The Traveler Stories Series. Each month we feature a story written by another fellow traveler, who shares with us their own travel experiences. This month, meet Gerda, a fellow traveler who took a trip of a lifetime to Antarctica. Gerda shares with us her experience, places she visited and tips on planning your next adventure to Antarctica.
If you are a lover of nature and wildlife, and enjoy an adventurous travel that is off the beaten path, then Antarctica should be on your bucket list, and you must visit Antarctica.
When you think Antarctica, visions of giant icebergs and penguins come to mind. But the place is so much more than that. From stunning landscapes to a unique diversity of wildlife, which get up close and personal to you, Antarctica is one of those travels that will leave you speechless…it’s a journey of a lifetime.
This story of Antarctica comes from a dear friend, Gerda Eilts, who embarked on a journey to the end of the earth. This story shares Gerda’s travel to Antarctica in detail, showcasing the various locations that you can visit. Gerda also writes about her travel experiences at her blog “All Cats Big and Small.”
I asked Gerda why she wanted to visit Antarctica and she explained, “I always admired the pure beauty of this continent, the wildlife and the isolation from the rest of the busy globe.” And so after 3 months of busy planning, Gerda booked her trip through Yampu Tours, which she recommends travelling with.
Gerda also shares with me her favourite memory of Antarctica as “… being able to walk amongst the penguins, who are very sociable and curious animals. The penguins didn’t feel threatened and so they walked with me and acknowledged my presence with a humble ‘Wraarrr’ sound.”
There are a variety of tours now available to book that vary in number of days and locations. The tour that Gerda went on was an 18-day journey, which took her around the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, South Orkneys, South Shetland Islands, Antarctic Peninsula and through the Drake Passage heading back to Cape Horn in Argentina.
This story will take you through Gerda’s journey, sharing the different parts of this region that you can visit as part of the Antarctic visit.
The Ship – M/V Akademik Ioffe
The journey began in Ushuaia, Argentina, where Gerda’s boarded the M/V Akademik Ioffe for her 18-day Antarctic journey. Gerda explains that she travelled around the Antarctic region on-board this Finnish built, Russian-flagged ship. The Akademik Ioffe was originally designed for polar research, and today carries adventurous and curious travellers from around the world who wish to explore Antarctica.
“The ship’s bridge is located on Deck 6 and is open to passengers virtually 24-hours. It is a fascinating place to visit, and the expedition staff or ship’s crew are often available to answer questions about equipment and instruments found on the bridge,” says Gerda.
This ship is different from a luxury cruise liner. The M/V Akademik Ioffe is capable of breaking through ice, which allows it travel easily around the Antarctic region. This means guests on board are able to get up close and personal to the beautiful landscape and wildlife of Antarctica.
Places You Could Visit
The Falkland Islands
The first stop of the expedition takes Gerda to the Falkland Islands. Gerda shares with me, “(a)rriving in the Falkland Islands overnight, by morning we are all excited and keen to make our first shore excursion.”
The Falkland Islands is part of the British Overseas Territory and is made up of the East and West Falkland island, as well as the hundreds of smaller surrounding islands.
West Falkland Archipelago
She first visits the West Falkland Archipelago, which is home to a variety of seabirds and migratory birds, such as the Royal Albatross, the Steamer Duck, and the Southern Rockhopper Penguin. The ship also visits Carcass Island – “Our second Penguin sighting was on this Island, we observed nesting Magellanic penguins along with oyster catchers, geese and steamer ducks. WOW what an exciting experience.”
Stanley in East Falkland
The next day, the cruise takes its guests to the capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley, which is located in East Falkland. Gerda shares some of her memories of visiting Stanley – “The city of Stanley was friendly, yet rural. There was no hustle and bustle from the city, no traffic lights and hardly any traffic. Stanley was filled with houses that had brightly painted roofs, which was beautiful to see along the waterfront. There were street names such as Ross Road, Fitzroy Road, Philomel Street and Shackleton Drive, which all had their origins from historical personas.”
South Georgia Island
The next stop of the tour is South Georgia Island, where the tour spends 3 days exploring this area.
Think ‘March of the Penguins’ when you visualise Salisbury Plain, because this is what you will see here. Salisbury Plain is a breeding ground for the King Penguins.
“There are about 200,000 (in 2011) King Penguins in this colony. All the little brown specks are unfledged King Penguin chicks, and the ones in the orange, black and white suits are the adults. The colony is very dense because King Penguins do not have nests, but carry the young chick on top of their feet.”
Gerda was lucky to be able to get up close and personal to the majestic King Penguins, which allowed her to take some incredible photos.
Stormness Harbour, also know as Stormness Bay was previously a whaling station. Stormness Harbour is also home to a diversity of wildlife such as the Skua and Reindeer.
Gerda explains that “a number of animals have been bought to South Georgia. They included cattle, sheep, horses, and reindeer. Some were bought in as food, others as working animals or pets. It took about two years for the reindeer to adapt to the different seasons of the southern hemisphere.”
There is another whaling station in South Georgia Island, which is set up in Grytviken.
The South Georgia Museum is in Grytviken and the museum was previously the whaling station manager’s house, which was then converted into the South Georgia Museum. It showcases the human and natural history of South Georgia.
