Antarctica – The Land of the Penguin

emperor penguins, antarctic, life

As a teenager I was always fascinated by the great polar explorers and recall having a book that I used to read at bedtime with stories of Amundsen, Scott and Mallory and their iconic race to get to Antarctica first. The difficulties and conditions they endured and the materials available at their disposal in the early 20th century is without doubt the stuff of legends.

Maybe that book was a reason I became so interested in travelling and discovering those parts of the world which are off the beaten track or in many peoples eyes inaccessible.

I was contacted recently by a travel industry chum who I used to work with at the tour operator Balkan Holidays. Since those days back in 2010 – Danny Giles has gone on to work for two lovely companies that have at the heart of their business, exploration – Hurtigruten and Silversea.

In 2012 Danny worked for Hurtigruten and he got the opportunity to take to the seas and enjoy his very own expedition, albeit it in a little more comfort than Messrs Scott, Amundsen and Mallory, as he boarded the MS Fram for an adventure taking him in the footsteps of those fabled explorers.

Here is his journal and some of the experiences and sights that he encountered in what turned out to be “the land of the penguin – Antarctica”:

Day 1 – Glasgow to Buenos Aires

I flew from Glasgow via Amsterdam to Buenos Aires with KLM Airlines. After a comfortable 14 hour flight I collected my luggage and headed straight to the Emperador Hotel. This is one of the best luxury hotels in the Recolata neighbourhood of town and known for its 5-star service, a state-of-the-art fitness centre, indoor swimming pool, sauna, solarium, spa treatments and more.

Just after 10pm and I was advised to leave my luggage outside my room as in 10 mins it would be taken away that night and checked in for the flight to Ushuaia.

Day  2 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia before an evening sailing…

An early rise and a substantial breakfast set me up for a comfortable 3.5 hour flight to Ushuaia on the southern tip of South America. We landed in the most beautiful surroundings just 4 km south of the centre of Ushuaia city and were met with some rather nostalgic stairs.

Luggage collected I headed outside to be greeted by a team of friendly staff who showed us where to put our cases before boarding a coach for a tour of the Tierra Del Fuego National Park.

The park was stunning with a strong feel of Norway about it. There are numerous hikes and activities of varying degrees of difficulty available however the combination of the beauty of the park, the history of Tierra del Fuego’s native inhabitants and the views of the Beagle Channel make this a must visit experience.

A popular day trip from Ushuaia is the End of the World Train which is a replica of the prison train that once transported convicts between Ushuaia Prison and what is now the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

After our brief visit we headed back to the quay ready to board the MS Fram for the start of our Antarctica voyage and just after 6pm set sail in the direction of the Drake Passage.

Day  3 – Sailing Across the Drake Passage

A long day ahead of sailing across the Drake Passage and luckily we had the Drake Lake. The passage is widely considered to be an unpredictable area to cross and quite often the waters can be rough however on occasion they can be calm and in these cases it is referred to as “Drake Lake”.

During this journey I attended several lectures and enjoyed our first view of wildlife as we spotted Finn whales off in the distance.

Day  4 – Yankee Harbour

More lectures were then followed by an IAATO ( International Association of Antarctica Operators) mandatory briefing, which, without attendance, you will not be allowed to go ashore on the Antarctic Peninsula. In the afternoon we sailed into Yankee Harbour where we caught our first glimpse of penguins.

As the snow came in, the expedition team went ashore to prepare for the landing as we all held our breath for the Captain to give the go ahead for the landings to commence. The call came and the first group headed off. We were treated to spending time taking photographs and watching a large Gentoo colony – the third largest of the penguin species.

Day  5 – Cuverville Island – Andvord Bay – Brown Station

Morning came and we had arrived at Cuverville Island with the sound of Ice against the hull. Small bergs surrounded the ship. I was in the first boat group for the landing and made the decision to hike to the vantage point overlooking the bay for a fantastic view.  The Gentoo’s were also in fine voice on top of the ridge.

In the afternoon we sailed through the stunning Andvord bay in silence before heading to our next stop which was to be the Argentinean research station, Brown Station. This would also be the venue for an overnight camp and everyone gathered in the observation lounge to hear who the lucky few spending a night on the Antarctic ice would be. Sadly it was not me.

