For those who know me well, you might have discovered that I am absolutely fascinated by the Polar Regions. Last June I was fortunate to take a group of 14 people on the Prouty Project’s Stretch Expedition to the North Pole. If you missed that crazy story, check out our blog post North to the Pole. And, while that was my second trip to the Arctic North, I had yet to visit my 7th Continent. Until Christmas.
I set off with my family (husband Jim, 17-year-old son Andrew and 14-year-old daughter Abby) on one of the most epic adventures we’ve ever had. We flew from Minneapolis down to Santiago, Chile and then into Punta Arenas in the far southern reaches of that country. From there we started our true Antarctica journey.
While many people choose to experience Antarctica fully by ship (sailing across the Drake Passage), a time crunch made us select a Fly ‘n Sail experience. We boarded a jet that left Punta Arenas and flew us directly down to King George Island off the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula. From there we boarded Quark’s Ocean Adventurer expedition ship for our eight-day sailing among the islands, inlets and open waters of this amazing region.
Life on board the ship took on a comfortable routine...if that’s possible when you’re on an expedition. We’d wake up each morning around 8 am for breakfast and by 10 we were off on the zodiac boats to explore. Our expedition team led us on either a water-based excursion, cruising around grand ice formations or whale and seal watching, or to a landing where we could get out and hike among penguins, rugged terrain and snowy landscapes.
After two to three hours on an excursion, we’d get back on board for lunch and a little R&R. In this case R&R often meant the option to listen to one of the interesting lectures on marine biology, glaciology, history of the area and so much more. Quark’s Expedition Team has decades of experience to share, and they focus only on the Polar Regions.
The afternoon offered another excursion off the ship, depending on winds and water conditions we’d again do a landing or a water-based activity. Evening meant cocktails, a debrief from the expedition team on what we experienced that day, a prelude to what was in store the following day, and of course more food (which was excellent by the way!).
Some of our highlights:
• Walking on islands that had hundreds of thousands of penguins (funny penguin video)
• Having twenty orca (killer) whales surround our zodiac (and swimming right under us!)...on Christmas Eve day. This video doesn’t even start to capture how we were feeling!
• The majestic humpback whales lifting themselves out of the water and photographing their tales to see their individual markings (fingerprints for them!)
• Coming along side one of the world’s largest tabular ice bergs and being in awe of its sheer size and scale
• Doing the polar plunge! (yes, the water was cold!)
• Meeting fellow travelers from 14 different countries
• Kayaking among the ice with humpbacks around us and paddling up to a leopard seal napping on an ice sheet
• Sleeping out on the ice overnight under the stars (thank you insulated sleeping bag!)
• Laughing out loud at how clumsy the penguins were (they’d waddle right by us and then fall flat on their face)
• Learning the difference between orca whale species (Type A, Type B, etc.), how they hunt and where they choose to travel
• Decorating our cabin doors for Christmas (and winning 2nd place in the contest...way to go Abby! Jim’s Santa riding an Orca whale was clever too!)
For eight days the four of us were in a constant state of wonder. Every time something would happen around us, we’d say to each other “can you believe that just happened,” or “I’m amazed at the beauty around us.” Each day delivered several jaw-dropping experiences. In fact, since our return I’ve often described it as a collection of moments that I will probably never have again in my life.
Interested in hearing more about Antarctica (or the Arctic)? Email Linda at LindaB@PiqueTravel.com.