Tag Archives: Antarctica

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

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Looking Back, Part 1 – Patagonia, South America

Patagonia is at the southern end of South America and is an area that is jointly owned by both Chile and Argentina. Patagonia contains the tail end of the Andes mountains, the second largest ice field in the world and is predominantly set up for tourism with is brilliant mountains, amazing lakes and so many hikes you could walk around it forever. Thankfully, that was the primary reason I came to Patagonia.

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I arrived in Usuhaia, Argentina in the last days of summer and was stunned by the beauty of the mountains and the seas near the most southern city in the world.

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With Autumn came low season and a slowing down of the tourism industry. This didn’t mean there was a lack of people, just not as many. And, if anything, it was a good thing because the numbers in high season can be overbearing. In Ushuaia, as I waited for a boat to Antarctica I did several hikes in and around the Martial Mountains.

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After a 12 day trip to the White Continent…

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I left Ushuaia for a 12 hour bus trip to Punta Arena, the southern most city in Chile, for a two day stop of before heading to Puerto Natales, another 5 hour bus ride north.

Puerto Natales has a large tourism industry set around two places, the southern fiords of Chile and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile’s most popular and most expensive national park. I spent a couple of days in Puerto Natales preparing for my hike before heading to the national park where I spent 9 days hiking around the Torres del Paine Massif. A fantastic hike.

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Back in Puerto Natales, I made the decision to catch the Navimag Ferry though the patagonian fiords, but I also wanted to head into Argentina to hike around Mt Fitz Roy. So I decided to do both. I booked the five day ferry trip and with several days before it departed, I caught a 5 hour bus across the border to El Calafate in Argentina.

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There is a famous glacier near El Calafate in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares called Perito Merino. But after coming back from 9 days hiking, and having seen plentiful glaciers in Antarctica, I decided to just rest in El Calafate for 3 days before heading north to El Chaltén. In El Calafate I had, perhaps, the best Asado – BBQ – I’ve had in South America.

El Chaltén is 3 hours by bus from El Calafate and is set at the north end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The town principally supports hiking around Mt Fitz Roy, which is another name for Chaltén. For three days, I walked what I call the Fitz Roy Triangle around the mountains to see some wondrous peaks and lakes.

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Then I was back on a bus to El Calafate for the night before then heading back to Puerto Natales once more.

The following night I was on the Navimag Ferry and was preparing for the trip. The ferry left Puerto Natales at 4am the following morning and wended its way south west to pass through a thin gap before heading north. That was when the rain started and it stayed with us for the rest of the trip. It was a shame because we missed a lot of the mountain views due to the low clouds. So the only thing to do was to stay inside and get to know some of the travellers.

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I arrived in Puerto Montt at the end of the journey and made my way to my Hospedaje, a home stay style hostel. Compared to the small relaxed towns of lower Patagonia, Puerto Montt felt like a bustling atrocity set beneath a might volcano.

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I guess it was just the more people all in one place. After a couple of days around town, I headed 2 hours north by bus to Osorno with the intention of hiking the Puyehue National Park and climbing a small volcano. I hitch-hiked out to the parque to find it had been closed because of a missing hiker. So I stayed the night in a cabin before flagging down a bus heading to Osorno.

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Three hours north of Osorno, again by bus, is the town of Pucón. Pucón is a beautiful little town on a lake and below a large active volcano. Every tourist seems to climb the volcano, so instead I’d planned a 6 day hike around the base of both it and the one behind it. All I needed was a nice space of fine weather, but after a fortnight the break in the weather never come. The time wasn’t wasted, I spent much of the time writing. Before leaving Pucón, I caved and climbed the volcano…

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A day or so later, I said a final goodbye to Chile as I crossed the border back into Argentina to the city of Bariloche in the Lakes Region. In Bariloche, I decided to take a 2 week Spanish course,  But on the weekend prior I climbed to Refugio Lopez near the top of Cerro Lopez to look down upon the lakes that give this region its name.

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A week later, during my weekend off study, I climbed Cerro Catedral and stayed at Refugio Frey next to a frozen mountain lake.

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After my second week of study, I travelled a 100km south to the small not very hippie-like, hippie town of El Bolson. It would have been nice to have hiked in the mountains there, but due to the time of year, it turned out to be a rather uninspiring visit.

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After two nights, I was back to Bariloche for my final days in Patagonia before heading north by bus for 19.5 hours to the warmer wine regions of Argentina – Mendoza.

