29 Jan – Ushuaia
This afternoon we boarded the Silver Explorer, received our suite keys and settled in. We sailed from Ushuaia in sunshine and the city looked lovely under the tall mountains. We headed for the Beagle Channel and an imminent crossing of the Drake Passage.
30 Jan – The Northern Drake Passage
After leaving the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel we went right into our first full day at sea sailing across the Drake Passage, more like the Drake Lake, so calm and beautiful with bird life and we hung out the aft with our naturalist and environmentalist Claudia as we learnt more about the birds including the Albatross.
Later we joined Chris for his presentation ‘Seabirds of the Drake Passage’ and after lunch gathered in the theatre for the mandatory briefing on zodiac operations and now the heightened sense of anticipation and excitement is building – and we listened intently to Andrew with his lecture title ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ during which we were mezmerised by the world of Antarctic whales.
31 Jan – South Shetlands, Penguin Island from King George
By now everyone is settling in and asking where do we come from? Here we are in Antarctica and we hail from a town called… Penguin! Lots of laughs all round and a few not believing, so we head to the chart room and find a map to take it when we are questioned; most say ‘I’ve never heard of such a town’.
Our lunchtime highlight was a pod of humpback whales frolicking around the ship port side, so excited and so close to these amazing creatures. After lunch our first zodiac landing at Penguin Island, we laughed as we donned all the gear; the thermals, one pair of trousers and socks and then another, then the waterproof pants outside of your gumboots – we felt like Mr/s Michelin Man!
On the island we witnessed Antarctic fur seals and kept a respectable distance from them as they are protective of their young. A colony of chinstrap penguins was making plenty of noise and we spotted several other species of seabirds.
Feb 1 – Paulet Island & Brown Bluff
We awoke at 5am full of excitement for another day and we took in the beautiful sight of a small colony of penguins on top of an iceberg walking in single file.
The temperature? A heatwave at zero Celsius, sunny and the Weddell Sea calm. Paulet Island, a circular volcanic cone, is believed to be home to over 100000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins.
Upon arrival we checked out the remains of Carl Larsen and his crew’s hut, which they built after their ship sank nearby during a Swedish expedition in the early 1900’s. We were supposed to keep a five metre distance between us and the penguins, only problem was no one told them and they are playful and inquisitive so right up to our boots they came.
We then returned to the ship for our departure for Brown Bluff, a rust coloured glacial volcano. It is here we saw our first Weddell Sea seals, with coats that match the rocks of Brown Bluff.
Feb 2 – Yankee Harbour & Half Moon Island
Yankee Harbour is a small harbour on the south western side of Greenwich Island and was well known to American and British sealers as early as 1820. We landed on a pebble shore and began a short walk to see Gentoo penguins.
There was a great deal of birdlife as there are many penguin carcasses, which bring the Giant Petrel, who are the scavengers. We also saw lots of Skuas.
We then had another zodiac landing at Half Moon Island, which was so named because of its crescent shape. On this island is the Argentine Research station, Teniente Camara, which is manned on an irregular basis during summer.
Feb 3 – Neko Harbour & Cuverville Island
9am we boarded our zodiacs in Neko Harbour. I sat on a rock and watched the passing parade of Gentoo penguins frolicking in their last summer days. The view was spectacular, icebergs surrounded by brash ice, glaciers flowing down from the rugged mountains, and the ship in the distance.
Afterwards we climbed back into the zodiacs for a tour of the neighbouring bay, we cruised around some massive icebergs, the size of apartment buildings. The range of colours startled us as we had no idea there would be so many different shades from pale turquoise to dark violet.
Next we would be sailing down the Neumayer Channel on our way to Cuverville Island for a landing. The island is home to a large Gentoo rookery. Occasionally Antarctic blue eyed shags flew by and some Antarctic terns wee feeding along the shore.
Feb 4 – Paradise Bay and Port Lockroy
Paradise Bay is a truly beautiful natural harbour surrounded by many glaciers and we toured the area in a zodiac for over 90 minutes. This was followed by a short sail from Paradise Bay to Port Lockroy, via the Neumayer Channel in glorious sunshine.
Port Lockroy also a natural harbour is located on the western side of Wiencke Island in the Palmer Archipelago, it was discovered in 1903 and was mainly used by whalers. In the evening we entered the Lemaire Channel, arguably one of the prettiest sights in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Feb 5 – Lemaire Channel
We spent the morning in Pleneau Bay on zodiacs amongst the icebergs, amazing icebergs, not sure why I am so excited about ice, but they are stunning.
The larger bergs ranged from flat, tabular ice masses to tipped and wasted bergs showing layering due to the water line etching and parallel runnels caused by melt water dripping down the sides. We saw a leopard seal resting on a small ice floe and many birds including Antarctic terns, kelp gulls and Wilsons’ storm petrels. Later we visited Dorian Bay in our zodiacs
Feb 6 – Deception Island
A unique place in the sense that we sailed into an active volcano! After disembarking at Whaler’s Bay we had the chance to walk around and see the remains of the whaling station used in the 1900’s as well as the semi destroyed buildings of a British research station following volcanic eruptions a few decades back.
We did a guided walk to Neptune’s Window then departed Port Foster for Bailey’s Head, home to the largest Chinstrap Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. We also sighted many Antarctic fur seals. Back on board and we were ready to attack the Drake Passage again for our two day journey back to Ushuaia.
To quote author Edwin Micleburgh “Antarctica left a longing in my heart beckoning towards an incomprehensible perfection forever beyond the reach of the moral man. Its overwhelming beauty touches one so deeply that it is like a wound”.
This has been truly the most amazing journey in our travel career; the last continent, the white continent.