Our adventure continued on like this with 2 to 3 zodiac landings and excursions every day. At every landing we were greeted by a chorus of penguins – adelie, gentoo and chinstraps – you never tire of watching these playful creatures. As it was nesting season we managed to see lots a chicks – so cute!!
The rules for us were to give all wildlife right of way and not to approach too closely. However, the wildlife were not bound by this rule – if you sat or stood still long enough the curious penguins would come right up to you. Even more amazing were the elephant seal pups (weaners) who were so curious that some climbed onto laps to inspect people.
The other wildlife was also magical – Weddell, crabeater, leopard seals, humpback, fin, pilot and minke whales. One very memorable event was spending almost an hour watching a minke whale who was anything but shy and retiring. It was swimming around and under our zodiacs and kayaks.
The birdlife was endless – albatross, petrels, gulls and terns constantly followed the “Polar Pioneer”.
Of course, these animals were just a part of the most magical landscapes I have ever seen. The pure beauty was just breathtaking – sandy and rocky beaches, towering cliffs, snow laden hills, snow-capped peaks, crystal aquamarine waters, glaciers, ice floes and, my favourite, icebergs. There were hundreds of icebergs each day. I felt as if I was visiting a new art gallery every day with magnificent ice sculptures of varying shapes and colours. A memorable highlight was an “extreme cruising” zodiac excursion near Christiana Islands where we manoeuvred our way around a maze of imposing icebergs. We were also thrilled witnessing an avalanche – very loud and dramatic.
We visited a couple of bases abandoned by Argentina and left to the elements. A stop at Port Lockroy was fascinating. Port Lockroy was a former British intelligence station during World War 2 and a research station until 1962. It is now a historical museum and post office – had to send myself a postcard from Antarctica!
Two other activities that have to rate mention were the polar plunge and overnight camping. Over half our expeditioners did the polar plunge on a “warm and sunny” Christmas afternoon – air temp 5°C; water temp 0°C. Needless to say it was a case of straight in and straight out!
For overnight camping we were supplied with just a mat and a sleeping bag each. I was warm all night and actually got some sleep – the sun set but it never got dark. The sounds of the “night” were varied – glaciers thundering and calving, whales blowing, seals, penguins, birds and, of course, snoring!
On the tenth day we disembarked at Frei Base on King Edward Island, trekked for about half an hour to the air field then flew out to Chile.
The “Polar Pioneer” had sailed out, leaving the end of the world, and took us to one the most beautiful and majestic places on earth. Words and images cannot completely do justice to this unique part of the world. Antarctica is more than just a place to visit – it is an awe-inspiring experience.
Maverick Travel would like to thank Betty Fielding for putting pen to paper. This was the final part in her 6-part series. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as we did! Don’t forget at Maverick Travel you can redeem your American Express membership reward points to pay for your trip: 10,000 = $100.