A very early start, cars rolling at 5:15 am to drive through the National Park to Lago Grey where we have booked a 3 hour cruise to the face of another glacier. Still very dark and we have a Lucas electrics moment when the headlights start flickering. No time to find what has shaken loose over all the corrugations so fingers crossed they won’t die completely before sunrise.
Soon the first sunlight hits the 3000 m peak of the Torres and we are rewarded with a spectacular show as the icy slopes gradually light up followed by the chiselled rock faces. The closest experience in Australia would be sunrise at Uluru except we are winding around a gravel road beside the lake so the views are continually changing.
Right on schedule we roll up to the Hotel to pick up the cruise tickets then stroll down to the beach to enjoy a packed breakfast while we wait for the ship. So warm already, we later learn that there are only 6 or 7 sunny days each year like this with no wind to chop up the lake – how lucky is that! On many days the cruise can’t operate because winds across the lake can reach 180 km/h. A normal day is just cold and drizzly.
From a distance the glacier looks unimpressive. All we see are two icy arms either side of a large island but as we get closer the 20 m jagged faces dominate the view. The ship was built as an icebreaker so it has no problems running into the floating ice floes which have broken off the face so we get to within 100 m of the face to admire the brilliant ice sculptures.
The rest of the day was a bit of an anti-climax – a return trip through the National Park and then on to Punta Arenas for our overnight stop. Punta Arenas was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I could recall landing at the airport about 20 years ago on a return trip from Brazil in the days when 747s didn’t have the range for a direct trip to Auckland against the Pacific headwinds. It was bleak and windswept and the terminal was nothing more than an old Nissen hut parked in the middle of nowhere. The city itself has grown from its early days as a penal colony and shipping port into a vibrant university town and everyone was out watching street performers of every description. About the size of Bendigo but a lot more action.