Fun things to do in Antarctica

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Antarctica

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    Danco Island

    by DSwede Updated Mar 23, 2014

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    Our eighth excursion to Danco Island (@ 64°43'45.08"S ; 62°36'1.67"W) will be long remembered, if not for the plentiful penguins, at least for the playful and breaching minke whale. As he was swimming towards us, breaking habit for most minkes, he was out in open water, exposing himself and breaching to the sky. Not once, but many times. Not sure how, but I even managed to get an in-focus picture of him half out of the water, with a level horizon and well framed. Would have been great if he had done that while we were kayaking among the small ice, but as seen from a zodiac was still better than hoped. I opted to cut the kayaking short in order to spend an hour with the thousands of gentoo penguins. Scaling up to the top of the 800ft hill was not only the highest point that gentoos have gone, but possibly the only escape from the penetrating smell of their colonies. We watched younglings chase their parents for food, watched the molting chicks strut around and watched the waddling streams of penguins beat down the snow in their walking highways (click for video).

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    Penguin Island

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    Later on, our twelfth and final outing was cancelled due to winds and sea conditions. Hoping to land at one of the northern most islands, Penguin Island (@ 62° 6'5.64"S ; 57°56'28.43"W), wind gusts and waves would have prevented the zodiacs from safely plopping us on land. The red volcanic island and the nearby glacier capped King George were visible only from the deck of the ship.

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    King George Island - Maxwell Bay

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    All during the night and the first half of the eleventh morning, we were sailing from the main Antarctic Peninsula to the more hospitable and thriving islands of King George. Our eleventh outing was just that, landing our zodiacs in Maxwell Bay (@ 62°11'79.75"S ; 58°57'37.23"W), at the foot of Russia’s Bellingshausen Station. They had promised to let us in, however in the end, did not (even though did stamp our passports).

    Chile’s Frei Station about a five minute walk away however did open their doors with hospitality and juice. It was here that the Chinese students on our boat had arranged to tour China’s Great Wall Station. Walking the relatively ice and snow free fringe of the island, this was the first time we’d seen vehicles (each registered to their native country), and the sound of something other than wind, water and birds. That sound was the sound of power tools and hammers. The Chileans were busy building facades on new buildings and putting the exterior on their new church.

    The Russians had their own Orthodox Church on the hill which probably didn’t have a single nail in it. The Orthodox Church was made from cedar from Siberia, brought in as a statement when the Pope declared Antarctica a Catholic continent. Other than a couple monuments and sign posts, the “locals” must have been busy inside, since little activity could be seen.

    As a side note, this is also the location of the annual antarctic marathon, run in March of every year..

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    Wilhelmina Bay

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    On the way to our tenth excursion, Wilhelmina Bay (@ 64°39'40.51"S ; 62° 5'43.66"W), we passed a small Chilean (AF) base. There was no sign of human life in the half dozen buildings, but the base did seem to be overrun by thousands of penguins.

    Wilhelmina Bay is supposed to be a whale paradise and feeding point. No beaches available mean that all visitors can only view the sheer cliffs, glaciers and whales from the water. Unfortunately the whales didn’t get the memo that we were coming. The crew brightened our spirits with a floating bar serving hot chocolate and Kahlua.

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    Brown Base

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

    The tenth day saw the ninth excursion to Paradise point cancelled due to winds and sea conditions. But thankfully the skies calmed just enough for our first official ‘continental’ landing at Brown Base (@ 64°53'43.18"S ; 62°52'6.79"W). The short stop was just long enough to walk 10 minutes to the crest of a small hill for a photo opportunity and view of the bay. The small Argentinean base accepted our request to land, but was not opening any doors for us, except for one lady helping people off the zodiacs.

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    Lemaire Channel and Gerlache Straight

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    Day nine was thankfully warmer and drier. After leaving the Argentine Island Archipelago, our northward course took us through the Lemaire Channel and Gerlache Straight (@ 65° 5'51.68"S ; 63°58'37.81"W), ending at Danco Island. Swells, waves and snow made the Lemaire Channel a bit more mysterious than dramatic as its Kodak Point nickname implies. It is a rugged and narrow passage, 11km/6.8mi long, 1.1km/.68mi at its widest and only 400m/1300ft at its narrowest. But having most of its mountains and hanging glaciers covered in a veil of cloud and falling snow, only seeing their impressive plummet into the waterline was still humbling. While we could not see much, the radar was alive with bits of ice and rock. Somehow, the only southern right whale of the trip, a humpback and a leopard seal found this solace comfortable to take a nap bobbing in the water together.

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    Petermann Island

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    We did not go far since our sixth excursion was only 4 miles way at Petermann Island (@ 65°10'34.22"S ; 64° 8'9.69"W). Having moderate winds, only a few of us selected to kayak, navigating the leeward side of the island for half the time. The other half was on the island, watching the copious gentoo penguins, with their molting adolescents and hungry babies. In all the chatter of the penguins, only one lone Adelie was to be seen.

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    Vernadsky Station and Wordie Hut

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    Day eight thankfully saw improving weather and allowed us to see all our excursions. The fifth excursion was to Vernadsky Station (@ 65°14'44.09"S ; 64°15'26.55"W) and Wordie Hut (@ 65°15'3.97"S ; 64°15'12.92"W). The former being a Ukrainian research station and the later being an old British hut during the days of geological surveys. Vernadsky was bought the Faraday Station from the UK for 1 pound, contingent that they continue ozone research. After getting the passport stamped, mailing cards, buying a patch in the “Southernmost Souvenir Shop”, the only thing left to do was try their moonshine vodka at Faraday Bar. Not having a bra to make a trade, I had to buy the shot of cinnamon goodness. Then off to Wordie Hut, only a three minute zodiac ride away. The original hut was burnt down, the second was washed away by a rogue wave, but the third is still standing since abandoned in 1954. It is well maintained just as if they left yesterday.

