Antarctica – South Georgia – Falkland Islands: “A Photographic Summary”

A travel experience in Antarctica is often described as ‘the trip of a lifetime’ and the cost, distance and effort to get there keeps it well and truly off the beaten track.  I recently enjoyed a three week expedition cruise with Quark Expeditions aboard the Ocean Diamond, exploring the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.  It was a collection of highlights, experienced in what felt like a magical bubble, such is the paradox of time when travelling.

Describing Antarctica with mere words does not do it justice.  It is a continent like no other where the silence is deafening, where you can be alone without feeling lonely and where you live completely in the moment because the sensory overload you are experiencing leaves no room for reflections on the past or plans for the future.

The three week itinerary I enjoyed only allowed me to see the tip of the iceberg of this region (pun intended) and yet I returned to land flooded with countless memories of unique wildlife encounters, spectacular scenery, historical facts and incredible photography opportunities.

Over the 19 day expedition we travelled for 18 days, including 8 sea days, 17 excursions on zodiacs or land and 9 explorations from the ship.  We travelled 8,783.4km (3,427 nautical miles), kayakers enjoyed 7 outings, there were 3 mountain climbing excursions and 3 opportunities for cross-country skiing.  There was 128 lectures, talks and other entertainment offered on the ship and there were even yoga sessions.

How do I capture all of these experiences and memories in a single blog post?  I can’t.  But what I’ve attempted to do is share the essence of the journey in the following photographic summary.

 

DAY 1:  Ushuaia

 Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Magellanic)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Cormorants, Herons, Geese, Vultures, Waders (Shorebirds), Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Pinnipeds (Sea Lion)

At-Sea-

Embarkment Day

I board the Ocean Diamond in Ushuaia (Argentina), the southermost city in the world.  I join 157 other passengers from 39 different countries,  92 Crew Members, an Expedition Team of 25 and 2 Penguinologists as we sail through the Beagle Channel in the direction of the Falkland Islands.  As the journey begins I wonder whether ‘Penguinologist’ is a real word…

Departing-Ushuaia

 

DAY 2:  At Sea to the Falkland Islands

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Magellanic)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Cormorants)

Whales (Sei)

At-Sea-

Sea Day

A wake up call announces the sighting of a Sei Whale near the ship and my first full day at sea becomes a busy one.  I collect my parka and waterproof boots, attend mandatory safety lectures, spend time on deck photographing seabirds and whales, join lectures from the Ornithologist, Photographer and Expedition Leader, and end the day getting to know other passengers at the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner.  I feel energised by the realisation that I share a common interest with travellers from all walks of life.

Sei-Whale

 

DAY 3:  Falkland Islands

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Magellanic, King, Gentoo, Rockhopper)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Cormorants, Herons, Geese & Ducks, Vultures, Caracara, Waders (Shorebirds), Skuas, Gulls & Terns, Flycatchers, Wrens)

Dolphins (Commerson’s)

Pinnipeds (Sea Lion, Elephant Seal)

Landing-

Carcass Island

The Captain navigates through Westpoint Pass towards the location of our first landing of the expedition.  Carcass Island is an island free of cats, rats and mice, resulting in an abundant bird population.  We are also introduced to the Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins.  The island is privately owned and in peak season the human population has been known to soar to four people.  I soak up the rain that is steadily falling at the same time I soak up the magical moment I am currently in.

Day-2-Carcass-Island

 

Landing-

Saunders Island

The location of our afternoon landing provides us with our first opportunity to meet the King Penguins who have a small colony here.  But the real highlight of Saunders Island is the Rockhopper Penguins and nesting Black-browed Albatrosses.  My camera has never been used so much in one session and I feel my new 100-400mm lens was worth every penny!

 Day-2-Saunders-Island

 

DAY 4:  Falkland Islands

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Magellanic)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Herons, Geese & Ducks, Vultures, Caracara, Waders (Shorebirds), Skuas, Gulls, Wrens)

Whales (Pilot)

 Doplhins (Commerson’s)

Pinnipeds (Seal Lion)

Landing-

 Stanley

Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands with a population of just over 2,000.  It is rich in history and a morning walk through the picturesque town is like a walk through an outdoor museum.  We return to the ship for lunch and our departure from the Falkland Islands.  The Falkland Islands is often overshadowed by the other sites on the itinerary of this trip but it was well worth the visit and an attractive travel destination in its own right.

