Juliet Symes had the time of her life on her sea voyage over ten days to Antarctica. If you missed her talking about her very close encounter with a humpback whale and crossing the Drake passage, make sure to check it out. Otherwise, continue reading to learn about penguins, camping and glacier calvings.
JS: There’s too many! A couple, both completely different from each other…
First of all, Neko Harbour is renowned for its regular glacier calvings. And we saw a fair few! You hear this deep rolling sound like thunder then suddenly a giant chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the ocean, sometimes causing a mini tsunami. It was incredible to see. And hear!
Also at Neko Harbour, watching penguin chicks catch snowflakes was wonderful. Neko Harbour is essentially a 'penguin creche', and when it snows the penguin chicks all try to catch snowflakes with their mouths, supposedly to help keep them cool (it was about 0ºC that day). It was adorable, I could have watched them all day!
JS: Well, almost everyday there was a penguin colony visit involved in our excursions. I went in mid February so there were plenty of penguin chicks around! We saw three species of them - Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap. They're completely unfazed by people, and although you're not allowed to get within five metres of them and the 'penguin highways', penguins themselves often break this rule and will walk right by your feet.
I always thought penguins were cute but oh my goodness, in real life they exceeded all my cuteness expectations! They chat, they hop, they waddle around with their ‘wings’ behind them as if they’re moving really fast. They enter the ocean by dipping their head in first then splash about a bit before zipping off at surprising speed. Then when they come back ashore, they make a quick and almost dramatic entrance onto dry land.
We also saw many sea birds, several species of albatross and petrel. We saw a lot of crabeater seals, lying around on icebergs snoozing, drooling and scratching their bellies. Fur seals and leopard seals too but less often. Plus, of course, whales! We witnessed humpback whales bubble net feeding and some minke whales too. You can usually see killer whales but we didn't this time.
There's a rule allowing only 100 people per vessel ashore on Antarctica at a time, so being on a smaller vessel like the Ioffe allows all the passengers to disembark together giving us twice the excursion opportunities (and twice the penguin colony visits!)
JS: Besides my whale encounter?! Probably camping on the ice. Camping is an optional excursion and weather-dependent. About 40 of us left the ship after dinner one night, put on ALL our warm layers and headed back to Dorian Bay where we had visited a penguin colony earlier that afternoon. We were given a mat, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. We headed up the hill to find a good spot with a penguin view and dug a shallow ditch in the snow to lie our bivvy bag in. We were surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains and just the purest of landscapes. I found it drew my thoughts away from all worldly things, away from the thousand mechanical details of my life back home. I was so struck with awe that it was impossible to worry about anything or even give a moment’s attention to anything outside of what I was seeing.
Yes, it was cold. Yes, there was a private portable 'toilet' (we left NOTHING behind). And yes, I held on until I got back to the ship. But no, there was no beautiful, serene silence one would expect out there… penguins are noisy! They do not shut up. But it was absolutely magical.
JS: Antarctic cruises only run in the summer (Nov-Mar) so the coldest it got for us was -4ºC and the warmest maybe 1ºC, so a little brisk but you are provided with warm outer gear to leave the ship.