Zodiac Cruising With Quark Expeditions In Antarctica [VIDEO]

Antarctica with Quark Expeditions

Travelling to Antarctica gave us a number of firsts. Our first time on the white continent, our first time seeing penguins, seals and whales in their natural environment, our first time on a boat for 10 days, and the first time we took a polar dip. All of this was incredibly exciting, and to top it all off, we also got to spend a lot of time zooming around the icy waters of Antarctica in a zodiac, another first for us!

For those of you who don’t know what a zodiac is, it’s an incredibly sturdy inflatable craft which can nimbly navigate through mellow iceberg graveyards as well as cope with the choppy waters as you leave the Antarctica peninsula. For each of the five days we were down in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, we took two excursions a day via the zodiacs, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

We saw some incredible sights in our time in the zodiacs, and it’s something we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. It’s not easy to get to Antarctica, but once you’re there it is one of the most incredible sights you will ever witness.  If you enjoyed this, then why not check out our full highlights video of ‘4 minutes in Antarctica’.

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Deception Island - The Awful Consequences of Whaling in Antarctica

Amidst the excitement of watching whales fluke and dive around us, penguins going about their hilarious daily routines, and the general excitement of being in Antarctica, there was a more somber tone to one of our excursions whilst on the white continent.

deception island
In the late 19th and early 20th century, whaling on the white continent was widespread and barbaric, with many stations set up around the continent to process the whale carcasses. We were horrified to learn of the farming of the whales, primarily for blubber for lamps. Thankfully, with the use of kerosene and vegetable oils replacing whale oil, the need for blubber markedly decreased, and whales numbers are slowly recovering despite still being hunted in the area.

deception island

At the risk of sounding pompous, seeing these animals in the flesh, rising and falling in the waters surrounding Antarctica, almost folding back into the water with such grace and precision made us sick to think of the killing that took place here, and still does around the world.

deception island

As a result of the whaling in Antarctica, a number of whaling sites remain in situ on the continent, acting as a morbid reminder of man’s earlier disastrous interventions in the waters of Antarctica. These sites have been preserved as a reminder of the terrible things man can do to these beautiful animals, the bones remaining in situ as a stark reminder of the white continents black past.

Deception Island

Maneuvering a ship into a now sea flooded active volcanic caldera in Antarctica sounds like a scene from a movie, but we experienced this as we visited Deception Island. After navigating through ‘Neptune’s Bellows’, the small opening in the side of the crater, we entered alongside incredibly red rich cliff faces on one side, and a steaming volcanic brown sand beach on the other.

deception island

Due to its location and topography, Deception island was a favoured refuge from storms and icebergs in Antarctica in the early 19th century. It therefore became a popular location for sealers and whalers until the station was abandoned in 1931, following a drop in whale oil prices and the great depression. We found it fascinating to see the remains of the island’s history, including old scientific stations and factory ships, an aircraft hanger and huge rusting iron boilers and tanks!

deception island

deception island

deception island

deception island

On our visit to deception island, we were allowed to walk around the various relics of the whaling days: old oil vats and buildings, and sadly, the bones of unfortunate whales slaughtered on the continent for no crime worse than having something that humans found useful and needed.

There was, however, some time for light relief as we made our own piece of Antarctic history by taking the leap and completing the Polar Plunge, a freezing leap into the freezing Antarctic waters. This was something we were glad to have done, but will never do again!

deception island

Our visit to Deception island and the abandoned whaling stations was one of the most interesting parts of our Antarctica adventure. Seeing these places made our moments with the whales of Antarctica all the more special. It was a sobering moment on a trip of a lifetime.

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4 Minutes in Antarctica Video

Do you dream of visiting Antarctica?

Our 4 Minutes in Antarctica video is a summary of our time on the frozen continent with Quark Expeditions, an inspiring journey through deep blue Antarctic waters, navigating magnificent icebergs and meeting inquisitive penguins, whales, birds and seals! If you enjoy this then head on over and watch our other videos from the ‘4 Minutes In…’ series, including 4 Minutes In South America, New Zealand & Asia.

