We awoke this morning to our first sight of land in two weeks: a distant glimpse to port of New Zealand's Southern Alps. As the day progressed, the presence of inhabited land became more and more obvious. We first began to see large detached fronds of kelp (Macrocystis), then coastal seabirds such as the black-backed gull (Larus dominicanus), followed by pods of Hector's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori), and, much less gratifying, a few pieces of plastic trash. The cloudbank to our north slowly resolved into the cloud-topped headlands of the Banks Peninsula, which we later skirted to reach port in Lyttleton. About halfway around the Peninsula, the water suddenly changed from the dark blue of the open sea to the milky green of the coastal ocean.
Lyttleton is a small community that rises steeply from the inner shores of Lyttleton Harbour. Lyttleton and Akaroa harbors provide two spectacular havens from the Banks Peninsula's rugged shores. Each harbor occupies the breached crater of an extinct volcano. The Lyttleton volcano began to form first, about 11 million years ago, followed by the Akaroa volcano about 3 million years later. The volcanoes originally formed islands but later connected with mainland New Zealand as erosion from the Southern Alps raised the Canterbury Plains.
Captain James Cook named the peninsula in 1830, in honor of the Endeavour's botanist Joseph Banks. Cook originally named the area Banks Island—one of the few cartographic errors he ever made. From the deck of the Palmer, the mistake is understandable. The peninsula's rugged hills do indeed look like an island against the flat expanse of the water and westward-reaching plains.
One of the most noticeable sensations as we enter the calm waters of Lyttleton Harbour is the sudden cessation of the Palmer's roll. After 18 days on a moving ship, the sudden tranquility is a bit disconcerting. The sensation grows more pronounced when we tie up and step ashore. This is "dock rock," the mariners' term for the apparent swaying of solid ground that some feel upon disembarking after a lengthy sea voyage.
Because Lyttleton is the port city for Christchurch, the "Gateway to Antarctica" since the earliest polar explorers, it has seen its share of polar history. In the center of the drowned crater that forms Lyttleton Harbour lies Quail Island, where Robert Falcon Scott quarantined and trained dogs, ponies, and mules for his Antarctic expeditions in 1901 and again prior to his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1910. Ernest Shackleton used the island for the same purpose in 1907.
As for us, we're both joyful and sad that our brief chapter in the history of Antarctic exploration has come to an end. Here's to next year's IVARS cruise!