To the End of the World Part 3: Antarctic Peninsula
Portal Point, Antarctica
Portal Point – my guests’ and my first landing in Antarctica. Ever.
Our first experience of Antarctica. Ever.
It was so much more than I have ever dreamed, and I know my guests’ feelings reflected those of mine. It shone in their eyes and smiles.
Such spectacular scenery surrounded us. Ice-blue icebergs dotted here and there, the black mountains in the background looked like their tips had been dipped in show; whilst a beautiful yellow sky glowed dreamily. We spent some time here exploring the landscape, where we then walked in single file across an ice-sheet that was covered with many layers of snow. Following one another in single file ensured that we packed the snow and created an easier path to follow, as well as prevented accidents from potentially occurring. With our snow poles in hand, we made sure that all holes were taken account of for the guests still making their way.
We made it to an ice-amphitheater of sorts. It was so white and bright, so quiet, so desolate and untouched. I felt my heart swell with the incredible knowledge and feeling that there are still some untouched and perfectly wild destinations that humans have not left their mark on. Although there didn’t immediately seem like much to photograph, there were hidden gems waiting for the inquisitive and passionate eye to reap the rewards! From abstract to landscapes, we spent a good amount of time looking at the different options before we all made the trek back to the zodiac with our happiness manifesting in our bright-shining eyes.
Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
And the beauty just kept on coming! This excursion was not a land-based one, but a zodiac ride around massive icebergs and beautiful sheets across the sea’s surface. It was so good to sit and absorb the spectacular structures around us and, again, reflect on just exactly where we were!
A wonderful surprise was also in store for us. It was a particularly freezing day, one where the cold goes right through to your bones, ignoring all of your many layers of clothing. As we slowly made our way to another zodiac, one we assumed carried other passengers; we saw that that was not the case! The bar crew had come out to offer us hot chocolate with a dash of Baileys to help warm us up. It was much appreciated by us all, and incredibly delicious.
True to the unpredictable nature of Antarctic weather and seas, it started to get wilder than what the zodiac excursion leaders preferred, so we made our way back to the ship, where hot showers and photo processing continued.
From a visual aspect, Cuverville Island was probably one of my favorite destinations! The light was beautiful over the ocean; there were so many icebergs of various sizes that after our exploration on land, we continued it on sea. It was great to be able to move around these beautiful obstacles and look out for seals resting on them. Whilst we saw evidence of seals on some of the icebergs, that was all we were privy to. It didn’t matter to us though, as there was so much to train our cameras on!
The ice was coming in thick and moving at quite a speed. So we followed suit and made our way to Oren Island before the weather and sea conditions forbade us! The aim of this excursion was to go and see some Chinstrap Penguins who were further up the mountain by a little outcrop. It would be our first sighting of these little sergeants, so we were full of anticipation to get on land and make the trek to them!
The snow was coming down steadily, which made opening one’s eye wider than a slit quite difficult – unless you were at ease with getting ice bombs in your eye. So, head down and marching forward, my guests and I were some of the first people on the scene where the Chinstraps were, and the ice bombs in our eyes were definitely worth it! These guys are so interesting to look at, and also have lovely characters! As we were the first ship and group of people making this journey for the season, we were the first group of people these penguins had seen in months.
What I found so interesting was that the penguins eat the snow in order to rehydrate themselves. One penguin lay on its stomach, making it look like a striped rugby ball with a head, and started to eat the ice. Straight away I pointed this action out to my guest and away we were, capturing shot after shot of this behavior.
One of the ship staff members, who loves hiking, started taking a group further up the hill, where the goal was to reach the top and get a view of both sides of the mountain we were standing on. Leaving the Chinstraps for other guests to me, we made our way with the hiking group to reach the pinnacle.
And then the leader’s radio sounded a call – we had to quickly make our way back down the hill to the zodiacs as the ice sheets were coming in fast and blocking our exit from where we had landed. We were about 10 meters away from the top of the mountain, so I told my guest to quickly make it up there and take a photo whilst the leader was making her way down from the top. He did, and it was worth the sprint up.
Getting to the landing point, it hit home how urgent it actually was for us to get on the zodiacs and leave as soon as possible. So much ice had come in that our drivers had to work really hard to push these heavy sheets and ice-caps out of their way. And were we impressed! Our zodiac driver and the other team members all worked together to get us out (we were the last passenger boat to depart) and it made quite an adventure for us. It was thrilling! A short drive around the harbor followed suit, until the weather pretty much blanked out everything around us and we headed to the ship with thick snow pouring down.
We all loved every moment, as it just added to the unpredictable nature of this wild destination we traveled so far and wide to experience.
Half Moon Island
Our last excursion, and it was one that provided so many photo opportunities, new experiences and unforgettable moments.
The landscape was beautiful, but I truly feel that every landscape we had seen and walked upon in the Antarctic Peninsula and its surrounding islands were just that… Beautiful… How could they not be? The whole area is untouched and desolate. It is quiet and even foreboding at times. It is romantic and soul-inspiring. It is a place that calls to your heart and fuels the deepest part of your being. It is a place that calls you to go back to its raw and wild scenes.
How do you begin to describe a destination and the multitude of experiences had, that has had a profound impact on who you are?
I know I arrived back home a different person to the one who started this incredible Antarctica Photo tour. How could I have not?
It was spellbinding. It was mesmerizing. It was humbling. It was filled with incredible photo opportunities, laughter, happiness and amazing people.