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The Rock-itt : August 2010
I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a mate in Christchurch. She was going to be in Sydney for a few hours whilst she changed flights on her way to the Russian Far East. Dr. Melanie Massaro was going to be a lecturer on a voyage that I had been dreaming about doing for a couple of years; Dr. Mel could be my scout on this extraordinary journey. I first met Mel on a voyage down to Antarctica to view the historic huts around the Ross Sea. I always call her the penguin lady because that's a major part of her research but her position at the University of Canterbury is focused on behavioural ecology and conservation biology, so there! Anyhow she is a good mate so I met her off the plane and took her for lunch. In order to get to the Spirit of Enderby which was to be the trip ship, she had to get herself to Northern Japan. From when I stuck her on the plane up to Tokyo she had two days of travel ahead of her to get by plane and rail up to Otaru in the North of Japan. After joining the Spirit of Enderby and the rest of the crew, she had to help prepare the ship during its passage north ready for the passengers to arrive at the Far East Russian port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island. The cruise is run by Heritage Exhibitions who are based in Christchurch New Zealand. They are a fabulous company to deal with and enable smallish groups of people to see the wonders of the World. They are the only company currently operating a tourist ship in these strange and mysterious waters. This is mostly due to the top guy in the company Rodney Russ who has amazing patience and resilience in dealing with troublesome Russian bureaucracy. Mel was to do two cruises on this trip and we'll join here for the second one which was for 10 days with a major focus on the wild life in this region. They had a rough first night after leaving port heading for the Kuril Islands. The ship only carries a maximum of fifty passengers and around twenty four crew, it's about as big as a Manly Ferry. A great way to travel, no luxury ship but a very comfortable way to see the world. One of the things experienced on the first day on board is the mandatory life boat drill. Lots of folk huddled shoulder to shoulder in a small boat like a cigar tube, great fun until you remember that if disaster strikes this thing will be dropped into the ocean like a cork. Thankfully Heritage only hires Captains who know how to drive properly. It was still blowing a gale the morning after, they were due to make their first landing on Atlasova Island in the Kurils but the Captain decided they had better head South with the wind to the more Southern Kuril Island. Spirits were lifted after they spotted a couple of Sea Otters though. The Birders were very happy, lots of stuff you can only see in these regions. One of the features of these cruises are the lectures where you can learn much from the on board scientists about the flora, fauna and general history of the areas you find yourself in, . They are really enjoyable and help fill the frustrating gaps when you can't make shore landings. Dr. Mel gave a lecture about seabirds as they ploughed South. A message from the Bridge that there were a couple of Sperm whales to be seen finished the day off well. These kind of trips react to what is going on around them, if there is something worth seeing in the middle of the night you'll be awakened by the boat PA system and have the chance to see what all the fuss is about. You also have the chance to sleep on if you want to! Morning on the third day starts at 6.15am, the Enderby is rolling heavily adjacent to the Matua Islands but those that have the stomach for it catch breakfast and get ready to go ashore on The Spirit of Enderby in Olga Bay, Kamchatka, Kronotski, nice volcano in the distance Dr. Mel amongst the monster Murdock on Urup Island, one of the Southern Kuril Islands It's a wild region; this is a house on Iterup Island, still occupied!