The Antarctic Peninsula
Itinerary: Ushuaia – Falkland Island – South Georgia – Antarctic Peninsula – Ushuaia
Total Distance: 3,419 Nautical Miles / 6,332 kilometers
After two days at sea crossing the Scotia Sea from South Georgia, our ship the Explorer II arrived in the South Shetland Islands.
These islands are located between the southern tip of Argentina and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
From this point, we commence the final stage of our Antarctic cruise. This is the part of the cruise we all looked forward too for there were many onshore excursions planned before reaching Petermann Island and Port Lockroy.
Port Lockroy is the furthest point south we cruised before commencing the cruise north across Drake’s Passage to Ushuaia where this fantastic 17-day cruise ended.
As we cruise south we saw many icebergs which varied in size from small to massive chunks of floating ice.
In one area the bridge called over the ship’s PA system to advise passengers to look off the ships starboard side at a huge chunk of floating ice which had broken off from the main ice shelf. The crew estimated this chunk to be around 30 km in length.
The Captain announced that we would soon be arriving at Barrientos Island where we will have the opportunity to go ashore.
Barrientos Island is a small picturesque island within the Aitcho group of the Shetland Islands. The island is home to several varieties of penguins including Gentoos and Chinstraps. The penguins don’t seem to be concerned in the slightest at our presence.
As we walked amongst the penguins we came across an immature southern elephant seal male which had made the island its temporary home.
On leaving Barrientos Island en route for Deception Island we cruise past the snow-covered peaks and glaziers of Livingstone Island.
Later in the day, the ship passed through the narrow entrance to Deception Island.
The island and its doughnut-shaped interior is a flooded collapsed volcanic caldera and was formed when a massive eruption and subsequent subsidence occurred many years ago and created this amazing and unique place.
The last reported eruption occurred in 1970 with the resultant Iahaar (the flow of mud and melting glacier) largely burying the British research station at Whaler’s Bay.
The ship dropped anchor at Pendulum Cove where we climbed into the Zodiacs and went ashore.
Those adventurous soles amongst us stripped to their swimming costumes and jumped into the warm geothermal water at the edge of the beach evident by the steam rising from the water.
A few venture beyond the warm water and dived into the freezing waters beyond, they soon returned.
On leaving Deception Island, the shipped cruised through Bransfield Strait and headed further south.
During this section, we saw pods of humpback and killer whales (orca’s) which was a delight for all onboard.
The following morning we arrived at Andvord Bay. The Zodiacs were launched and we had our first landing on the Antarctic Continent.
The experience was fantastic.
We climbed a couple of hundred meters up a slight slope from which we could see the breathtaking views of the glassy, deep blue bay, the panorama of snow-capped mountains and glaciers.
Gentoo penguins swam in the shallows, and a sleeping Weddell Seal grunted then woke to flex one of its fore flippers had a good scratch and went back to sleep.
From our vantage point, we could hear cracking/booming sounds emitting from within the closest glacier and observed two Minke whales swimming close to our ship and a leopard seal cruising the shoreline looking for its favourite food, penguins.
Time had come to move on, with everyone back on board; the ship glided out of the still, glistening water of Andvord Bay past Waterboat Point and another cruise ship the Marco Polo.
After leaving Andvord Bay, our ship entered and anchored in Paradise Harbour.
The Zodiacs were launched and we cruised amongst the sea ice, small icebergs and ice flows which provided floating platforms for penguins, crab eating and leopard seals.
This was perfect for the photographers and videographers amongst us to capture close-up photos and video shots of these wonderful marine animals. The area was also alive with penguins, seabirds including blue-eyed shags and cape petrels.
Amazing glaciers of Skontorp Cove
We entered Skontorp Cove with its magnificent glacier. The cove contained many icebergs and growlers highlighted by the magnificent blue coloured iceberg shaped like an amphitheatre.
We had a surprise when the bar boat arrived captained by Assistant Cruise Director Sally and members of the Hotel department.
The champagne glasses were handed out champagne poured and we all toasted a magnificent day in Antarctica.
After leaving Skontorp Cove, the ship continued south through the Lemaire channel heading for Petermann Island and Port Lockroy.
During early hours of the morning, the ship arrived and anchored at the most southerly point of our Antarctic cruise Petermann Island which lies at 65ᵒ 10ʹ south. After breakfast, we boarded the zodiacs and headed for shore.
On arrival, we walked through the snow to a colony of Adele penguins. The colony consisted of parents and their young.
The excited and loud chatter between penguins resembled the sounds emanating from a school playground at recess or lunchtimes.
Sadly, Adele penguin numbers have been declining in the Antarctic Peninsula due to diminishing sea ice caused by the effects of global climate changes.
On leaving Petermann Island, the ship headed north back through the LeMaire channel for Port Lockroy.
Everyone became excited when a mother humpback whale and her calf suddenly appeared alongside the ship.
A short distance on we came across a large leopard seal sleeping (with one eye open) on an ice flow.
The majority of the passengers gathered on the pool deck to be entertained by the Explorer II Quartet while enjoying a delicious Antarctic Frühscĥoppen.
We arrived at our final onshore step off location at Port Lockroy. Unfortunately, the weather had changed. Low cloud replaced the beautiful clear blue skies we had enjoyed for the entire cruise.
Out of the mist appeared Wienke Island where the ship rounded a point and entered Port Lockroy.
The Zodiacs were lowered for the last time and we commenced our final tour including a stop at Goudier Is to visit Bransfield House the restored 1944 WWII British
Station Base A
The house is a museum of artefacts including sledging kits, communications radios and food rations.
The small gift shop did a roaring trade as did the most remote Austral Post Office in the world where many of the passengers bought postcards and posted them to family and friends.
Once everyone was back onboard the ship weighed anchor and commenced the final stage of our Antarctic Cruise from Port Lockroy to the home port of Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America.
The cruise took a route through the many islands and channels of the Antarctic Peninsula and across Drakes Passage.
Fortunately for all on board the crossing of Drakes Passage was “relatively” smooth (two to 3m waves).
Finally, the ship entered the Beagle Channel before arriving at Ushuaia.
The Antarctic expedition cruise we undertook covered only a very small slice of the huge Antarctic continent but was a fantastic and enjoyable experience and an absolute “must-do”.