Travels to Antarctica-South Georgia-Falkland Islands: “A Recap of the Falkland Islands “

I was fortunate to recently experience one of the most incredible travel experiences of my life on a three week expedition cruise of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.  It’s difficult to do the continent justice with words and photographs but I’ve attempted to capture my experience in my “recap” series.

 

Day 1: Embarkation at Ushuaia

Map-Day-1

Latitude / Longitude:  

Ushuaia   54°07.6’S / 064°20.6’W

Through the Porthole:

 About the Day:

The adventure begins as I board the Ocean Diamond in Ushuaia.  I am welcomed by a friendly Expedition Crew that includes two Marine Biologists, an Ornithologist, a Historical Geographer, Geologist, Naturalist Guide, Photography Guide, Wellness Guide, four Kayak Guides, two Climbing/Ski Guides, a Doctor, a Polar Boutique Manager, expedition leaders, guides, co-ordinators, logistic managers, two Penguinologists and a Russian who ‘fixes things’.  I begin to explore the ship that will be my home for the next three weeks and introduce myself to some of the other 157 passengers who come from 39 different countries.  After a welcome briefing and lifejacket drill, I receive the Quark parka that will keep me warm in the coming weeks and identifies me as ‘yellow penguin’!  I enjoy a dinner that feels a little like ‘first day at school’, head out on deck to enjoy my first sunset of the journey and soon after find myself curled up in a comfortable bed as the sway of the boat gently rocks me to sleep.  The journey has begun!

Wildlife-Watch-Day-1-27-Dec

Magic Moment

As I watch the sun set beyond the open sea that surrounds me, I feel the need to pinch myself but choose not to:  if this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!

Did You Know?

Ushuaia, the port from which most Antarctica cruises depart, has a name that means “bay penetrating to the west” and is the southernmost city in the world.

Tip of the Day:

Don’t judge a book by its cover!  An Antarctica expedition attracts people from all walks of life and you may be surprised who you end up connecting with.  “The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.” (Amelia E Barr)

Thought of the Day:

As I stepped onto the Ocean Diamond I was full of energy and excitement and was reminded of the reasons I travel.  I travel to search for new experiences, to live instead of just existing, to connect with like-minded people and make new friends, to open myself up to life-changing experiences, to enjoy moments of self-discovery and to learn more about the world I live in.

Photo of the Day:

Departing-Ushuaia

 

Day 2: At Sea to Falkland Islands

Map-Day-2

Latitude / Longitude:  

At Sea (7am) 56°58.1’S / 065°29.3’W

Through the Porthole:

Quote of the Day (from the Quark crew):

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” (Helen Keller)

About the Day:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  We have spotted some whales ahead of us, so please join us on the deck for a closer look.”

This was my 7.30am wakeup call for our first full day at sea.

An hour earlier I had enjoyed that moment between sleep and wake that feels like minutes but is only seconds.  I was being gently rocked like a baby and my mind was waking to creaks and bumps that were strangely familiar but I couldn’t quite place.  I opened my eyes and looked to the right where a dark red curtain covered two portholes.

The pieces suddenly fell together and I remembered: I was on the Ocean Diamond en-route to the Falkland Islands.  I smiled to myself as the gentle rocking of the boat nursed me back to sleep for another hour.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first full day at sea.  Would I be seasick?  Would I be bored?  The answer was no to both and in fact, I found there were simply not enough hours in the day.  I listened as our expedition leader shared the IAATO guidelines that govern our shore landings, attended a mandatory lecture on zodiac safety guidelines, received the waterproof boots I would wear for landings, spent hours photographing the seabirds flying alongside the ship, took advantage of the Bridge ‘open door policy’, joined lectures from the Ornithologist, Photographer and Penguinologists, checked out the well-stocked Polar Library, sipped champagne at the Captain’s Welcome Drinks and enjoyed another delicious dinner before ending the day in the bar listening to our expedition leader, Woody, as he shared marine superstitions with us.  A busy day at sea!

