With high expectations I set sail for the two-week trip ‘White Christmas with the Penguins” in Antarctica – and I was not disappointed! Twenty-four hours later, after crossing the notoriously rough Drake Passage, it was with great excitement that we got our first sighting of South Shetland Islands, while two large icebergs drifted by. Many more of these amazingly beautiful formations were in store for us, some icy white, others a beautiful bright baby blue, all shapes and sizes.
The first landing, kitted out in expedition gear, was at a Polish research station Arctowski, on King George Islands, where were invited inside. On this snowy day, southern elephant seals were lazing on the beach along with many cute Adélie and gentoo penguins. Wandering freely amongst these beautiful birds and seeing the penguin colony was so exciting. We landed by an old lighthouse and there was evidence of bygone whaling with bones scattered around. By this time we had seen petrels, albatross, fulmars and some skuas hoping to find penguin eggs, or better still, a chick.
Next stop was the small, very beautiful glacial-rimmed Yankee Harbour. Having learned the art of getting on and off the rubber boats we were met by gentoo penguins at the beach. Later, the ship slowed down so that we could watch humpback whales up close, and they put on a great show: ‘click click’ – great shots!
Another highlight was a visit to Esperanza Base, an Argentine year-round research hub with about 55 people living there. The buildings include a church, museum, school and radio station which we went into where an informative talk was given by the school teacher. There is also a small stone hut which a shipwrecked Swedish Antarctic expedition built 1902 to survive the brutal conditions. There were many fascinating Adélie penguins here also.
Mostly the temperature hovered around minus 2-3°C, but with adequate clothing it didn’t feel too cold. Maybe the constant excitement was sufficient warmth! Floating amongst ice floes and bergs is really thrilling and in silence you can hear ‘popping’ and ‘clinking’ sounds from the moving ice. We continued south with seven more landings including Neko Bay, Danco Island, Damoy Point, and Cuverville, plus we did zodiac cruising daily near the rugged shorelines. One afternoon the ship sailed alongside the world’s largest iceberg (5,000sq-km), A68a, which broke off in 2017. It was incredible. On Deception Island, my group went ashore in the early morning and it felt so pristine. Chinstrap and gentoo penguins were lining the shore as if ready for the selfies. Here, some hardy souls took a polar dip in Pendulum Cove where the water was 2°C. Their expressions spoke volumes! Each morning it was exciting to see the beauty of our surroundings – birds, glaciers, icebergs, ice floes and so on. The nights were very short, barely getting dark. We saw five species of albatross and five of petrels.
Ship anchors weren’t used which added to the tranquil feeling of being in Antarctica. Some adventurers spent a night camped in the snow, others went kayaking or snowshoeing. Most days we trudged through slippery snow to see penguin colonies, always allowing them the right of way as they made their way to and from the sea. Also seen were Weddell and crabeater seals. There were daily presentations by historians, geologists and other speakers.
Christmas carol singing, decorating, and of course sumptuous food were enjoyed. What a unique Christmas! This trip was the pinnacle of my many years of travel.
An excellent itinerary put together by Christine Wynne-Jones, House of Travel Remuera.