The Wonders of the White Continent

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Where to go once you have reached Ushuaia, the ‘southernmost city of the world’? Like Shackleton and many others the only answer for me was to continue my exploration and embark on a 12 day expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula – one of the most beautiful settings on earth.

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As our vessel sailed out I was a bit nervous as I had heard many stories about the infamous Drake Passage, sometimes referred to as Drake Shake as the weather conditions here are very unpredictable and known to be hazardous. Luckily we had a calm crossing and the waters named after Sir Francis Drake looked more like a Drake Lake.

During the passage there were 4 educational lectures offered daily about the history and wildlife of the White Continent. This was a great way to learn more about the destination and more importantly the wildlife we were about to see. For me, one of the most impressive lectures was about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trip down South and his epic rescue journey after the loss of his ship the Endurance in 1915. The Hebridean Sky now features two Centenary Voyages in the footsteps of this extraordinary explorer, who’s made his great escape exactly 100 years ago.

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Shackleton’s ship the Endurance stuck in ice

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Magical Antarctica seen from the Hebridean Sky

I will never forget the morning of day 4. With one look out of the window I knew we were there: the first snowcapped mountain peaks and small floating icebergs were visible from our porthole window! Within two minutes we were dressed and on the outside deck enjoying a Baileys on the glacier rocks.

The five days that followed were mind-blowing and not comparable with anything I’ve ever seen before. The most magical mountainous landscapes were alternated by enormous floating icebergs in all shades of blue.

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With our zodiac we navigated through scenic bays with mirrored waters and thin sea ice with huge icebergs and glaciers towering high above us. The scenery here is so serene and untouched that it even made the experienced expedition staff go quiet…

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One of the most impressive encounters we have had was with an enormous leopard seal. One minute it was playing with the zodiac, posing for our cameras and the next we saw an entire penguin rookery on the run for this violent predator.

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The wildlife we encountered during our expedition cruise was incredible: fighting elephant seals, the cutest fur seal pups and thousands of gentoo, chinstrap and Adelie penguins.

As the animals don’t see humans as their predators you can approach them very closely. I sat down during one of the landings, enjoying the panoramic view over the silent and impressive landscape that was magically lit by sunlight when a penguin walked up to me. This curious creature stood 30 cm from my feet and looked up to see what I was and what I was doing there. An incredible experience and one that will last forever.

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We visited an old British research station that now functions as a museum and the Ukrainian research base Vernadsky, were we got an idea of their research and life on the base. After this we hiked through a huge colony of gentoo penguins to a magical viewing point. On the way back we saw many penguin chicks moulting and being fed by their parents who were preparing the birds to survive in the Antarctic waters.

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On our last day on the Antarctic Peninsula the weather had changed significantly. Both the camping and that days landings got cancelled due to weather conditions. I spent most of my day in the bar, lounge and on the bridge. As I travelled later in the season we were lucky to see enormous minke whales, humpback whales and even a family of orcas on our way to the South Shetland Islands.

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Humpback whale seen from Le Boreal (picture by Lorraine Tucri)

Returning to Ushuaia in a way felt like returning to a different world. It wasn’t until then that I fully appreciated the wonders of the untouched White Continent. I would highly recommend anyone to venture on an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to this remarkable destination. Maybe to explore the rich history of the Falkland Islands and the hundreds of thousands of king penguins and Shackleton’s grave on Grytviken in South Georgia. Or on an exploratory voyage aboard the Ortelius, crossing the polar circle to make your way to the less visited Ross Ice Shelf in search of single straggling emperor penguins…..

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Ross Ice Shelf from the Ortelius (picture by Delphine Aurès)

Kaiserpinguin / Apdenodytes forsteri

Above: Emperor penguin colony in the Ross Sea from the Ortelius

Please note: The cover image of this Blog is taken from the bow of the magnificent Hebridean Sky

 

The following special offers are available on both the Hebridean Sky and the Ortelius -

Hebridean Sky

Shackleton Centenary Voyage, including the Falkland Islands and South Georgia

Departure 30 October 2016 – 22 days/21 nights

50% discount on a limited number of suites available in selected categories

Booked and paid before 01 August 2016

 

Ortelius

Spectacular Ross Sea, including helicopters

Departure 13 January 2017 – 33 days/32 nights

Departure 15 February 2017 – 31 days/30 nights

Up to £ 4,750 off per person

Discount is subject to change according to availability and prevailing exchange rates

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