On 2 March 2016 we joined Antarctica XXI and boarded the M/V Ocean Nova heading towards the Antarctica Peninsula. These 10 days we have no access to internet so I chose to record what happened on our voyage in diary format. As I written my diary in thorough details, I’ve decided to make it into two parts. Since we were in Easter Island, internet connection was slow so we took a while before we finalized Part II. If you have not read Part I or have forgotten about it, please read 10 Day Antarctica Peninsula with M/V Ocean Nova- Part 1
Day 5: Perfect day on the Antarctic Peninsula. Blue sky + Penguins + Icebergs + Antarctica Mountains.
Today was our most perfect day in Antarctica Peninsula. Everything we did and saw today was enough to justify the ticket price to Antarctica. Upon wakening, we saw huge ice mountains surrounded us. The boat was sailing slowly towards Southern Gerlache Strait and our first location was Dorian Bay at Domay point. Despite it streaming the water slowly, we knew that it was equipped with one of the best marine trolling batteries, because it was sailing with such grace.
Before 9am, people were already lining up at deck two for zodiacs to take us to shore. Many people had already been outside taking pictures of the sun rise in the Antarctica Peninsula. Since we got very cold at yesterday’s landing, I decided to wear extra gear. Adding on top of yesterday’s clothes, I worn an extra pair of socks and fleece. We were told today’s weather is going to be perfect and the best out of all the days we are here in Antarctica Peninsula.
At Dorian Bay we saw two very colorful buildings which reminded me of the huts on Brighton bay in Melbourne. One of the building was built by Argentinian and the other one, British.
The British building was used from 1973 to 1993 as a refuge place for ships which required to wait for frozen waterways to melt during early summers. I originally thought Antarctica was only full of animals and ice but it is full of human history.
Besides human history, this place was full of Gentoo Penguins. Around 1600 penguins currently inhabit the island. After we climbed a gentle hill we saw many penguin chicks waddling around. Since it was March, most of these chicks is already full grown, however we were lucky enough to still see one new born chick hiding under its mother.
The hill wasn’t a very difficult climb but the scenery was breath taking and after a long time we only made small progress. On one side we could see huge Icebergs floating on the sea with a massive mountain range on the background and on the other side, there was a blinding stretch of ice with penguins. It was a perfect place to enjoy the Antarctic’s beauty.
York was also childishly using the snow slopes as an icy slide. He did read a lot of posts which explained to him what snowboards are made of but forgot to bring the board itself from the boat when we left for the snow expedition. Since I failed the first recording, I got him to do it again to show everyone what he was doing.
Video of York sliding on his bum. Antarctica Peninsula.
On the other side of the hill is the station where our postcards will be left by the crew members. The post cards will remain there for the whole Antarctic winter, sent to Falkland Island around summer in November, delivered to England and then sent to the rest of the world from there.
It’s cheap for $1USD per post card considering how far the post card needs to go. We probably would forget about these post cards we posted and be surprised when we get it in one year’s time.
Although initially on the Antarctica Peninsula, we have a clear sky and the sun was shining brightly, but after two hours, we could see huge stormy clouds on the horizon. There isn’t really an autumn in Antarctica, it has summer and winter. The weather changes exceptionally quick during this month.
This morning landing went by so quickly, although almost everyone stayed out there for the whole three hours. By the time we went back to the ship, all the passenger’s moral was extremely high and everyone was discussing how beautiful this place was and what each of us saw.
Antarctica Peninsula. Video of the huge, irregular but beautiful Iceberg we saw on the Zodiac
We discussed our morning in the Antarctica Peninsula over our super quality lunch buffet. I couldn’t say enough times on how awesome the kitchen staff must be to keep preparing these quality meals with huge variety.
After lunch we were sailing down the very famous Lamaire Channel. This 11 km long straight of ocean is very narrow around 800m wide at most points. Surrounding us were huge ice mountains over 600meters tall. In the channel, there were many huge blocks of icebergs making the sailing extremely difficult.