 Port-Stanley

 

DAY 5:  At Sea to South Georgia

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants)

Whales (Southern Bottlenose)

 Doplhins (Hourglass)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal)

 At-Sea-

Sea Day

We begin our journey towards South Georgia with a full day at sea.  We adhere to the safety guidelines of the region with a biosecurity vacuum and inspection of our landing wear and gear before joining lectures from our Historian, Marine Biologist and Expedition Leader.  I take advantage of the Bridge’s ‘open door policy’ and spend as much time outside with my camera as I can.  I am relieved to discover I don’t suffer from seasickness and cross my fingers that my luck continues.

Bridge

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New Years Eve

 I join the other passengers and crew in the Bar Lounge for a ‘Black & White’ themed party, where the white bathroom robes from our cabins prove a popular choice of attire.  In what is one of my most unique New Year Eve’s to date, I am not sure if the movement on the dance floor is a result of dance moves, alcohol, the swell of the sea or all of the above!  As I see in 2013 with a group of new friends, I am reminded why I love travelling so much.  Travel eliminates the differences that would otherwise prevent our paths from crossing and instead creates a bond cemented by our hunger for exploration and adventure.

Day-4-At-Sea

DAY 6:  At Sea to South Georgia 

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King, Gentoo)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants)

Whales (Southern Right, Humpback)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal)

 At-Sea-

Sea Day

Those of us who were last to bed enjoy a late rise and New Years Day brunch.  Another day at sea creates the time to join lectures from the Ornithologist, Photographer, Penguinologists and Geologist, a visit to the Bridge and a spectacular opportunity to photograph Blue-Eyed Shags who fly alongside the ship as we pass Shag Rocks.  We realise it’s a special moment when we notice the expedition crew have joined us with their cameras.  We also spot the first iceberg of the voyage in the early evening, a moment that feels symbolic of the journey ahead.

Day-5-Shag-Rocks

 

DAY 7:  South Georgia

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King, Gentoo)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal, Elephant Seal)

 Landing-

Salisbury Plain

There are some days on this expedition that I feel I am part of a wildlife documentary and the only thing missing today was the narration of David Attenborough!  We are greeted at our landing site on Salisbury Plains by adorable fur seal pups, their aggressive and at times intimidating mothers, and the second largest King Penguin colony in South Georgia.  In 1912 only 350 breeding pairs were counted at this site but today there are approximately 60,000.  As I walk towards the colony, the scene in front of me feels like the King Penguin version of a ‘Where’s Wally’ image.

King Penguin Colony - South Georgia

Zodiac-Salisbury Plain 

Our first zodiac cruise of the expedition creates the unique opportunity to observe the wildlife and landscape through different eyes.  We cruise alongside swimming penguins,  admire the shiny coat of fur seals exiting the sea and spot a wide array of birdlife as we cruise to one of the smaller, nearby islands.  I am amused to discover that penguins are a lot more co-ordinated in the water than they are on land and cannot get enough of the adorable fur seal pups that are scattered on the shore of the island.

 Kellie-Netherwood-5

Zodiac-

Prince Olav Harbour

If the day had ended after the morning’s excursions I would have gone to sleep with a smile on my face as I reflected on one of the best days on the journey so far.  But the day had only just begun and our zodiac cruise around Prince Olav Harbour added more highlights to as we encountered fur and elephant seals, a number of icebergs and an abandoned whaling station.  Not for the first time in my life I dream of being a time traveller capable of experiencing a location at different times throughout history.

Olav

 

DAY 8:  South Georgia

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King, Chinstrap)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Geese & Ducks, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal, Elephant Seal)

Reindeer

Ship-Cruise-

Stromness Harbour

Our day begins with a ship cruise through Stromness Harbour, famous for being the Shackleton party’s final destination on their epic journey across South Georgia in search for help.  Fur seals have made the abandoned whaling station their home and are scattered along the shore, providing a unique foreground to a location that played a key role in the incredible and almost unbelievable Shackleton tale.

