Antarctica - View from the Inside

An Antarctica Expedition is a unique experience, a voyage in the true pioneering spirit, pretty much as far south and remote as you can get, to a land less visited.

June 2019 • Laura Kelly, Head of Commercial

Antarctica - View from the Inside

Enjoy the immense beauty of the seventh continent where sculptural white icebergs, ice floes and deep blue seas flank barren, rocky coastlines, home to an incredible abundance of marine mammals and seabirds. An Antarctica Expedition is a unique experience, a voyage in the true pioneering spirit, pretty much as far south and remote as you can get, to a land less visited. A land filled with scenic wonders; breathtaking, ethereal icescapes and amazing wildlife. 

View from the Inside - Antarctica 1

I travelled to Antarctica in January on a small ship expedition cruise. The seventh continent is a pristine land, with deep fjords and dramatic coastlines. Harsh, remote and seemingly untouched there is nowhere else quite like it. I experienced zodiac landings at penguin rookeries and research stations. I enjoyed whale safaris, excursions, and lectures. Embarking in Ushuaia there is some quiet anticipation, we are going to cross Drake Passage, an adventure in its own right, will we experience a Drake lake or a Drake shake? The sun came out, the waters of the Beagle Channel sparkled and despite the fresh breeze we had a cosy, stable night on board.   

We wake to a gentle morning on Drake Passage; our sea legs were beginning to work, so it’s the first time out on deck for the majority of passengers. This morning we have zodiac inductions and an interesting lecture on the geology of the region, we are kept company for a few hours by a large flock of cape petrels that followed the boat, the first sighting of penguins causes a stir, racing and leaping through the water alongside the vessel. Excitement rises with the announcement that we would land at Yankee Harbour, Greenwich Island this evening. As we are soon to discover, you will encounter penguins in droves on this icy land, you can meander among its many colonies, at a safe distance, and observe their seemingly eccentric behaviour.  

Split into two group we take turns to go ashore or take the zodiac cruise.  The landing point reveals the dramatic nature of the area, its stillness and extreme conditions. We see gentoo penguins and their chicks on the upper beach and waddling at speed along the penguin highway to the sea, to get food. We see Skuas, the large, predatory birds circling the colony, much to the consternation of the penguin parents, two fur seals resting close to the landing point and several chinstrap penguins. From the zodiac we see more fur seals and a weddell seal.  Someone spotted a fin whale, a leopard seal and an hourglass dolphin.  I need to get better at this spotting lark!

View from the Inside - Antarctica kayak

Today the outside temperature is a balmy 5°C as we awake in the sea north of breath-taking Gerlache Strait. Here 3000-ft ice cliffs rise from still waters, sunrays bounce off the glassy waters and the mountains throw silhouettes over the ice floes. Surrounded by beautiful drifting glacier ice, some icebergs are so big that our ship is dwarfed, others much smaller and almost transparent. To add to the morning’s thrill we spot a few humpback whales, weddell seals, petrels and the rare ice-fish. Stopping then in Foyn Harbour (Wilhelmina Bay), currents push nutrients into the bay which attracts many whales and is a perfect spot to explore by zodiac. It’s fiercely quiet with just ice crackling and popping and pods of whales tease us with glimpses as they break the surface. We land in the afternoon at Danco Island, a steep piece of land providing a welcome trek uphill, passing gentoo penguin rockeries.  The view from the slope is incredible, the vista is vast and we seem so small and insignificant in comparison.  The icebergs in the calm waters were calving and turning, many had temporary residents; weddell seals, crab-eater seals and even leopard seals, we spot Antarctic terns as the humpbacks pass under our vessel and minke whales surface to see what’s happening.

View from the Inside - Antarctica Expedition cruising

The following breakfast, we were presented with two members of the British Antarctic Heritage Trust who introduce us to their base operation. Located at the historical site of Port Lockroy, on Goudier Island, dating back to the British Antarctic Survey, there is a post office; this living museum gives an interesting insight into life in British Antarctic Territory, sending out around 700,000 cards each year. But don't post anything urgent, my mail arrived back in the UK around 6 weeks after I did! The base is also a gentoo nesting site, later we take the zodiacs to Jougla Point and see the blue-eyed shags and their chicks and further penguin colonies, and an intact whale skeleton on the shore.

The next day is a busy day with three landings and we set foot on the actual Antarctic continent. First Brown Base, the former Argentinian scientific station. We hike up behind the base for spectacular views of Paradise Bay, you have the option to walk back down or slide through the snow to the bottom, there were lots of squeals from happy sliders. We take the zodiacs and stop a while in stunning Paradise Bay. Paradise Bay is a true frozen paradise, a playground of ever-changing ice formations, littered with marvellous icebergs in varying shades of blue that sparkle and shimmer in the sunlight. There are penguins playing on the shore and shags nesting in the crags. On the zodiacs, we glide in the calm, pristine Antarctic waters, with only the songs of nature and crackling of ice audible, this serves as a wonderful reminder of just where we are. On the ice floes there are lots of crab eater seals. A humpback, the gentle giant of the ocean, slowly and gracefully rises from the deep waters between the zodiacs, has a look and then graciously re-submerges and goes on its way. The wildlife encounters are so intimate and so personal, emotions are high and silence pervades the icy air.