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    Prospect Point

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    Day seven was spent almost entirely on the boat. Moving northbound, our fourth excursion destination was Prospect Point (@ 65°55'25.90"S ; 64°57'9.77"W). Due to extremely overcast weather, choppy seas and 15knot winds, not only was kayaking cancelled, but the zodiacs could not make shore. We wound up cruising on the zodiacs around the ice watching seals play until it was time to turn back with 25knot winds. The winds and seas continued to climb as we were snowed on most of the afternoon and night.

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    Detaille Island

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    On day six, our third excursion was to be at Detaille Island (@ 66°53'6.83"S ; 66°39'8.55"W). From our current position, we would have to round Adelaide Island (the inner channel was filled with ice), pass the Antarctic Circle northbound and then turn back into the bay passing the circle for the third time. We feared we may have had to cancel and skip Detaille, but the ship was able to make slow progress, pushing through bands of sea ice and bergs. The ship after all is ice strengthened (up to 1m/3ft of ice), but is not an icebreaker. Kayaking around the island, we could see the historic hut, we did see wildlife and interesting views from the water but unfortunately we never made it ashore. Those not on the kayaking did eventually make it to shore.

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    Stonington Island

    by DSwede Updated Mar 22, 2014

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    Sailing to our second excursion, Stonington Island (@ 68°11'2.61"S ; 66°59'57.11"W) we pushed down further south than the captain and crew had ever been, down to 68° 12.815′ S! Kayaking south of 68° must be a rare opportunity, particularly in calm seas and under a blue sky. For about an hour we paddled through the brash ice and small bergs, sighting random seals and penguins, hearing nothing but the sound of the ice passing under us. As weather started to move in, we raced to the landing site. There was a British Hut from the 60’s as well as three smaller American huts, call East Base from the 1940’s. This is the site where the first woman wintered in Antarctica – Edith “Jackie” Ronne (Mrs. Finn Ronne). These encampments are on a small island with a massive glacier coming in channel behind it. The huts were eventually abandoned due to ice access.

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    Horseshoe Island

    by DSwede Written Mar 22, 2014

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    On day five, our first excursion was Horseshoe Island (@ 67°48'38.18"S ; 67°17'39.97"W). Hoping to kayak, the winds were too high. But the zodiac landing on the rocks went smooth enough. The old British hut was preserved as it was left in 1956, complete with food tins on the shelves and board games on the tables. Filing in 10 at a time, we could see how they lived 2.5 years at a time, until ultimately abandoned due to difficulty to access because of sea ice. Penguins, many seals and a couple of minke whales were seen along the way. We also noticed of copper deposits in the rocks, staining many things the unmistakable green color.

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    CRABEATER SEALS

    by DAO Updated Aug 18, 2013

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    Crabeater Seals eat Krill, not crabs. It kind of helps that there really aren’t any crabs down here. Different theories around a mistranslation of the Norwegian word ‘Krill’ account for the name of this amazingly interesting mammal. They live almost exclusively here in Antarctica, have massive numbers, can swim up to 25 kmh and are the largest consumers of Krill. You are probably wondering what Krill is at this point.

    Crabeaters Males (Bulls) and Females (Cows) are almost identical in size and produce Pups are born between October and December (Spring!). They take about 3 weeks to nurse with mum and are protected by a male during this period – typically NOT the father.

    Crabeaters are big eaters. They feed up to 16 hours at a time, diving up to 40 meters deep and eat everything from other seals to penguins and any fish available. They used to be hunted themselves by the almost non-existent Baleen Wale and are still actively hunted by Leopard Seals.

    Crabeaters live primarily on ice flows and females even give birth out here after 11 months. Despite this they have been found 35 miles inland and above 3,000 feet on the Ferrar Glacier. Some lost seals even travelled hundreds of kilometres inland to their deaths.

    Close-up photos show a lot of scars on them around their face and on their flippers. This is actually caused during breeding rather than from predators.

    Although they might occasionally wash farther away – if you want to see Crabeater Seals – you need to come to Antarctica!

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    Keep the Camera Out Even When Leaving

    by fred98115 Written Aug 2, 2013

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    The photo opportunities continue even as you leave Antarctica. You take so many pictures that you feel "done". However, eat early and head forward on the cruise ship to enjoy the sunset opportunites. Remember that the ship will be at 20 knots, so dress warmly and be prepared for a stiff breeze. This is a great opportunity to use the zoom lens. It is also a chance to "stitch" photos, a capability taught in the onboard computer classes. My apologies, but I can't include a stitched photo since they are large files.

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    Penguins Abound

    by fred98115 Written Aug 2, 2013

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    When we boarded the Veendam for the Antarctic cruise, question number one was will we see penguins. We had no idea. The scientists told us that six of the world's 18 species of penguins can be found in Antarctica, with an estimated population approaching 20 million breeding pairs. Get close to floating ice and yiu'll probably see a penguin or two or more. Photographers, this is where that long telephoto or long zoom could be really useful. I found my 105 mm a tad too short in reach. If you want to bring a second lens, go long.

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