Antarctica; it’s somewhere I’d dreamed of visiting since reading about the exploits of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen. And frankly, who doesn’t want to see penguins? I’ve seen Happy Feet! I also love whales, so expectations were high. Believe me when I say that the One Ocean Expeditions cruise I experienced earlier this year blew me away. Hands down one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever done.
The two-day crossing of the Drake Passage to get to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia fades into insignificance when you wake up to magnificent scenery, a vast emptiness and a quiet that is unique to here.
Our cruise ship, the Akademik Ioffe, was designed for polar regions, and is not only the most stable, but also boasts the highest ice-rating of any ships in Antarctica. The One Ocean Expeditions staff are a mixture of nationalities and specialists in various fields so there was variety of talks to keep us entertained each night — we even enjoyed twice-daily Zodiac trips either on the water or to the land for a commune with the penguins! They have no fear and are very curious, so if you sit or stand still they will come and check you out. To be surrounded by these small, lovable creatures brings a smile to everyone’s face. We had numerous encounters with colonies of Adélie and chinstrap penguins and all were different and their antics so entertaining.
Birdlife also captures your attention, and then there are the seals, also wonderful to watch, from the crabeater seals to the ferocious leopard seals and the giant whale seals.
The two absolute highlights for me were the whales and the ice. We had absolutely amazing humpback whale encounters with these giant, gentle and curious creatures swimming next to, around and under the Zodiacs. I could have put out my hand and touched them they were so close, and although they do get very close they never touch the Zodiacs. The shout of “whales at the gangway!” meant a delay in re-boarding but no-one cared as it was a joy and a privilege to watch these magnificent creatures. We had scientists on board our trip studying the whales and they were always fascinating to talk to about their research.
The ice itself was so spectacular it really struck a chord with me. It was like being in an ever-changing sculpture park, with different sizes, shapes and colours all around you; from the brash ice on the surface that the Zodiacs bounce over to immense icebergs and everything in between. The colours range from the white you expect, to green, to the bluest of blue of such a vivid shade you can’t believe it’s real, and they change all the time due to the amazing Antarctic light. Words cannot describe the beauty of this ice against a backdrop of snow-covered landscapes.
This is just a snapshot of my awesome experience of the Antarctic and I would recommend that everyone should just pack their thermals and go!
Words: Brett Barclay, Director, World Journeys