Awe Inspiring Antarctica Cruise
Antarctica is a destination that only very few of us get to experience and is definitely a once in a lifetime! It is so hard to put into words because there were many moments that were literally “pinch me, is this real”? We were on board the luxury cruise ship Ponant’s Le Soleal. From the minute we boarded the ship in Ushuaia & welcomed aboard by our extinguished Captain & crew, we were in expert hands. The crew were experienced & diligent. The Drakes Passage is known for its wild seas, but the ship was comfortable & equipped with state of the art stabilisers so our voyage, even in the rough seas, was as smooth as possible. A few of us were a little green but we all agree that what was to follow over the next 10 days was 100% worth it. Our expectations were exceeded beyond imagination. We were blessed with blue skies, & calm seas & a performance provided by Mother Nature second to none. Our amazing crew have imparted so much knowledge on us; the highly educated naturalists took us on adventures by zodiac, hiked to vantage points for stunning views & hosted lectures where we increased our knowledge about the Antarctica region & its wildlife. Our group of fellow travellers embraced every moment. We would sometimes wake to our Captains French accent announcing that we have orcas at starboard, a pod of humpback whales breaching at our bow & on one thrilling morning, a blue whale feeding. To be standing on the deck at 6am with the other passengers, some still in their pyjamas under their red weather proof jackets, & witness the rare sight of the largest mammal in the world, the magnificent Blue Whale feeding, is a memory which will stay with us all for a lifetime. We’ve seen Humpback Whales by the dozen & one very special one who put on a show, breaching many times at the bow of our ship & bringing tears to our eyes.
One morning we discovered a sole juvenile emperor penguin on a massive ice flow. We all observed the penguin from the ships decks & then to our amazement we boarded the zodiacs & landed on the ice flow with the penguin. The expedition guides were respectful with the penguin & gave him plenty of space. To our surprise he was most unperturbed & stayed on the ice with all of us. This morning was absolutely incredible with sun shining, afloat on a giant ice burg, the crew went above & beyond & served French Champagne literally on ice & delicious macaroons. This landing was a rare one, the first in 3 years for our ship as the conditions need to be perfect for a safe & successful landing. Us, & the lone emperor penguin, were in the right place at the right time. Most definitely a wow moment!!
We saw thousands of adorable penguins of many varieties waddling around their Penguin Highways & popping in & out of the ocean. Many times I would be in my cabin or on the balcony & look up to see the penguins skimming through the sea like skipping stones across the water. The penguins are adorable & would often curiously come up to introduce themselves. There were still a few young ones with their fluffy down huddled with their parents on the beach.
We saw hundreds of seals including several Leopard Seals who are fascinating to watch just lazing around on icy beds all day, fur seals and the enormous elephant seals. The opportunity to observe these unique animals on & off land in their natural habitat was a joy to witness. The ice burgs are all shapes & sizes. In the Weddell we saw amazing tabular icebergs, one which was 27km long & 3 km wide. In Paradise Bay there was a beautiful ice city that looked like a set from a Disney fairytale.
The sunrises & sunsets spectacular & the untouched icy landscapes are breathtaking.