Stromness-Harbour

 Landing-

Grytviken

Our day in Grytviken, a site that lies at the head of King Edward Cove, is filled with more activities than feels possible, such is the paradox of time when travelling.  I begin the day navigating through the aggressive maze of fur and elephant seals as I make my way towards the small cemetery that is the final resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton.  We toast ‘The Boss’ with a shot of whiskey before exploring the whaling station ruins, an interesting museum, a small church and a make-shift football field that was populated by a small group of King Penguins apparently ready for a game.  Our zodiacs return to ship under the watchful eye of group of adult, adolescent and pup fur seals before returning after lunch for some exercise.  I join one of the Marine Biologists on a hike as he hunts for the  Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross that only nests here every two years.  Our efforts were rewarded with a spectacular mating ritual from a group of the impressive birds.  For the first time in my life I understand the attraction of bird watching and suspect a new hobby may be evolving…

Grytviken

 

DAY 9:  South Georgia

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Macaroni)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Geese & Ducks, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Whales (Fin)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal, Elephant Seal, Weddell Seal)

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Abandoned Landings – Gold Harbour, Cooper Bay

The unpredictable nature of expedition travel rears it’s ugly head as swells of more than six metres prove too high for safe boarding of the zodiacs and our planned excursions at Gold Harbour and Cooper Bay are disappointingly abandoned.  

Zodiac-

Drygalski Fjord

After the abandoned landings, Plan C is a zodiac cruise through Drygalski Fjord and what an incredible Plan C it turns out to be.  I am lucky to be on a zodiac driven by the marine biologist who has an impressive knack for spotting birdlife that is otherwise invisible to the inexperienced eye.  The Fjord becomes a stage upon which Antarctic terns perform a spectacular dance around our zodiac, flying to a symphony only they can hear.  The sighting of our first Weddell Sea, more commonly found in Antarctica, feels like a changing of the guard, symbolic of what lies ahead.  

Kellie-Netherwood-5

Ship-Cruise-

Larsen Harbour

We end the day out on deck as we sail through the spectacular Larsen Harbour.  I feel small and insignificant as I look around at the snow capped mountains and icy glaciers. A seal is spotted amongst the carpet of sea ice and our farewell party consists of petrels, terns and snowy sheathbills.  I feel a little sad to say goodbye to South Georgia, but incredibly excited about heading to Antarctica.  

Kellie-Netherwood-5

DAY 10: At Sea to Antarctica

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (King, Gentoo)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Skuas)

Whales (Sei, Humpback)

Pinnipeds (Fur Seal)

At-Sea-

Sea Day

We are again reminded that we are on an expedition cruise and our itinerary is subject to the sea and weather conditions.  Our original plan to visit South Orkney Islands is thwarted by significant sea ice in the area and instead we change course and head towards Elephant Island.  With two full days at sea ahead of us I am looking forward to ’embracing boredom‘ as I fill my days with photography, lectures, relaxation and enjoying the company of new friends, with whom conversation is naturally flowing despite having only met a few days earlier.

Day-10

 

DAY 11:  At Sea to Antarctica

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Adelie, Gentoo)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Skuas)

Whales (Fin)

At-Sea-

Sea Day

I am again relieved to discover I don’t appear to suffer from seasickness as I notice the tables at breakfast and lunch are not as full as they usually are.  There is an increased swell in the sea, visibility is poor and sea ice is proving to be a problem for the crew navigating the ship.  Will we be able to land at Elephant Island as planned the next day?  As the sun sets and the winds increase, both the Bridge and the Bow are closed and it appears more and more unlikely.

