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Antarctica “Simply the most amazing place on earth”.

November 30, 2013 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

IMG_3059That’s the answer to a question asked almost constantly since a holiday to Antarctica in February.
Questions … questions … questions.

Like no other destination, Antarctica captures the imagination of everyone.
Answer the first question and others tumble on top of each other like dominoes.

Here are some of the answers:

P1070618The colours! Pure white – literally pure white – snow and ice; a transparent pale blue in the glaciers and ice bergs unlike anywhere   else; deep green, almost black seas; and glowering  dark peaks.

The wildlife!  On ice flows, seals: fur seals, Weddell seals and infamous Leopard seals with heads like menacing Bull Terriers. In the water, whales, graceful Minkes and boisterous Humpbacks; and acrobatic dolphins.

On shore, elephant seals and sea lions lazing on rocky islands like giant dark brown bean bags snorting and billowing steam.

Birds: terns, petrels, and Skuas swooping on tiny and defenseless penguins chicks, swaddled in soft brown down huddling together to unite against the threat.

P1070429Penguins. Everywhere: Gentoos, Chinstraps, Adelies.

On land, they appear so humorously clumsy as if Charlie Chaplin had perfected his supremely comic walk from studying these wonderful creatures. Yet in the water, gracefully leaping through the ocean surface – called porpoising – as they race to or from their search for food for their chicks.

A land of extremes – the coldest, driest and windiest – which so challenges the human race that it was the last continent to bediscovered and in winter is “habited” by mere hundreds of our fellows in the protection of research stations.

The final question: How?

The motor vessel, ‘The Ushaiua’, left from the port town of Ushuaia, on Beagle Channel, named for P1070392one of the vessels on Charles Darwin’s culture shattering voyage. Ushuaia is one of two main Argentinian cities on an island in Tierra del Fuego, in Patagonia at the bottom of South America.

Ushuaia is at once so remote and beautiful, with a mountain glacier floating above the city, and yet, also with a seafood restaurant frequently voted in Argentina’s top three.

Two days across Drake’s Passage, regarded as the globe’s roughest water way, and seven days alongside the Antarctic Peninsula, between the spectacular icy glaciers and mountains of the coastline, the dark rocky landscapes of the islands, and the icebergs and ice flows in the surrounding waters. A landscape unique and peerless.

P1070321About 80 passengers comprised our voyage, an ideal number for camaraderie but more importantly for excursions. Convention limits excursions to less than 100 people. At least twice each day, we left the vessel for the mainland or islands, to meet the scientists in research stations or take “Zodiac” cruises around ice flows, a shipwreck or the edge of glaciers.

The excursion team, led by Augustin ….., who has the rare profession of Antarctic Park Ranger, was both on-ship entertainer and off-ship naturalist. The excursion team was extensive in their knowledge and   scrupulous in their concern for the wildlife and the environment.

This is definitively a pristine environment which is being challenged by people on uncontrolled visits – we saw three yachts during our seven days – and global impacts like climate change and the hole in the Ozone Layer which could affect krill, the tiny shrimps which are the essential foundation of every marine creature in the Antarctic.

P1070135The final answer?

Just go!

Travel arrangements:
The 11-day South Shetland Islands & the Antarctic Peninsula cruise was operated by Antarpply Expeditions and booked through Chimu Adventures/FCm Travel. Staff is friendly and professional, the food is wholesome and plentiful, and accommodation standard is  2 – 3 Star.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Stewart and Vanessa also spent three days in Buenos Aires and three days on a four-wheel drive adventure tour of Tierra Del Fuego. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Aerolineas Argentinas operates the only direct flights between between Australia and Buenos Aires but is like travelling on an airline from 40 years ago! NOT RECOMMENDED.

Written by: Vanessa Murrihy

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