4 Minutes In Antarctica Video

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minke whales

Minke Whales Circling Our Zodiac in Antarctica [VIDEO]

Whilst cruising the waters of Neko Harbour with Quark Expeditions, we were intercepted by two curious Minke whales who got very close to our zodiac, and circled us for 10 minutes!

Minke whales are some of the most gracious and intriguing animals we’ve encountered in all our travels. We spent a magical time as they slowly grew more confident and came closer to our zodiac. At some points they were less than a metre away from us, and we could see them below the surface of the crystal clear waters of Antarctica as they checked us out.

And then of course when they surfaced we saw more of them as they rose and fell back into the calm waters around us. Words do not do it justice, so check out our (shaky) raw footage as our interested Minke whales swam around us!

This was one of our favourite moments in our time in Antarctica, and we headed back on our zodiac to the ship in awe of what we had just witnessed. This sums up Antarctica for us, you never quite know what you’re going to experience each day. We we’re zooming around the waters looking for interesting icebergs and penguins, and then all of a sudden two Minke whales decide to change our plans! Even when you set foot on Antarctica, plans can change quite quickly as well!

minke whales

When we visited Deception island, an old and abandoned whaling station set on a volcanic caldera (honest!), we had no intention of completing the Polar Plunge, a famous icy run and dive into the waters of Antarctica. But guess what? We took on the Polar Plunge, and won! Check out the video in our article there!

Barry actually had to complete it TWICE as the first video didn’t quite work – talk about dedication!

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Our Polar Plunge In Antarctica! [VIDEO]

“This is totally stupid” we thought to ourselves as we stood on the volcanic brown sand beach of deception island, our bare feet cold in the sand.

Two minutes earlier (after being convinced by our friends), we’d made our decision, we were going to do the polar plunge with Quark Expeditions, a breathtaking run into the icy waters of Antarctica!

polar plunge

We’d quickly taken off our jackets, fleeces, jumpers, thermal tops, boots, thermal trousers, waterproof trousers, gloves and woolly hats. We were now standing on Antarctica in our swimming costumes ready for the dip! It was cold, and the shore line was barely 10 metres away. We psyched ourselves up, took a deep breath and sprinted to the shore line and into the icy Antarctic waters!

As we sprinted into the water, at first we couldn’t feel the cold. Up to our waists after a couple of seconds, there was no going back, and we dived head first into the icy cold water! Now we were cold! After what could only have been a couple of seconds, we hit the surface again and frantically scrambled back out of the water to the safety of the shoreline. Greeted by our friends Lindsay and John with towels and dressing gowns, we wrapped them around us and looked at each other. We had done it, we had completed the polar dip challenge!

polar plunge

To prove we did it, we decided to borrow Lindsay and John’s GoPro to film the event! Unfortunately, due to the immense shock of the cold water, let’s say the video footage of the dip with Laura and I was…shaky at best! The solution, well… do the polar plunge again! Check out the second attempt at the polar plunge below! With thanks to John and Lindsay for the use of their GoPro!

The Polar Plunge

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Mesmerised By The Wildlife In Antarctica

Our visit to Danco island coincided with some of the most stunning blue skies and calm waters we experienced in our time on Antarctica.

They were the most perfect conditions to explore more of the peninsula.

wildlife in antarctica

First up, we took a zodiac cruise around Danco island, where we saw some of the most awe inspiring and beautiful icebergs. We spent so much time focusing on the strange shapes and textures that are created as the ice melts and the trapped air is released. These twin icebergs in particular had an incredible shape and texture to them.

wildlife in antarctica

As we drifted through the icy blue scene, the calm winds meant the water remained glass like, allowing amazing reflections of the black, white and blue islands surrounding us in the water. We gently drifted around Danco island in awe of the scene, and our luck with the weather.

wildlife in antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica

After cruising around the island, we landed and were greeted by a large group of very friendly penguins, who moments before had been showboating their incredible talents of porpoising in the waters off shore. They were obviously wondering what these big, yellow things were on their turf.

wildlife in antarctica

On Danco island, we had a choice of a hike to the top of one of the peaks, or a more casual trek along the coastline. We opted for the latter, and we were delighted to find that no-one else had decided to take our option! We had the place to ourselves, and sat and watched as hundreds of penguins criss crossed our path. It was honestly one of the most magical experiences of our lives.

