Spirited Away to Antarctica
Having drooled over numerous pictures of Antarctica, I had long dreamed of experiencing the ‘White Continent’ for myself. When at last the opportunity to head south presented itself, I grabbed it firmly with both hands. I was invited to sail to the Antarctic Peninsula on the Sea Spirit – the most recent addition to the polar expedition fleet and also the most comfortable. As soon as I stepped aboard I could tell that I was in for a treat!
Stepping through the outer door into reception, I was immediately impressed by the Sea Spirit’s stylish marble, brass and wood fittings. I was travelling to Antarctica in style! Mario – my ever-smiling and endlessly helpful cabin steward – took my suitcase and me in the lift up to my cabin on deck six. The endless expanse of deep-pile carpet extended into the cabin and carried on under the corner settee and ample-sized twin beds.
My Antarctic home-from-home came complete with an en suite bathroom, two large wardrobes, countless drawers and (best of all) a sliding door providing access to the balcony. The balcony was to provide instant outside access to swimming penguins, gargantuan icebergs, soaring albatross and the occasional blast from gale force winds at any time of day or night.
The ship set sail and passengers started to get to know each other over the first of many sumptuous three-course dinners. The dining room staff surpassed all expectations with their attentiveness; nothing was too much trouble.
Back in the cabin, new balance skills were required, as the ship had now entered the open waters of the notorious Drake Passage. The ‘keep one hand for the ship’ rule is a little difficult to adhere to when taking a shower but at least you get rocked to sleep once you have lurched your way into bed!
Once the Sea Spirit reached the South Shetland Islands (ahead of schedule thanks to her speed and the favourable weather conditions), our Antarctic expedition picked up pace. A Zodiac landing on the Aitcho Islands found us sitting in the first of several penguin colonies. The gentoo chicks were almost fully fledged and seemed to find their yellow-coated visitors endlessly fascinating. Sitting or standing still resulted in an investigation from a curious chick. Legs, sleeves, bags and tripods were gently tested with probing orange beaks. I challenge anyone not to be totally enchanted by these adorable birds!
Two days later and it was mammalian life that was captivating our interest. Whale blows were spotted so everyone grabbed a suitable spot out on deck; we were in the presence of Humpbacks. Tail flukes were flaunted and cameras dutifully clicked in over-drive. Some passengers retreated to the warmth inside only to flock out again five minutes later with the news that a different group of whales were breaching in front of a spectacular ice face. Seeing such huge creatures leap into the air and smack down into the water was truly spellbinding. The whales somersaulted again and again, treating us for over 30 minutes.
There were so many more special moments. The enormous tabular icebergs that floated serenely past. The stunning view from the top of the hill above Neko Harbour and the thrilling toboggan slide back down. An evening Zodiac cruise around the flat,calm iceberg-dotted water where several species of seal were hauled out. The slideshow of passenger photos at the end; it was amazing to look back at all the things we had seen and done in such a short space of time.
Antarctica over-delivered on my extremely high expectations with its mind-blowing scenery, plentiful wildlife and ever-changing weather. Travelling on the Sea Spirit made the experience even more special. I can now only sit back in wonder at my own photographs knowing that I am now a participant and no longer merely a distant spectator.
Polar Presentation Evening with Paul Goldstein
To find out more about our expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica join wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein in London on his last Polar Presentation evening before the autumn. The presentation is on 10 May 2011 and starts at 7pm.
For full details and to reserve your free place, please see our evening presentation page.