Wildlife-Watch-Day-2-28-Dec

Magic Moment

I had seen whales before but there was something special today about the vertical shots of water that preceded a flash of grey in the sea ahead.  It felt symbolic of our voyage, a teaser of what was to come and it culminated with a close up view of the long and slender Sei Whale that was gracing us with its presence.

Did You Know?

It’s considered bad luck to carry bananas aboard a ship, to whistle or to use the word ‘Titanic’.

Tip of the Day:

Patience is a virtue, especially when you are watching whales.  A viewing that starts with a spray of water and grey dot in the distance may end with a magical close up sighting as it nears the ship.

Thought of the Day:

As I stared out at sea, searching for the wildlife I knew lay under the water, I was reminded how important it is to disconnect to reconnect.  I had turned off my phone and ignored the availability of satellite internet on board.  I was beginning to disconnect from the cyber world and was already feeling a renewed connection with the real world.  I was forgetting the past, ignoring the future and embracing the moment I was in.  I had redirected my energy from a daily routine in to a month of new experiences.  And I felt great!

Photo of the Day:

Sei-Whale

 

Day 3: Falkland Islands – Carcass Island & Saunders Island

Map-Day-3

Latitude / Longitude:  

Westpoint Pass                 51°18.6’S / 060°32.6’W

Carcass Island                  51°19.0’S / 060°14.9’W

Saunders Island               51°18.0’S / 060°14.0’W

Through the Porthole:

Quote of the Day (from the Quark crew):

“I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross”  (Robert Cushman Murphy 1912)

About the Day:

Each evening on the Ocean Diamond begins with a recap of the day’s events and a briefing of the activities planned for the following day.  All descriptions of planned activities are preceded with ‘we hope to…’, such is the nature of expedition travel.

So it is a relief to open my eyes and ears to a wake-up call that confirms we will be landing at Carcass Island, a 4,680 acre island that lies to the northwest of West Falkland.

I begin the day out on deck as the Captain navigates the ship through Westpoint Pass, a narrow passage known locally as “Woolly Gut” that runs between West Falkland and Westpoint Island.  I then enjoy some breakfast before excitedly donning my waterproof parka, trousers and boots and clip on my lifejacket.  I line alongside the other passengers on the 4th deck as we step through the tray of disinfectant, give our names to the member of the crew responsible for ensuring we all come back on board, climb down the gangway and reach out to the zodiac driver with the sailor’s grip we’ve been instructed to use.

The effectiveness of my waterproof clothing is immediately tested as I arrive on Carcass Island soaking wet from the seawater that has found its way into the zodiac and step into shin-high water to walk onto land.  In addition to soaking up the rain that is falling steadily, I also soak up the moment I am in.  This is my first encounter with penguins on this journey and I am introduced to the Magellanic and Gentoo penguins that live on the island.  Being free of cats, rats and mice, the Island boasts an abundant bird population and the nesting Skuas are almost camouflaged on the ground around us.

I am feeling energised from being up close and personal with the Falkland Islands wildlife and the best of the day is still to come.  Saunders Island is home to approximately 11,000 breeding pairs of black-browed albatrosses and is the stage upon which the Rockhopper Penguins perform their entertaining antics with each other.  Magellanic, Gentoo and King Penguins also co-exist on the island and the few hours we have on land simply fly by too fast.  I reluctantly return to the ship, inspired by what I have seen and excited about what still lays ahead of me on this journey.

 

Wildlife-Watch-Day-3-29-Dec

Magic Moment

As we landed at Saunders Island, passengers either hovered by the small group of King Penguins near the landing site or headed straight to the larger Rockhopper Penguin colony and nesting black-browed albatrosses further up the hill.  This gave me and a friend the perfect opportunity to take a detour on the beach with one of the expedition crew.  We embraced the solitude as we watched the little Rockhoppers follow each other into the sea, hop across the rocks and interact with each other.

Did You Know?

Predators of Rockhopper Penguins include blue sharks, fur seals and leopard seals.  Eggs and chicks fall prey to skuas, petrels, kelp gulls and other sea birds.