We even went down to the bridge to watch the captain navigate these waters. The bridge is open most of the time and we can always come here to chat with the captain, but this is my first and only time in the bridge. After looking at ship gadgets we don’t understand, we decided to go back to the top deck and enjoy the rest of the view of this very beautiful channel.
The wind on the top deck was gushing but everyone was keen to keep going outside to enjoy the view and take beautiful pictures. Unfortunately our cameras lens are not wide enough for this scenery. There were also many seals on icebergs which we were over excited about and couldn’t take enough pictures of them. There is a point later where we were indifferent when we see them passing by because we have seen so many.
After bashing the ship on some ice just to get through the Lemaire Channel, we all cheered to the captain for his fine work. We now head towards Pleneu Bay, also known as “Iceberg Graveyard”. The reason for this name is because many icebergs ends up trapped in this area and remain here until they disappear.
This next part is one of my favorite. For over an hour, in groups of 10, we were taken on a Zodiac to see these huge ice blocks, carved by nature through time. Each boat will have an expedition staff which will act as a zodiac driver and guide.
Our Zodiac driver plus guide is called Olle. He has been going on these cruises for over 25 years and is full of knowledge. He knows exactly where to take us to see the most amazing icebergs and even placed the zodiac right next to an iceberg full of three seals for us to take photos and videos of them. It was a brilliant three hours.
Seals on floating on icebergs in Antarctica Peninsula (Video)
We also saw groups of penguins driving in and out of the water like flying fish. It was extremely hard to take photos of them because we had to predict when they fly out. After taking pictures of all these amazing icebergs and wildlife, our hands were about to freeze but we were all overwhelmed with the sight presented to us.
To top off our amazing time at Pleneu Bay, we were taken to Port Charcot immediately after our Zodiac Cruise. At Port Charcot there were even more Gentoo penguins than this morning. We even got my ideal shot of penguin, iceberg plus us in one photo here.
Port Charcot Gentoo Penguin Parade (Video)
Some of the baby penguins will also innocently walking towards you when you try to take a picture of them. Many of our good penguin pictures were taken here.
There is a hill on Port Charcot with many penguin chicks. These chicks have also all grown up and were around the same size as their parents. However many of these chicks still have their grey fluffy down which isn’t waterproof so still required to be fed by their parents.
To see these chick at a stage when they are small and newly hatched from the eggs, you have to come here during January. January Antarctic ticket price is coincidentally the most expensive.
These penguin chicks are not small anymore and are almost the same size as their parents. They still required to be mouth fed by their parents as these big chicks still can’t go into the water. Many of us just sat there and watch these chicks being fed. It was an interesting sight.
The smell of penguin poo is very potent and we have to be very careful where we step. If even the smallest amount of penguin poo make it back to our room on our clothes, they will stink out the whole room for the whole night.
There is a saying amongst the whalers in the past. Before you see the penguins you will smell them
Gentoo Penguin on the loose (Video)
On our way back to the ship on the Zodiac we realized that our Ocean NOVA is completely surrounded by floating ice. No wonder normal cruise liners couldn’t come out this far into the ice grounds during these months. It was so cold at this point that York’s Iphone battery completely drained. During winter, this straight of ocean will freeze up to 10-20 meters. Antarctica will actually expand to twice its size in winter due to these frozen ocean.
We have a special dinner waiting for us today. It was BBQ on the deck! By the time the Zodiac came close to the ship, we could smell the juicy meat and this made us extremely hungry. As soon as we got inside we took off our life vest and charged up to the deck.
When we arrived at the BBQ dinner party, we were offered hot wine. They taste extremely well in this hot weather. Then we went straight for the BBQ meat and fish. We were amazed that our chefs could make BBQ taste so good.
We all sat there with our food watching the amazing scenery and sunset over Pleneu Bay. It is a moment all of us will remember for the rest of our life. I could only say that joining this tour with Antarctica is one of the best decisions of my life.
Day 6: Finally stepping on Antarctica mainland. Still on Antarctica Peninsula.