Day-11

DAY 12:  At Sea to Antarctica

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Adelie, Gentoo)

Birds (Albratrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Skuas)

Whales (Sei, Humpback)

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Elephant Island – Abandoned Landing

I wake up from another great night’s sleep and consider investing in a rocking bed to cure the insomnia I experience at home.  I put on my yellow parka and join some other photographers outside.  As we notice the fog that has shrouded the sea for the past two days has lifted, so does our spirits as we start to believe an Elephant Landing may be possible.  But the changeability of the southern weather rapidly destroys our hopes  as the fog returns.  As the swell increases, we leave the bow and join the crew on the Bridge.  The sea ice that is becoming a favourite photography subject of mine is proving difficult to navigate through and I learn that we had deviated from the planned route overnight to avoid the ice.  As the Captain successfully navigates through a large carpet of sea ice he points to an invisible landmark on the right and says ‘that is Elephant Island’.  We will not be landing there today.

The red line is the planned route – the green line is the revised route to avoid sea ice

At-Sea-

Sea Day

It is interesting to watch the reaction of different people to another abandoned landing.  Some retire to their rooms to read or sleep, board games ware in high demand in the bar lounge and the polar library has more visitors than it has had any other day.  But spirits remain high and our disappointment is soon replaced with anticipation of what lies in front of us and the realisation that sailing through the ice is a unique experience in itself..  Throughout the day I can’t help but compare our experience to that of Shackleton’s crew nearly a century ago…

As the movement of the ship rocks me to sleep, I think of the sleepless nights they endured.  As I add an additional layer before heading out onto the deck, I reflect on the constantly wet clothing they wore for more than a year.  As I decide between three options of main dishes for dinner, I feel fortunate that my choices are not limited to the diet of penguin and seal that they had.  And as we sail past the invisible Elephant Island, blocked by fog, I compare the disappointment of our abandoned landing with the elation they must have felt with their successful one.

The Shackleton story is an incredible reminder that you never know the extent of your own inner strength until you are challenged.

Day-12

 

DAY 13:  South Shetland Islands

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo, Macaroni)

Birds (Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Whales (Fin, Minke, Humpback, Orca)

Pinnipeds (Leopard Seal)

Landing-

Half Moon Island

I always listen to our morning wake up calls with a little trepidation as they often set the mood for the day, with an update on the conditions and the itinerary.  After sleeping solidly throughout the night I am surprised to be informed that winds had reached 91 knots overnight.  As I walk outside onto the deck, I noticed a scattering of ice and water covering the ground.  I really slept through this?

But despite the overnight winds, we have successfully reached the South Shetland Islands and whilst the seas are not calm enough for a zodiac cruise, we will be landing on Half Moon Island as planned.  Although I have enjoyed the days at sea I am looking forward to stepping off the ship and exploring some more of this amazing continent.  Our excursion on the 2km long island is our first opportunity to visit a chinstrap penguin colony and I could have sat all day watching the adorable nesting penguins and their chicks.

Half-Moon

Landing-

Deception Island

The scenery that surrounds us as we sail through Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow entrance through the caldera wall of Deception Island is nothing short of spectacular.  Everyone is out on deck and yet it never feels crowded.  We are treated to a warm and sunny day and there is excitement in the air as we put on our waterproof ‘zodiac’ clothes.  Whalers Bay at Deception Island houses remains of the Norweigian Aktieselskabet Hektor whaling station and a British Antarctic Survey base which was evacuated in 1967 during a volcanic eruption.  The beach is covered in ash and cinder and is populated by a handful of penguins who seemed uninterested in our arrival.  It’s a small but interesting place to explore and again I am soaking up both the sun and the moment I am in.

Deception-Island-Landing

Zodiac-

Whalers Bay, Deception Island

Deception Island is one of the sights protected with a limit of 100 visitors at one time, so whilst half of the group land on shore, the rest of us enjoy a zodiac cruise that passes through Neptune’s Bellows, encounter our first male elephant seal and a handful of chinstrap penguins playing on an iceberg and in the water.  The highlight is seeing a pair of shagging penguins but unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of the fleeting moment!

