Antarctica Cruise Experience
As a gust of frigid air whips against my exposed cheek, it’s hard to tell whether the flutter of uneasiness and elation that are currently seething through my lower abdomen, are in anticipation of the prospect of making landfall, or the left over prangs of queasiness from our ocean crossing from the port of Ushuaia.
For two days our ship has lurched, veered and battled through one of the most fabled stretches of water of them all – the Drake Passage. Once the haunt of only the planets most intrepid adventures and pioneering scientists, nowadays an altogether different kind of explorer tackles the experience of the crossing. Guests from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe now stand together on the back deck of the MV Ushuaia, rugged up from head to toe in goose down and Gore-Tex, staring out across the final barrier between us and our reward. Our first steps upon the Antarctic continent.
As the zodiac cuts through the stillness of the water and draws nearer to the rocky shore, the pungent aroma of penguin guano fills the nostrils and the cacophony of squawks drowns out the hum of the outboard motor.
Surrounding us are thousands upon thousands of Gentoo penguins. Impossibly adorable and fluffy juvenile chicks seek refuge at their parent’s feet from the ever-present threat of patrolling Skewers, whilst others waddle cumbersomely as they negotiate the surrounding terrain with an almost comical inaptitude. The intricacy and playfulness of the penguin’s interactions with one-another proved to be a highlight of the trip, with each colonies inhabitants possessing its own unique behaviours and personality.
The polished black surface of what were once thought to be rocks visible in the distance, reveal themselves to be dozens of lumbering Elephant Seals, jostling for prime positioning and warmth against the bitter elements. A pair of young males prepare for battle and rise up from their prone positions to display their sheer size and bulk. Two gigantic edifices of pure blubber towering over 6 foot, face off and thrash furiously at each other as the stomach twisting rumbles of their vocalisations seems to shake the very foundation of the ground upon which we stand. Truly this was an experience like no other.
Antarctica’s Palmer Peninsular boasts opportunities to explore both island and mainland destinations, each more indescribably stunning than the last. The combination of wildlife in abundance, heavenly vistas incarnate before your very eyes and the mind bending history of the explorers who tried to tame and conquer the last great wilderness on Earth, create a lure too strong for the discerning adventurer not to explore.
Perhaps the most magnificent of all the draws of The Antarctic is the feeling of isolation, a feeling that one is privy to something so pure and untouched. A place where nature hosts a spectacular show of both awesome, power and deep haunting beauty. The sheer might of mother nature was witnessed as our ship passed by silently, as tabular icebergs the size of entire city blocks majestically floated past in tranquillity. A pale twenty-four-hour sun circled above us never dipping below the horizon, instead it would occasionally sink just a couple of degrees and crate a mesmerising palette of oranges, pinks and reds.
Rugged four thousand metre snow-capped peaks are jaggedly thrust skyward from the stillness of the inky black water, thick with the plankton and nutrients that Antarctica’s wildlife flock here to feast upon every year. Glaciers gouge and carve their way effortlessly through ancient landscapes and minus fifty-degree temperatures and violent winds can howl at three hundred kilometres per hour sculpting boulders and icebergs in its wake.
In contrast, much of our down time in-between excursions was enjoyed out on deck, with a crisp beer in hand, complemented by an open air ‘asada’ barbeque and basking in the peaceful calm of a perfect blue sky day. At times when the mercury rose above zero degrees c, we could shed our bulky coats, don a pair of Ray-Ban’s and be left free to wander and explore the different landing sights. To be among such a pristine wilderness in such a perfect climate made it all the more staggering to imagine just how furious, gentle and powerful mother nature can be. It was if we had stumbled upon another world, untouched by time and completely separate from anything else we have ever experienced.
For those seeking the extraordinary and a chance to witness the other-world experience of the Antarctic continent, the great white south is beckoning.