wildlife in antarctica

After sitting in quiet contemplation, sadly we had to make our way back to the zodiacs to get back to the ship. Not wanting to interfere with the penguins, we had to wait for so many to cross our path that we almost missed the last zodiac back to the ship as we had to let the penguins pass before we moved!

wildlife in antarctica

After a couple of hours on the boat to grab some lunch, we were back out in the afternoon on our zodiacs for a cruise around Neko Harbour to see more of the wildlife in Antarctica. The harbour itself was incredible, and offered an almost 360 degree view of enormous glaciers, penguin colonies and huge icebergs! Truly stunning.

wildlife in antarctica

wildlife in antarctica

We also saw a huge crabeater seal chilling on an iceberg, the scars of many battles clear across his body!

wildlife in antarctica

Upon landing, we sat and admired another penguin colony lovingly protecting their eggs. After a few minutes, we experienced a very sad but natural moment. Within a few seconds of noticing one egg left unprotected, a loud woosh startled us as a Skua bird swooped onto the defenceless egg, launched into the air and landed a few feet from us where it proceeded to devour the egg (and contents). It was a sobering moment, but one that occurs quite frequently apparently.

wildlife in antarctica

After the drama of the egg stealing, we sat and enjoyed the view out to the glacier across the water, listening to the loud cracks piercing the silence as huge chunks broke off and tumbled down the mountain into the water. Day 4 with Quark Expeditions had been one of the best, and a perfect way to spend a day after our night camping on the continent. After all the excitement, we looked forward to a warm shower and a bed not made of ice!

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Port Lockroy & Paradise Bay, Antarctica

Antarctica has so much to offer, much of which was encapsulated in our third day on the continent.

Following on from our second day in Antarctica, spotting our first seals, watching our first penguins up close and cruising through the iceberg graveyard, we were excited to see what treasures Day 3 would bring.

paradise bay

First up was a visit to a small island on the Peninsula to spend some more time admiring our favourite locals of Antarctica – the penguins! This was an extra special experience as this was the moment we witnessed first hand the famous stone stealing game! Check out our stone stealing penguin video to see footage of one cheeky Gentoo penguin causing a stir in this colony!

A short walk along the island from the penguin action, we also saw these colossal whale bones, remnants of Antarctica’s commercial whaling era. Having seen the magnificence of humpback and minke whales swimming around our boat, we were glad the era of whaling on this particular island in Antarctica is long gone and these bones were relics of old bygone times.

paradise bay

Now very close to British Antarctic Territory, it was time for us to visit an old British base and research station on the harbour of Port Lockroy, exciting!

paradise bay

Positioned on the shore of Wiencke Island, the base was abandoned in 1962 and is now a museum and post office operated by the United Kingdom Heritage Trust. With little change from the time it was in use, it was fascinating to walk around the base and get a real sense of what it was like to live on Antarctica.

Much like going back in time, the kitchen was well stocked with food rations (including a bread maker!), the large dining room still adorned with quaint period furnishings, basic sleeping quarters and a small research lab containing original instruments used by the scientists. I can imagine after 1 or 2 years there, it would be easy to get fed up looking at the same posters on the wall and eating the same tinned tuna!

paradise bay

paradise bay

Paradise Bay

After a break for lunch, we sailed a little further along the Peninsula to reach our afternoon destination, aptly named ‘Paradise Bay’. Here we tackled our first hike of the trip through deep snow up to the highest point, where we admired the beautiful view, the penguins below us and surrounding calm Antarctic waters.

paradise bay

paradise bay

Following our time on the harbour, we spent an hour cruising around the gigantic glaciers that littered the bay. Every so often, our guide would cut the engine of our zodiac to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the place, with the silence only occasionally interrupted by huge chunks of ice crashing down into the water from the melting glaciers around us – amazing!

paradise bay

paradise bay

Alas it was time to head back to the ship. The dark clouds started to roll in, the temperature dropped dramatically and the whites of Antarctica changed dramatically to dark greys, it was incredibly atmospheric.

paradise bay

It was another brilliant day of excursions on the continent, and we were delighted to witness first hand the art of penguin stone stealing, hear the sounds of glacier falls and visit an old British Antarctic research base.  After such an exciting day, a night in our comfortable warm beds on the Quark Expeditions ship was very appealing! However, we had other plans.