Blog-Deception-Island

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Deception Island

Deception Island is the location of the Polar Plunge.  57 passengers decide to take on the challenge and I’m not sure if it’s the allure of the icy water or the deception of the sun that has attracted so many adventurous souls.  The first and last plungers are gentlemen over the age of 70, so the rest of us really have no excuse!  Having already committed myself to the swim by deciding to do it for charity, I am grateful to be joined by four other female friends on board, who are ready to run into the sea with me.  The sun above me is deceiving and as soon as I hit the water I experience what feels like an electric shock radiating from my toes to the ends of the hair on my head.  I certainly feel alive, am buzzing for the rest of the day and head straight to the bar when I return to the ship for a celebratory shot!

Kellie-Netherwood-Polar-Plunge

DAY 14:  Antarctic Peninsula

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo)

Birds (Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Whales (Minke, Humpback)

Pinnipeds (Leopard, Elephant, Weddell, Crabeater Seal)

Ship-Cruise-

Wilhelmina Bay

 This is the day we hope to step onto Antarctic soil for the first time and I wake up feeling like a child does on Christmas Day.  After the uncertainty of the past few days, I am a little nervous as I pull back the curtains but the scene outside replaces my trepidation with a feeling I find hard to describe.  I feel I am on another planet and quickly race outside for a closer look.  I am looking at a landscape painting, created with a palette limited with whites and blues.  The silence is deafening and the sea ice covering the crystal clear water reminds me of a shattered mirror.  I feel the incredible sensation of being alone but not lonely.  Although I am at one with my thoughts, I am sharing the experience with new friends.  There are no words required today – we simply acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod that speaks volumes.  

After breakfast we sail into Wilhelmina Bay, a large 24-kilometre wide, glaciated bay containing many islands, and the scenery grows more spectacular.  We are hoping to see the whales who occasionally visit the area and it isn’t long before we are welcomed to the bay by a number of humpbacks, ready to perform for us.  I have already seen humpback whales in the open sea, including some who had swum within metres of the ship.  But this is different.  We hear them before we see them, the sounds of their blows breaking the silence like thunder in a storm.  I am truly in a magical place.

Kellie-Netherwood-6

Ship-Cruise-

Orne Harbour

I feel strangely exhausted after our morning in Wilhelmina Bay, but am quickly re-energised as we sail into Orne Harbour.  I feel quite speechless as I look out at the surrounding glaciers, I jump at the thunderous crash of ice as pieces fall to the ground and am almost blinded by the sea ice reflecting from the water.  How does it get better than this? 

Orne-Harbour-from-ship

Landing-

Orne Harbour

Orne Harbour is the location of our first official landing in Antarctica and I am about to step onto my 7th continent.  Whilst I am not someone who travels to destinations to tick them off a list, this does feel special.  

The journey to Antarctica feels symbolic of the path my life has taken.  It hasn’t always been easy, not everyone understands why I’ve chosen this path or destination, at times I’ve felt alone and at other times I’ve felt invigorated by the amazing people around me.  Hard work and sacrifices have led me to a place that may not be visited by everyone in the world, but here I know who I am and feel like I belong.

 After the effort to make it this far, it only feels fitting that after stepping out of the zodiacs onto Antarctic soil we face an uphill climb in snow to reach the chinstrap penguin colony and to enjoy stunning views of the Gerlache Strait.  It reminds me how rewarding a little bit more effort and hard work can be.

Orne-3

Zodiac-

Orne Harbour

I feel greedy.  The day has been flooded with memorable highlights and I still have a zodiac cruise of Orne Harbour to experience.  Whales have been spotted in the area and we sail through the sea ice that covers the water like broken glass.  I wasn’t sure a whale sighting could enhance the morning’s experience in Wilhelmina Bay that already felt a lifetime ago, but I was wrong.  Getting up close and personal with a whale from the safety of the deck of ship is one thing – seeing one rise out of the water within metres of your zodiac is something else.

whale-zodiac

 

 

DAY 15:  Antarctic Peninsula

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo)

Birds (Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Whales (Minke, Humpback)

Pinnipeds (Weddell, Crabeater, Leopard Seal)

