I wondered if penguins would disappoint after polar bears… Departing Ushuaia in Argentina, I was filled with excitement, anticipation and immediate slight nausea adjusting to life at sea where I would be spending the next 18 days aboard the ice strengthened Russian research ship The Akademik Ioffe on my Antarctica cruise.
The ship’s Doctor giggled a little as she began handing out her endless supply of sea sickness tablets… as it turned out, the sea was not too rough at all as we were taking the much easier Eastward route to The Falklands, saving the reputed Drake’s Passage for the end. First stop in the Falklands just blew me away and exceeded any expectation I could have had for the trip. I am not referring to the somewhat obscure English town of Port Stanley (where I was able to pick up some lovely penguin pants for my travel companion’s stocking) but the nearby island inhabited only by an English couple who apparently made tea and cakes for all. Unfortunately I did not get to meet them, or taste their delightful cakes, as there was not a cat in hell’s chance of me leaving the remarkable integrated nesting ground of black-browed albatross and rock hopper penguins… the rock hoppers, by the way, are the penguins with the crazy coloured hair do’s hopping along in orderly lines and diving into rock pools. The uncontrollable grin had arrived and was there to stay!
South Georgia was our first introduction to the flatulence filled flubbering elephant seals, and the crazier boisterous fur seals. It is also home to an abundance of penguins of differing size, colourings and personalities. What a Christmas gift to sit on Gold Harbour beach amidst 100,000 + King penguins and their fluff covered inquisitive chicks. My favourite tale from our wildlife expert was that when explorers found these sites they thought they had discovered a new species that they named the Woolley penguin, not realising it was just the King chicks. En route to the Antarctic Peninsula excitement amongst us was high as we tried to spot the first Iceberg as it appeared on the distance horizon. To see such towering formations of ice that seemed to be within touching distance of the ship was simply breathtaking.
I had chosen a ship that offers kayaking as an option and was delighted to add this dimension to an already astonishing trip. Each outing was an new adventure with close up encounters of thundering tumbling icebergs, an overexcited seal, a curious sperm whale, and then at times the most beautiful silence and calm broken only by penguins as they porpoise through the icy water.
It was our last night in the Antarctic circle and as we toasted the New Year in with champagne on the deck under the midnight sun, an obliging pod of Orcas came swimming by. You could not ask for a more magical end to the adventure of a life time. After all the thrills and excitement we were then to face our only slight disappointment…that being the calmness of our Drake’s Passage crossing. Just writing this has my heart beating faster and adrenalin pumping. I can promise that the world of penguins will never disappoint!