Insiders View on Antarctica

By Ute Hohn-Bowen

What makes Antarctica a good travel destination?

Antarctica is the last unspoilt, pristine continent and you will encounter amazing landscape and abundant wildlife.

Tell us something that every traveller should know when travelling to Antarctica?

You can only travel between November and March.

What is the Antarctic landscape like?

Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. More than 98% of Antarctica is covered with ice. The land is covered with ice and snow but it is also incredibly colourful; the whites, blues and greens of the ice and colours in plants and wildlife. Only cold-adapted organisms survive in Antarctica, including many types of algae, animals, bacteria, fungi and plants.

Which are the most surreal sights to visit when in Antarctica?

Antarctica has been described as “hauntingly beautiful” – from glistening inlets and floating ice sculptures to natural hot springs – it is simply stunning. Long days in December create longer daylight hours and photographs can be taken at midnight!

Which is the most aspiring experience one has when on a cruise to Antarctica?

Our cruises to Antarctica operate during the austral summer, early November to late March and all the different months have unique characteristics.

November is the courting season for penguins and seabirds and the spring ice is breaking up, creating beautiful sculptured shapes.

In December and January, the first seal pups and penguin chicks are born, whales are starting to appear more frequently, and the days are at their longest.

By February and March whale sighting is at its best and the penguin chicks are beginning to fledge, building up their strength for the long winter ahead.

 How to prepare for a perfect voyage to Antarctica?

Arrive in Ushuaia a day or two early so that you do not miss embarkation and familiarise yourself with IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) visitor guidelines in order to continue the protection of Antarctica and it’s wildlife.

Any non-clothing essentials that one needs to carry when they travel to Antarctica?

A camera! You will undoubtedly want to capture some of the amazing sights you see and wildlife you encounter.

The things guidebooks will not tell anyone about Antarctica.

If you were to work in Antarctica during winter, you would have to get your wisdom teeth and your appendix removed beforehand!

According to you what is the best thing about Antarctica?

The whole package – pristine landscapes, stunning wildlife and incredible history.

Check out our latest package on Antarctica

TOP 15 WISHLIST JOURNEYS

 

1. KAILASH MANASAROVAR –

An Inner Journey

Will you be called this year to visit this holiest of all holy mountains? Will you be invited by its famous resident to make the divine trek and seek his blessings?

Click here to know more.

 

2. ECUADOR & GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – Evolution, Not Revolution 

No amount of study can prepare you for the absolute magic that the Galapagos Islands hold. From the world’s only seagoing marine iguanas to giant turtles to stunning boobie birds – every inch of this volcanic island bubbles with life. 

Click here to know more

 

3. ZAMBIA WALKING SAFARI – Spectacular Wildlife Viewing in Comfort and Style

Live it up in the spectacular African bush. Enjoy terrific sightings of the magnificent wild animals of Africa in great comfort and luxury in the well-appointed lodges in the Lower Zambezi National Park.

Click here to know more.

 

4. ANTARCTICA – The Last Continent

The ultimate travel destination. Go on an expedition cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland
Islands to experience the fascinating and extreme part of our planet – the last pristine region of Mother Earth.

Click here to know more.

 

5. GLAMPING IN THE ARCTIC – Canadian Beluga Whale Watching

Somerset Island in the far Canadian North is the world’s best place to spot the beluga whale. That too, in the comfort of a well-appointed lodge strategically located at a migration site.

Click here to know more.

 

 

6. TRANS–SIBERIAN – The Last Great Train Adventure

A railway journey that covers almost one-third of the Earth’s surface. Get on board the Tsar’s Gold Train, and watch the landscape unfold from Moscow all the way to Beijing via Lake Baikal and Mongolia.

Click here to know more.

 

7. MOROCCO PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR – Blue your mind

If blue is your favorite color, we have just the place for you. Discover ‘The Blue Pearl of Morocco’ deep inside the Rif Mountains. And capture your blue feelings with help from an internationally acclaimed photographer mentoring you.

Click here to know more.