With a nod from our captain confirming suitable weather conditions, we would be returning to the continent that evening to camp without a tent! So after an early dinner, we prepared ourselves for our cold night under the stars (or as it turned out, under the sun)!

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Camping On Antarctica (Without A Tent!)

“We must be out of our minds, this is ridiculous!”

I thought, as I shovelled another load of snow out of our slowly forming hole in the ice. It was 8pm but as light as midday. We were cold, and we were about to camp on Antarctica!

things to do in antarctica

It all came about a few months earlier, when we were given the option of spending a night on the frozen continent with Quark Expeditions, joining a small band of people who could lay claim to it.  So after a false start the night before when gales made it too dangerous, we were good to go for our camping experience. After an early dinner on the boat, we raced upstairs to layer up for what would prove to be a very cold night!

On went the thermal under layer, along with thick socks. Then the second long sleeve top and ski trousers. Then the jumper, fleece and waterproof jackets. Throw on a pair of boots, and a wooly hat and we were good to for our night on the continent!

Zooming along the water in our zodiac, sleeping bags in hand, we were excited and a little apprehensive about the evening. Our briefing prior to leaving was simple, wrap up warm and don’t forget anything. Oh, and being too cold was not a good enough reason to be taken back to the ship. Once we were on the continent, barring an emergency, we would be there for the night.

things to do in antarctica

After landing on Antarctica, we found a piece of snow and ice to call our own and began ‘making our beds’. Out came the shovel and we dug a hole in the ground just big enough for us to squeeze in and protect us a little from the wind. After 15 minutes we had our magnificent bed, water bottle holders and a small (dare I say classy) wall surrounded us. All that was left was to lay our sleeping bags inside our bivi bags and we were ready for sweet icy dreams.

You’re probably thinking, what about the tent? Well, in our infinite wisdom and excitement, we opted to go ‘au naturale’ on the continent and sleep under the stars, or as it turned out, the sun. No tent, just us in a sleeping bag inside a bivi bag. Here’s some footage of us making our bed for the evening!

Getting into bed was a bit of a mission. First up, the boots needed to come off before we quickly slipped into our bags. After a delicate balancing act of feet in the air much like a turtle stuck upside down on its shell, we wriggled into our bags, pulled the draw strings up and hunkered down for a night we’d never forget.

things to do in antarctica

For a while we both lay awake, but after a while we must have dropped off to sleep until we were rudely awakened by large lumps of snow and ice hitting the outside of our bags. Confused, and bleary eyed, we opened the top of our bags ever so slightly and peered out into broad sunshine. It was 2am, and our friends sleeping a few feet away from us had woken us up with snowballs as there was something in the water a few metres directly in front of us.

Excited, we both wriggled into a semi sitting up position, and then we heard it. ‘Peugh’! The unmistakeable sound of a whale coming up for air, we scanned the water and there, in front of us, a humpback whale arched its back and dipped into the perfectly still water. Magical! A couple of minutes later, it was back, the water spouting from its blowhole as it meandered around in front of us. It was incredible to watch, and we sat there for 15 minutes until we began to get cold and dipped back into our sleeping bags to warm back up.

From then on the night was colder, and we were kept awake by the whale spouting every few minutes but it didn’t bother us, we were being kept company on Antarctica with a whale! This was our view as we lay awake during the night…

things to do in antarctica

The rest of the night passed without incident, and at 6am we packed up our bags and took our zodiacs back to the ship to warm up and grab some breakfast before our excursions for the day.

It had been a magical experience on the continent, the weather had held out for us, we slept out under the sky and even had a whale to keep us company for the night. For non campers we were very proud of ourselves!

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Navigating The Lemaire Channel On Our Antarctica Cruise

Following on from our fantastic introduction to Antarctica, the following day we were awoken early to an announcement that we would be attempting to move through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow piece of water within the peninsula!

