Neko Harbour – The Actual Antarctica Continent Landing!

I did it. It wasn’t all a dream. It was something I concocted on a sober month spent endlessly working on a broccoli farm in the Tasmanian wilderness during Spring 2010. Life had taken me to lonely Poatina for whatever reason, and while days on the farm were long and hard and I had no home, I randomly booked a trip to Antarctica for whatever reason, I’ll never know. 6 months later, having saved constantly from my busy jobs, I nonchalantly stepped foot on the actual continent of Antarctica. At Neko Harbour. Words cannot describe the feelings, but if you read on, I’ll do my best.

There are so many cliches you can listen to and decide for yourself if you want to believe in them or not. One such cliche that reared it’s head on my Antarctica trip was “you haven’t really been to Antarctica if you haven’t stepped foot on the Antarctic Continent.” This gave even more meaning to our venture to Neko Harbour, a magical winter wonderland on the Danco Coast in Antarctica. We had already been to a fair few locations in Antarctica, and had seen the continent itself from the boat, but the first steps there will live long in life’s better moments.

The reason being that this was of course an actual Antarctica Continent Landing rather than one of the islands or groups of islands off the Antarctic Peninsula, so immediately an increased buzz began and it felt more special. To be honest I see it all as Antarctica, (I mean Hawaii is the USA, Tasmania is Australia and Isle of Wight is England right?) but the buzz still increased to rapturous disbelief as our ship neared the white wonderland of Neko…and we anchored at Andvord Bay I believe.
On arrival at Neko Harbour, it automatically felt a bit more “authentic.” Not that anything in Antarctica will ever be fake. A few glimpses of the beach, typically lined with snow, ice and footprints. Throw in a few rocks and penguins and you’re close to what this continent is all about.
A few shots of the actual landing point, a rocky beach was getting slowly covered in ice and snow.
The background was wonderful. A real dreamer’s Winter Wonderland. Your eyes don’t deceive you.
It was known by most on the boat that I was carrying my Northern Ireland flag as I had already flown it a few times. But on arrival at Neko Harbour, Rhona O’Connor from Dublin had her Irish Tricolour (what I class as the Republic of Ireland flag, though some see it as the entire island flag). So we enjoyed a nice peaceful Irish moment flying our respective flags. A moment to ponder on those killed and harmed through years of history on the enchanting island of Ireland. “It’s written in the starlight and every line on your palm, we’re fools to make war on our brothers in arms.” I certainly don’t begrudge anyone on the entire island their own right to be either British, Irish or Northern Irish. In fact I myself interchange the 3 depending on the circumstance. Politics can be left behind when you’re just in awe of the beauty that lies in front of your very eyes. In Antarctica, there are no bombs or murders.
Penguins were enjoying the tranquility of Neko Harbour until us lot turned up. Unperturbed they put on a virtuoso show involving running, tuneful sounds and sliding down hills. Much the same traits that accompanied humans on the same land mass. The similarities are uncanny.
In amongst this natural wonderland, someone had carved steps up from the beach to the bank. Just as well, it was a tad slippy and twice I lost my wellington boots (gum boots) in the snow.
As a part time writer for other publications (including football and music magazines), I displayed the Northern Ireland fanzine Happy Days by the beach. Presumably a copy of this magazine has never been further south. A fact which editors Niall Rudd and Nial Coulter could no doubt confirm.
“Chilling” in Antarctica, reading “Happy Days”. It would be fairly difficult to find a happier day than this one.

It was of course very cold, but I felt the need to display my work shirt to show my bosses where I was on my travels. Probably the furthest south anyone has worn a PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub shirt. I was on a 15 week break from work on this trip, and when I returned the pub actually got re-branded and changed, though I worked there for a further 5 months.

Close ups in my PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub Shirt. The pub I worked in was in Parramatta, Sydney, Australia. Though I also worked in PJ Gallagher’s in Drummoyne, which still exists under the same name and they still wear those shirts.

Again close ups reading Happy Days fanzine in Antarctica.

