nature, Travel

Antarctic adventures

In March 2020 I went for an expedition cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten. We visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the first of the accounts of that trip, showing the spectacular scenery of the South Shetlands and The Antarctic Peninsula.

I flew from Heathrow to Buenos Aires, staying overnight before flying down to Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of South America. I had a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park before boarding MS Fram in Ushuaia.

Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego National Park

The ship headed through the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The Drake Passage is supposed to have either the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’. We had both: it started off very rough and then became calm the next day.

We had several landings in the South Shetlands, our first was at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island where we met with a colony of Gentoo penguins and a few seals.

Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour
Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour

Our next port of call was Orne Harbour, part of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. The morning was misty and there were several icebergs floating on the water. On the way to Orne Harbour we sighted many humpback whales going past. You see the blow, then the back and when they dive you see the fluke. There were between eight and ten whales in the bay where we were moored so we could watch them.

Whale swimming near the ship
Whale swimming near the ship

We landed on a narrow stony beach at Orne Harbour and walked along to see a couple of penguins and seals. The beach had big chunks of ice and big boulders. The conditions were too icy for a climb, but if we had kept walking south we would have eventually reached the pole. We also passed cliffs with chinstrap penguins nesting high up.

The beach at Orne Harbour
The beach at Orne Harbour

In the afternoon we went towards Damoy Point through spectacular scenery of mountains and ice – the ice was both pink and green caused by algae growing on it. Damoy Point is a rocky isthmus off the west coast of Wiencke Island, Antarctic Peninsula. We had some rain and snow on the journey.

Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae
Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae

Damoy Point had a large Gentoo penguin colony – you could smell them as soon as you got near land. I was lucky enough to see one of the young penguins being fed by a parent. There was also an historic British Antarctic Survey hut that you could go inside. It was very interesting seeing the artifacts left there.

Young penguin being fed by parent
Young penguin being fed by parent

Early the next day we went down the Lemaire Channel and landed at Petermann Island, our southernmost point.  It was very misty and as we waited to go ashore the weather deteriorated going from rain to snow and the sea became rougher. Not many people went ashore because of the weather but I did, and was glad I had, as it was wonderful seeing the penguins with the snow falling. The fresh snow covered the rocks and made the landscape pristine.

Penguins enjoying the snow
Penguins enjoying the snow

On the way back through the Lemaire Channel the sky cleared and we could see the stunning cliffs at the sides with many glaciers. None calved while we were there although we heard several booms from other places where they had calved.

Cliffs in Lemaire Channel

Our last landing in the Antarctic was Whalers Bay on Deception Island. Deception Island is formed from the remains of a volcanic caldera. When we first went ashore in Whaler’s Bay it was misty but the mist soon cleared. There were the remains of a whaling station and also huts used by the British during the second world war. One of the huts had been demolished by a landslide during the eruption in the late 1960s, so the volcano is still regarded as being active.

Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay
Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay

There were several seals around, both in groups and singly. They were hard to see and were the colour of rocks. Some of the seals were young males and they kept fighting and annoying each other. They were quite happy to be among the remains of the buildings and the whaling station.

There were several penguins including a couple swimming close to shore. They came out the water while I was there. Seeing penguins in the water reminded me that they are sea birds and only come on land to breed.

We walked up the slope to Neptune’s window which gave a good view over the bay. On the way back there was a ‘fog bow’, like a rainbow but without the colour.

Fog bow
Fog bow

When the mist cleared and the sun came out it was sunny and warm, giving us wonderful views as we left Deception Island. The sun stayed with us as we saw huge flat icebergs, some over a mile long, that had come from an ice shelf.

Leaving Deception Island
Leaving Deception Island

It was time to leave Antarctica and spend the next two days at sea as we traveled to South Georgia.

You can see more of my pictures from this Antarctic Adventure through my YouTube video:

There are information sheets on the various landing places we went to available as Antarctic Treaty visitor site guides:
Yankee Harbour
Orne Harbour
Damoy Point
Petermann Island
Whaler’s Bay

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