Nearing the tip of the Peninsula, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you forever. The passage along Gerlache Strait delivers us to the stunning Antarctic Peninsula, an ethereal wonderland of vast proportions. Aboard robust Zodiacs, we explore penguin rookeries, historic sites and scientific stations. Zodiac cruising brings us close to intricately shaped icebergs and seals basking on ice floes. Dwarfed by massive bergs, kayakers glide into secluded bays. We focus on immersing ourselves in nature, spontaneity and flexibility enhancing our enjoyment. Bubble-netting humpbacks demand a wake-up call, even at midnight! A curious leopard seal cruising amongst spectacular icebergs may mean postponing lunch. A host of choices are now open to us, and depending on the ice and weather conditions, the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. As we are so far south, we will experience approximately 20 hours’ daylight. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home..... ! Once we arrive in the calmer waters of Bransfield and Gerlache Straits, we will be landing two to three times a day. To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or follow whales that are feeding near the surface. In these cases, we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with the wildlife. The mood on board is definitely casual. We will also commence our lecture program about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is a photographers’ paradise, for the professional and amateur alike. There will be discussions about how to protect your equipment from salt water, and tips about taking good pictures.
There are many exciting places we can choose to visit; a sample of some of the places where we may land, hike, and photograph or view spectacular wildlife follows:
A protected bay surrounded by magnificent peaks and spectacular glaciers, the rocky cliffs of this spectacular harbour provide perfect nesting sites for blue-eyed shags, terns and gulls. The serenity of Paradise Harbour envelops us once the ship’s engine is turned off. This is a haven for whales and we keep our eyes open for humpbacks, orcas, minkes, and crabeater seals, as we explore the bay in Zodiacs.
This group of low-lying unprotected granitic rocks protrude from the sea, swept by ocean swells. At first these rocks appear uninteresting, but on closer investigation, calm channels lead to a hidden interior where Weddell seals are hauled out on protected snow beds and noisy chinstrap penguins raise their families on rocky platforms. Hydrurga is the Latin family name for leopard seal (Hydrurga Leonina), and on occasions we see some skulking in the shallows. There are many places to simply sit and watch the rise and fall of clear green water and listen to the magic sounds and calls of the wildlife.
Half Moon Island
This wildlife-rich island is tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day, the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the vista. There is a large chinstrap penguin colony tucked in between basaltic turrets coloured by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and there are often fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beaches. There is a large rookery of nesting blue-eyed shags at one end of the island, while at the other end of the island lies a small Argentinian station that is sometimes occupied by scientists conducting research on the penguin colony and surrounding waterways.
If ice conditions allow, standing on the observation deck of the Greg Mortimer quietly as the ship sails along the narrow Lemaire Channel could certainly be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 700 metres / 2,296 feet straight out of the ocean on either side of the ship. The water can sometimes be so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface and it is clear to see why this Channel is often called “Kodak Alley”. Gigantic icebergs may clog the channel, creating navigational challenges for our Captain and crew; occasionally they may even obstruct our passage.
Located on Goudier Island, British Port Lockroy is an important site for both scientific research and visitors to the Antarctic continent. Designated a historic site in 1994 and opened to the Antarctic tourism industry in 1996, it was discovered in 1904 and used by the whaling industry in the first half of the 1900s. It was part of the British Operation Tabarin during World War II, and was later used as a British Research Station. Today, Pork Lockroy is manned by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and operates as a museum, gift shop and post office for visitors from passing Antarctic expeditions. You can even send a post card home from the Penguin Post Office, the world’s most southern Post Office!
Located in Andvord Bay, Neko Harbour is an inlet home to gentoo penguins, and regularly welcomes Weddell seals. The scenery is dramatic - towering peaks and calving glaciers surround the harbour. The thundering crack of the glaciers as they calve is sure to stop you in your tracks.