My trip to Patagonia was wondrous trip through the southern portion of South America, reminding me very much of the South Island of my home country, New Zealand. And being such a vast place, you just can’t see all of it. Perhaps one day I will come back and explore more of it…

Next, I head around northern Argentina and then through Central South America…

The World Wanderer

Antarctic Voyage – The Journey Back to Civilisation.

Find Days 1 – 3 here: We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!
Days 4 – 5 here: Along The Great White Peninsula
Days 6 – 7 here: Next Stop, The Polar Circle

Day 8 – Returning Along The Peninsula

Last night the swell rocked the boat so madly many people were unable to sleep. While the seas weren’t often bad and many of us no longer show signs of sea sickness, some can barely get out of bed to attend meals.

On the morning of Day 8 we anchored off Verdnasky Island and were invited by the Ukrainian science team there to visit Verdnasky station.

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We broke into three groups: a third visited the station first, another third visited the abandoned Wordie station on the other side of the same island, and the remaining third were the kayakers and divers.  Each group eventually got a turn to visit the main research station.

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Wordie Station was the original research station and must have been built for short, thin people as it’s pretty cramped.  When researchers moved to the newly built Vernadsky station, Wordie station was converted into a museum.  To get between the two stations we had to cruise through sets of pure blue icebergs with amazing natural textures on them.

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Verdnasky Station is huge in comparison to Wordie with a pair of long sprawling corridors leading to many different science labs. Outside there are other rooms and silos for storage, additional labs and fuel. Upstairs there’s a relaxation room which holds the southernmost gift shop and the southernmost Post Office in the world, where we got our passports stamped and sent postcards (most took more than a year to arrive). Through an archway was the world’s southernmost bar where we could buy large shots of vodka for US$3.

After exiting the station and waiting for the Zodiacs to collect us, we gathered on the pier to watch a leopard seal torment a penguin. When it noticed it had an audience, it made a display of tearing its lunch to pieces before consuming it.  While macabre, it’s part of nature and we couldn’t take our eyes from it. Back on the ship we headed further north to Petermann Island for another short hike. The island itself has different colours of snow – green from algae and pink from penguin poo.

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The hike was a walk up a slippery mound to a cairn and down the other side. This island had some beautiful views, but was the smelliest island I’ve ever been to. While the old saying: ‘Don’t eat the yellow snow’ still stands, a new one came from this trip: Definitely don’t eat the pink snow.

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As we made our way back to the ship we spied another leopard seal enjoying a penguin. Penguins are considered the rabbits of the south, they breed like crazy and provide good food sources for the seals and larger sea birds.

Across the bay, we could see the base of several majestic looking spires their tops hidden behind the cover of clouds.  Thankfully the clouds began moving as we were leaving, giving us a partially better view.

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Day 9 – Final Landfall – Deception Island

The plan for the day was to make landfall in the morning and begin the journey back across the Drake Passage in the afternoon. This was not to be, however, as the wind and seas were too harsh. Instead we sailed back to the South Shetland Islands to attempt Deception Island again. When we arrived the wind was still strong, but thankfully in the right direction allowing us to enter the volcano via a stretch of water known as Neptune’s Bellows.

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We sailed through and even with the low clouds it was picturesque. The bay inside was huge and we anchored in a smaller bay just inside called Whalers Bay. On reaching land, we set foot on black volcanic pebbles and sand. There were a number of old broken down buildings which we were warned not to enter because they were unstable.

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Deception Island erupts every 40 years, the last time being 40 years earlier. We were prepared should it go up but it didn’t, obviously. On land there were few penguins and many fur seals. We walked along the beach for a while and climbed the semi-collapsed wall to Neptune’s window…

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…which provided great views both inside and out.

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We then followed a stream up the side of the volcano…

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…to a higher perch. With the clouds and the blue-green of the sea, the sight looked like a mystical world that photos just don’t do justice to.

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Back on board, we set sail for the Drake passage and as expected the seas were a little rough.

Day 10 and 11 – Back across the Drake Passage

For two days we sailed across the open and slightly choppy seas. It wasn’t as crazy as we’d expected, but after making landfall twice each day in the Antarctic, hanging about the ship sent many of us a little stir crazy. There were lectures to bide the time but I dove into a book and managed to finish the second of two novels I’d begun on the journey.

We arrived into the shelter of the Beagle Channel in the late afternoon of Day 11 and docked in the early morning at Ushuaia. We disembarked after breakfast.

