Photo Story: 10 Magical Moments in Antarctica, South Georgia & The Falkland Islands

“What was the highlight of your trip to Antarctica” is a common question asked by friends on the trip, at home and I’ve even asked it myself.

And it’s impossible to answer. 

My three-week adventure in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica was a collection of highlights, experienced in what felt like a magical bubble, such is the paradox of time when travelling. 

Magical moments can happen in seconds, hours, days, when you least expect it or sometimes when things don’t go to plan.  On this adventure they happened on a daily basis, a collection of magical moments culminating in the travel experience of a lifetime.

Here are just a few:

1. Fast Food

Next time you think you are having a stressful day, take a moment to think of nesting penguins in Antarctica.  Skua’s repeatedly circle their colony looking for a meal, creating a stressful environment for new penguin families.  We witnessed this first-hand one afternoon as a Skua dived towards a distracted penguin and stole its egg.  We appreciated we had just seen something incredible, but the show was only just beginning.  The Skua wanted more than an egg for its main meal and began a series of calculated moves as it targeted the mother of two chicks.  It continually pecked and harassed it until it moved slightly from its nest, exposing the vulnerable little chicks.  Within seconds the Skua had both chicks in it’s beak, moved away from the penguin, dropped one of the chicks on the ground, stomached the other one like a drink of water, scooped up the second one and gulped it down.  As the colony aired their objection in voice only, the Skua simply stood by, digested the chicks and flew away.

Being mother to Gentoo Penguins is a perilous role on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Kellie-Netherwood-Skua-Collage-

 

2. A Whale of a Time at Wilhelmina Bay

“Good morning everyone, this is your wake up call.  It’s a mild, clear day and we have sightings of a whale on the port side”.  This is what I awoke to on our first day at sea as we headed towards the Falklands Island. And it only got better as we enjoyed a number of Sei, Orca, Minke and Humpback Whale sightings in the open sea.  But the best was yet to come and idyllic Wilhelmina Bay in Antarctica became the arena on which a spectacular humpback whale display took place.  The Bay provided a stunning stage of icebergs, floating sea ice and glass-like water.

Not for the first time, I appreciated that silence is deafening in Antarctica.

Kellie-Netherwood-whale-collage

 

3. Polar Plunge

A few months before arriving in Antarctica I made the decision to challenge myself to swimming in the icy cold Antarctic water in recognition of the challenges families with Heart Kids face on a daily basis, inspired by my beautiful nephew Jake.  As friends and family began to kindly donate money to this cause, I realised I couldn’t back out and maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t really thought it through!  But as the day arrived, I felt a little buzz of excitement and enthusiastically ran towards the freezing water at Deception Island.  The sensation of first hitting the sub zero water felt like an electric shock that radiated from my toenails to the ends of my hair!  My aim was to swim towards the zodiac and return to shore.  The zodiac seemed to be creeping further away and felt continually out of reach, motivating me to try and call out “stop moving the bloody zodiac”.  This is when I realised I physically could not speak and as the feeling in my body migrated from bitter stinging to numbness, my mind also emptied.  All my energy was spent inching closer to shore.  It was an incredible experience and I certainly felt alive!

The opportunity to swim in Antarctica attracted a diverse group of passengers with the first plunger being a 71 year-old man from Australia and the last plunger an American man a decade older!

Kellie-Netherwood-Polar-Plunge

 

4. Penguin Thievery

I loved the BBC’s Frozen Planet series and have watched it repeatedly.  And I still find myself giggling at the scenes depicting penguins building their nests from rocks, sometimes stealing from unsuspecting neighbours.  Seeing this first hand in Antarctica had me in fits of giggles again and I realised there was probably very little editing required by the BBC.  I’m not sure what I find most entertaining: the serious look on a penguin’s face as it searches for that perfect rock, the little waddle towards its nest with new rock in its bill, waiting casually for a neighbour to turn their back before quickly stealing a rock and rushing off or the confused look on the neighbour’s face as it turns around, realising a rock is missing and simply goes looking for another one.

Penguins are adorable but they don’t seem to have the sharpest brains of the animal kingdom!

Kellie-Netherwood-Penguins

 

5. Becoming a Bird Watcher

I never really understood the appeal of bird watching.  To be honest, it kind of made me yawn.  Then I bought my first DLSR camera and started to see it in a different light.  Then I shared two days on the open sea from Ushuaia to the Falkland Islands with a vast array of seabirds searching for fish in the water disturbed by our ship.  Then I photographed Albatross chicks being fed by their mothers at Saunders Bay in the Falkland Islands.  Then I sailed past Shag Rock on the way to South Georgia on an unusually clear day and kept my mouth closed as I looked up at the hundreds of blue-eyed shags flying ahead.  And then I joined the expedition’s Ornithologist on a hunt for a nesting Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross at Grytviken in South Georgia.