Landing-

Danco Island

Our arrival at Danco Island signals the beginning of a day where I constantly find my question of ‘does it get any better than this’ answered with a resounding ‘yes’.  Danco Island is relatively small at 1.6km long and 180m high but after yesterday’s climb, my rubbish knees are feeling a little sore and unsteady.  We have the choice of climbing to the top of the Island or interacting with the small Gentoo penguin colony along the shore.  For a moment I consider protecting my knees before someone reminds me where I am.  I begin a climb that gets my heart racing, my knees aching and my senses energised.  As I stop at penguin highways along the route to allow the amusing little creatures ‘right of way’ I reconsider my four year old nephews request that I ‘catch a penguin’ for him in Antarctica.  I am only deterred by the sighting of the orange hats worn by our two penguinologists that signal they are ‘at work’ on the island and reluctantly continue the climb.

 As I stop to catch my breath along the way I look around at the dramatic blue and white landscape and don’t believe it can be any better at the top.  I was wrong.  The view at the top is indescribable.  It makes every step worthwhile, including the stumble in the snow I took on the way down!

Danco-Harbour

Zodiac-

Danco Island

As I step into the zodiac I am a little relieved to be joined by other keen photographers.  Magical moments experienced from the zodiac can be fleeting and you don’t not always find yourself in the optimal shooting position.  Whilst the ‘yellow penguins’ can add contrast to images taken on land, a yellow blur in a photograph of a leopard seal sleeping on an ice floe doesn’t really add value to the photograph.  Likewise, someone sitting back enjoying the scene playing out in front of them doesn’t always appreciate a large lens entering their line of vision.  

As we begin our cruise I recognise this as being one of those moments in life I yearn to capture in a little bottle, to be opened whenever I need a reminder of how special life can be.  I want to capture the silence that is only interrupted by the splash of a penguin swimming past the boat.  I want to trap the warmth of the sun on my face that is slightly mitigating the bitter cold from the wind.  I want to permanently sketch the snow-capped, icy landscape onto my mind and I want to absorb nothing more than the moment I am in.

Cruising through the sea ice and enjoying the deafening silence is magical enough on its own but is enhanced by the leopard seals lounging on ice floes, the penguins swimming alongside us and the occasional crash of ice from surrounding glaciers.  I turn to a friend to ask ‘does it get any better than this’ and within seconds it does!  Hundreds of gentoo penguins seemingly appear from nowhere.  They float duck-like in the water before diving deep into the sea.  The water is so clear that we can follow their movements, anticipating the moment they rise out of the water to break the silence with a chorus of splashing.  We are on our way back to the ship, but as Vladimir, our zodiac driver, has his camera in hand and keeps repeating ‘two more minutes, two more minutes’ we appreciate we are experiencing a special moment.  

Kellie-Netherwood-8

Landing-

Neko Harbour

Neko Harbour  lies on the eastern shore of Andvord Bay, approximately 11km south of the Errera Channel.  Crystal clear water sits in front of glaciers and snow-capped mountains, providing a spectacular backdrop for the 250 breeding pairs of Gentoo Penguins that call Neko Harbour home.  Neko Harbour is the location of our second continent landing.

I find a rock to sit on and enjoy the relatively mild weather.  I feel alive.  I am energised by a bitter wind as the warm sun relaxes me.  My feet are resting on the ground of the world’s most remote and wildest of continents.  As I am entertained by the behaviour of these nesting penguins I find my mind emptying and feel a satisfying numbness as I soak up the moment I am in.

And then things change.

A Brown Skua who has been repeatedly circling the colony has landed on the ground.  As the penguins begin squawking their objection to his arrival, the sense of calm I was enjoying is replaced with an atmosphere of panic and fear.  Breeding and raising chicks in Antarctica can be a challenge for the penguins that call the harsh wilderness home.  And I was about to witness an attack symbolic of this struggle.  Sometimes magical moments are creating by luck, by being in the right place at the right time!

