Would you love a dollar for every time someone said “wow” when they first spotted an iceberg, whale tail or sunbathing fur seal? It has to be one of the most commonly gasped exclamations on ships in Antarctica and Intrepid’s own co-founder Geoff Manchester was amongst those to be gobsmacked by the amazing Great White Continent…
“In our brochure we say, “Getting there is half the fun”, which I totally agree with. I have done my share of long and arduous, but enjoyable journeys: jammed in the back of trucks surrounded by produce in Laos, 24 hours in first class on a train in Mexico, first class standing that is, not to mention weeks pushing a truck across Zaire. But a mild storm on the way across the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica. Now that’s a new experience!
Try walking in a straight line down a corridor when the ship is tilting 12 degrees each way. People running from the dining room, or staggering I should say. Sauce bottles flying across your table. Missing your plate as you try to take a mouthful of food. But hey, like nearly all rugged trips, it’s worth the effort.
A few hours of bad weather can pass quickly while listening to one of the specialists on board speaking about life in Antarctica, reading about Shackleton’s journeys or just relaxing. Then all of a sudden you realise that the ship has stopped rolling and you can walk around. Look out of your porthole. Wow! Icebergs. Rush outside to see them. No! Rush back inside as it’s zero degrees outside. Put on your thermals, outside again and yes, there are icebergs everywhere. Actually we soon learn they are not icebergs, but ‘bergy bits’. To qualify as an iceberg they have to be as big as a house.
But ice in the sea. What an amazing sight! And it is so incredibly clear. We have arrived in Antarctica!
First day of activities and we are up early after getting so much sleep during the rough weather. The ship’s deck has a light cover of snow and we have arrived in a very protected area with islands all around. We are at Half Moon Island, which lies between Greenwich and Livingstone Islands.
After a hearty cooked breakfast it’s on with the cold weather gear and ten-at-a-time we disinfect our boots then load into the zodiacs. Cruising around the area we see the occasional penguin and seal in the water, then as we land on the island there are welcome bursts of sunshine and we find ourselves so close to unconcerned fur seals and Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins. A short walk across the peninsula takes us to the beach on the other side of the island, where there is a Chinstrap rookery on the hill and a great climb to get a good view of the surrounds.
We get used to the boot-cleaning ritual before we return to our ship in time for another amazing meal. Luckily I feel like all this excitement has my metabolism racing, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to indulge in any more apple struedel for afternoon tea!
Deception Island is site of a whaling station ruins and our next stop. Even the windchill factor of -27 degrees Celsius doesn’t deter us from walking around the dilapidated buildings and seeing the remains of an aircraft. Though it is necessary to walk backwards as the wind was so strong. Penguins are bravely surfing up onto the beach and if you sat still they often walk past very close to you – incredible!
After such an exciting day we listen intently to our briefing for the day next and then this evening it’s another great lecture from on-board Naturalist Thomas Kerr, this time about whales of the Southern Ocean. While I know we are only the start of our Antarctica adventure, it’s already proving to be an extraordinary journey. You’ll excuse me for employing the often over-used sentiment, but in this case it’s true, Antarctica really is a ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’!”
* photo by Nick Jacobs – Intrepid Photography Competition