 

8. MONGOLIA PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR – Mongolia In A Snap

Go on a photo tour with an international award-winning photographer. Discover the lives of throat singers and traditional nomad families who are an intrinsic part of the distinctive Mongolian landscape.

Click here to know more.

 

 

9. NORTHERN LIGHTS – Lights, Camera, Action

Deep inside the Finnish Lapland, sleep under the stars (literally) as you plonk yourself on a bed in a glass igloo.
Resign yourself to the most sought-after travel experience in the world – catching the ever elusive Northern Lights. 

Click here to know more.

 

10. CENTRAL EUROPE – Europe’s Beating Hearts

Imagine a trip that combines three majestic cities of central Europe – Vienna, Prague, Budapest! Stunning architecture, evolved culture, resplendent parks and gardens, exquisite cuisine and heaving with modern history. Great for kids, brilliant for adults.

Click here to know more.

 

11. BHUTAN – Boost Your Happiness Index

Imagine a country that measures its productivity by Gross National Happiness! This beautiful kingdom is tiny but large of heart. We have a special itinerary for senior citizens who can enjoy this exotic land in great comfort.

Click here to know more.

 

12. FAMILY FUN IN SWITZERLAND – Picture Postcard View In 3D

Switzerland is great fun for the whole family. Its natural beauty is incomparable, while its manmade charms are unbeatable. Go on a chocolate tour, zoom in a toboggan, and make fairy tale towns come alive.

Click here to know more.

 

13. CANADIAN ROCKIES – Rockies-N-Roll

When Nature shows off, she does it in Canada. Visit some of the most scenic landscapes on Planet Earth and take it all in via various modes of transport – on land, water, and air. It will leave you mesmerized.

Click here to know more.

 

14. JAPAN CHERRY BLOSSOM Visit Yesterday And Tomorrow… Today

Japan is a country where the future and the past have a blissful coexistence. Absorb the unique Japanese culture,
observe their terrific attention to detail and bask in their hospitality. Compose a haiku as the sakura blossoms.

Click here to know more.

 

15. EGYPT – From Here To Eternity

Explore this timeless land in luxury and style. Relive its magnificent history as you visit its greatest monuments.
Take a relaxing cruise along the Nile. Dive right into the buzz of Cairo. Pause and wonder about it all.

Click here to know more.

Antarctica: A journey to the worlds end Day 8 – Day 10

  By – Alifiya Calcuttawala

” A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.”  – John Steinbeck

 

Day 8: Monday, March 15th2017

DRAKE PASSAGE, EN ROUTE TO TIERRA DEL FUEGO

WIND (AM): 5kn E– TEMP. (AM): 2ºC (partially cloudy)

WIND (PM): 5kn ENE– TEMP. (PM): 2ºC (partially cloudy)

The crossing resulted fairly easy so far, with a little wind and clouds. The feared Drake Passage is showing it’s effect from the remaining swell. After breakfast our guides started offering lectures again to help us understand what we had seen and dsicuss a little about what we experienced. In the meantime we were zipping along northbound, mildly rolling with a little wind coming across.

The Drake remained reasonable and we could even try to spot some more seabirds, maybe the last we would see for a while. Dinner was as good as usual, and most even managed to keep it all inside. As we exchanged stories about the days past, we realized that though we had all taken the same trip, our individual experiences varied quite a bit and it looked as if each of us had taken somewhat different journeys.

Day 9 :Tuesday, March 16th2017

DRAKE PASSAGE – BEAGLE CHANNEL

Wake up call came as usual on our second day crossing the Drake. Reassured by the lack of major movement, we headed to the Dining Room to get some food. Early morning was spent chatting and downloading and selecting the many pictures we had taken throughout the trip. Our expedition staff once again offered educational activities and lectures.

The waters calmed down during the afternoon as we entered the sheltered area in the lee of Cape Horn and later the Beagle Channel.

In the afternoon, for the final recap the Expedition Staff had a surprise for us: A DVD containing the map of the journey, the wildlife checklist, note on some of the lectures, their bios, and a photo-show of pictures from the voyage.