Neko-Landing

Zodiac-

Neko Harbour

Again, I feel greedy as I step into the zodiac for our final excursion of the day.  I have captured so many amazing memories and experiences today and yet I am heading out in a zodiac searching for more?  What gives me the right to be so greedy?  My pangs of guilt dissolve within minutes of being on the water as we spot a Skua resting on an ice floe.  I choose to believe it is the same Skua who has just stomached two penguin chicks in the incredible scenes I’d witnessed on land, taking a moment to digest his meal away from the accusatory squawks and glares of the colony.  I continue to enjoy the leopard seal sightings that have dominated the day but secretly wish for a bit more action from them.  My prayers are answered as one seal sits up, opens his mouth wide and vocalises a greeting (or warning) to us.  It is a satisfactory end to another day that feels like my own wildlife documentary.

Kellie-Netherwood-9

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Antarctica BBQ

 An an Australian, I’ve experience my fair share of BBQs but none have been more unique than the one I enjoy this evening on the deck of the Ocean Diamond in the Antarctic Peninsula.  I only refrain from pinching myself because if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.

BBQ

DAY 16:  Antarctic Peninsula

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Chinstrap, Gentoo, Adelie)

Birds (Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Cormorants, Sheathbills, Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Whales (Minke, Humpback)

Pinnipeds (Elephant, Weddell, Crabeater, Leopard Seal)

Ship-Cruise-

Lemaire Channel

I wake up early and head outside to enjoy the soft natural light that is introducing the snow-covered mountains to the day.  We are heading towards the Lemaire Channel, also known as Kodak Gap due to it’s picturesque surroundings.  It is an 11km long by 1.6km wide passage that runs from False Cape Renard to Cape Cloos, separating Booth Island from the Antarctic continent.  At its narrowest it is less than 800m wide with towering peaks overhead.  Again, everyone is outside on deck and again I don’t feel crowded.  We applaud the Captain on his navigation skills as he seems to sail with ease through the narrow gaps, avoiding the sea ice and icebergs scattered throughout the water.  As we safely complete the passage, I reluctantly take off my parka and head inside to breakfast.

Lemaire

Zodiac-

Pleneau Bay

Pleneau Island lies just south of the Lemaire Channel, between Hovgaard Island and Booth Island and lies adjacent to an iceberg gallery.  This ‘Iceberg Graveyard’ is home to both large tabular icebergs and older, rolled icebergs that have run aground and we will be taking a closer look from our zodiacs as we cruise through Pleneau Bay.

As I climb into the zodiac I am unprepared for the morning that awaits me.  I don’t know that I will see minke whales, I don’t realise there will be a leopard seal that swims beneath our zodiac before approaching an ice floe already occupied and receive an aggressive growl in warning and I am certainly not prepared for the volume and scale of the icebergs scatted around the bay like architectural structures.

I enjoy a morning that has so many highlights it could be a stand-alone tour.  I fill my memory card with more photographs I’ve taken in a single excursion on the trip so far.  I include other zodiac boats in my shots to attempt to capture a sense of scale.  And I use my wide-angled lens more than I have on any other day as we cruise so close to some icebergs that they simply do not fit into the frame of my standard lens.

We start to reluctantly head back to the ship when I hear a thunderous crash.  I look up expecting to see an iceberg rolling in the distance only to discover the crashing ice is only a few metres away.  As we follow the instructions of our zodiac driver and sit down on the floor of the boat, I hear another crash and the scene before me seems to play out in slow motion.  As the ice crashes into the sea, a wave slowly forms, creating movement on the water that was previously as still as ice.  I am reminded that are sailing around through an unspoiled part of the world, through a natural wilderness that lives by it’s own rules. I am reminded how quickly things can change.

Kellie-Netherwood-

Landing-

Petermann Island

Petermann Island lies just off Pleneau Island and was discovered in 1873-4.  It is also the location of our last landing in Antarctica.  As we head to the island in our zodiacs we pass a lone penguin standing on an iceberg.  It’s as if he is waving goodbye to us and I realise I am not ready to farewell this part of the world.  We land on the home of 500 breeding pairs of adelie penguins, the most southerly colony of gentoo penguins in Antarctica (2,000 breeding pairs) and nesting blue-eyed shags.  We have not seen many adelie penguins on this journey so I find myself a comfortable piece of ground and sit back to enjoy watching them interact with each other alongside the gentoo penguins they co-exist with in the colony.  Nesting blue-eyed shags add another element to the scene in front of me and not for the first time, I appreciate how lucky I am to be sitting where I am at that moment.