The channel is often blocked by huge icebergs, and today we would be attempting to break through the channel to reach our destinations of Plenau and Peterman islands!

antarctica cruise

As we reached the beginning of the channel, it didn’t look good to our untrained eyes. Huge icebergs the size of office buildings littered the channel, and as we edged closer, we made our way down to the bow to get a front row view of our journey through the icebergs!

This was a really exciting part of the journey, as our ship smashed through huge chunks of ice, brushing them aside as the captain navigated through the channel. We couldn’t believe the noise the ice made as it smashed against our hull – we were excited and nervous at the same time!

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

After making it through the channel unscathed, it was time to power on to our destination for the morning – Pleanu island on the peninsula. This island would be our first time on land on the peninsula, and our first chance to get up close and personal with the penguins of Antarctica! Pleanu island is also surrounded by the iceberg graveyard, a place where previously huge icebergs gather through the currents to slowly melt away.

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

Following our time on the island, we spent an hour cruising around the waters of Plenau island and the iceberg graveyard, marvelling at the gigantic icebergs that inhabit the bay.

antarctica cruise

We also saw our first colonies of birds, perched on rocky outcrops around the iceberg graveyard!

antarctica cruise

antarctica cruise

After the cruise in our zodiac, we made our way back to the Quark Expeditions ship for lunch, and we set sail for our destination for the afternoon – Peterman island! Again we were delighted to view a colony of Adelies, and witnessed the first chicks of the season!

antarctica cruise

We were lucky to spot our first (very relaxed) seals of our trip, relaxing and snoozing on a floating iceberg!

antarctica cruise

Our final stop on our zodiac cruise in the afternoon was to find two penguins floating on a very small iceberg, waiting for the seals to leave before it was safe to enter the water again!

antarctica cruise

And so our first full day on our Antarctica cruise came to a close. We had landed on our first island on the continent, seen our first penguins up close, cruised through the iceberg graveyard and seen our first seals of the trip! It was an incredible day, but the best was yet to come!

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The Ice Of Antarctica

One of the most magical parts of our time in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions was marvelling at the incredible ice sculptures that formed around the peninsula.

Huge chunks of ice would break off from the melting ice sheet, and buffeted by the harsh Antarctic conditions would form into some incredible shapes and sculptures. Here are some of our favourite photos of the icebergs of Antarctica!

antarctica

What we loved most was the uniqueness of each iceberg, and the fact we knew that they would look completely different a few days later.

antarctica

As we zoomed around on our zodiacs, we saw incredible shapes and colours form through the ice, all beautiful!

antarctica

antarctica

We even saw icebergs flip over, bringing the underside of the iceberg to the surface.

antarctica

antarctica

And of course, amazing icicles the size of people!

antarctica

We’ll never forget zooming around these incredible icebergs and ice formations in our time in Antarctica!

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penguins in antarctica

The Curious Penguins In Antarctica

“They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children or like old men, full of their own importance.” 

Apsley Cherry-Garrard (a survivor of Robert Falcon Scott’s fateful final expedition to the South Pole) on the penguins in Antarctica.

It was easy to fall in love with the penguins in Antarctica. Having never seen them in their natural habitat before, watching them up close going about their daily business was truly fascinating and comical at the same time! They always brought a smile to our faces, we just loved them.

penguins in antarctica
Penguin highway in Antarctica!

Our Favourite Penguins In Antarctica

We were lucky to see 4 different types of penguins on our trip. The first penguins we encountered were the ‘Gentoos’, recognisable by a wide white stripe across the top of their black head, a bright orange bill, pale pinkish webbed feet and a longish tale.

penguins in antarctica

With streamlined bodies they are also very fast swimmers, able to reach speeds of 36 kph! We witnessed this often from our zodiac as they porpoised around us at great speed, making it tricky to grab a photo! However like all penguins, they certainly don’t boast the same elegance or speed on land! We never got bored of watching them waddle along the snow, tail sticking out behind, sweeping from side to side – such a clumsy and adorable sight!

penguins in antarctica

We saw lots of Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, but one of our favourite moments was when we witnessed one cheeky Gentoo carrying out the common stone stealing game! We were familiar with this from a David Attenborough documentary but seeing it for ourselves was amazing and hilarious! We stood for 15 minutes watching the fascinating process of a male penguin performing his daily routine of sneaking around other mother penguins looking to steal the precious stones that they’re using to protect their young egg. The aim of course to  increase the size of his partner’s nest. It’s a status thing for the male penguins – bigger the nest, better the father apparently!