Overall

My Antarctic trip will always be one of the most memorable experiences of my life and worth far more than I paid for it. The many places where we made landfall and the multitude of wildlife were unreal. People on board were friendly, although with 37 different nationalities it was sometimes difficult to communicate well. There were many new experiences and I’m glad I chose the Plansius from Oceanwide Expeditions, as I’ve heard some of the other cruises were not as well organised or the crews were not as interested in giving passengers the best experience.

Next, after a couple of days in Ushuaia, I began my long journey north along the Andes starting with Patagonia.

The Ocean Cruising Trail Wanderer

Antarctic Voyage – Next Stop, the Polar Circle

Find Days 1 – 3 here: We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!
Find Days 4 – 5 here: Along The Great White Peninsula

Day 6 – Antarctic Peninsula

Overnight the weather had changed and on awakening we found it had begun to snow. While we’d loved the clear days, it just hadn’t felt like Antarctic until now.

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We set out across the bay to an Argentinian base called Almirante Brown where some of us docked and the others cruised around the harbour in Zodiacs looking at the scenery and the natural colours in the rocks…

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As we moved through the water we could see the snow slowing beginning to freeze the water. We were told the process starts with a type of ice called ‘grease ice’, which gives the ocean a strange greasy look, then moves on through several more stages before the bay freezes over.

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It would have taken hours, so no chance of us being iced in. After 45 minutes of cruising through the icebergs we were dropped off at the jetty.

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We walked across the new snow to the base, stepping carefully so as not to slip into the sea…

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…and up the hill behind it where a pinnacle of rock provided a great, albeit foggy view.

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There’s only one real way down from the pinnacle: on your backside skidding down a previously rendered track. I shot down the first part but there was an older guy in front of me who was struggling to get going. I couldn’t stop in time and careened off the side of him to slide sideways down the rest of the hill. Awesome! If there had been more time, many of us would have climbed up and gone again.

Then we were back on the ship and heading out along the beautiful Lemaire channel, with great icy mountains and glaciers along both sides. Whales have now become a common sight and penguins are just everywhere. Icebergs larger than previously seen dot the waters, the very occasional one having a leopard seal napping on it. We came out into a bay known as The Iceberg Graveyard, full of huge icebergs some twice the size of the ship or larger.

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Our next stop was Booth Island. We land and see our fourth variety of penguin, the Adelie along with their tracks in the fresh snow.

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We then climbed a hill to get awesome views in all directions, but because of the low clouds only the base of several rocky spires could be seen.

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We couldn’t resist sliding down the hill before being whisked back to the ship. That evening the boat made its way down the peninsula in hope of crossing the polar circle. According to the captain, it depended on the weather and sea conditions if we were to cross.  We all went to bed hoping the conditions would be right.

Day 7 – Antarctic Polar Circle

The polar circles are defined by the sun. In winter, Antarctica is a sunless icy land, while in summer there is 24-hour sunshine.

Today the battery of my fairly new camera refused to charge, evidently affected by the atmospheric cold.  Thankfully one of my shipmates had a spare he could lend me. So, while I wasn’t using my own camera, all of the shots are my own.

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It was snowing when we were roused for breakfast and the seas were rather rough. At breakfast we watched the largest iceberg we’ve seen float past. It was massive, the part we could see above water was the size of a city block and perhaps 100m tall. Under the water, we’re told it’s 7 times larger.

Then just after breakfast, we gathered in the observation lounge and with a glass of champagne to celebrate the crossing of the polar circle. We had only a single landfall below the circle. Two hours later we entered a bay where the water was significantly calmer. After another 30 minutes we boarded the Zodiacs and make our way around icebergs to land at Detaille Island, site of a former English research base.

The snow was thick on the ground and there were two different kinds of seals just languishing on icebergs – the Crabeater Seal and the Weddell Seal. They peer up as we go by but we don’t interest them so they go back to their napping. On the island is the hut where the researchers lived and we were able to go inside. It’s fairly roomy and once housed 8 scientists comfortably.

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After our time on the island we were taken on a cruise through the icebergs to get a little closer to the napping seals.

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Then back onboard the Plansius we set off again, beginning the long journey back along the peninsula.

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Mid afternoon, after we cross the polar circle again, we came across a large pod of Orca hunting. We circled them for about an hour, trying to determine what they were doing. The pod was about 10 animals strong and had a huge male with them. We were told they were killing an Arnoux Beaked Whale by trying to drown it  They did this by lying on top of it to prevent it getting to the surface. Once they considered it dead, they began tearing into it. It’s nasty, but it’s nature. This kind of action takes documentary makers 10 years to find, and we were lucky to chance upon it. Pictures don’t give it justice, however.

