Antarctica Travel, South Polar Region

South Shetland, Deception Island, Antarctic. Chinstrap penguins. Godot13

South Shetland, Deception Island, Antarctic. Chinstrap penguins. Photo by Godot13

What can I see during Antarctica travel?

The antarctic has an assortment of incredible wildlife managing to survive in the most extreme conditions on earth, set in a surreal landscape which is purely awe inspiring.

Emperor penguin exiting the water, Antarctic. Photo Christopher Michel

Emperor penguin exiting the water, Antarctic. Photo Christopher Michel

Some wildlife that may be seen in the arctic: Gentoo penguins, king penguins, adele penguins, chinstrap penguins, rockhopper penguins, Orca whales, fur seals, elephant seals, weddell seals, crabeater seals, birds…

An Antarctic circle safari is largely a marine based experience. Often these go to South Georgia (in the South Atlantic Ocean), which is bloody cold but not actually in the Antarctic circle.
Sightings will depend on the specific tour and the prevailing weather conditions but you can expect sightings of:

Penguins: colonies of gentoo and chinstrap penguins make up large (no, massive) populations on the shores of Antarctica.

Seals: crabeater, leopard and weddell seals are to be found here chilling out in the water or on the rocky beaches.

Whales: humpback whales (of some vocal repute) and killer whales (highly regarded in Hollywood) are present and may decide to entertain visitors, though unlike the tour guides they have no financial incentive to do so.

Birds: Albatross and Penguins.

a killer whale observing a seal in the arctic

An Orca checking to see what’s for lunch on the top shelf of the fridge.

Antarctica Travel versus. . . (see below)
No indigenous people, just mad scientists
No Polar Bears
Yes, Penguins
Yes, Whales and Seals
24hr daylight November-January
The word Antarctic is derived from Antarktikos, ‘opposite the bear. ‘ It is the only land on Earth owned by no one.

Arctic Travel
Indigenous peoples
Yes, Polar Bears
No Penguins
Yes, Whales & Seals
24hr daylight July-August
The word Arctic is derived from Arktos, ‘the bear’ in Greek, due to the Great Bear constellation above the North Pole.

Best time to go to Antarctica?

Best: December, January (summertime, usually -2C to -5C)
OK: November, February and March.
Worst : April – October (seriously cold and windy, with world records for both! )

Length of stay:
Minimum worthwhile stay in Antarctica, not including flights or sail time: 3-4 days in any area where wildlife is active at that time of year.
Recommended: 1 week or more for a full wildlife experience.

Antarctic Circle downsides

Antarctic blue ice on Lake Fryxell, Transantarctic Mountains.

Antarctic blue ice on Lake Fryxell, Transantarctic Mountains.

– Danger. These seas are neither particularly well charted nor free of icebergs so choose your ship with great care. See ‘beware’ below.
– Generally inhospitable climate with negligible habitation means that safe solo travel is impossible.
– Seasickness: most if not all tours to the Antarctic will be via either a largish cruise ship or a specialist expeditionary vessel, but if you’re prone to motion sickness then you could have a problem, especially during the rollercoaster Drake Passage section of the 600 miles from South America.
– Cold: those with circulatory problems or a heart condition should take extra precautions against the cold, though summers at the edge of the region are reasonably mild.

How to get to Antarctica?

A cruise ship off the Kiev Peninsula, Antarctic. Photo Cascoly

A cruise ship off the Kiev Peninsula, Antarctic. Photo Cascoly

Get to Antarctica in a couple of days sailing from Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile; or a about a week of sailing from Hobart in Tasmania or Lyttelton in New Zealand.
If travelling on a smaller ship make sure that it is a well equipped specialist expeditionary vessel with polar experienced crew.

Activities

antarctic penguins, antarctica

Take a walk among Gentoo penguins, king penguins, adele penguins, chinstrap penguins, rockhopper penguins, Orca whales, fur seals, elephant seals, weddell seals, crabeater seals, birds, and more. Photo by Steve who did just that!