Wanting to avoid a fight, he would also target the most vulnerable mothers without a partner next to them standing guard. As you can imagine they got really upset about losing stones but couldn’t do much about it being perched on their eggs. No doubt their partner would return later though to steal the stones back…yep, the process is never ending! We found out that each nest typically fluctuates up and down 50 times per day as a result of stone stealing! Amazing, you would think they had a better system by now!

penguins in antarctica

The next type of penguin we saw was the ‘Adelie’. Slightly smaller than the Gentoos, these were recognisable by their almost full black faces, broken up only by a thin white ring around their eyes. Different to the Gentoos, their black feathers extend further along their bills, making the bils look smaller as it hides most of the natural redish/orange colour. Appearing all black and white and with a longish tail, these guys looked the smartest. Almost as if they were wearing a tuxedo! The most special moment we had with these guys was witnessing the first chicks of the season! After walking out to an outcrop on the continent, we watched two tiny brown furry chicks being lovingly protected by both parents amongst a small colony of Adelies. We couldn’t believe we were witnessing the first sighting of chicks for the season, an incredible sight!

penguins in antarctica

Next up we met the ‘Chinstraps’ who quickly became our favourites! Most aptly named, these were easily recognisable by their white faces and thin black line underneath their cheeks, making them appear as if they were wearing helmets – so cute!

penguins in antarctica

Our favourite moments with these guys was simply sitting watching them manoeuvre themselves up and down what we called the ‘penguin highways’. After some time spent fishing for krill in the nearby waters, they would hop back onto land and make the often long trek back up a hill of deep snow to reach their colony and breeding spot. Trying to make the journey easier for themselves, they often followed the same pathways of already flattened snow to reach their colony, hence the creation of penguin highways! Keeping our respectful 5 metres distance recommended to us by Quark Expeditions, we positioned ourselves next to the highways as they offered the best viewing of their adorable waddling, often in groups of two of three. Occasionally the penguins were just as intrigued by our presence, and would take a little detour over to briefly check us out, before continuing merrily along their way.

penguins in antarctica

We also learned that it’s common for penguins to get lost in Antarctica and end up in the wrong colony! I guess it can be easily done after spending a little too much time chilling out on a floating iceberg, or trying to recognise one snowy island from another! Anyway this was the reason that we saw a 4th type of penguin that we didn’t expect to see – the rock star ‘Macaroni’! Easily recognisable by its distinctive spikey yellow feathers sticking up above their eyes, we spotted one of these amongst a huge colony of Chinstraps. The poor guy had drifted so far from home that he had to settle with making friends in the closest colony he could find! We had no idea this could happen, see if you can spot him!

penguins in antarctica

We never imagined that we would grow to love the penguins in Antarctica as much as we did, but we found ourselves excited every time we encountered the penguins! We were sad to say goodbye to them!

penguins in antarctica

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Welcome to Antarctica!

A loud ‘ding dong’ bell noise wakes us from our slumber.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, good morning. We have successfully navigated the Drake passage, and if you would like to make your way up to the captain’s deck or observation lounge, you will get your first glimpse of Antarctica.”

What a wake up call!

Two days earlier, we had said goodbye to ‘the world’, sailing east along the Beagle channel with Quark Expeditions, before turning south to cross the infamous Drake passage, one of the roughest seas and synonymous with sickness and general pain.  We’d been lucky, and experienced the ‘Drake Lake’, one of those few opportunities a year where the water is flat and the crossing enjoyable.

how to get to antarctica

After a brilliant night’s sleep, we opened the curtains of our room, and had our first glimpse of the continent that few get a chance to see, Antarctica!

how to get to antarctica

As you can imagine, we were excited. Antarctica was always going to be a highlight of our trip, and now it was upon us. We stood on the captain’s deck, as he passed his orders to his first mate, and we began to navigate alongside the continent through the many islands of the Antarctic Peninsula.

