ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

In December 1999 I visited Antarctica, doing a 10 day boat trip to the Antarctic Peninsula with Aurora Expeditions. I spent a night in Buenos Aires before heading south to begin the voyage in Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. Two days were spent crossing the Drake Passage, then the next five days were spent exploring the South Shetland Islands and the north and western part of the Antarctic Peninsula, visiting penguin colonies and historic sites, experiencing spectacular scenery, whale watching, and camping ashore on the snow. On the return to South America we visited Cape Horn. A selection of photographs from this trip is contained below. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images:



View of Ushuaia
View of Ushuaia. The town lies on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego and is located next to the Beagle Channel and surrounded by the southern part of the Andes mountains. It is now a major departure point for tourist trips to Antarctica and is full of tourists either about to go to, or returning from, Antarctica. We departed on our ship, the "Professor Molchanov", in the early evening and sailed for a few hours east along the Beagle Channel before heading south into the Drake Passage.


Icebergs near the South Shetlands
Our first sighting of icebergs. We had good weather and a fairly calm crossing of the Drake Passage. The boat was surrounded by albatrosses and petrels for much of the journey. People spent the time during the crossing attending lectures/slide shows and trying not to be sea sick. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence at the end of the first day and entered Antarctica proper. Around lunchtime on the second day we approached the South Shetland Islands and saw our first icebergs, the remnants of a huge berg which had previously passed this way. We sailed past many icebergs stranded near the islands.


Gentoo penguins on Aitcho Island
Gentoo penguins on Aitcho Island. Our first landfall was on Aitcho Island, a small island located near Robert & Greenwich Islands in the South Shetlands. We went ashore for a few hours to see the wildlife, including gentoo and chinstrap penguins, and weddell and elephant seals. The weather was sunny but very windy.


Whalebone Beach on Aitcho Island Whalebone Beach on Aitcho Island. We walked a few kilometres to the far side of the island, past extensive areas of cushion moss beds which provided a green tinge to the landscape. We crossed a pass and descended to Whalebone Beach amid spectacular scenery. There were old whalebones along the beach plus seals and penguins.


Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff Adelie penguins at Brown Bluff. The next morning we were at the very northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula near Hope Bay. The weather was perfect and huge tabular icebergs were everywhere. Our first stop on the continent was at Brown Bluff, an area that contained a large adelie penguin colony. We spent the three or more hours ashore watching the penguins and admiring the scenery under perfect conditions.


Glaciers & Antarctic Sound Glacier at Brown Bluff. From the top of a moraine we had a good view of the glaciers and islands in this area. We returned to the ship then sailed east along Antarctic Sound towards the Weddell Sea and the eastern side of the Peninsula.


Icebergs in the Weddell Sea Icebergs and pack ice. We sailed through Fridtjof Sound and into the north-western part of the Weddell Sea, a body of water known for it's notorious ice conditions. Icebergs and pack ice became more extensive. There was no wind and the icebergs were reflected perfectly in the water - a photographer's paradise.


On the Tabarin Peninsula We went ashore on the Tabarin Peninsula and climbed over rocks and snow to the top of a hill which overlooked the Peninsula and the islands and pack ice in this area. Our first full day in Antarctica had been memorable - two trips ashore on the continent, penguins galore at Brown Bluff, huge icebergs and pack ice all around us, and clear weather. We then retraced our route to the western side of the Peninsula.


Weddell seal at Astrolabe Island Weddell seal at Astrolabe Island. The next morning the ship was anchored off Astrolabe Island. The weather was foggy and cooler but generally OK. We did a zodiac cruise around the shore of the island past amazing blue coloured icebergs, saw our first leopard seal in the water, then spent time ashore on a beach looking at weddell seals, penguins and giant petrels.


Chinstrap penguins on beach at Baily Head Chinstrap penguins on the beach at Baily Head. We sailed for a few hours across Bransfield Strait to Deception Island, a volcanic island that is still active. The weather was worse and it was snowing and quite damp. We went ashore at Baily Head with its black sand beach and enormous chinstrap penguin colony. Behind the beach is a large valley and surrounding ridges completely covered with chinstrap penguin nests. The noise, sight and smell of the 200000 strong penguin colony was one of the main highlights of the trip.


Chinstrap colony at Baily Head Chinstrap penguin nests at Baily Head. Some of us walked about two kilometres up the valley then climbed up onto the ridges. There were penguins everywhere, some sitting on their nests and others arriving after their long walk up the valley from the beach. The steep hills did not seem to deter the penguins. We also saw skuas harassing the penguins and taking chicks.


Whaling station ruins Ruins at Whalers Bay. Deception Island is a flooded volcanic caldera with a narrow entrance, Neptunes Bellows, through which ships can sail into the interior of the island. We visited Whalers Bay, the site of an old whaling station, on the inner shore of Deception Island. The station had been destroyed by a mud flow caused by a volcanic eruption and the remains of buildings, boilers and tanks were all around. The ruins looked eerie amongst the stark landscape and low threatening cloud.


