Travelling to Antarctica was never really on my bucket list, simply because it seemed to out of reach.
I’d watch docos about the frozen continent and be in awe of there actually being a place like that here on Earth. It seemed so wild and bizarre you might as well be on another planet.
What seemed like a lifetime till I was leaving was now just a few short months away and it wasn’t long till I was arriving at the end of the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.
Once all the formalities were taken care of and we boarded our ship the “Ocean Endeavour” we were soon on our way through the Beagle Chanel and into the Drake passage.
If you didn’t know, the Drake Passage is the body of water between South America and Antarctica, where 3 oceans meet. The Atlantic, The Pacific and the southern ocean. Out here the swells have been known to be over 15 meters during some storms. And this was my first time doing a cruise like this.
We had been warned about the journey ahead and that it would take us 2 days till we even saw the first glimpse of an iceberg so everyone was dosing up on travel sickness tablets and getting ready for the days ahead. All the furniture onboard was chained down and there were sick bags along the hallways should you need them!
"The days spent down there felt like they went on forever."
Now luckily by some fluke we got blessed with the Drake lake. A cruisey 2m swell and clear skies during our days down to the peninsula.
And our luck didn’t end there.
On the 12th February when I woke up, looked out the porthole immediately felt like a kid on Christmas Day.
You’d see icebergs floating by, penguins and seals swimming around all while being surrounded by massive mountains and everything and I mean EVERYTHING was covered in ice.
The days spent down there felt like they went on forever. We would fit in as much as we could everyday you’d finish the night exhausted from giving so much that day.
With the weather on our side we were able to spend the morning and afternoons out on the zodiacs cruising by icebergs or hiking on the mainland admiring the penguin rookeries. But don’t mind the smell, that’s the penguin guano lingering in the air. What a smell that was!
A mother Gentoo Penguin feeding its chick, You can see the krill passing through!
Penguin nests or "rookery" are biult up piles of rocks surrounded by guano (im sure you can imaine the smell now).
Often Penguins would steal rocks from another pile and carring it back to theirs in their nest.
When you're not exploring on land or in the zodiacs you can admire the view from the ship! 360 degree views of huge glaciers and towering mountains.
While we were down on the Peninsula there were new rules we had to follow to ensure this fragile environment would remain the same when we left. There was an outbreak of avian bird flu in the western world and we had to be diligent not to spread it down there. That meant we couldn't sit or lay down on the ice, we had to scrub our boots before returning and wash them in a special cleaner.
And when we weren’t in awe of the surrounding landscape and wildlife we could sit in on different lectures from experts all speaking about different aspects on where we were, whether it was about the penguins we saw or the seal species, glaciers and the first explorers to visit this harsh landscape. There was always something to do.
It was inspiring being surrounded by so many other talented creatives and fearless guides but also sobering when we heard stories from some guides talking of the changes they’d seen in the 5 plus years of guiding down in the region.
They’d talk about the significant changes they’ve seen themselves with the glaciers receding and less sea ice after each winter.
Shortly after our arrival we quickly learnt that the Gentoo Penguin population we came across had a late breeding season. This resulted in the chicks still being very small (about half the size of the adults) coming into the start of the winter. Later we learnt that about 90% of those chicks probably won’t survive their first winter.
"A harsh reality that nature can be equally beautiful and brutal "
Although my time down on the frozen continent was brief its given me memories Ill cherish for the rest of my life, like the bluebird days of no wind being surrounded by Humpback Whales or the alpenglow following an incredible sunset. I truly hope that some of these images can inspire others to get outside their comfort zone and explore these untouched parts of the world while we still can.