Tag Archives: South Shetland Islands

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

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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.