My Antarctic Voyage – Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula

In the third and final of her blogs detailing her journey into Antarctica, G&M wildlife consultant Sarah Williams describes exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, and her return to Argentina.

Sailing from South Georgia, sometime during the night we crossed the 60-degree line which meant that we were officially in Antarctica!  

After a couple of days sailing, we eventually arrived at the scenic Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands, on the most gorgeous sunny day. This is where the Scottish explorer Williams Spears Bruce built a hut in 1903, the remains of which can still be seen. Nowadays the Argentinians have a base here – Orcadas Research Station – and they kindly showed us around their small museum before enjoying a coffee in the warmth of their quarters.

As we sailed out of Scotia Bay, we were treated to incredible sightings of ice bergs of all shapes and sizes, set against the cloudless blue sky. The further we travelled south, the more icebergs we saw, including one massive tabular iceberg which the Captain estimated to be 2 miles across!

Close to Paulet Island we were treated to a large pod of humpback whales swimming around the ship, impressing us with their diving skills and showing off their tail flukes.

Browns Bluff

A shore excursion at Browns Bluff took us to a large colony of Adelie penguins, our sixth species of penguin! Some had fluffy grey chicks and it was a fabulous afternoon observing these busy creatures as they went in and out of the ocean. Around the headland there was a beautiful glacier and stunning views out to sea where Plancius was being dwarfed by massive icebergs.   

Overnight we sailed to the South Shetland Islands, arriving at Half Moon Island, another incredibly scenic spot, where a large colony of Chinstrap penguins greeted us along with a solitary Macaroni penguin! The scenery was simply breathtaking. Back on the beach a group of passengers took the polar plunge while the rest of looked on in admiration or possibly bewilderment.

Next stop was Deception Island which, as a collapsed caldera, provides a natural harbour, the volcano last erupted in the 1960s. Entry is only possible in good weather through a narrow gap called Neptune’s Bellows.  We went ashore at Whalers Bay, which as the name suggests was a whaling station in 1911. I found the place to have a strange and melancholy atmosphere, with steam rising from the black sand reminding you of the island’s volcanic history. 

It was suggested that we get up early the next morning as the scenery would be especially spectacular through the Gerlache Strait, so I set my alarm! The following morning, I woke to a beautiful sunny day and was soon out on deck appreciating the mind-blowing scenery. We slowly sailed towards Neko Harbour through icebergs and jagged snow-covered mountains, and were soon joined by pods of Orcas and Humpback whales – certainly worth getting up early for!  

Neko Harbour

After breakfast we went ashore, most of us climbed a steep hill for amazing views of the harbour, Plancius looked very insignificant surrounded by huge glaciers and mountains. Groups of Gentoo penguins had carved out penguin highways in the snow, some were so deep that the penguins disappeared between the steep sides!

After lunch we arrived at Port Lockroy, a small Antarctic base comprising a post office (the most southerly post office in the world), shop and museum. Gentoo penguins were nesting on any available space, completely nonplussed at our arrival.

The following morning would be our last day in Antarctica and the weather could not have been better – clear, bright and sunny. After breakfast we boarded the zodiacs for a cruise around the Melchior Islands. What an awesome sight this was! Snow cliffs, icebergs in different shades of blue, crabeater seals, penguins and birds – it was a most memorable way to end such an incredible cruise.

Returning to ship we soon set sail for Ushuaia and on the two-day journey we were kept busy with lectures and a photo competition. As we finally sailed down the Beagle Channel towards Ushuaia, we enjoyed a glass of fizz as the Captain and expedition leader thanked their teams and we toasted them for providing us with such an outstanding journey of unforgettable memories.

Cruising around the Melchoir Islands

We arrived at Ushuaia on the longest day of the year with a luminary full moon guiding us into port. The cruise had been jam-packed with the most extraordinary experiences, we had seen wildlife aplenty, enjoyed the most incredible scenery, been educated through many lectures, made new friends and been blessed with good weather. That pink sky on the first evening had been an excellent omen after all.

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