I can post as many photos as I like but still cannot do it justice. The landscape was breathtaking. Glaciers behind us formed a seemingly never ending continent of snow and ice. Penguins got on with their daily lives, and there was a world of white to explore. Simply phenomenal.

I’m by no means a great photographer, but I have to say I enjoyed looking back at some of my best shots of the white continent. Neko harbour is a paradise for photographers too. Here, 4 penguins straddled up the hill right in front of me in almost unique symmetry. Beautiful.

And here more waddling gentoo penguins enjoy their homeland of Antarctica, while us foreigners gain in awe. The penguin at the back is losing his head.

This was the view from the boat of Neko Harbour before we docked. You cannot begin to imagine the excitement of seeing a place so beautiful like this. I have been asked a lot of questions about the Antarctica trip since I returned but the oddest one is that of Visas and passport control. There is no passport office, no visa needed, no borders, nothing like that. Once you book on the trip, you just need to have your payment, your passport and your medical insurance (which should cover you for $1,500 dollars (I think). So sorry, there ain’t no “Welcome to Antarctica Mainland. Please present your passports to the penguins”. And there’s no cash machine, 7-11, Starbucks, Bus Station or 24 hour McDonalds. Things like that would just litter this continent of nature.
There was an ice shelf by one of the formations on the water, so people took their turns to sit down on a proper natural seat in Antarctica. We all thought it would collapse at one point. It never did.

The locals mingle and linger in their favourite outdoor weather type.

Time for some shots with my fellow travellers – just great people. Here with Peter Dent of Canada.

With the shiny toothed Tracei, from the USA.

All alone in this wilderness with my Northern Ireland flag. Not the furthest south it has been though, as we made an earlier venture south on the Neumayer Channel the day before.

“The smiles”, like the Manic Street Preachers in their “beginnings” are “genuine”. The Everlasting, a song I hummed my way to as my feet traddled on the world’s southernmost continent.

We walked up to the top of the hill to check out the view and roll back down. Penguins passed us regularly, it got gradually colder as you neared the top, but nobody even cared.

My boot got lost a couple of times in the snow at Neko Harbour – here’s one of the marks I left as I had to drag my boot out of the snow. The snow is just so so deep, this happened to a few of us on the trip.

Penguins, in their infinite melancholy are wonderful to watch. A brace of Neko gentoos enjoy their afternoon stroll.

The second time I lost my boot deserved a photo, I was basically half body in the snow, another of life’s classic moments to savour.

With top man George Hibbard at the top of the nearest hill to Neko Harbour. George comes from California in the USA.

Stop and stare. Just take in all in and believe you are there. Immense.

I kneeled down as the snow got heavy and against a backdrop of falling glaciers, dancing penguins and pack ice, plus an ocean becoming iceberg, I got the perfect and best photos yet of my travelling Northern Ireland flag. I’m just a wee kid from Marlo in the dormitory town of Bangor living some kind of dream. Anyone can do it – you just have to make it happen. Sitting around doing nothing with your life gets you nowhere. We have ups and downs on this planet, and as I reflect this was a big up on my life cycle. As the snow fell faster and harder, the smiles became more and more genuine. This was all real.

I later lost these “sunglasses” somewhere on my trip (or left them in a hostel maybe), but they were perfect for shielding out the sun, snow and slete and the cool colour blue gives that Antarctica background that special tint. Of course I only wore them at intervals, what you see here with your real eyes matters most.

About to slide down the hill from the top. It has to be done. Most of the crew had already done their slide down the hill when I went to do it.

The hill I slid down, with the actual harbour in behind. The pack ice and snow was gradually increasing on the cold waters. The snow at Neko wasn’t actually too heavy, pretty enjoyable and very inconsistent, such is the nature of an Antarctic climate.

There was time to sit down and enjoy the landscape. It’s vast. It’s white. It’s natural. This is the Antarctica you get to love. In the middle of all the natural beauty, humans build snowmen.

