame. The wildlife looks stunning – we saw lots of king penguins playing in the water around the Shokalskiy and even a couple of orcas (aka killer whales) – but they will have to wait for our return. The weather forecast isn’t particularly good and we could be waiting around a long time before getting onshore. When we called the island to get the weather forecast, we were described as ‘bobbing like a cork’. It sums us up nicely. The island is administered by the state of Tasmania and have just received permission to return at the end of December. We’ll be back. In the meantime, looks like we’re heading off to Antarctica earlier than planned.