At 6:30am we arrive at another famous location in Paradise harbor called Skontrop Cove. At that time, the sun wasn’t even up and I wasn’t ready to get out of bed so York went up to the top deck to check out the scenery first. I then got the response from him that view was “Ok…” but I still decided to get on all my gear and head to top deck to check out this cove. Luckily I did!
After yesterday I thought I couldn’t possibly be surprised anymore but this place is truly surreal and no words can really justify how mystical the place felt. At that time the sky was overcast, so the place appeared slightly misty and the snow was falling lightly. Also there were no wind at that point so the ocean was flat like a mirror and gave beautiful reflections of the huge icy mountains around us.
Amongst the huge mountains in the deep sections in Skontrop Cove is the Petzval Glacier. This Glacier terminal is huge compared to the ones we saw in Patagonia. The view was so surreal and nothing around us seems like something from this world. I thought places like this will only exist in movies or tucked away in the places where humans won’t go. I cannot believe how beautiful this frozen world looks.
Skontrop Cove (Video)
After a while the Captain turns the ship and headed out of the cove and we all unwillingly left this paradise. We had breakfast and soon after I headed back to bed because it was still an hour before we arrive in Neko Harbor. Neko Harbor is the only landing that is actually on the Antarctic continents, all our other previous landings were actually islands. Our company Antarctica XXI also prepared “The 7th continent” flag for us to take pictures with. It is the official moment that York and I will set foot on Antarctica and our 7th continent.
On this landing there are around 500 Gentoo Penguins. The specialty of this penguin is their iconic white spot around their eyes. They were extremely cute especially when they have not lost their fluffy grey down coat. It was however, the same type of penguin as the previous two days so we were not overly thrilled when we saw them this time. These penguins were literally everywhere on the island.
Antarctica Peninsula. Gentoo Penguins everywhere!
On the ground, there were quite a few dead baby penguins. We were told that these deaths are most likely due to infections or the chick had lost both parents at sea. Some of the baby penguins were extremely energetic and come very close to us but every time we come too close we will be told off by one of the expedition guide.
On top of a hill at Neko Harbor, there is a lookout point for beautiful scenery. When we were climbing the hill, we found that fresh snow is actually a lot easier to walk on as it is a lot less slippery. It was quite windy today but within the area of this landing we could hardly feel the wind. When we look down from the hill we could see beautiful reflection of the glacier and icebergs floating nearby.
Panoramic view of Neko Harbour (Video)
There is a path at every penguin colony called the Penguin Highway. It sounds like a random term but it is a road where all the penguins use to get from their nest to the sea. There are so many penguins using this path that the ground has been stomped to ice. It is hard to imagine that penguins can climb so high for nesting.
York was a fool by taking a rocky path between the penguins and fell on rocks patterned with penguin poop. Last time when only the smallest amount of poop made it bake into our room, our room stank of fishy penguins all night. For the rest of the day, York was sliding on his bum and back on the snow just to try and get these poop off his body. He did succeed a little.
We also saw an unique penguin which was born without any melanin. The fur on this penguin was actually blond. It was interesting to see that this penguin was not rejected by its kind and was wondering comfortably around them.
Close up with the penguins (Videos)
We were supposed to land at a place called Orne Harbor this afternoon but the wind was picking up so the Captain decided that we wouldn’t be able to enter the harbor safely. This place is Antarctica after all and weather can change in a moment’s notice. We soon found out that our afternoon schedule was changed to finding whales with our Zodiacs since we have spotted some whales.
We actually have spotted two whales early this morning but most people couldn’t see where they were. When whales were spotted the second time, it was later this afternoon when many of us saw the whales in the far distance. This is when the Captain decided that this was the place where we will chase the whales and do some whale watching.
Since we will be staying on the sea for around two hours this time on windy rough sea, the crew members reminded us that we need to wear warm clothes. York and I really don’t have anything else to add to our gear.