Tip of the Day:

Protect your photography equipment.  A dry bag (Sealine Boundary) proved essential when our first zodiac experience became a wet one.  The backup camera body I brought had its first workout after my camera objected to shooting in the rain at Carcass Island.

Thought of the Day:

As I ended the day with a beer at the open bar, I felt a foreign sense of contentment.  In just a few days, I had successfully disconnected from the outside world, had observed wildlife in its natural environment, had met a group of amazing people with diverse personalities and backgrounds and was about to visit one of the world’s most remote capitals, the historically rich Stanley.  I was already enjoying an incredible voyage and I was only a quarter of the way through it.

Photo of the Day:

Rockhopper-Penguins

 

Day 4: Falkland Islands – Stanley

Map-day-4

Latitude / Longitude:  

Port Stanley                       51°41.2’S / 057°50.5’W

Through the Porthole:

Quote of the Day (from the Quark crew):

“The world is only tolerable because of the empty spaces in it – millions of people all crowded together, fighting and struggling, but behind them, somewhere, enormous, empty places.  Man needs an empty space somewhere for the spirit to rest in. (Doris Lessing)

About the Day:

Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands, a small town that is home to just over 2,000 residents and the site of our landing today.  We get into the zodiacs with an ease that suggests we have been riding in them all our lives and step onto the jetty in one of the few dry landings we will experience.  I feel rather claustrophobic as I walk through the gift shop in front of the jetty and hurry past the postcards and souvenirs in search of the fresh air and open spaces I am beginning to become addicted to.

A walk along Ross Road, the seafront path that houses the majority of the town’s key sights is like a walk through an outdoor museum.  Stanley is rich in history.  It was established in the early 1840s and used as a port of call by sealers and whalers until late in the 19th century.  This was followed by a period of sheep farming which became the island’s primary industry until the 1980s.  In 1982 Argentina occupied and invaded the islands in what became known as the Falklands War.  The locals were eventually liberated by British soldiers and splashes of England can been seen throughout the town.  Unfortunately signs of the battle are still prevalent in Stanley today, including the large number of landmines that are scattered throughout the island.  And the relationship between Argentina and UK remains strained, recently reignited by a short term military placement of Prince William on the island.

After enjoying our last interaction with civilisation on this journey I return to the ship for an afternoon of lectures, photography from the bow, a drink with new friends and another delicious dinner!

Again, I sleep like a baby, rocked by the gentle swell of the seas and my last thought as I fall to sleep is ‘it doesn’t get much better than this’.  I don’t realise that it won’t be long before I proved wrong…

Wildlife-Watch-Day-4-30-Dec

Magic Moment

The Falkland Islands is often overshadowed by the other locations on this itinerary, but beginning the expedition with a landing here gives it the attention it deserves.  Stanley is rich with history and one of the most energising ‘walks by the sea’ I have enjoyed.

Did You Know?

Around 2,000 people live in Port Stanley, one of the most remote capitals in the world.

Tip of the Day:

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.  For land excursions, dress for all seasons and don’t let the weather ruin your experience. The weather is out of your control but your attitude towards a rainy day is not.

Thought of the Day:

As I walked around the last site of civilisation we would see on this journey, I was reminded of the damage humans do to each other, to the landscape and to the wildlife that we share this planet with.   It was a sombre realisation.

Photo of the Day:

Port-Stanley

 

 

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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

Comments

  1. Wow, Antarctica? Looks like a fun trip. Hope I can visit there one day 😀

  2. I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica, and never thought it was possible. Thank you for your amazing posts. I now want to go there more than ever!!! Hoping this dream will come true one day!

  3. Kris De Roo says:

    That sei whale is actually a fin (B. physalus). Note the backswept dorsal fin with the smooth transition from back to leading edge. Sei whales have tall, upright dorsal fins with an acute angle between the leading edge of the dorsal fin and back.

    • Thanks Kris! My whale identification lessons began on this trip and clearly I need more lessons 🙂 I am still fascinated by the number and diversity of the whale species out there!

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