Antarctica with Polar Latitudes – Part 1

While Antarctica is larger than Europe, most trips only explore the tip of the peninsula closest to the end of South America. Despite the seemly small size compared to the size of the continent, the Antarctica Peninsula is a vast landscape of snow-capped mountains and glaciers teeming with penguins and seals. Whales and orca sightings were also frequent.

As at South Georgia Island the weather is variable and unpredictable.  

Antarctica – Day 1

Elephant Island

We woke to heavy clouds but calmer seas and were able to have breakfast on the lido deck. Not too cold or windy with just a puffy jacket and a wool cap.

We were scheduled to arrive at Elephant Island, a historically important spot in the Shackleton 1914-1916 story, around 9 a.m. It was uncertain at first if we would be able to see anything in the thick fog, but as we got closer to Point Wild, the spit where Shackleton’s crew spent 4 long months waiting for Shackleton to return with a rescue ship, the fog lifted some and we could see the island, glacier and the spit.

We were a little far out but you could clearly see the spit and the monument with a bust of Captain Luis Alberto Pardo commemorating the rescue of Frank Wild and his men. It’s difficult to imagine 22 men spending 4 month on the tiny wet spit in harsh winter conditions. To learn more about this incredible story I highly recommend reading “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing.

Trying to get a good viewing spot on the bow of the boat was difficult. The Island Sky is not set up for this type of viewing and there were too many passengers crowded at the bow of the boat trying to take photos.

Chinstrap penguins were just visible on the rocks and spit and some porpoised through the water closer to the ship.

After leaving Point Wild we headed towards Cape Valentine, the first spot that Shackleton’s party stopped at looking for shelter. The cape was too exposed in storms to make a good base so they moved to the spit at Point Wild. At first we couldn’t see the cape because of the dense fog but as we were looking for fin whales in the area it became visible.

There were numerous sightings of fin whales, mostly the blows and the backs of the whale. The closest spoutings were about 75 yards from the ship. The whales were very difficult to photograph as they don’t come out of the water much and often once you see the spout the whale is gone. Sometimes they hang out in the same spot or hang together so you have a chance at a blow and a bit of back of another whale.

The wind had picked up and it was cold on deck. Even with a wool cap I was starting to get a headache from the cold. My bare hands were freezing as well. I chose the 5th deck aft even though they were announcing whale sightings off the bow because the bow was too crowded. This proved to work fine as there were few people on the aft and the whales did pass by the back of the boat as well.

As the morning wore on and into the afternoon the fog cleared. Skies remained cloudy but beautifully streaked with light and dark clouds. Even after we left Elephant Island the distant peaks of the island and other islands could be seen.

Antarctica – Day 2

Brown Bluff

We woke to more fog that lifted as the morning progressed but returned again after lunch.

Brown Bluff is a stunning area with a high brown bluff and a glacier. It is home for Adélie and Gentoo penguins and normally has a large Adélie colony on one side. Although there were plenty of penguin chicks along the shore the adults had gone to sea and the colony was mostly empty. 

The maturish looking birds were chicks getting ready to fledge. As such there wasn’t much jumping off of the cliffs or off the icebergs. There were also fur seals on shore including males.

Ice in the water before the beach made driving the zodiacs more complicated. They have to be careful that the ice doesn’t blow in blocking the exit back to the ship.

After an hour or so on the beach we were loaded into the zodiacs for a cruise along the shore and around the icebergs. A number of icebergs had waddles of penguin chicks. None were too keen on jumping in the water.

The kayakers got a chance to go into the water today and it was a wonderful day for it with penguins swimming around and leopard seals lurking about. We saw two leopard seals going after penguins. One came about ¾ out of the water. Others also saw 5 leopard seals lying on the ice.

This time we were with Lisa, the ship’s photographer, on the zodiac. So nice to be with someone who gave you plenty of time to take photos and paid attention to the light. She also told us about the wildlife and geology of the area but not at the expense of the wildlife viewing.

We had 2 and half hours on shore and in the zodiacs.

Kinnes Cove

Although the site didn’t look like much at first, a strip of glacial of ice with a low lying cloud hanging over the area, once we rounded the corner the ceiling lifted a bit and you could see a large glacier. As we continued further there was lots of ice in the water.

The kayakers did get out on this excursion as well, though we didn’t see them much. A number of them didn’t kayak this afternoon. One woman told me she really hadn’t kayaked much before, just took one REI course and promptly forgot everything. She found the kayaking tiring.

We were in Jeannine’s boat which was paired with Nate, the excursion leader. Jeannine specializes in birds and is generally good about giving passengers time to view and photograph the animals.

We first checked out a beautiful iceberg floating a fair distance from shore before looking for penguins and leopard seals closer in. Like at Brown Bluff in in the morning many of the mature penguins had gone off to sea leaving their chicks behind. There were quite a few chicks near the shore and some on the ice, but most of them were hesitant to jump in the water. We did catch a few jumping in and later a bunch popping out. Coming out they rocket upwards, straight out of the water.

The penguins have good reason to be hesitant jumping into these waters. Leopard seals patrol this area. We saw a couple of heads in the water and later 3 lounging on the ice.

We had just under 2 hours in the zodiacs.

February 11 and 12, 2023

This post is part of series on a 21 day trip (18 days at sea) to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica on the ship Island Sky run by Polar Latitudes.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Antarctica, Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island page.