Next, The Journey Back To Civilisation.

The Antarctic Wanderer

Antarctic Voyage – Along The Great White Peninsula

Find Days 1 – 3 here: We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!

Day 4 – More South Shetland Islands

The weather continued to be great, but it wasn’t the weather that was to darken the day… more on that later.  The beauty of the white islands was immense and even more so because of the blue skies.  Overnight the ship was moved further along the South Shetlands to Half Moon Island.

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We made landfall early and hiked along the beach with plentiful Chinstrap Penguins hanging out on the rock formations.  Nestled among one group we found a solitary Macaroni Penguin.

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While not as plentiful as the penguins, there were many fur seals in groups along the rocky beach.  They too were interested in us, but were more dangerous, so we took care not to get too close as they have a tendency charge. They’re easily warded off if they do by presenting a strong hand and calling ‘stop’, or by simply clapping hands.

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While not available to those of us who took ‘Last Minute Deals’ those who pre-booked the cruise were able to also book kayaking and diving. While today was too windy for the kayakers the divers got to get in the water, well, some of them at least…

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Not long after going ashore, we started hearing reports over our expedition leader’s walkie-talkie about a diver that had gone missing. For the rest of the morning our leaders began to act a little strange, anxious. Our stay on Half Moon Island was extended an hour longer than planned. Then after being ferried back to the boat, we were called to an urgent debriefing. The diver that had gone missing was an experienced Japanese woman. They’d found her drifting in 5 metres of water and had attempted resuscitation, but after 90 minutes she had been pronounced dead. No other news was forthcoming.

This set a somber tone across the boat and we weren’t sure if the trip was to continue. We eventually did get word we were and got back underway, but some of the crew were called to deal with certain things such as contacting next of kin, authorities, embassies and the storage of the body.

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That afternoon we sailed for Deception Island, one of the two known active volcanos in Antarctica. Centuries ago, Deception Island blew one of its sides and seawater flowed in to fill the crater. The plan was for us to sail into crater via Poseidon’s Bellows, where the wall had collapsed…

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But the weather wasn’t playing nice and with 35 knot winds, the captain decided it would be too dangerous. Instead we set sail for our next destination,  the Antarctic Mainland and The Great White Peninsula. On the way we spotting what was to become a very common sight… Humpback Whales.

Crossing the channel was an experience. Because of the winds the swell went a little crazy and that evening only a little of half of us passengers made it to dinner. It wasn’t long before I too retired to my cabin a little worse for wear.

Day 5 – Antarctic Peninsula

We were lucky, today was the fifth beautiful day in a row, clear and sunny. That’s five more than some expeditions. I awoke at 4am after going to bed at 8.30pm the night before and felt great. I peered from the cabin window and saw clear seas and the long white peninsula. We anchored at Cuverville Island surrounded by white cliff lines in a bay dotted with icebergs. It’s hard to describe the beauty of this place.

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We landed and wandered around the Gentoo Penguin colonies for some time.

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On the way back we were taken on a short zodiac cruise through the icebergs, many of which were a pure blue…

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I even had the wonderful experience of a leopard seal coming up to the craft to check us out before it went back to playing with the penguin that would eventually become its next meal.

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After lunch the ship moved into a large and beautiful bay strewn with icebergs with the plan to make landfall at the end. The boat slid gracefully through the crystal clear waters…

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…and in some places it was so calm the icy water mirrored the snow-covered mountains and massive frozen glaciers.

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We made landfall, and set foot on the main landmass of Antarctica at Neko Harbour. Woo-ha! And guess what? There were Penguins! Surprise!

We hiked up the side of a mountain to a great viewing spot. I was first to sit on a rocky outcrop looking out across the magnificent bay.

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Then some of us took a ‘polar plunge’, going for a swim among the icebergs.  Since salt water freezes at just below zero degree celsius, it was cold but not as cold as expected.  If anything, it was colder getting out.

Then in the beautiful clear evening what else do you do in Antarctica? We had a BBQ on deck, of course! It was a little chilly but great! We put down anchor in Leith Cove and watched the sunset.

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Next we’re heading further along the peninsula our Next Stop, The Polar Circle.

The Antarctic Voyager

Antarctic Voyage – We’re Going South Baby, WAY South!

Day 1 – Embarkment

In the mid afternoon of Day 1 we boarded the Plancius, a converted Dutch naval boat that’s been taking expeditions to both the Antarctic and Arctic regions for the past 9 years.