Day  6 – Brown Station – Port Lockroy – Lemaire Channel

A morning landing at Brown Station and a chance to listen to the camper’s stories from their night on the ice while all around us there were more Gentoo’s accompanied this time by three Weddell seals who were basking in the beautiful sunshine.

The afternoon we spent exploring the UK Antarctic heritage and research site at Port Lockroy. This was an opportunity to send a postcard back home and spend some money at the only shop around.

The evening we attempted to head through the Lemaire Channel but we didn’t make it as we were blocked by an ice berg corking the channel.

Day  7 – Petermann Island – Lemaire Channel

After a lengthy detour through the night we arrived at Petermann Island, the furthest South we would land.

Today brought a different species of Penguin as we met our first Adeilie penguins. This is the smallest and feistiest species of penguin in the Antarctic. While it might appear that cute and cuddly penguin it has been known to fight back against its predators like birds and seals and it occasionally has a pop at a visiting researcher.

I also took the somewhat crazy opportunity to go for a swim in the Antarctic ocean – yes it was cold however a dip in the Jacuzzi soon after warmed me up.

The afternoon plan was changed as the weather was spectacular so the expedition team decided to take everyone on a Polarcircle cruise in the Lemaire Channel. This was an amazing afternoon and probably the highlight of the voyage. The iceberg that had corked our path the night before had broken up which allowed us to sail back through the channel which included a sighting of a couple of magnificent Orca.

Day  8 – Whalers Bay on Deception Island – Half Moon Bay

Todays sailing was accompanied by the worst weather we had encountered on the voyage and yet it still wasn’t too bad. We arrived at Whalers Bay on Deception Island (an active volcano) and I chose the hike over the top of the ridge to a colony of Chinstrap penguins on the other side. Chinstraps are my favourite penguins and instantly recognizable by their black band. They are also the most abundant penguin in the Antarctic.

Strong winds and snowy conditions made it a tricky ascent and descent but it was so worth it when we got there.

In the afternoon we headed to Half Moon Bay and the last of our landings. Inhabited by more chinstraps and a large seal basking in the sunshine we were joined by the local research team who came along to say hello and check the nearby station.

Day  9 – Drake Passage

The return journey, leaving Antarctica behind, started as we crossed Drake Passage once more and again the Drake Lake greeted us as we were treated to more fantastic lectures and a crew show that entertained everyone onboard.

Day 10 – Cape Horn

We sailed to within just 3 miles of Cape Horn, the rocky headland on Hornos Island in southern Chile’s part of Tierra del Fuego. The view from this close was fantastic and pretty rare as this doesn’t always happen on every voyage as there is a 12 mile exclusion zone around the cape.

Day 11 – Ushuaia – Buenos Aires

We arrived in Ushuaia and got the chance to explore the city and take in some shopping before heading back to the airport for the flight back to Buenos Aires. Ushuaia is of course most known for being a gateway to Antarctica however it also boasts some ski resorts and the town itself has shops many of which have souvenirs including pinguinos (painted penguin jugs), snowglobes, carved husky statues, chocolate or various leather goods.

That night we headed to the world famous Carlos Gallardo tango show for steak and a wonderful evening of entertainment and Tango.

Day  12 – Buenos Aires – Paris – Amsterdam – Glasgow

The morning before the journey home was a hot one and with it being a Sunday my choices were limited of where to go. I decided to walk to Recolata cemetery to visit Eva Peron’s grave. After a good 20-30 minutes of searching I found it. The flight home with Air France via Paris and Amsterdam was long but uneventful.

This Antarctica voyage was truly a magnificent experience and one that I would recommend to anyone I meet.

What to Pack for Antarctica?

Warm winter jacket
Wind and water resistant trousers and long thermal underwear and top (we recommend wool)
Warm cap or headband
You should also bring swimwear to for use in our on-deck whirlpools
Scarf or fleece tube
Warm woollen jumper and fleece jumper/jacket, remember layers are essential
Sunglasses with UV filter lenses
Gloves and mittens, fleece and wool
Warm socks
Bring extra batteries for your camera, as battery life is shorter in cold areas
Shoes with good soles are recommended for outdoors, on deck, and for excursions ashore. Make sure they are worn-in walking boots.  

antarctica, penguins, animals

Contact Information

All Hurtigruten voyages to Antarctica are available to book via a range of UK tour operators and they in turn are best booked with your local travel agent.

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