Shore Visits: to view wildlife from another perspective, to examine geological features or to experience frostbite from close up.

Zodiac inflatable boat tripsto get closer to whales, seals, glaciers and icebergs will be on offer from good tour operators.

Sea Kayakingis another less common but more discreet way to get closer to nature.

Ecomessage:
The Antarctic circle currently remains the least spoilt place on earth and yet its creatures are already under threat from global warming. Please ensure that you are travelling with a tour operator who is sensitive to this and be aware that your presence there is as a privileged guest of mother nature.
Tourism in Antarctica is, in fact, having a positive effect on pollution there, since much of it is produced by careless scientists who have now had to clean up their act.

Antarctic cruises, beware

“Cruising in Antarctica is inherently dangerous. ” Denise Landau, Director, International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.
In 2007 58 ships took 37, 550 passengers sightseeing in Antarctica, mostly on small, specialist, ice-strengthened craft designed for the job and with experienced crew.
The MS Explorer – with 100 passengers on board – went down without loss of life November 2007, while one ship – MS Fram – hit an iceberg, and MS Nordkapp slit her side open on rocks. And these were smaller, ice-ready vessels!
However, with demand increasing some large cruise ships – more like floating hotels – are now making tours in polar waters without ice protection. Recently only two (Marco Polo and Deutschland) of the biggest ten ships were rated for ice.
While all ships carry enough boats/rafts for all passengers, in the event of a Titanic accident many passengers of super-capacity ships would be obliged to jump into ice waters and swim to rubber rafts. Fancy your chances in freezing Atlantic waters?
If not, when searching for your Antarctic Cruise, ask detailed questions about the crew’s polar experience and the ship’s ice protection rating. If in doubt, choose a small, dedicated ice vessel.
Experts forecast a ‘huge accident’ in the near future. . .

Cruises may include trips to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

Where to go:
This will be decided for you by professional guides on the basis of wildlife, sights and hopefully ice conditions.

Steve’s Trip from Buenos Aires, Argentina

A simply awesome expedition to this area of the world and the ”White Continent”. Highlights included thousands of King penguins and their chicks crowding the beaches with elephant seals and fur seals on South Georgia Island. Opportunities to hike the mountain snowy slopes were many and we were rewarded with stunning snow-capped landscapes and breath-taking views. We visited the relics of 1800’s abandoned whaling stations that once thrived on nearly wiping out the whale population in that area of the world.

On the Antarctica peninsula we were treated to a pod of Orcas hunting a seal on a small ice flow. Unable to dump the seal into the water, the Orcas gave up after 12 minutes, but the viewing was unbelievable. Of course, we participated in the ”Polar Plunge”. . . how could one not go to Antarctica and not go for swim? More spectacular landscapes, unique and massive iceberg sculptures, and thousands of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Unpredictable weather and snow blowing sideways made you feel you were on a real expedition to this southern frontier.

Extract from an Antarctica holiday blog from Don Webb

Antarctic Peninsula
Antarctica is a separate world. One can feel its presence as it approaches, sailing south from more temperate climes, Standing on the deck, one may follow the reeling albatross, feel the drop in temperature, the bite of the wind, and the pounding of the waves. Yet it is the presence of ice, from the first occasional fragments, escalating in shape, form and frequency, then finally dominating all else that brings assurance of arrival in Antarctica.

It was a hard crossing; though the captain said that it was not his roughest crossing, it was near the top and he also said that he could not sleep during the hurricane. After 2 days of getting beat around we finally made it to the calmer waters of the passage.
As we were leaving the Drake Passage I received the bad news that we might not be able to make a continental landing on Antarctica. Even knowing the risks and that there were no guarantees, I started to get upset because I made it this close only to be denied. However, I learned that nothing is written in stone and that the itinerary can change within the hour.

Much to my relief the itinerary did change and a window of opportunity opened up for us to make a continental landing. As a beautifully crisp sunny day unveiled itself and the seas lay down for the first time since my departure, I woke up to the full splendor of the Great White South I made it to the end of the earth and in a few moments I would be on a zodiac heading for land.