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Once settled in out rooms, we set sail along the Beagle Channel with the glorious Patagonian mountain ranges along either side.  Before dinner we were called to the main common area where we took part in the mandatory safety lecture and trial evacuation.

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Dinner was then served in the dining hall with a preset menu, which was brought to the tables by the wait staff. All onboard meals were three courses, including breakfast, but with the lack of gym facilities, we figured we’re all going to be putting on weight by the end of the voyage. The seas were calm and outside it was cold. Thankfully the agency I’d booked through had supplied warm clothing for the trip. As we ate our first whale was spotted, a sperm whale. Then as dinner finished we passed the last signs of civilisation, Puerto Williams, Chile.

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The boat wasn’t large but then it wasn’t small either. There’s the main common room/ forward observing deck/bar, where many lectures were held, and then two floors down and towards the rear is the dining hall. There are plenty of outdoor areas, but did I mention it’s rather cold out? This meant when there was a lecture, the only place to comfortably hang out was in your cabin. Mine was a twin share room.  But for the most part we all went to the lectures.

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Day 2 – The Drake Passage

Sleep was difficult during the first night not because of the constant listing of the boat, of which there was little, but that the blankets on the beds were overly hot. But without then it became too cold. It took some adjusting.

We were warned that the thousand kilometre, 2-day journey across the Drake Passage was often subject to high winds and rough seas, but on Day 2 we are blessed with a beautiful clear day and calm seas. Most of us were using sea sickness patches or tablets just in case.

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That morning we attended two lectures, one identifying the seabirds of the south we’d likely encounter and the other about why the weather is like it is in the Antarctic. The lectures were interesting and gave us something to do other than sit watching the expansive ocean go by.

After a three course lunch, including two massive trays of cheese, we relaxed in the common room playing card games and socializing until the afternoon lecture. The expedition leader announced that due to the good weather we’d be arriving in Antarctic waters 12 hours early, and would be going ashore on the South Shetland Islands the following afternoon. While the Islands are considered part of Antarctica, they’re still a distance from the Antarctic Peninsula.

Day 3 – The South Shetland Islands

During our wakeup call on the 3rd morning, we were alerted to a large iceberg floating past the port side of the ship.  While it wasn’t close, it was the first evidence of the great white land to come.

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It had been cloudy overnight, but would turn out to be another fabulous day in the Drake Passage, we even spied whales swimming beside us.

As was suggested, because of the good weather we were on target to arrive at the Shetland Islands 12 hours early.  By late morning we began to see the icy cliffs of an Antarctic Island ahead of us.

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As the hours passed, the white landmass grew along with the number of icebergs.  We began to see rocky islands, dispelling the idea that Antarctica is just a land of ice.

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We started to see signs of wildlife including the Giant Petrels with their 2 metre wingspan, and other birds mentioned in the lectures. There were occasional sightings of fur seals and more whales.

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But it was the penguins that stole our attentions. While we’ve all seen them on land, they swim like nothing we’d seen before, skipping gracefully out of the water for breath every few moments before darting off again at amazing speeds once back in the water.

We passed many small rocky islands and icebergs before nearing our first landfall site, Barrientos Island.

After a briefing, we dressed in out cold weather clothing and got into the Zodiacs that would deliver us to island.

Barrientos Island is a penguin colony with two different breeds of Penguin, the white-faced Chinstrap penguins …

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…and the red beaked Gentoo penguins.

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While on the island, we saw many different penguin behaviours and learnt a lot about them in a short period time. They have little fear of humans, often coming up to peck at our boots. There were plentiful of young learning to swim in the shallows, moulting out of the fluffy grey fur or being weaned off being fed by the parents.  The weaning process is called the ‘feed chase’, where the parent just runs away when the young comes to feed.  The youngster usually takes up a grand chase through the colony until the parent eventually gives in or more commonly escapes into the ocean, forcing the young to fend for itself.

All over the islands are strange white lines, sometimes several splaying out from one spot. It looks like someone has crazily marked the rock with chalk, but it’s actually squirt lines. The penguins lift their tails and squirt in a line up to half a metre in length.

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After a couple of hours Zodiacs delivered us  back to the Plansius in time for dinner after which we settled in for more socializing and card games.

Out first sunset in Antarctica was like nothing we’d seen before…

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…shining pink across the ice.

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Next, we’re off Along The Great White Peninsula.

The Antarctic Voyager.