Antarctica for All Ages: The Trip of a Lifetime

January 7, 2015 Updated: January 7, 2015
“After life in the vastness of a vacant continent, civilization seemed disappointingly narrow, cramped, superficial, and empty.”

– Frank Hurley, photographer on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endeavor

Those words certainly ring true for me.  As an older woman traveling alone to such a distant place, I knew that I would have to start planning well in advance and explore all my options before booking passage. While I didn’t realize it at the time I was considering such a trip, Frank Hurley’s comments would have a tremendous impact upon me upon my return.

Prior Planning

The Internet provides a wealth of information for anyone planning this kind of trip.  The web site iExplore.com lists the top seven companies offering expedition cruises to Antarctica. Ships sailing to Antarctica are limited to carrying no more than 200 people aboard and the sailing schedule runs from mid-November to mid-February.

After speaking with a woman who had traveled to Antarctica the year before, I decided to book with Abercrombie & Kent.  Her glowing account of the trip and description of the fine service provided by A & K convinced me. The other feature I found enticing was that there would be stops in the W. Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

Penguins via Shutterstock*
Penguins via Shutterstock*

Booking well in advance saved me $500.00 I was also able to select the least expensive cabin. One spends very little time in the cabin on an expedition cruise. As it turned out, the cabin was extremely comfortable and nicely furnished.

An Argentine Barbeque

My journey began with a flight to Santiago, Chile. A & K personnel met those of us who had arrived on that flight and escorted us to the Hyatt Regency. Later that afternoon we enjoyed a sight-seeing tour of the city which included the Presidential Palace, cathedral, and the highest point overlooking the city.

Early next morning, we left to catch the 8:30 flight to Ushuaia (pronounced Ush-Y-a), Argentina where we would board the Explorer II to begin our journey to Antarctica. It takes three and a half hours to fly from Santiago to Ushuaia.

After clearing immigration and customs, we were treated to an Argentine barbeque featuring lamb. As an added bonus, we were entertained by a troupe of dancers from the Provincial Ballet – six young men dressed as gauchos and six lovely young women, graceful as swans in their filmy white gowns.

The next stop was Tierra del Fuego National Park. There are only five varieties of trees in this area and the only animals you’ll see are the fox, rabbit, and beaver.

The Falkland Islands

By early evening, we boarded the Explorer II where the first order of business was a mandatory emergency drill – life vests and all!

Iceberg off coast of Antarctica via Shutterstock*
Iceberg off coast of Antarctica via Shutterstock*

Our first stop was Port Stanley. The Falkland Islands are generally remembered as the place where Great Britain and Argentina fought a war but we discovered that their importance is especially significant in terms of the Gold Rush era.

Several sight-seeing options were available in Port Stanley. I chose the audio tour so that I could have the chance to explore a bit on my own, including a stop in at the Globe Tavern a favorite haunt for the scientific crews who go there while on leave.

Upon leaving Port Stanley, we set sail for South Georgia. Within a few hours, we entered the Antarctic Convergence sailing the Scotia Sea where there was a noticeable drop in temperature. There were plenty of albatross, petrels, and pichons flying around the ship. Dolphins could be seen splashing in the distance.

The expedition crews lectures were informative and eclectic – the exploitation of whales, seals, and fish, penguin life, Sir Ernest Shackleton, plate tectonics, and global warming -to name a few.

Each day we left the ship to board a zodiac which took us to our destination where would hike and climb or simply sit and observe the penguins and seals. Despite enormous swells at times, the ship’s crew did an excellent job of getting everyone into and off the zodiacs safely.

Highlights of This Fabulous Journey South

Salisbury Plain ( north coast of south Georgia)which lies between the mouths of two glaciers with its “welcoming committee” of king penguins and fur seal pups; where the mature seal “beach masters” bask in the sun, looking like huge rocks.

Elsehul, an area where there are colonies of fur and elephant seals with Gentoo penguins interspersed among them, living in complete harmony.

Stromness Bay, where Shackleton arrived in his heroic effort to save his crew who were stranded on elephant Island; where the old whaling station, abandoned long ago, stands vacant and rusting; where we climbed the ridge past the waterfall to re-create Shackleton’s trek into Stromness; white reindeer, brought there by the whalers, still roaming the hills.

Fin whales and orcas moving in graceful ballet-like patterns alongside the ship

Icebergs with their blue refracted light that seem to have been carved by a sculptor

Elephant Island where Shackleton’s crew remained stranded for four months living in upturned life boats waiting for their rescue.

Half-Moon Bay and Livingston Island where chinstrap penguins abound

Deception Island where thermal springs heat the water so that the more adventurous passengers can shed their parkas and strip down to bathing suits to splash around in the water

Neptune’s Window where you can gaze across the bay atop a ridge and catch your first glimpse of the Antarctic Peninsula

Neko Harbor where you actually set foot on the Antarctic Continent.

Lemaire Channel, also known as Kodak Alley or Fuji’s Fiord, with its breathtaking scenery and two mountain peaks known as “Una’s Tits” – named after a secretary working for what is now known as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

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Copyright © 2014 by Go Nomad. This article was written by Chloe JonPaul and originally published on www.gonomad.co

*Image of iceberg off coast of Antarctica via Shutterstock

*Image of penguins via Shutterstock