Petermann-Landing

Zodiac-

Petermann Island

The water around Petermann Island is the location of a bittersweet moment today.  It is the last excursion on our expedition.  Looking north towards the Lemaire Channel and south to the mountainous landscape of Graham Land provides spectacular scenery that provides a backdrop to a farewell performance from six humpback whales.    I try to ignore the nagging and uncomfortable realisation that my journey is coming to an end as I soak up the last few hours of unique Antarctic experiences.

Petermann-Island-Whale

Ship-Cruise-

Departing Petermann Island

We return to the ship for an expedition photo.  I then join the unofficial ‘camera club’ of keen photographers who, like me, spend every spare moment they have on the bow of the ship.  As the ship sails away from the island, I silently farewell a piece of land that is symbolic of all the landings and zodiac cruises I have enjoyed on this journey.

Sunset

 

DAY 17:  At Sea – Drake Passage

Wildlife Spotted:

Birds (Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels)

Whales (Fin, Minke, Humpback, Orca)

At-Sea-

Sea Day

The Drake Passage is an unavoidable part of travelling on an Antarctic expedition cruise.  Despite being notorious for being one of the roughest pieces of water in the world, it is a ‘right of passage’ for Antarctic travel.  Most people who board the ship in Ushuaia spend the first two days at sea on the Drake Passage and many people dread it.  As our itinerary includes the Falklands and South Georgia we are spared the initial journey through the Drake and are crossing it for the first time today.  I am embracing the Drake for two reasons:  the adventurer in me is craving the experience of a rough crossing and I simply don’t want the voyage to end.

The Drake has announced it’s arrive today with a whisper rather than a shout and it’s difficult to know if the feeling in my stomach is a result of seasickness or the number of beers I had the night before.  I suspect it may be a combination of both, take my first sea-sickness pill of the voyage and immediately regret it as it knocks me out for most of the day.  When I am awake, I spend the reflecting on the journey I’ve had, refusing to acknowledge it is nearly over.

glasses

 

DAY 18:  At Sea – Drake Passage (& Cape Horn)

Wildlife Spotted:

Penguins (Rockhopper, Magellanic)

Birds (Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters, Storm Petrels, Diving Petrels, Cormorants, Geese & Ducks, Waders (Shorebirds), Skuas, Gulls & Terns)

Dolphins (Peale’s)

Pinnipeds (Sea Lion, Fur Seal)

At-Sea-

At Sea

Our last day on the ship arrives and I am simply not ready for this incredible journey to be over.  I pack my bags early so I can enjoy the day outside with my camera.  I add my email address to the ‘contact list’ that will be distributed to those who would like to stay in touch with each other and I contribute some of my photos to the DVD that we will all be given.  

me

At-Sea-

Cape Horn

Cape-Horn

 

Social-

Final Night Party

I run out of time for a ‘nanna nap’ and instead re-energise with a glass of whiskey offered by new friends in their cabin before our final debrief.  All I have left to do now is enjoy our final dinner and party the night away with the amazing people I have met on this extraordinary adventure. 

2013-01-27

 

DAY 19:  Ushuaia 

At-Sea-

Disembarkment

I wake up a few hours after I make it to bed and realise the best way to deal with an unwelcome day is to do it with a hangover that dulls your emotions!

IBantarctica13_-91

(Photography courtesy of Quark Expeditions)

FINAL THOUGHTS

Visiting Antarctica introduces you to feelings and emotions you didn’t know existed within you.  It calls out to your inner photographer, your inner writer, your inner musician and your inner David Attenborough!  Not only does Antarctica allow you to disconnect from the outside world, it insists upon it.  There is so much to see and experience that there is no room in your thoughts for anything but the moment you are in.

Antarctica is a drug – and I am now addicted.

 

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com
Travels to Antarctica-South Georgia-Falkland Islands: “A Recap of the Falkland Islands “
Photo Gallery: The Big Ice of Antarctica (Pleneau Bay)