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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

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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