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Riding the buses » Adventure travel, Antarctica, Travel itinerary, Wildlife » Antarctica: Penguins and Icebergs

Antarctica: Penguins and Icebergs

Joyce Sinclair and her husband travelled to Antarctica to see its wildlife and rugged landscape.

Joyce and Bill and The Ocean Nova

Joyce and Bill and The Ocean Nova

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.

Humpback whale feeding (above), Neko whale in Neko Harbour (below)

Humpback whale feeding (above), Neko whale in Neko Harbour (below)

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).

Penquins never seem to stop

Penquins never seem to stop

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.

Gentoo penguin

Gentoo penguin

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.

Leopard seal (above), elephant seals (left), weddel seal (right)

Leopard seal (above), elephant seals (left), weddel seal (right)

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.
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Incredible icebergs

Incredible icebergs

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.

Paradise Bay glacier

Paradise Bay glacier

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!

Joyce hiking up the hill for the fun of sliding back down

Joyce hiking up the hill for the fun of sliding back down

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.

Great views over the icebergs

Great views over the icebergs

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.

While the sunsets were stunning, this was not a beach vacation

While the sunsets were stunning, this was not a beach vacation

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

© Riding the buses 2011

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Filed under: Adventure travel, Antarctica, Travel itinerary, Wildlife

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