Joyce Sinclair and her husband travelled to Antarctica to see its wildlife and rugged landscape.
My husband Bill and I went to Antarctica in January. To get there we first took a two hour flight from Punta Arenas in Chile to Frei Station on the Fildes Peninsula, which is west of King George Island. Then we boarded a zodiac to get to the ship Ocean Nova that, in turn, cruised south to the Antarctic Peninsula. The Ocean Nova was our home for five days.
The weather cooperated, which was fortunate for this is considered to be one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The group before us had been stranded for four days, unable to fly out. Two years earlier this ship had run aground and had to be rescued. The temperature at this time of year is relatively mild, from 0-5 degrees Celsius, and the sun does not set until 11:00 at night.
Bill and I like to see wildlife when we travel and on this trip I particularly wanted to see penguins. I was not disappointed. Our first stop was Mikkelsen Harbour at the northern end of the Palmer Archipelago and there were lots of Gentoo penguins running around and Weddell seals lying on the snow. Later that first day we saw Orcas (killer whales), a Humpback whale, a Leopard seal, and skuas (seabirds).
Penguins are so interesting to watch. They walk and walk and never seem to stop and their footprints are everywhere. When they go in the water they go as a group and then make one dive after another as they forage for food.
The penguins’ nests are circular piles of stones. At Mikkelsen Harbour their chicks had already been hatched but as we went further south some penguins were still sitting on their nest. Penguins are quite safe when they are onshore but they have to safeguard their eggs from passing birds.
The icebergs in this part of the world are just incredible. Our ship had a hard time cruising down the narrow Lemaire Channel because it was so full of icebergs and sea ice. We went out in the zodiac and cruised around hundreds of icebergs and over the tops of ice chunks. It was a great place to watch seals (Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard) relaxing on the ice floes.
Patagonia, the remote tip of South America
We watched big chunks of ice fall off icebergs, which is called calving. One zodiac was within 100 meters of a piece falling and had to hightail it out to get beyond the waves and the ripples. The underside of the ice chunk when it bounces back out of the water is a spectacular blue colour. Some icebergs are very smooth because they have flipped over. I wasn’t afraid of one turning over near us because the guide said we were okay!
We reached the southernmost point of the trip, Ukranian Vernadsky Station, on the third day. It was a busy day with a visit to Petermann Island where we saw both Adelie and Gentoo penguins, followed by a zodiac cruise in Pléneau Bay. Pléneau Bay is known as the iceberg graveyard because so many have run aground there.
Early the fourth day we sailed into Paradise Bay, so-named by whalers because it is such a protected anchorage. We cruised on the zodiac close to the stunning Petzval Glacier and landed at Argentinean Station Almirante Brown where we all climbed a small mountain so that we could slide back down on our bums!
We made our continental landing at Neko Harbour, close to a Gentoo penguin colony. Some of us climbed to a natural lookout about 150m above sea level that offered fantastic views over the glacier. We then left the Antarctic Peninsula and headed north to Deception Island in the South Shetlands. Much of the island is covered by permanent glaciers, many of which are overlaid with volcanic ash.
On our last day we visited the old whaling station of Whaler’s Bay and walked up 250m to a peak offering great views over the caldera. In the afternoon we stopped at Hannah’s Point on Livingstone Island where we saw the Southern Giant Petrel.
This is not the sort of cruise you take if you want to lie on a beach (although you can do a polar plunge). But the wildlife is spectacular as is the scenary. Well worth the effort.
This article is based on an interview with Joyce Sinclair and notes she made while travelling
Photo credits Joyce Sinclair
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