Here's Karen Hollands' top insights from her recent expedition to Antarctica.
This was my first time travelling to Antarctica, and what I experienced was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
My itinerary flew both ways across the Drake Passage. The small aircraft was painted like a penguin, and after a 90 minute or so flight, as we descended towards the gravel runway, we got our first glimpses of the Greg Mortimer through the breaks in the cloud.
We left the aircraft and walked in single file down to the beach, and after changing into our muck boots, we climbed into the zodiacs, edging ever closer to the ship. I pinched myself several times to see that I wasn’t dreaming.
- You will not be prepared for the beauty you will see
- You will never tire of sitting and watching the entertaining life of a penguin
- Leave your camera and phone onboard on occasion – take a picture with your eyes to keep in your eyes to keep in your memory
- Take time to ‘just be’ – sit on a rock and soak in the moment
- You don’t need an abundance of different outfits – ski base layers work really well under waterproof trousers
- Try to be with a different Zodiac guide each day – they all have a wealth of knowledge in their fields
- Do every landing – each time you will see something more wondrous
Over the next 10 days I would see an abundance of wildlife I never dreamed was imaginable – from multiple humpback whale pods feeding all around the ship, leopard seals waiting around the beach for their dinner, snoring elephant seals, icefloes with hauls of sleeping Weddell and crabeater seals, a host of beautiful birds and of course the funny and entertaining gentoo, Adelie and chinstrap penguins. I did not believe until I saw with my own eyes that penguins do actually have ‘penguin highways’ to get to and from the sea. It was utterly mesmerising to sit and watch.
And then there’s the scenery – no words will ever describe the wonder, vastness, and beauty of the unspoilt landscape. The mighty mountains, majestic glaciers, and the vast stillness of the sea ice all around the ship. At one point we came across a a huge wall of ice as we tried to enter the Gullett en-route to Marguerite Bay. It was so beautiful that the captain just stopped for a couple of hours for us to have lunch and take in the incredible scene. One thing I made sure to take in each day was time to enjoy the calmness. To sit and just be – and soak in the outstanding beauty. Incredibly good for the mind and the soul.
We crossed the circle at 5.30am, and the Expedition Leader Flo came on very gently letting us know, and the captain sounded a short horn to signify the occasion. I did actually get up to take a photo on my phone of the compass as it felt unreal to actually be there.
But the adventure didn’t stop there – we continued to travel further South, and over the next few days made it to Marguerite Bay at the bottom of the peninsula. It was so beautiful, and no words or photos can convey how stunning it was. As we went for our landings and hikes, as you turned a corner, or reached the peak of a hill, you could hear the gasps as my fellow expeditioners saw the views for the first time. It was here at Stonington that we did the Polar Plunge, with more than half the guests enjoying the excitement of jumping into the icy bay. I was adamant that I was too scared to do it, and initially made my way to the deck in my clothes. I then stopped myself and thought – when am I ever going to be able to do something so amazing, in such a beautiful place ever again. So, I turned around, put on my bathing costume and did it! The moment you jump and realise there is no turning back is captured on my face. You hit the ice-cold water and then its all over in a second. Strangely enough when I got out, I felt absolutely alive – invigorated (although that may have been the shot of vodka the crew gave me!). It is definitely something I would encourage others to do – it is quite amazing.
Overwhelming landscapes and calmness
To have the privilege of seeing wildlife hunting, feeding and playing in this vast landscape was overwhelming at times. And who knew that ice could bring a tear to your eye with its stunning beauty. The icebergs were stunning – some majestic and tabular, others small and beautiful with the etched lines of time written upon them, highlighted by a beautiful blue.
We also made sure we visited several historic huts and stations – preserved as they were originally with their old tins of food, logbooks and equipment.
And then there is the still calmness that engulfs you. It really heightens your senses. Hearing the different noises, from the seals to the noise of the humpbacks, the calls of the penguins, or the ice cracking as our ship manoeuvres and calves her way along our journey.
As we made our way back to King George Island, our final stop was at Yankee Harbour – where we sat for a few hours taking in the beauty and watching the penguins porpoising. A fitting end to an outstanding experience.
About the Ship
The Greg Mortimer was everything I could have imagined and more. She is so quiet at times I had to look out of my cabin window to check we were actually moving. Modern and extremely functional – every detail has been incredibly well thought out. The purpose-built muck rooms and the ease of getting in and out of the Zodiac boats made it so quick and easy to get out on our adventures each day.