Antarctic cruises Reviews

Antarctica – surprise and delight

Yesterday I returned to Terra Firma after 10 days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, and never have I felt the inadequacy of the photograph more keenly.

You know what it’s like when you’ve been somewhere special, and the photos can serve only to give you the essence, a mere hint, of the true experience. The photos just capture the visual clues, and those are sadly two dimensional and with a fraction of the full three hundred sixty degree wonder of the place. They fail to capture the context of the experience (some people’s journals are better than others’ in achieving this!), and make no attempt to summon up our other senses.

Yesterday I returned to Terra Firma after 10 days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula, and never have I felt the inadequacy of the photograph more keenly. Now, its fair to say that I’m neither the most gifted of photographers, nor do I have the greatest camera. Nevertheless, even the great landscape and wildlife photographers, even, dare I say it, David Attenborough, have yet to convey just how extraordinary the landscapes and wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula really are.

I’m not going to attempt to try and do this with my own clumsy words; however I do want to share five things that surprised and delighted me as we explored the South Shetlands and the west coast of the Antarctic peninsula. Five things that I know my own photos completely fail to capture…:

All around you
I’ve been lucky enough to visit all sorts of wonderful places all over the planet, and enjoyed numerous adventures in the Andes over the last 15 years. However none of them offer quite such a 360 degree spectacle. One of the challenges for the amateur photographer in Antarctica is that quite often you don’t even know which way to look. In every direction there’s something unique, terrifying, beautiful.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.10.18                Paradise Bay

Wildlife and Landscapes are one
For years I’ve read and dreamt about sailing down the Lemaire channel; a waterway just 500m wide in places, dotted with large icebergs, and with 1,000m peaks rising up either side of you covered with hanging glaciers.
What I didn’t expect, was that when we sailed north we would be escorted by two minke whales for the full seven miles of the channel. Were they guiding us along? Riding in our bow wave? Trying to get rid of us? Who knows, but these interactions between the wildlife and the landscapes are everywhere: sea birds resting atop huge icebergs, sea lions sunbathing on the snow- covered shorelines, penguins feeding in the waters all around you. All of this serves to remind us that these animals, through millennia of evolution, belong here. We do not!

SONY DSC                                                     Gentoo Penguins

Fellow passengers
When a bunch of strangers share a wonderful and extraordinary day together the atmosphere that evening at the bar and at dinner is bound to be energetic, open and engaging.
On our cruise we had folks from all over the world, honeymooners, retirees, doctors, farmers, pilots, successful entrepreneurs, professional photographers. An extraordinary gathering but with one unifying theme that was a passion for the great outdoors and the evenings were always interesting and fun.
It was a real pleasure to meet everyone and get to know so many so well.

Sense of awe for the early explorers
When you witness the South Shetlands and then the Antarctic Peninsula for the first time you are filled with a sense of awe and dread at this inhospitable and seemingly impregnable coastline. Everywhere you look there are vast mountains and the continental ice sheet leading right down to the coast and into the water. Bays and beaches are few and far between and where they do exist they are surrounded by peaks, glaciers and crevasses.

Whilst on board I read the history of Shackelton and the Endurance and often found myself imagining what it must have been like for them. How did Shackelton, Scott and so many others have the audacity to think they could cross this vast continent? And what must it have been like to endure the Antarctic Winter, to have been stuck in the ice, and to sail the southern ocean in a 22 foot lifeboat.

To witness this environment from the warmth of comfort of a modern expedition vessel is one thing, to attempt to imagine what the early explorers went through is another.

SONY DSC                                          South Shetlands

Every iceberg is different…really!
A question we occasionally hear from people wanting to visit Patagonia and Antarctica is: I’ve seen a glacier before, is it with going to all these others? I guess it’s our job to help people work out the right answer to this question!

I was re-equipped to answer this question with my recent Antarctic experience.
The icebergs around the Antarctic Peninsula range from 1-4 metre blocks (known as Bergy-Bits or Growlers), to building sized monsters, and the tabular icebergs can measure more than 100km long, as they detach from the continental ice sheet (the ice layer that is 2,000 to 5,000m deep across the Antarctic Continent). What is most extraordinary is how unique each is. Colours differ based on the age and density of the ice, of erosion from the waves and wind craft unique and fascinating patterns up and down the glacier.


Everyone on board our voyage had a different experience and I’m sure they had their own surprises. For me every day held something new, unexpected and exciting…and I’m aching to get back (perhaps with a new camera and a tripod next time!).

Luke’s review of the expedition vessel and team of guides to follow.