Today was the day – we’d be taking our first steps on Antarctica and visiting our 7th continent together. Waking before sunrise, as I walked out onto the deck and saw I was surrounded by an icy, silver sea, huge snow-covered mountains, glaciers and icebergs, the impact really took my breath away – it was even more beautiful than I’d imagined. No photos or video can really do justice to the scale of Antarctica (but we’ll try). I was already amazed and we hadn’t even made our first landing yet.
The trip wasn’t cheap, especially on a backpackers budget, but as I looked out onto the white continent for the first time, it took about 5 seconds for any minor stress I still had about the cost to leave my system.
First Steps on Antarctica
After putting on everything we owned, including the super warm clothes we’d rented in Ushuaia, we lined up to take one of the zodiac boats over to Portal Point. Sitting with 10 others, our zodiac flew through the icy cold waters towards our first landing. We arrived and swung our feet onto Antarctica!
It felt quite surreal standing on Portal Point, surrounded by the Antarctic landscape. Everyone was walking around breathing in the cool air, with smiles as broad as the landscapes themselves on their faces. There will be many amazing experiences on this trip, but this one will always hold a special place in our hearts. It’s not everyday you step onto Antarctica for the very first time and we felt privileged to be here.
Exploring Wilhelmina Bay.
After breakfast we sailed down the Gerlache Strait and detoured the MV Ushuaia through spectacular Wilhelmina Bay, with it’s endless views of snow covered mountains and glaciers, reflected in the completely still, silvery grey waters.
It was a buffet of wildlife spotting. We saw the occasional seal, numerous pods of minke whales feeding and several pairs of either sleeping or feeding humpback whales. My favourite was the groups of gentoo penguins who swam past the boat. Penguins swimming are a sight to see, as they pop up out of the water in a perfect arch, pop back down into the water and repeat. So graceful and so quick.
Now we were in Antarctic waters, the sea was completely still and so after taking in the sights of Wilhelmina Bay, we enjoyed a drama free lunch. Chatting with our fellow passengers, groups were already starting to take shape and friendships beginning to form. We were completely spoiled on the MV Ushuaia, with 3 course meals for both lunch and dinner. While not exactly gourmet, it was perfect for fuelling our bodies up for the cold.
After lunch, we’d been promised our first visit with penguins!
Meeting the Gentoo Penguins.
Cuverville Island is in the northern part of the Errera channel and the site of our second landing for the day – and the first time we would encounter penguins! As we zoomed away from the MV Ushuaia on the zodiacs, we could already see Gentoo penguins in the thousands! They were everywhere, waddling around the beach, diving in and out of the sea and sliding down the snow-covered hillside.
Gentoo Penguin Rules.
As we landed on the island, there were penguins scurrying everywhere. We’d been advised to stay 5 meters from the penguins at all time. If they crossed our paths, we should stop and wait for them to pass. Nothing we do should alter their behaviour. Walking down the rocky beach covered with ice and whale bones, Gentoo penguins would waddle past us, content on going about their business without giving us a second glance. Others would stop and study us with inquisitive faces.
The Gentoo penguins were such fun. We stayed watching them for a few hours, both agreeing we could have stayed and watched them all day. As our visit was in early March, the chicks born in December/January were now almost young adults, most having lost all their baby feathers. And with that age, they were even more lively and inquisitive, and so much fun to watch. See our penguins in action video here.
If that wasn’t enough for our first day, on the way back to the ship, our zodiac driver took us for a spin to see some of the stunning Antarctic icebergs around the island. It was here we saw our first seals lounging about on the icebergs. There was a seal (type unknown – maybe a Weddell seal) with a big bite out of his tail most likely from an Orca we were told. Then we saw the ultimate – our first leopard seal. A simply stunning animal, and HUGE!
Dinner felt like a celebration that night. Memories of the Drake Passage were a distant memory. In just our first day, we’d seen and done so much! We’d taken our first steps on Antarctica, we’d seen mountains, glaciers and icebergs galore from the ship and on the zodiacs, not to mention all the wildlife we’d been up close and personal with. This was a day we’d never forget. How could we top it! And we still have four more days of adventure before us.
Our trip to Antarctica was with Antarpply Expeditions on the MV Ushuaia in March 2014. Review to come (but in short they were fantastic). Contact us if you have any questions – we’re more than happy to help and share our experience.