At night we dressed up for the farewell dinner and we toasted goodbye, a very nice way to conclude an unforgettable journey.

After dinner we joined our fellow voyagers in the bar for a last drink on the ship. Of course we’d have plenty of time for that in Ushuaia, but it felt more like saying goodbye to the bar and the ambience we created around it than saying goodbye to each other.

Day 10: Wednesday, March 17th2017

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA

LAT. 54°48′ S, LONG. 68°18′ W

Dawn lit the ending of our trip. We had returned the same but much different, changed somehow by having conquered a continent known by so few, loved by so many. The beauty we had experienced on the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands would stay with us. It was a memorable journey. After breakfast it was time to go. Fare thy well, USHUAIA, you explorer of the Ice!

Note: For a trip to Antarctica, contact The Wanderers.

Suggested trip: https://thewanderers.travel/package/index/antarctica/around-the-frozen-continent

 

Antarctica: A journey to the worlds end Day 5 – Day 7

                                                                      By Alifiya Calcuttawala

Day 5 : Sunday, March 12th2017

PETERMANN ISLAND

LAT. 65°11’S LONG. 64°10’W

WIND (AM): 4kn variable – TEMP. (AM): 3ºC (partially cloudy)

VERNADSKY STATION (UKRAINE)/WORDIE HOUSE, ARGENTINE ISLANDS

LAT. 65°15’S LONG.64°16’W

LEMAIRE CHANNEL

WIND (PM): 1kn variable – TEMP. (PM): 3ºC (partially cloudy)

Once again it was, fortunately, a calm day with a beautiful morning. The ship was already positioned in the Penola Strait ready to allow us for a visit to Petermann Island. Though some icebergs might difficult our attempt to reach the island, we could step on the rounded rocks near the Argentine hut, named “Refugio Naval Groussac”, and proceed with the quest for Adelie penguins.

Some Fur Seals were already waiting ashore and, of course, lots of Gentoos too. Walking on icy snow and somewhat slippery rocks the staff showed us the way to see the penguins with the blackheads and the white ocular ring. Cormorants are nesting in the area as well. The visibility was very good and it was easy to reach the lookout point that has been offered on the southwestern end of the island. Skuas were always around the chicks that were being fed by the adult penguins. A gentle walk and time to admire the views of the peninsula across the Penola Strait consumed our morning and we had enough time to visit the island named after the German geographer August Petermann.

Once on board we enjoyed lunch and got prepared for a visit to a scientific Antarctic station from Ukraine called Vernadsky. Since the group had to be divided in two, we could also inspect a historic house, Wordie House, which in fact was the initial Base, precursor for the future UK Faraday station that operated until the early ‘90s. When the British government was looking forward to discontinue their activities there and dismantle the facilities in the Argentine Islands, they came across a request by the Ukarine authorities concerning their needs to develop Antarctic research and had an agreement to transfer the station from the UK to the Ukarine for just 1£ under the condition that the east European researchers would continue with the collection of data and research programs that the British scientists commenced several decades before.

The visit to the scientific station was a guided tour inside their working areas, offered by the different members of the Ukrainian staff, the meteorologist, the biologist, and the medical doctor, among others. Surprisingly it ended in the southernmost bar they have in the upper level of their main building, where they have a common area to rest. The base commander and his colleagues offered us some “homemade Vodka”, opened their Post Office for sending our post-cards, and sold some of their traditional items in the gift shop, while we were all having nice conversations with them. Our passports got a stamp too, which is a perfect reminder of our visit to the southernmost point of the trip.

At the end of the day, it looked possible to go so we would attempt to pass through this narrow and scenic opening limited by steep cliffs of rocky mountains and hanging glaciers.

This was a wonderful end of the day with the Lemaire Channel navigation and another spectacular sunset on the open ocean to the West. While having dinner the ship moved further North along the Gerlache strait for a new location of Antarctic explorations.