Gentoo penguin Gentoo penguin at Cuverville Island. The next day we were back near the Peninsula sailing south along the Gerlache Strait and through some passages between islands. We saw glaciated peaks disappearing into the mist and clouds. We went ashore at Cuverville Island to see a gentoo penguin colony then headed along the spectacular Errera and Neumayer Channels to Port Lockroy. The low cloud of the last day and a half gradually disappeared and we had good weather for the remainder of the trip.


Port Lockroy Port Lockroy is a former British base built on Wiencke Island that operated from the 1940's to the 1960's. The base is a historical site and has been renovated and is looked after by two caretakers over the summer period. There is a shop and post office inside the building and information displays explaining the station's history. The surrounding mountains on Wiencke and Anvers Islands are very spectacular. A large gentoo penguin colony is also nearby.


Campsite at Damoy Point Camping ashore at Damoy Point. About 30 passengers took the option to camp ashore for one night at Damoy Point, about three kilometres from Port Lockroy. As there was little wind and it was not that cold, most people slept in the open just using their sleeping bags and mattresses. Only three tents were used. A highlight of the camp was Tim the barman visiting us ashore at midnight to serve everyone a hot alcoholic chocolate drink! From our sleeping bags we could look out to the mountains on Anvers and Wiencke Islands.


Cape Renard peaks
Cape Renard. The next morning we headed south towards the Lemaire Channel, one of the spectacular sights of Antarctica. Just before we reached the Channel we passed Cape Renard with its sheer peaks, including the distinctive twin peaks called "Una's Tits".


Lemaire Channel
Pack ice in the Lemaire Channel. The Lemaire Channel is about seven kilometres long and 500 metres wide at its narrowest, and lies between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island. The Channel is often blocked by ice and the first ship had only got through for the season the day before. As we passed along the Channel we encountered heavier pack ice and many icebergs and had to eventually turn back. This was our southernmost point of the trip - about 65 degrees south. We did a zodiac cruise around the shore of Booth Island and then headed north towards Paradise Bay. During the afternoon the ocean was like glass and reflected the surrounding mountains perfectly.


Almirante Brown Station Almirante Brown Station. The entry into Paradise Bay amid mountains, icebergs, reflections and sunny weather was one of the trip highlights. We stopped at a former Argentine station - Almirante Brown. We climbed the hill behind the station for fantastic views of the mountains and the bay. The weather was hot and some of us were in T-shirts when we climbed the hill. Everyone then slid down the snow slope back to the zodiacs.


Paradise Bay Paradise Bay. This was our third and last visit onto the continent. After the climb up the hill we did a zodiac cruise around the bay underneath the faces of some large glaciers. Luckily no ice fell into the water while we were there.


Singing Christmas Carols Singing Christmas carols at Paradise Bay. After we returned to the ship we had Christmas drinks in the bar then afterwards we all went onto the top deck to sing Christmas carols surrounded by the spectacular scenery. This was definitely a White Christmas! We then had Christmas dinner followed by celebrations out on deck. Paradise Bay then put on an amazing red sunset which I missed because I was asleep.


Chinstrap penguin Chinstrap penguin at Hydrurga Rocks. We spent our last full day in Antarctica visiting some islands further north along the Peninsula. During the morning we visited Hydrurga Rocks, a small rocky island containing chinstrap penguins and weddell seals. This was our last excursion ashore.


Humpback Whales Humpback whales. As we returned to the ship from Hydrurga Rocks we saw two whales in the distance and went out to investigate. We stopped the zodiac and shortly afterwards the whales came to inspect us. The other zodiacs soon joined us as well. The whales swam around and under our zodiacs for about 40 minutes. Having an animal five times longer than the boat swimming just underneath it is very interesting. This was another major highlight of the trip.


Professor Molchanov Professor Molchanov. This is a Russian ship with Russian crew. The ship holds 52 passengers and is very comfortable. It is one of the smaller tourist ships to visit Antarctica, however the smaller number of passengers means everyone can go ashore at the same time.


Zodiac cruising at Christiania Island Christiania Islands. We did our last zodiac cruise around the cliffs and coastline of the Christiania Islands. The island consists of vertical sea-cliffs a few hundred metres high topped by glaciers. We cruised through small canyons and amongst the icebergs piled up at the base of the cliffs. After this the ship headed north through the South Shetland Islands into the Drake Passage and towards South America.


Rocks at Cape Horn Cape Horn. The Drake Passage was rougher on the outward journey and the ship was rolling and pitching alot. More lectures were held and people began to think about the return to the real world. One and a half days after leaving the South Shetland Islands we spotted Cape Horn on the horizon. The weather was fairly good and the seas calm and the captain took the ship to within 200 metres of the rocks at the Cape before continuing on towards Ushuaia.


Arriving at Ushuaia Return to Ushuaia. We sailed up the Beagle Channel and arrived at Ushuaia early in the morning. We had a last breakfast, farewell speeches and a group photograph onboard before disembarking and going our separate ways. Some passengers continued their holidays in South America while others headed straight back home to Australia. The return to human society, traffic, noise etc was a shock after being cocooned in our own small world for the previous ten days.



Contact "alanlevy at pcug dot org dot au" for more information.

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Page last modified on Monday 6 January 2014