Chasing Whales was a bit like an Africa Safari hunt on water. There were six zodiacs in total in the water and each driver carried a walkie-talkie. When a whale is spotted, all Zodiacs will be notified and we will all head towards the whale. We soon found out that there were actually quite a few whales in this area and we were the first Zodiac to spot one. We came really close to this whale and took many pictures of it successfully.
Zodiac breaking thin ice to find whales (Video)
The whales we saw were the Humpback Whale, known to be around 14 to 17 meter long and can weigh up to 45 tones. They are commonly down here in the Antarctic to feed on krill. Whales will usually surface every seven to eight minutes to breath. The first sign of a whale surfacing is its distinct blow-hole noise. Once we heard this sound, we will head in that general direction and our Zodiac drivers will try and get us as close as possible to the whales. We then wait for the moment it dives and at that moment, we have a chance to see the whale tail also known as the fluke. The prized shot in the whale chase is to take a detailed photograph of the whale fluke. The best chance to take the close shot of the tail is with my Sony WX350 which can zoom to a maximum of 500mm. Although it is not the perfect camera to capture the fluke, I did get some close up pictures.
The first whale we saw was actually my most successful shot of the fluke. Because the tail was so high above water and our Zodiac was in the perfect spot to take the photo. Unfortunately the photo is not crisp enough to show all the patters on the tail. We spotted around 5 whales in total.
Complete Whale Tail emerging from the sea (Video)
York was videoing some of the whales but when the whale fluke came perfectly out of the water, his videoing went too far up and missed most of it. It was a pity. We were out there chasing whales for two whole hours and we spent some time looking at penguins, seals and icebergs as well. I was quite cold and hungry after the two hours though. I found that I get hungry a lot easier in the cold.
Take 2 of the whale emerging from the sea (Video)
Many of the ladies on the same Zodiac were clearly quite cold as well so when all this was over, we were all quite keen to go back to our rooms for a hot shower.
Our dinner was fantastic as usual but shortly after dinner was finished, the waves were picking up again. We decided to retire early before we started feeling sick.
Lying on my bed I thought back on this morning’s Skonstrop cove and remembering how beautiful it was. It’ll remain in the top five of my favorite sceneries of all time. I’m sure if the captain didn’t take us into Skonstrop cove so in the early morning, the experience wouldn’t be so magical.
Day 7: The day we say goodbye to Antarctica and head into the Drake Passage early
This is the last day in Antarctica. During yesterday’s briefing, we learnt that Drake’s Passage is going to have a huge storm and the only way to avoid it is to leave Antarctica early and depart after lunch today. It’s a pity to cut our last day short but none of us wants to suffer through the full wrath of the Drake Passage either.
Our last landing is at Half Moon Island and it’s our first chance to visit the Chinstrap Penguin. Chinstrap Penguins have got a characteristic black line under their chin. Out of the all the penguin species, chinstrap penguin has the second largest population. To me the face of a chinstrap penguin looks like a seagull.
There are a lot of Fur seals on this island and the expedition leader had to close off one of the path because there were way too many seals on it. We still had to be careful around the seal areas because these seals were quite active. We were not keen to have another seal chase experience.
Half Moon Island and the super active seals (Video)
We were getting good at taking good penguin photos after a few days of photographing wild life. After looking at all the pictures we have taken, I wasn’t sure which ones to share because they were all so good.
There is an Argentinian research station on Half Moon Island and the expedition leader said that if we could get in contact with them, we could go in to visit. However when we got to Half Moon Island, the Argentinian base was no longer responding. We assumed that the Argentinians have already left their base for winter, however after being on the island for several hours, we saw a helicopter flying out of the base.
Before we got back onto our ship, the expedition staff took us all on a Zodiac ride around Half Moon Island. We heard that the kayaking group was attacked by some Leopard Seals which none of us had seen up close. The seals were apparently biting their oars. Our Zodiac driver decided to the place where the seals were last spotted but we weren’t that lucky to see these seals. We cruised around the island and enjoy our view of the wild life and the icy mountains one last time.