Day 6: Monday, March 13th2017

BROWN STATION, PARADISE BAY

640 54.7’S, 0620 52.3’ W

WIND (AM): 2kn SE– TEMP. (AM): 1ºC (cloudy)

FOYN HARBOUR

640 32.4’S, 0610 59.9’ W

LEMAIRE CHANNEL

WIND (PM): 30kn SE– TEMP. (PM): 2ºC (partially cloudy)

After a wonderful breakfast, we got prepared for our first continental landing! It was at the Argentinian base “Brown”, named after the Father of the Argentinian Navy, the Irish Admiral Guillermo Brown. Half of the group went on Zodiac cruising and the other half landed, taking turns afterwards. The scenic view, for that on land, delivered to some of us a couple of glacier breakings, while the others spent some time sledging on improvised tracks. Sarah received us on the top of a little cliff, showing us, for the first time, a Deschampsia Antarctica, one of the two native flowered plant species. She found also some larvae from a “wingless fly”, Belgica Antarctica, very tiny, under the rocks. During the zodiacs cruises around the Paradise Bay. We make use of all the information we had from the previous geology lecture and H-ice-story recap from the night before.

Slowly, the cloudy sky opened, letting wonderful warm sun rays to reach our faces. And during this so nice feeling, a new smell, that came revealed a surprise, an “asado” (barbequed meat) was being prepared: the ship has its own “parrilla” (where it was prepared).

As we sailed to Foyn Harbour, in between clouds and rain, we get to spot many Humpback whales, in different groups, showing us most of their physical displays, almost everywhere. The ship sailed in circles to let us keep on this observation activity. Zodiac sailing was possible, so we took turns for it.

More humpback whales, fur seals and icebergs. The staff showed us a 1915 shipwreck: the Governoren whaler’s ship. The stern was submerged, what it was still possible to see the wooden deck, some barrels and the exploding harpoons. It was incredibly preserved. Between the snow and more whales, we returned to the ship to have a hot chocolate. After we regained some energy, we had a short recap of tomorrow’s experience and the necessary briefing for the expected sailing. After dinner, some remained in the bar, and the exhausted went early to bed.

Day 7: Sunday, March 14th2017

TELEFON BAY – WHALERS BAY, DECEPTION ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLAND ISLANDS

LAT. 62°59’S LONG. 060°43’W

WIND (AM): 8kn N – TEMP. (AM): 0ºC (partially cloudy)

WIND (PM): 20kn NE– TEMP. (PM): 2ºC (partially cloudy)

Last day in Antarctica, almost last landing. Deception Island received us with a glorious entrance at sunrise. Through the Neptune’s Bellows, we sailed through up to Telefon Bay, near Foster Harbour. Deception Island is an active volcano, which erupted several times (1800, 1812, 1842, 1871, 1912, 1956, 1967, 1969 and 1970). This is the largest of three recent volcanic centres in the archipelago. Deception´s rim has an average elevation of 984 feet (300 meters), with its highest points at Mt. Pond to the east and Mt. Kirkwood to the southwest. Above 328 feet (100 meters) Deception´s cinder motif yields to glaciers and ash-covered ice, which reach the sea at many places along the coastline.

The landscape is full of volcanic rocks and sands, blacks and whites paint the scenery. We went hiking to one little hill, from which we spotted a hidden little lagoon and a couple of streams, which were born from a very dark glacier. It was strange, one felt a little desolated, with no animals nor plants to look at. Back at the ship, and after lunch, we could get prepared for a fantastic ‘momento’: the Antarctic Plunge at Whaler’s Bay, near the Bellow’s. Many of us wore a swimsuit for underwear, just in case. In the land long area, there used to be some buildings, which were initially used for whale’s oil extraction (and many other deeds with the rest of the whale’s body). It eventually becomes a British scientific station, and it was destroyed after the eruption between 1969 and 1970. The beach, station and its sorroundings were full of southern fur seals, which were pretty amazing. These animals seem to be peaceful and joyful, but if feeling at risk or get intimidated, they can sprint like a dog. And bite like one, too. Walking along the abandoned buildings and keeping safe distance, we returned to the landing point. Fumes all over the beach, due to the volcanic remanents underground, that heated the sand and water on hiding tides. When the tides begin to lower, steam arrises between the volcanic sand. And the expected materialized. The Plunge wasn’t for everyone, but those who dared will keep an unforgettable experience. The day ended with a windy and very cold evening. At night we sailed back towards the Drake Passage.

