Incredible? Amazing? Breath-taking? I can’t begin to describe our voyage to the Antarctic region or the wonderful experience we had aboard our ship, the MS Fram. What I can do however, is share some of our experiences which were nothing short of being simply magical.
We boarded Hurtigruten’s MS Fram in Ushuaia, Argentina on Friday, 16th December headed towards the Falkland Islands.
We spent the second day of our voyage at sea which gave us plenty of time to get fitted for our exploration jackets and Arctic Muck boots. Lectures were held through-out the day covering topics such as Seabird adaptations and the history of the Falkland Islands.
On the third day we arrived at West Point in the Falkland Islands. Here, we were able to visit rookeries for both the Black-browed albatross and Rock Hopper Penguins. In the afternoon, we went ashore at Carcass Island to spot Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins and to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea at the McGills settlement.
Our next stop in the Falklands was the capital, Stanley. We had the whole day to explore the small community that resembles a country English village. Many of the memorials are dedicated to the 1982 Argentine invasion and the residents’ liberation by the British Armed Forces. There was also a very awesome supermarket that stocked baked beans and Malteasers! We enjoyed another set menu dinner with a reindeer entrée sitting with expedition team members, Elena and Adrian.
Day 5 & 6
After Stanley, we had 2 days at sea before we arrived in South Georgia. More lectures were given this time covering seals, penguins, and polar photography. We visited the bridge and enjoyed a fashion show, ice carving and fruit decorating display.
We arrived in South Georgia and our first scheduled stop was Fortuna Bay, home to fur and elephant seals and the King Penguin. In the afternoon, we went ashore again, this time in Stromness where the colonies are back-dropped by an old whaling station.
Everyone on board crossed their fingers for a landing at St Andrews and thankfully the weather was fabulous for a morning of on shore adventures. St Andrews is home to the largest King Penguin colony in South Georgia though it’s also possible to see fur and elephant seals. In the afternoon, we went on a boat tour of Ocean Harbour to see a ship wreck and the remnants of another old whaling station just as it started to snow!
We spent Christmas Eve exploring the first whaling station of the Antarctic region, Grytviken. Many of the buildings have been removed but the machines still stand where they were left. As per tradition, we had a scotch at Shackleton’s grave and enjoyed a brief Christmas celebration in the Whaler’s church before lunch. In the afternoon, we sailed the Drygalski Fjord where we anchored for a few hours to celebrate Christmas…and wait for Santa!!
Back at sea once more, we were entertained with lectures on Antarctic Weather, Antarctica, and Leadership throughout the day. It had been a rough night on the ocean so we enjoyed a nap or two. After dinner, we watched the movie, Shackleton, which provided a great insight into this adventurer’s life.
Vacuuming! Due to strict bio-security rules, every time we visit somewhere new, we have to vacuum all our landing gear to ensure no insects, seeds, or dirt have stowed away from a previous landing. The afternoon was spent visiting an Argentine research facility, Orcadas Station, on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys. We spotted Chinstrap and Adelie penguins and got a small taste of what it would be like to live in Antarctica.
Another day at sea and headed towards the Antarctic Peninsula. Again, we attended lectures by the expedition team and while we didn’t make a landing, our Captain did take us in as close as possible to Wild Point on Elephant Island to see where Shackleton’s men camped for four and a half months awaiting rescue. The evening was spent spotting whales as we continued our journey to the Peninsula.
We dragged ourselves out of bed at 3am to watch the sunrise with a cup of hot chocolate before returning to bed for a few hours. When we awoke next, we’d entered the Antarctic Peninsula and ice floats scattered like confetti around the ship. The only ripples in the still water generated by swimming penguins, it was beyond beautiful. I doubt we have seen anything else in this world that rivals the grandeur of this remote continent.
Our landing today would be at Brown Bluff and I am now able to say I have stepped foot on all 7 continents.
The first landing of the day was at Half Moon Island, a small 2 km crescent shaped piece of land and we had been chosen to go kayaking. We saw seals and penguins however, when our group was caught in a cross wind on our way back to the ship, we had to make land and wait for rescue.
The second landing was at Whalers Bay on Deception Island, which is actually the caldera of an active volcano. Here, we were able to walk amongst the debris of a destroyed base and research station and participate in the polar plunge…of course I didn’t do it, hate cold water, but Justin found it rather refreshing!
In the morning of the 15th day we arrived in Cuverville Island, the home of one of the largest known Gentoo penguin colonies. The island itself was covered in snow making the ‘penguin highways’ visible (the strips they use to get from the colony to the sea and vice versa) though they created many ‘penguin jams’ forcing us to wait silently and unmoving as they passed within inches of us.
*The IAATO regulations state that visitors should remain a minimum 5 metres from wildlife however the curiosity of the penguins sometimes got the better of them and they would walk right up to you which meant we had to stand still and wait for them to go about their business.
The afternoon was spent in Neko Harbour which quickly became my favourite place on the trip. Large glaciers spilled over into the bay, snow crunched under the weight of our shoes, penguins and the temperature got up to a balmy 6 degrees! After the landing we enjoyed a warm Jacuzzi followed by a BBQ on deck. The whole day was simply perfect.
The last day of 2016 was spent in Port Lockroy which opened in 1944 as a British base. It now operates as a museum and features the southernmost postal service, the Penguin Post Office. Once the landings were complete, we sailed the Lemaire Channel but found the bottom end unpassable due to ice bergs blocking the way. Instead, we were treated to a 20 minute polar cirkle cruise before returning to the ship to prepare for the New Year celebrations.
Day 17 & 18
After so much adventure, it was time to turn back and head towards Ushuaia in Argentina once more. The crew and expedition team kept us entertained with more lectures and Justin was even invited to view the engine room. I was fearful of the Drake Passage as I’d made it this far without vomiting and, to my absolute joy, the Drake Passage barely rippled as we made our crossing.
The day we had dreaded. We were back in port and it was time to say fair well to our new friends. It is hard to explain properly what it is that we experienced on this voyage. It exceeded every expectation and for first time ‘cruisers’ we were highly impressed.
The standard of professionalism aboard the MS Fram combined with the wonderful weather and incredible experiences we had will be with us forever. A once in a lifetime opportunity…that we hope to do again someday…
Kilometres travelled: 6,613.49 or 3,571 nautical miles
Coldest day: -1 degree celcius
Hottest day: 6 degrees celcius
Want to see more of our Antarctic adventure? A short YouTube presentation is on it's way soon :)
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