Beginning in Ushuaia, Argentina, we sailed the infamous Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. We all came prepared with patches, pills and wristbands of all sorts, and when the sun shone on the ship after two days of rocking and rolling, we all agreed that the “Drake Shake” was a rite of passage for visiting Antarctica.
From the colossal tabular icebergs and the mind-boggling scenery to the wildlife sightings and the pungent aroma wafting for miles around penguin colonies, I can describe visiting Antarctica as a truly emotional experience! I had watched videos, seen pictures and read books about Antarctica, but nothing had prepared me for my first sighting of the Great White Continent. No words were spoken on the outside deck of the ship as we approached her, although there were nearly 40 travellers out there! Everybody stood in silence as we processed the scale of the continent with its glaciers carving their way to the clear sea, the massive size of the icebergs, and the incredibly vivid colours that surrounded us.
The One Ocean Expeditions team and the specialists on this expedition shared their incredible depth and insight with all of us throughout the trip. They joined guests for meals and participated in all the landings to really enhance our learning about the remote wilderness of Antarctica both formally and informally. From renowned glaciologists to ornithologists, and from Antarctic historians to naturalists, hailing from all corners of this world, the team on board made sure my adventure was a great learning opportunity!
Our expedition leader, Boris, provided at least twice daily updates on the weather forecast and sea ice conditions. Despite a planned itinerary, the weather, winds, snow, and ice forced the Captain and Boris to make adjustments as necessary. One such itinerary change saw us cross into the Weddell Sea and make landings on Penguin Island and Turner Point, two of my favourite excursions. At Turner Point, I was thrilled to have an upclose encounter with penguins; I walked across the wet rocks on the beach, and then carefully followed a marked path to avoid stepping on the mosses and grasses. We were instructed to stay a minimum of 3 metres away from penguins and seals, however many times the curious little penguins would come much closer, before sliding on their bellies or awkwardly hopping and waddling away.
Every day brought choices for us too: kayaking (for those who pre-registered); zodiac excursions in ice fields; and landings with opportunities to hike, walk, sketch, and just sit along the shore and observe the wildlife, glaciers, mosses, lichens and icebergs. The locations for the landings were spectacular – and each one a different experience.
Tips for people considering an Antarctic expedition or booked on an upcoming trip:
Pack light – take only a couple of layers of merino wool tops and pants, and a light down puffy – all the rest will be waiting for you in your cabin. When you leave the ship on a zodiac excursion or landing, your waterproof coat, pants and boots are what you will wear over your lighter layers.
Take a couple of pairs of gloves, including a light pair that will allow you to use your camera. Your gloves tend to get wet on the zodiac rides. I used small heating inserts in my gloves that lasted for 7 hours and found that I was never cold.
Take as good a camera as you can and learn how to use it before you start your trip – you will want to capture every second of the wildlife and iceberg porn from the moment you embark! There was a professional wildlife photographer on board to assist and advise on the best light and not-to-be-missed photo ops! He also created a brilliant video which was presented on the last night of our trip and was given to all us as a keepsake.
There is constant sunlight during the Antarctic summer (October through March). This messed with my brain a little! You will need good polarized sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
Pack an open mind and remember at all times that in the Antarctic the only thing that is certain is change. Embrace it!
I had visited Antarctica on a large cruise ship previously. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to return to Antarctica on a small expedition ship, an adventurous, active and educational experience to remote areas, which were not possible on my previous trip. My time on the Akademik Sergey Vavilov was enriching on every level. It awakened my adventurous spirit that will no doubt keep me traveling on expeditions around the world! I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. It was truly the trip of a lifetime!
To view Worldwide Quest's trips to Antarctica, please click here.