 

Antarctica: A journey to the worlds end Day 1 – Day 4

  By – Alifiya Calcuttawala

” A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.”  – John Steinbeck 

Expedition Log – March 8thto March 17th, 2017

 South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula

Wednesday, March8th2017

USHUAIA, ARGENTINA – Beagle Channel

Lat. 54°48’S  Long. 68°18’W

WIND (PM): calm– TEMP. (PM): 5ºC (partially cloudy)

Departure was scheduled at 6:00PM, the ropes were lifted from the quayside, and our expedition ship moved off and headed out into the Beagle Channel to begin the long expected journey to Antarctica.

Once onboard, we settled into our cabins, and then gathered in the bar for a Welcome Cocktail. This gave us all a first chance to interact with our fellow passengers and to know the Expedition Staff, as well as some members of the crew. Before inviting us for a welcoming toast, our Expedition Leader also presented our biologist and Assistant Expedition Leader, the naturalist, the guide, and the geographer. They would help us understand the wonders we were about to explore and give lectures during the trip. Expedition Leader also introduced the doctor on board, and our hotel manager, who would be in charge of our well-being with a little help from his kitchen, dining room and cabin staff.

In the meantime, the Expedition Ship was starting to leave the pier in Ushuaia. We were sailing through the scenic Beagle Channel, heading for the open South Atlantic Ocean. After a short while, Our Expedition Leader called us again for an important briefing on safety on board and the abandon ship drill. Shortly after, the ship´s alarm gave us the signal to execute this emergency drill. Moving to our cabins, we donned ourselves with the warmest clothes we could find, picked up our life jackets, and then headed to the muster station, which was at the back of the bar. After a roll call, we knew that everybody was acknowledged for and were led to the orange egg-shaped lifeboats. We felt quite safe but at the same time, we were hoping never have to use them at all.

A nice dinner awaited us shortly after the lifeboat drill giving a chance for everybody to get a bit more acquainted. The evening allowed some of us to be on the decks to enjoy the great scenery of the Beagle Channel, where some of the first birds were spotted. Later, after dinner, we were offered to watch the documentary “Trapped in the end of the World”, about Nordensjolk epic adventure, and we went to bed.

Thursday, March9th2017

DRAKE PASSAGE, EN ROUTE TO ANTARCTICA

WIND (AM): 8kn SSE– TEMP. (AM): 4ºC (cloudy)

WIND (PM): 15kn W – TEMP. (PM): 4ºC (cloudy)

Once we left Tierra del Fuego behind the night before, we were in open waters heading South on our way to Antarctica. It was a little windy, the swell was of up to 5m and the ship moved a bit. Bird watching on the outer decks was fairly good, leading afterwards our way into the bar, where the Assistant Expedition Leader was waiting for us to share his knowledge about ‘Penguins’

After a lunch that not everyone attended, early in the afternoon at the bar, Pablo showed us how different nations could put differences away, and create the ‘Antarctic treaty’. Short after tea time,  The Expedition Leader was in charge of making a general approach to several Antarctic outstanding facts through his lecture “Antarctica, Land of records”. We slowly started to perceive the adventure that we were about to live.

Our movie time after a Drake proven dinner was the documentary Frozen Planet. Many of us went to bed quite early, and no one stayed up late.

