Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison
Go back in time at one of the oldest sites from the "heroic age" of Antarctic exploration
Information about Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison
Cape Denison is at the eastern edge of the Australian Antarctic Territory at the head of Commonwealth Bay. The peninsula is mostly free of ice and made up of a series of rocky valleys and ridges.
The importance of the Cape to Antarctic human history lies in the collection of buildings known as Mawson’s Huts. These were built and lived-in during an Australian Antarctic Expedition that ran from 1911 to 1914, led by the explorer and geologist Sir Douglas Mawson.
The huts that now bear his name are very rare, being only one of six sites that still remain from the so-called “heroic era” of Antarctic exploration. There are several buildings that were constructed to house scientific instruments, including taking magnetic readings and astronomical observations. There was also a radio hut - the first time radio transmission was used in the Antarctic.
The main hut at Cape Denison has undergone some preservation work but snowfall can still often get inside. Because of the delicate nature of the hut, only 4 people at any time are allowed inside. There you can find an amazing time capsule from the early 20th century, including the cast-iron stove, bottles, jars, cans, and other everyday items. Some of the storage shelves have the names of the men who placed their belongings there written on them with the date - still legible after 120 years.
Apart from Mawson’s Huts, Cape Denison is a popular spot for breeding wildlife. Weddell seals can often be seen with pups during the breeding season, and there are also bird colonies including skuas, petrels, and penguins.
Interesting facts about Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison
Pictures of Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison
Highlights Close to Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison
Devil Island, Vega Island
Devil Island is well-named! This narrow, rocky island has a low valley in the middle, with two peaks at either end. This gives it an uncanny “devil’s horns” look! It’s found in the James Ross Island group of the Antarctic Peninsula. Its location in a small cove makes it popular with Antarctic wildlife.
Devil Island gives an opportunity for you to photograph some breathtaking views. From the landing site, you are greeted by some spectacular volcanic formations. From here, you can hike to the top of one of the peaks, which overlooks an Adelie penguin colony nestling below in a natural bowl formation.
But the star of the show here is the remarkable 360-degree viewpoint you get from the top. From the high vantage point, you might spot fur seals, crabeater seals, and a variety of seabirds. It really makes the short, but steep climb worth it. Your expert Antarctic guides will show you the way and point out any wildlife you may have missed.
Devil Island offers some stunning antarctic vistas that you don’t want to miss, so ensure your camera batteries are charged and spare memory cards are ready!
Paulet Island is a striking sight. This circular rock is only 1 mile in diameter, yet it has a volcanic cone that rises to over 1100 feet at its center. It’s found about 3 miles from Dundee Island at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula.
First mapped in 1839, Paulet Island is home to a huge penguin colony. Some 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins live here, a truly remarkable sight and sound! You will also see other sea birds on your visit, including shags, snow petrels, and kelp gulls.
Another fascinating aspect of Paulet Island is the historic shelter that dates back to 1903. The expedition ship on the Nordenskjöld expedition - the Antarctica (after which the Antarctic Sound is named) - was crushed by the ice pack, and survivors of the wreck reached Paulet built a stone hut to shelter them from the harsh winter conditions. There is also a cairn built on the highest point of the island that they used to attract attention for any rescue. There is also a grave marker for one expedition member who sadly did not survive.
Because Paulet Island is so densely packed with wildlife, visitors will be escorted in small groups by experienced Antarctic guides. This ensures that the breeding birds are disturbed as little as possible and that the shelter site is protected.
Fur seals are often also seen on the shores here. In the peak breeding season, you may find that some of the walking trails around the island are closed due to the sheer numbers of wonderful creatures that choose to raise their young here.
Snow Hill Hut
Snow Hill Island is very well named! This large island is 21 miles long and over 7 miles wide and is almost completely covered in snow all year round.
It was first discovered by a British expedition in 1843 and named “Snow Hill” because it wasn’t clear at first if it was connected to its neighbor, Seymour Island. Subsequent surveys by a Swedish Expedition in 1901 found that it was, indeed, a separate outcrop, and “Island” was added to its name. The high ground on Snow Hill Island rises to approximately 560ft above sea level.
Snow Hill is important geologically. There have been many marine fossils found in its rocks, and huge dikes of had-wearing basalt rock have withstood erosion to become important and striking features.
The 1901 Swedish expedition spent three winters on Snow Hill Island, using it as a base to explore the wider area. They built a wooden hut in 1902 which still stands and is now a designated Historic Monument.
Snow Hill Hut is a 20ft by 26ft wooden building that is preserved as a time capsule and consists of a central living room, a kitchen, and 3 double bunks. You can still see furniture, bedding, lamps, plates, food packages, and more everyday items that were simply left when the hut was abandoned. The contents of Snow Hill Hut were then preserved in remarkable condition by the Antarctic cold.
There is the very slight chance of encountering an Emperor Penguin on an ice floe here since there is the Emperor Penguin colony on the permanent ice just to the south of Snow Hill Island. The actual colony is very inaccessible and only a few cruise ships manage to reach the location in the early season with all the additional ice (and when the Emperor Penguins are completing their breeding cycle throughout the winter!). In most cases a helicopter is also required to get closer, then a trek across the ice.