After spending a superb few days in Torres del Paine at the new Awasi hotel, I was so excited at the prospect of heading to Antarctica on the Fly & Cruise trip on the Ocean Nova.
I don’t tend to do early mornings very well however I made it to the White Continent as planned. It turned out that, thanks to the very early start and the steely resolve of a Captain who had been at sea for 40 years we had gained an extra day at sea allowing for some off-plan exploration.
As I had signed up for the kayaking program, the first day was incredible. Paddling alongside the retreating sea ice and icebergs of this inhospitable area was a unique experience never to be forgotten. Incredible silence, the odd lonely Adelie penguin and us 8 kayakers.
On we went, spending the next couple of days weaving our way from
Brown Bluff and the Erebus & Terror Gulf around the northern tip of the peninsula, and south along the eastern side. The captain even managed to stumble across an unmapped island in the early segment of the voyage! Over these days we encountered colonies of Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins alongside an array of other birdlife – Wilson’s storm petrels, Antarctic terns, southern fulmars and antarctic shags with cobalt blue irises.
The daily kayak expeditions allowed the few of us to explore isolated coves filled with monstrous icebergs. Away from the noise of the zodiac engines, we were alone to take in the silence, calling birds and creaking icebergs. We were also lucky to encounter plenty of Weddell and Leopard seals, largely lounging on the shoreline.
On we continued to Gourdin and Astrolabe Islands where I was very excited to step foot on pristine snow, we were the first of this season to arrive in some areas. Kayak and zodiac landings allowed for further wildlife experiences. One evening whilst supping a few beers, a lucky few of us night owls spotted around six humpbacks just off the bow, pretty close thanks to their typically intriguing manner. There were certainly a few toasts made in Chinese, Spanish, English and Australian!
One of my main highlights was Portal Point, kayaking through an unbelievable landscape of huge icebergs on a crystal clear day. This was followed by a superb hike through the deep snow and across a natural snow bridge. Scouted by the mountaineering guide earlier, the views were fabulous and the photos taken of us amongst the icebergs an incredible reminder of our trip. Feeling toasty in our drysuits we jumped into the water before boating back to the ship, fantastic until it started to fill up – the moral is to always do the chest zip up tightly!! The evening barbecue topped off a fine day, tables set up at the back of the ship overlooking the iceberg graveyard and mountains behind.
Arriving on Deception Island on our way back to King George Island the history of this region was evident with the remains if a whaling station and research station. I opted for a tough hike through the snow line to a stunning viewpoint over the huge active caldera. It is said that when this volcano heats up so does the water in the bay. I realised this was absolute rubbish as I dived into the sea in my shorts for the coldest experience of my life!
Later that day our last excursion was on a small spit of gravel on Livingston Island, home to a few Elephant seals, a Gentoo colony and tumbling glaciers. A few of us were on a zodiac cruise when humpback whales were sighted a few hundred metres away, slowly cruising the channel and showing off their dorsals and tails.
I must say that the expedition staff deserve huge recognition for their
expertise and for making this an incredible trip. The voyage felt truly expeditionary with expert mountaineers, kayakers,
photographers, historians, wild lifers and scientists alongside us, some able to conduct their important research alongside their daily chores.