A good first or last stop on an Antarctic cruise.
Rating: * * *
Thrusting from land and sea, the rocky spires of the tiny Aitcho Islands dramatically confirm the volcanic origins of the South Shetland Islands. The main island of Barrientos has beautiful organ-pipe rock formations and rare rich green moss beds, as well as Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. If you can get there, the walk across the island leads you to a regularly occupied Elephant seal wallow.
Where is it?
The northern end of English Strait, the channel between Greenwich and Robert Islands.
Slippery slopes; for much of the season, access to the Elephant seals may not be possible due to potential for damage to the moss beds.
This island group offers significantly different landing experiences depending on the weather and season. Regulations do not permit walking on the extensive (for Antarctica) greenery, so until conditions are observed, the potential for the 1 km (0.62 mi) walk across the island is uncertain. Three widely separated landing beaches offer extremely varied scenery and wildlife, with the eastern side of the island more rounded and home to most of the island’s Chinstrap penguins, while the Western side of the island has spectacular rocky organ pipe style cliffs and spires and a consistently occupied Elephant seal wallow.
Going ashore can involve pushing through fringing kelp or slow manoeuvring through extensive shallows, but the resident wildlife is worthy of the effort. Large rookeries of Chinstrap penguins surround the most frequented landing site at the eastern end of the main island, Gentoos nest among the bones at Whalebone Beach. On the island’s western side, Elephant seals wallow near another landing beach but, after the snow has melted, footprints can all too easily damage the large beds of cushion moss, and the presence of humans may disturb nesting Giant petrels.
Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, Southern giant petrels, fur, Weddell, and Elephant seals.
There was plenty of whaling activity in the area in the early 19th Century, and the island group was mapped in 1935 as part of the Discovery Committee’s exploration, but there has been little human activity actually on the islands. Pronounced simply: aitch(h)-o, the group was named in 1935 by the Discovery II expedition in honor of the Admiralty’s Hydrographic Office that was better known as the H.O.
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