Antarctica is getting closer …

Friday, March10th2017

DRAKE PASSAGE

WIND (AM): 8kn S– TEMP. (AM): 2ºC (partially cloudy)

HALF MOON ISLAND, SOUTH SHETLAND ISLANDS

620 35.7’S, 0590 54.2’ WIND (PM): calm– TEMP. (PM): 6ºC (partially cloudy)

A little ship rolling, and a gray, windy sky strayed most of us to the bar or our cabins. Weather inspired us to attend Juan’s lecture, about Antarctic geology. And briefly afterwards the Expedition Leader gave us a mandatory IAATO talk about the required behaviour and equipment for a successful landing to Antarctica. Then we were also introduced to safe “Zodiac” operations, concerning the use of the pneumatic boats for landings and short scenic navigations. A quick introduction on how to dress for the outdoor activities was given too. So, we only needed to check our cameras, load batteries and, generally speaking, be ready for the big adventure, which awaited us.

Soon, in the afternoon, the South Shetland Islands were sighted and we entered them between Greenwich and Livingstone islands through Mac Farlane Strait. Once in the channel, we landed at Half Moon Island where Camara station (Argentina) is located. Finally stepping on Antarctic soil! In the area we could finally stretch our legs in a cold late afternoon, surrounded by Gentoo penguins with their grown chicks and a number of fur seals, and some skuas. After we had enjoyed this landing the boats were ready to return us onboard the Expedition Ship.

In the calmer waters of the South Shetlands we had dinner, a short briefing with the activities for the coming day, and finally went to rest thinking about our first sight of Antarctic penguins.

 Saturday, March 11th 2017

MIKKELSEN HARBOUR, TRINITY ISLAND

630 54’S, 0600 47’ W

WIND (AM): 7kn SW– TEMP. (AM): 1ºC (partially cloudy)

CIERVA COVE, GERLACHE STRAIT

640 09’S, 0600 53’ W

WIND (PM): variable – TEMP. (PM): 3ºC (cloudy)

Starting our day with a cloudy and cold morning, it got just better and better. After having breakfast sooner than yesterday, we prepared for our next landing, at Trinity Island in the Mikkelsen Harbour. Between diving penguins, we landed in an impressive historical remaining of the whale hunt industry were shown and wore off as soon as we step on the beach. Ribs of boats and ribs of whales, a strange metaphor for a forgotten way of living. Some Gentoo penguins and a couple of Southern Fur Seals invited us to walk the Island, as the staff members proposed a secure trail. From seemingly nowhere, an Argentine refuge hut, which was being restored, but we didn´t get the chance to go into it. A very interesting and intriguing landscape, indeed. We boarded the Expedition Ship anxious for the hot meal that was waiting for us. We sailed a little further, to the Cierva Cove, near the Argentine base “Primavera”, which means, in Spanish, “Spring”. We took two turns to sail on the Zodiacs, for more than one hour each. Nothing prepared us for what we were going to experience. At the very beginning, we could just be wondered over the fishing activities of a couple of Humpback Whales groups. These whales have two different hunting behaviours over krill or fishes. They can just widen up the mouth and engulf lots of krill, pushing afterwards the water through their baleens using their tong. Or they can “Bubble Net”: expelling air bubbles in a kind of circular net.

This air rises to the surface and increasing its volume, the victims get trapped in those and latter eaten the same way than before, engulfing and filtering. They even showed us their tails, laterals fins, blows, and even a little cub was showing off. As we continued our sailing, we could take a real close look at a leopard seal that was resting on an iceberg, just like in a couch. They are not usually aggressive, and she let us take many pictures. Hey predate over fishes and, in some occasions, over penguin’s chick, unexperinced in this cold and dangerous waters. The same kind of sighting for several crabeaters seals we encountered some icebergs further. They get their name from what they eat, not crabs, but krill, which is also a crustacean. A group of gentoo penguins were rehearsing the sea diving skills, near the entrance to the base. The big BIG surprise was just after the second group arrived to the ship. Some humpback whales got curious, very curious, and approached the ship´s stern… We were left wordless, feeling like blessed for the presence of this majestic animals, like ambassadors from another world. Some of us got lucky enough to watch the visit on their zodiacs, and the rest of us contemplated from the stern. A while after, everybody onboard, the guide prepared a recap, just a little info about Antarctic bases and just right after the briefing we had dinner. Today´s bar special: Martini Night!