For the next four days we would be negotiating countless enormous icebergs, glaciers and waterways, with our planned route changing depending on conditions. Channels that were open and ice free one week could be frozen and blocked the following week.

how to get to antarctica

As we made our way to our first lecture of the day, the announcement came that we had all been waiting for:

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, good morning. As we have made it across the Drake passage in good time, we will be heading out on the zodiacs this afternoon for a cruise. Stay tuned for further details.”

We couldn’t believe it! Not only were we there early, we were also getting our first chance to get down low onto the water and cruise around the area in our zodiac!  We almost exploded with excitement.

Preparing for the harsh Antarctica climate, we went to our rooms to layer up! First up was a skin tight thermal layer on our legs and upper bodies. We looked like a pair of burglars at this point. Pull on a pair of thick socks and layer one was compete. After throwing on a second thermal layer on our upper bodies, it was time for the waterproof trousers. At this point we’re getting hot, we’re still in our room and not the bracing Antarctic winds, so the next stage was done at speed so we could get outside before melting! On went our boots, fleece and bright yellow Quark jacket, almost ready.  All that remained to put on were our woolly hats, thick gloves, life jacket and sunglasses and we were ready for action.

how to get to antarctica

Making our way down to the loading area for the zodiacs, we waited as they were lowered from the upper decks onto the water.

Climbing into the zodiac for the first time, we had a completely different perspective of Antarctica. We were now down low on the waters, weaving between huge icebergs the size of office buildings and much smaller clumps the size of cars. The water was a deep dark blue, punctuated by brilliant white icebergs above the waterline, and incredibly compressed, light blue ice below.

how to get to antarctica

Where previously we had looked down at the icebergs from the ship, we now craned our necks upwards. To say we were excited is a major understatement! We were zooming around the icy cold waters of Antarctica for the first time in a zodiac, it was the real beginning of our Antarctic adventure and we were loving it!

We spent the first 45 minutes in search of wildlife and icebergs, spotting our first birds and penguins on rocky outcrops and icebergs. We were already over stimulated, when the radio of our zodiac driver crackled and burst into life. Humpback whales spotted off the coast, two zodiacs en route! Whales! This was incredibly lucky, as the main season for whales in Antarctica is between January and March when they complete the migration south. Needless to say, the zodiac swung around and we headed off into the open waters in search of our first whale sighting!

We left the calm and tranquil waters of the peninsula and headed into choppy waters. After 15 minutes or so, way in the distance, we saw the distinctive spurt of water from a blowhole! Moving closer, our driver cut the engine, and we floated in the waters waiting for the whale to surface again.

how to get to antarctica

At this point we wondered what the ‘rules’ were in terms of getting close to whales. The general guidance with whales is that they have an incredible sense of hearing, so they know we are coming from way off. It was unlikely we would spook them, so long as we kept a safe distance they could come closer if they wanted.  As as it turns out, they were just as interested in us as we were in them!

As we sat in the zodiac awaiting the next surfacing of the whale, we couldn’t quite believe we were bobbing about in Antarctica waiting for a whale to surface!

And then, about 5 minutes later, we heard the distinctive ‘peugh’ of a blowhole spurt, followed by a spurt of water in the air! The whale was back, and only 150 metres away! We watched in awe as it blew water in the air, arched its back and disappeared for about 15 seconds before returning to the surface to repeat the blowhole spurt and arched back. On average, this would happen 5 or 6 times before the final flourish, the most exciting part of whale spotting. In order to dive, the whale would raise its body out of the water, perform a fluke of the tail from under the water, curling upwards into a perfectly vertical position before slipping back into the water!

how to get to antarctica

We both sat there with our mouths wide open! It was an incredible moment, and on our first zodiac cruise!

At this point it was time to turn back, we’d taken a major detour to see the whale, and made our way back through very choppy waters to the peninsula. There was one last surprise though, an incredible ice arch that had formed from an iceberg! We zoomed passed just as the clouds came in and the water got very choppy!

how to get to antarctica

It had been an incredible couple of hours on our first zodiac cruise through Antarctica, and set the tone for the following four days of excursions where we would see many more icebergs, penguins, seals and, through sheer luck, more whales!

Feeling inspired and want to know how to get to Antarctica? Check out the incredible Quark Expeditions!

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