As we headed upstairs this morning, we found the decks covered in snow. Each day was getting colder than the one before. We’d woken up early this morning to see the ship navigate the Lemaire channel, which is only 500m wide at its narrowest point and 11kms long.
Due to the snow and cold weather, visibility was poor but while we were straining our eyes through the fog to see the mountains, some minke whales joined us and swam along next to the ship. Amazing.
Searching for the Adelie penguins.
The first landing of the morning was Peterman Island where we were hoping to find adelie penguins. Most of the adelie penguins had already left Antarctica for the winter but we were hoping to find the last few stragglers. On arrival we were greeted by our usual best friends, the gentoo penguins.
We then ventured uphill to a rocky outcrop, where we saw our first adelie penguins huddling together. The adelie penguins were very beautiful – almost regal in both looks and demeanour. It was really interesting to see they had such different personalities than their gentoo cousins.
Due to the fresh snow and ice, it was treacherous walk around the island, so the crew set out a safe trail for us. Crossing snow and ice can be difficult in itself but when walking on higher ground, we were told there is more danger from crevices or glaciers hiding under the snow and so to stay on the path. I’m not really sure how dangerous it was, but I do know I was happy to follow the path set for me. No need to find out.
We’re on the bottom of the world.
As we headed higher up, we were able to take in more amazing views of the island and reached the southernmost point we’d go on our trip. We were at 65 degrees latitude, just one degree shy of reaching the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees. Which sounds close but is actually over 100kms away.
Today’s landing was one of the coldest so far. The fresh snow was beautiful but the wind had picked up. On land, you could warm yourself up by walking around but on the zodiac, there was no place to hide from the icy winds as we headed back to the boat.
As we neared the boat, I caught a whiff of a smell I knew very well after our time in Argentina and thought I might be dreaming. As we approached the boat and saw the telltale smoke and all let out a cheer – we were having parrilla for lunch! Of course an Argentine boat would have a parrilla on board.
Icy Cold Zodiac Cruising.
For the afternoons activity, we would be zodiac cruising around Girard Bay, at the southern end of the Lemaire channel. As we headed to the zodiacs, we noticed a lot of people had chosen to forego the trip this afternoon due to the heavy snow. I was tempted to stay in the warm for about 1 minute, when I remembered I wanted to experience every moment of my time in Antarctica. It’s Antarctica – of course it’s cold!
As we headed out across the channel, the snow and icy wind hitting our faces was absolutely freezing. We were headed to the shelter of the bay where we wouldn’t be as exposed to the winds when Pablo, our zodiac driver, thought he saw something ahead, so off we went. There was nothing you could do to try and keep warm but put your head down and hold on. Just up ahead we saw a humpback whale, moving slowly but surely in our direction. It surfaced a few more times before diving underwater. You’ll have to take my world for it as our frozen fingers were too slow to get pictures.
Once we reached the bay, it was another brilliant ride as we passed underneath huge towering glaciers and speed through more snow-covered, ice-covered waters surrounded by bizarre icebergs. The snow on the ice was amazing.
We saw something dark on the icebergs ahead and found our first crabeater seals. They weren’t very active, as we’d caught them having a nap. Kristen thought they were very cute, with their round bodies and smiling sleeping faces. Apparently they reminded her of someone she knows (me?!).
As the snow was getting heavier and the wind was getting stronger, we had to head back, but not before spotting one more leopard seal – this one very alert and not so happy we’d disturbed him (he was a he).
Don’t be deceived by their good looks, after the orca, the leopard seal is the most dangerous predator in Antarctica. We were lucky enough to have had one swim around our zodiac earlier in the trip and despite it’s size, it moved with speed and skill under the water. More than agile enough to catch the smaller seals and penguins that are their main prey. They are solitary animals and due to their sometimes aggressive nature not a lot is known about them, which adds to their air of mystery.
As a final last treat, we were about halfway back to the boat when a minke whale appeared out of the blue. It went under our boat and the zodiac boat just behind us were lucky enough to have it surface right next to them and swim along for a while. It was a whale of an afternoon!
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.