When we arrive back to the ship, we were all invited to the top deck to celebrate our end to this fabulous adventure. The captain and the expedition leader both made a great speech and we all cheered to them with our champagne. Next we said goodbye to Antarctica and sail back through The Drake’s Passage. Many people joke that tonight’s dinner will be the only meal that they can keep down in the next few days.
As soon as we were in the Drake’s Passage, the whole ship begins to sway. We shall not be seeing any land for the next two days. I did not dare to underestimate the wrath of Drake’s Passage anymore and took my sea-sick tablets on time. The boat was swaying so much when I was showering, the water was swishing everywhere in the bathroom and the water coming out of the shower constantly changed direction. After dinner, all the staff kept reminding us that we shouldn’t leave anything loose in our bed room because they will probably be flying around during the night.
There was a Disney movie playing in the library tonight call “Eight Under”. It was a movie about the survival of 8 dogs after they were left behind in Antarctica. It was supposed to be a tear jerker, but the acting was pretty bad. I was staring out the window for half the movie thinking if anyone fell into this water, they will probably freeze before they drown.
Day 8: Back on Drake Passage
There are no morning call for these two days and we could sleep in as long as we want. Breakfast is served between 8:00 to 9:30. By the time we arrive there at 9, most passengers had already finished breakfast but there were still plenty of food left.
The Drake Passage looked extremely cloudy and I really wish that we won’t be bumping into the storm. They say that the weather forecast isn’t always accurate here and there is a chance that the storm might come early. The ship was swaying quite a bit today and we didn’t bother with most of the ship talks. I could only eat my lunch and quickly go back to bed. I noticed the amount of people eating during the meals are beginning to decrease.
I really wanted to sort out all my photos today but with the ship was swaying so dramatically, it is bit of a challenge. I was beginning to wonder how I would cope posting up all the photos I have taken in the last 10 days.
Day 9: Entering Puerto Williams, Chile
Yesterday we made heaps of progress on the Drake’s passage and our captain manage to get us out of the Drake’s Passage before the storm. By the time we have woken up, we were already in the Beagle Channel and the land was now protecting us from the waves and the wind. The ship was clearly not so shaky. I was feeling that I was catching a cold though. Probably from all fun I had in the freezing cold in the last few days.
Besides waking up to eat, I stayed in my room and slept for majority of today. York on the other hand attended all the talks. Before dinner we had a Farewell cocktail to thank all the staff for the last 10 days. We could truly feel that this job is the job they all truly love doing.
At 9:00pm tonight, we arrived at a Chilean port called Port Williams. This was the reason why we had to sign a form to say that we were passing by Chile. We waited for around half an hour before we were allowed to get off our ship. However there wasn’t really much to do in this small port so late at night. The only thing to do here was to go to the only museum which specially opened for us at 10pm. It was an interesting museum on the history and people of the Patagonian land. Most of us felt that this visit to Port William was quite strange.
Day 10: The day we return back to mainland South America and continue on with our round the world trip.
It was our last day on Ocean Nova and it was an emotional day to say goodbye to our new friends which we made during this exceptional journey
During our 10 days in Antarctica we have learnt a lot and now understand that Antarctica is not just full of Penguins and Ice. Humans have long been in Antarctica and we have seen many mistakes done to this land during our short 10 days of travel. Heavy whaling activities have driven the largest animal in the world, the blue whale, close to extinction. Climate change has caused the ice in the Antarctica to melt at an alarming rate, fresh water ice shelves are breaking off and sea waters are on the rise. Worst of all, there was enormous pressure from many countries wanting to start mining minerals in Antarctica for years during the 1980s.
Just want to finish off with what an expedition staff said during one of his lecture. It was very memorable. He said that humans does not protect something they don’t know or understand. Although tourism does pollute this frozen world but it allows more people to understand why this land needs to be protected and mistakes we have made in the past should not be repeated. We are all ambassadors now.
Ps.Packing List for Long Term Travel in a 8 Kg Carry-on proven to be enough for Antarctica Peninsula 😛