After discovering a handful of nesting birds and being treated to a lengthy and entertaining mating ritual, it’s fair to say I’ve begun to understand and appreciate the Bird Watching game!

Kellie-Netherwood-Albatross-Collage

 

6. Crashing Ice

The first iceberg on our journey appeared on New Years Day on our wayto South Georgia.  It was a special moment.  There was nothing exceptional about it, but it felt symbolic.  It felt like a preview of what lay ahead, a sign that we had crossed into an incredibly unique part of the world.  Just over a week later, I found myself in a zodiac cruising around Pleneau Island, the location of an iceberg graveyard and the final resting place for old rolled and large tabular ‘bergs.  A day already filled with indescribable highlights culminated with a crashing iceberg within metres of our zodiac.  The crash itself only took a few seconds, but the thunderous explosion and subsequent wave in the water felt like it was playing out in slow motion.

The images of the crash below were taken with my 24mm lens!

Kellie-Netherwood-Iceberg

 

7. Penguin Aquatics

The contrast of penguins on land to those in the water is quite extreme.  Their uncoordinated waddle on foot is replaced with a graceful arch as they make their way through the sea.  Groups of penguins seem to constantly bump into each other as they wander around the islands, but they all know their place in the sea.  Penguins are symbolic of Antarctica and there was no shortage of them on our land excursions, in the sea alongside our ship and navigating their way around our zodiacs.  We were returning to our ship after a particularly special zodiac cruise where we had encountered leopard seals and whales as we moved through sea ice, surrounded by intimidating glaciers.  Just as I turned to a friend and said ‘how can it get better than this’, it did!  Hundreds of Gentoo Penguins surrounded our zodiac as they performed a three-fold routine.  First they calmly floated on the water, duck-like, before simultaneously diving beneath the water.  The silence was deafening as we watched them slowly rise to the surface in the incredibly clear water.  The silence was then broken as they announced their reappearance with a thunderous symphony of splashing.

You know it’s a magical moment when your zodiac driver stops driving and takes out his camera!

Kellie-Netherwood-Water-Penguins

 

8. Part of a Wildlife Documentary

Although modern technology creates more opportunities to share the wonders of the natural world through television and the Internet, it has also contributed to the elimination of the ‘wow factor’.  As I sat in a zodiac cruising to Salisbury Plain, our first landing in South Georgia, I wondered if I would be underwhelmed by the King Penguin colony awaiting me.  I had seen so many images of these colonies that I knew what to expect.  Didn’t I?  Wrong!  Nothing could have prepared me for the scene I walked into on the island.  I felt like I was part of a wildlife documentary as I visited the home of thousands of King Penguins that they shared with aggressive fur seals.  I was constantly changing lenses as I tried to capture both the entertaining individual personalities of the penguins and the large and crowded colony that populated the picturesque island.

It was one of the few places in the world I have visited that was completely void of human immersion.  I was on the outside looking it and very lucky to be there.

Kellie-Netherwood-King-Penguin

 

9. Territorial Seals

We encountered a number of seals lazing on ice floes during our zodiac cruises in Antarctica and whilst they provided a picturesque foreground to landscape photographs, their indifference to us was a little dull.  The exception was in Pleneau Island when we noticed a shadow in the water alongside our zodiac.  A leopard seal navigated under and around us as he searched for an ice floe to rest upon.  There was no shortage of ice in the area but a cheeky side to his personality was exposed as he chose the one floe in the area already occupied by another leopard seal.  The images below capture the moment he tried to sneak up on the ice that was already taken by the leopard seal that looks like it is smiling but is in fact about to growl a warning to him.

A large leopard seal swimming beneath your zodiac is both an exciting and unnerving experience!

Kellie-Netherwood-Seal

 

10. Then & Now

We were reminded of the unpredictability of expedition travel as we left South Georgia towards the Antarctic Peninsula.  The original plan to head to the South Orkney Islands was thwarted by sea ice and we changed route towards Elephant Island.  As we experienced overnight winds of 91 knots, a constantly changing route due to sea ice and abandoned landings as a result of significant swells, I couldn’t help but compare our experience to Shackleton and his crew a century earlier.  As the movement of the ship rocked me to sleep, I thought of the sleepless nights they endured.  As I added an additional layer before heading out onto the deck, I reflected on the constantly wet clothing they wore for more than a year.  As I decided between three options of main dishes for dinner, I felt fortunate that my choices were not limited to the diet of penguin and seal that they had.  And as we sailed past an invisible Elephant Island, blocked by fog, I compared 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.

Kellie-Netherwood-ship

 

Have you been to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia or Antarctica?  What was your magical moment? 

 

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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. The penguin aquatics look spectacular! All 10 sound like amazing experiences! 😀

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