Waking on embarkation day, for a ten-day adventure to the Antarctic Peninsula is a surreal feeling. This journey for me was the holy grail of travel “bucket list” adventures. For those that wonder why you would go to this remote part of the world, I can report that for me it was to see something unique; untouched and untainted. What I experienced was far above and beyond my expectations and a real game changer to my bucket list of destinations going forward.
Embarking in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, I was greeted by the Akademik Ioffe staff and it all became very real that I was about to have a unique journey. After getting settled, we gathered for introductions, learnt about life on board and met our resident Geologist, Glaciologist, and our captain.
We waived goodbye to Ushuaia and watched while the lines were thrown, and the ship made its way from the port heading south toward the Antarctic Circle. As we cruised into the Beagle Channel and by Puerto Williams; we saw some beautiful forest of Tierra del Fuego and Isla Navarino. We even spotted some albatross, a northern giant petrel, and sheathbills following the ship out to sea.
Our first meal in the dining hall was a good introduction of what our dining life at sea would be for the next 10 days; good comfort food.
Over the next days, as we made our way across the Drake Passage, I learnt about the amazing journey of Shackleton; a British polar explorer, watched movies, listened to the experts onboard, and even saw snow fall. Initially there were albatross gliding alongside our ship, but they knew their boundaries and disappeared after the first day of sailing.
On day three of our travels, there had been enough snow falling last night to cover the ship in a glimmering white layer. As we sailed through the magnificent Lemaire Channel, our captain avoided icebergs and advised us when we were nearing any whales. There were humpback whales playing with our ship as we cruised through the water. It was as if they were guiding us.
We finally made our first landing. The zodiacs took us to Petermann Island, situated off the northwest coast where we were greeted by a throng of Gentoo penguins and their chicks. As I walked onto land it was a wonderful, but rather smelly due to the number of penguins here. Further inland, I found Adelie penguins, some of them looking scruffy whilst losing their baby fluff and adapting to their adult coats. I sat on the ice at one point just to enjoy the stillness of the moment. Within no time, I had some little penguins pecking at me. We weren’t allowed to approach them, but they could approach us.
We visited the Vernadsky Research Base; monitoring ozone and received an incredibly warm welcome from the workers who had spruced up and allowed us to enter their world of isolation. While out and about today some of our highlight sightings were leopard seals, Antarctic fur seals, crabeater seals and Minke whales.
Overnight our ship sailed from the Argentine Islands to Port Locroy; a natural harbour on the west coast of Wiencke Island. We visited the base and Bransfield House, the main building here. It was functioning as a gift shop and post office. I sent a postcard home to see who got there first. What I did love in this location were the number of gentoo penguins that I was able to see. Nearby, I visited Jougla Point to see the gentoo penguin rookery and a weathered whale vertebra; a reflection of some of the history in this region.
Our ship went northeast up the Nuemayer Channel in search of more wildlife and icebergs. This channel is known for its dramatic and majestic cliffs but also gave us a chance to see some of the most spectacular icebergs on the sailing. In this region, the glaciers were stunning and as if on que, to make it even more incredible, several humpback whales were spotted just ahead of the ship. The zodiacs were launched and before long, we were 15 metres away bobbing up and down around several humpback whales, surfacing around our zodiac.
To cap off our day, the icebergs that we saw were incredible. With blue colours and as tall as 50 metres, we bobbed around from a safe, but rather close distance to these structures. They were majestic and equally rivalled the most beautiful manmade building in the world. We admired the various shapes that had come to form from the biting winds, freezing water and melting process that occurs here.
While on this Antarctic journey, I had the opportunity to camp for a night on Paradise Harbour, so I signed up immediately. I knew the night would be cold, so with sleeping bag and very warm clothes, I thought I was ready. It certainly was an interesting experience as you lay awake listening to the ice calving around you. Thankfully it was noisier than listening to the snoring of your fellow passengers camped nearby. I won’t talk about the toilet, but let’s just say; everything that goes on the ice, must come off and it was a rather cold experience.
It wasn’t too long before we were back in the zodiacs to explore Paradise Harbour and the amazing views from the summit behind the Argentine base of Almirante Brown. I climbed to the top and admired this pristine and magical land that I was in. Sliding down was an option so that was fun.
My favourite zodiac adventure throughout this expedition was when three Minke whales played with our zodiac. They circled us and then dove underneath. As I leaned over the edge of the zodiac, one of the whales swam past on his side looking up at me; what a moment.
We sailed the Gerlache Strait and as we approached Cuverville Island, we had more sightings of humpback whales. We were lucky to get many whale sightings from our ship here.
We visited Whilhelmina Bay and Foyn Harbour to see the shipwreck. We also saw relics that dated back to the whaling days here.
Cruising through the South Shetland Islands presented some incredible scenery. It was great to stand and watch the ship navigate its way through Neptunes Bellows into Whaler’s Bay; Deception Island.
The kayakers went out first this morning and I witnessed their close encounter with a humpback whale; I was happy to be on the zodiac. When we landed, I went to see the old buildings and ruins from the whaling era and then went for a walk where I encountered a huge Elephant seal right in my path, or maybe I was in his. He was friendly enough, but so big. I walked to the summit which presented amazing views of our ship and the caldera. Here, we also had the opportunity to swim.
Livingston Island was next where we were treated to a show from three Fin Whales; the second largest whale in the ocean. Shortly after at Hannah Point, we were guided to a large group of elephant seals enjoying themselves and making a lot of noise. We saw all four of the resident Macaroni penguins, chinstrap penguins and more gentoos.
What an incredible journey with so many highlights. The Antarctic peninsula was dramatic, majestic, and offered serenity that is hard to put into words. It was incredible to be somewhere that was not spoilt and to encounter the curiosity of wildlife, having little fear of humanity.
By Tammi Sirett, Clean Cruising
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