Zodiac 

We continue to the Lemaire Channel, breathtaking in formation and size with towering mountains, hanging glaciers and icebergs; this is truly an impressive landscape that embodies Antarctica at its very best. Everyone is on deck as we navigate the passage. Steep, jagged peaks and impressive glaciers hem the passage, just half a mile wide at its narrowest point, as we enjoy the spectacular icebergs and the natural gateway to the south.   

Finally we visit Port Charcot known as the iceberg graveyard; we cruise between icebergs, spectacular in size and formation. There is a large rumble and crack as the iceberg we are passing crashes into the sea, the noise and the reverberations are immense and suddenly we have a completely different sight before us, it is all so exciting.

As we cruise today we learn of the volcanoes of the region, there is a fog hanging over the sea as we make our way to Deception Island and enter the crater into Port Foster, we see the volcanic formations up close as we approach Whalers Bay. Alas the weather is against us today and we do not have the chance to disembark so we proceed north to Hannah Point, also in the South Shetland Islands but we were unable to disembark. Lectures are provided in the lecture hall and a film - March of the Penguins is shown after dinner.

We make our way back through Drake Passage, we learn of the region’s politics, of some quite special expeditions and more about the wildlife of the region. Who knew there was so much to learn about icebergs, whales, penguins, bird life and the importance of krill! But attending these lectures must have worked, there is an Antarctic Quiz after dinner and Jules Verne’s very best, do us extremely proud by being clear winners on the evening.

Gentoo penguin

In the morning we reach Cape Horn after a beautifully calm cruise through the passage, with everyone up on deck to see the iconic landmark, we are accompanied by sea-birds; petrels, skuas, albatross, shearwater and imperial shag, the magellanic penguin and fur seal are also spotted.  

Antarctica is so full of surprises, holding 90% of the world’s fresh water it has some of the clearest waters on the planet. It is actually a polar desert, there are dry valleys where it hasn’t rained in more than two million years. No surprise that it’s the coldest continent in the world, with temperatures recorded below -73°C (-100°F). (We visit in the Austral summer, so it’s not something we need fear). Antarctica has no indigenous populations and there is no evidence that it was seen by humans until the 19th century. 

Our partners in Antarctica are part of IAATO, a member organization founded in 1991 to advocate and promote the practice of safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic. How you travel to Antarctica is incredibly important, if you want to get up close to nature and maximize your time ashore or in zodiacs it is important you chose the correct type of cruise. IAATO expects to see 80,553 visitors travel to the white continent in 2020, 18,420 of which will be large cruise ship visitors, never setting foot on land. Of the remaining 40 or so vessels, each carrying from 6 to 500 passengers visits ashore are generally limited to a  short duration of (+/- 3 hours), and no more than 100 people. Typically there are 1-3 landings per day made using zodiacs. Smaller vessels carrying less than 200 passengers will have access to the primary sites and for longer.  In my view this is the best possible way to make the most of your visit to Antarctica.

Also photography is massive part of your journey, the shots and images you will bring home as a reminder will be phenomenal. This is a superb destination for photography, but look beyond the camera lens. Put the camera down and enjoy all that is before you, take time to drink in the views: the landscape and the wildlife so you can appreciate the experience and live the moment.   

View from the Inside - Antarctica_Antarctica_Ocean_Atlantic

Travelling to a destination that has long sat on your bucket list is fraught with anxiety – will the reality of the destination meet the expectation you have built up in your mind? Will the encounter satisfy your hopes and expectations? Will the experience live up to the hype? Oh yes! Let me tell you, with a big resounding yes. It was magnificent! It was incredible! It surpassed my expectations. A frozen frontier: immaculate and unspoiled, dramatic and powerful yet fragile and pure. Regardless of your reasons for visiting Antarctica it will have a profound impact. The air, the silence and the solitude, the ethereal scenes of beauty and nature at its very best, all of these elements remain and leave an imprint on the human spirit. Truly a land like no other, there is no feeling comparable to that of standing on the Antarctica peninsula, an absolute transformational experience. The level of emotion that it evokes is difficult to describe – despite the most fantastic photographs – you cannot capture nor replicate the overwhelming sense of awe that you feel at the absolute splendour of our planet’s most remote continent, of encountering the grandeur and vastness of the White Continent in person, a feeling that everyone should experience at least once in lifetime.

Keep up-to-date or get inspiration

With email or social