A few shots of our MS Expedition Neko Snowman. It takes only a few minutes to build snowmen in Antarctica.

A close up of Neko the Snowman. Actually I don’t know if he had a name, but I’ll happily call him Neko. It is after all his home, and our first ever landing place on the actual continent.

Our ship the MS Expedition braved the dodgy waters of The Drake Passage, the Lemaire Channel and all along the Danco Coast. A true gem of a vessel and our home in Antarctica, where hotels and hostels are hardly advertised, or scattered along the coast of Barrientos…

These are all natural ice and snow formations.

Suman, from Melbourne and I took a few shots of each other down near the bottom, after coming down the hill. This is me with the wilderness behind. Keep walking and you will eventually reach the south pole (if your compass is up to scratch).

I took this one of Suman, which looks as if there is nothing behind him, just like the end of the world!

This photo appeared at the top of the article, but it’s OK to use it twice, when it’s a defining moment in Antarctica. This is my favourite photo of me taken in Antarctica. Just amazing.

More penguin play…

On leaving Neko Harbour there was an unmistakable buzz on board the ship. Over dinner and into the evening we enjoyed the amazing skyline from the deck of the ship. The sky was clear, the snow had stopped, and we had a drink in the onboard “Polar Bear Bar”, this photo taken by Monika, manages to skip the boat deck railings, giving me a real Antarctica background image.

Some excellent photos there on our evening sail alongside the Antarctic continent. Just an incredibly relaxing evening. Most of us spent the evening out on deck (or in the bar by the deck).

You don’t really need a certificate but they give you one anyone to say that you’ve actually been to the continent of Antarctica. Nice souvenir. Will frame it and one day display in, if and when I actually stay in the same flat for longer than 2 years.

 

Time for one last image of Neko Harbour. Sums it up. What an amazing journey. From a lonely broccoli field in Poatina, Tasmania to Neko Harbour in Antarctica, I was living a dream here. Thanks to everyone who made it possible. I’ll never forget my day on Neko Harbour, nor will life allow me to. “They’ll pass you by, glory days.”

Where Is It – Neko Harbour, Andvord Bay, Danco Peninsula, ANTARCTICA

Wikipedia Entry – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neko_Harbour

Strange Currencies – No shops

Transport Used – MS Expedition Ship and Zodiacs

How Many Went – About 130 I believe

Date – 11th November 2010

Time – 1.35 pm

Position – 64˚50’S, 62˚33’W

Location – Andvord Bay, Neko Harbour, Danco Peninsula, Antarctica Mainland

Weather – Snowy, cold, windy, blowy, icy

Temperature – Minus something

Wind – Not too bad, in fact I would say sheltered

Sky – Blurred, misty, foggy

Sights – Pack Ice, Snow, Glaciers, Rocks, Penguins, Icebergs, Ice shelves, birds

Souvenirs – My photos, my videos and my certificate to say I’ve stepped on mainland Antarctica

Key Songs (there will be an Antarctica Best of Album at some point, but in the meantime):

MADONNA – FROZEN:

MANIC STREET PREACHERS – (IT FEELS LIKE THE) ANTARCTIC:

LIGHTNING SEEDS – SUGAR COATED ICEBERG:

ICEHOUSE – THE GREAT SOUTHERN LAND:

VIDEOS:

1. SAILING DOWN ANDVORD BAY TO NEKO HARBOUR:

2. OUR ZODIAC ARRIVING AT NEKO HARBOUR:

3. FIRST VIDEO OF ME DIVING INTO THE SNOW AT NEKO HARBOUR:

4. NEKO HARBOUR IN ALL ITS GLORY:

5. SLIDING DOWN THE HILL AT NEKO HARBOUR:

6. THE BEACH AT NEKO HARBOUR, SAYING GOODBYE:

Don’t Stop Living is condemned to a lifestyle of travel and this article is just one of many from Jonny Blair’s journey to Antarctica. Read how he did Antarctica on a backpacker’s budget and how he lives a lifestyle of travel. He’s a travelling Northern Irishman and he loves it.

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