Another point of interest in Grytviken is Ernest Shackleton’s grave. Gerda visited Shackleton’s grave and remembers that “on the back of his granite headstone is one of his favourite quotations, from the Poet Robert Browning ‘I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life’s set prize.’”
“‘Eta kra-see-va’ — means ‘it’s beautiful’ in Russian, and that pretty much describes the exceptional wildlife and fabulous scenery of Gold Harbour,” says Gerda. Gold Harbour is a bay on South Georgia Island and is another breeding ground for the King Penguins. You will also find Gentoos and the Elephant Bull Seals here.
Gerda remembers her time at Gold Harbour, “it was a fairly cold morning… snowing slightly, but that did not matter. Words and photographs cannot describe what it is like to watch all this wildlife around us, it was truly amazing!”
South Orkney Islands
The South Orkney Islands is claimed by the British and the Argentinians. On South Orkney, in particular Laurie Island, is the Orcadas Base, which is a scientific station run by the Argentinians. The base is made up of 11 buildings, which are dedicated to various scientific research in this region. In this area, you can also see the Chinstrap Penguins and climb up to see some beautiful views of the area.
South Shetland Islands & the Antarctic Peninsula
There are a wide range of islands that make up the South Shetland Islands, which lead the journey to the Antarctic Peninsula.
Gerda shared her experience of Paulet Island – “Yet, another fantastic day, the sky is blue and the air is crisp, we launched 7 or 8 zodiacs to haul people to the shore.” Paulet Island houses a volcano, and because of an eruption that occurred thousands of years ago, not all of the island is covered by ice.
Half Moon Island
Gerda shares her memory of arriving to Half Moon Island- “After a night at sea, we awoke to thick fog, but luckily it soon lifted. We dropped the anchor and headed to shore. The Argentinian station Camara Base was deserted, but the island had a good population of Chinstrap Penguins and Seals. On the other hand, Adelie Penguins and Gentoos’s were rare to see, but I was lucky to have found a few.”
Curtiss Bay is located on the northern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. “The Bay was filled with huge icebergs and brash ice from numerous glacier calving’s. Much of Curtis Bay is lined by sheer ice walls and long ice cliffs,” says Gerda. “We encountered a number of sleeping Weddell Seals lying on ice sheets, no doubt sleeping off a meal or two.”
The environment and weather around Antarctica can change very quickly, making the journey around this region at times a bit more spontaneous depending on the conditions.
When the cruise arrived near Neko Harbour, Gerda explained that “(w)e received confirmation that an iceberg caved at our landing site, which made it impossible for the zodiacs to go near shore. As such, we had to settle for a zodiac cruise around the Harbour, which still offered magnificent scenery of mountains and icebergs.”
Cuverville Island was the last stop before heading back to Ushuai to end the tour. This island is a breeding ground for the Gentoo Penguins and is surrounded by an array of icebergs.
Top 7 Tips to help you plan for Antarctica
If you are planning to make the journey to Antarctica, here are some tips that Gerda shares:
1. Respect the Environment
“Golden rule number one, respect this fragile continent, respect the animals and their wellbeing.”
2. Train before you go
“The trip can be rough at times and requires a certain level of fitness. For instance, you need a certain amount of fitness getting in and out of the zodiacs as it is not that easy.”
Some amount of fitness training may be needed before you visit Antarctica. Take the time to do some training, whether it is with a Personal Trainer or by yourself.
3. Be prepared for the Cold
“Do not fear the cold, enjoy it …especially when you come from a warm climate, you will not freeze to death!”
It is cold in Antarctica, but it can be bearable with the right gear. It’s important to pack adequate winter clothing that you can layer on before making it to shore.
4. Pack accordingly
“Leave your fancy clothes and high heels at home, because you won’t need it here.”
Wear comfortable clothing that is easy to move around in and will keep you warm. A good set of walking/hiking shoes is a good idea.
5. Pack Seasickness Tablets
“Take lots of ginger tablets if you have to cross the Drake Passage as it is known to be the roughest ocean passage in the World.”
It is best to pack some seasickness tablets as at times the seas can be rough and unstable. You may be able to pick up a packet of ginger tablets from your local chemist.
6. Hang on to your camera & gear
“When you climb into the zodiac, DO NOT LOOSE YOUR CAMERA! We had about 90 people on our ship and 3 lost their camera.”
Climbing in and out of the zodiak can be at times challenging, so hang tight to your gear so it doesn’t drop into the water. Do bring extra equipment if you can and try to upload your photos after each day.
7. Know what you are booking
“There are many different Antarctic tours you can book. Do careful research and understand what is included and what is not.”
Gerda booked through Yampu Tours, which she highly recommends. She found them to be professional and gave her the information that she needed. Keep in mind there are different variety of cruises that can be booked, so do check what areas you will visit and if you will actually be able to go on-shore.
If you are flexible with your timing, there are also a range of last minute cruise bookings available. This means you could possibly get the trip at a discounted and more affordable cost.
Is a trip to Antarctica for you?
Travelling to Antarctica is not for everyone, “you need a sense of adventure and be willing to put up with a few rough arrangements. You need to love nature and animals,” says Gerda. “The beauty of the landscapes and colour of icebergs is amazing… it is just stunning. The wildlife, which is not afraid of humans, is an unforgettable experience.”
Visiting Antarctica is about appreciating the unique landscapes and beautiful wildlife. If you want to get up close and personal with animals, such as the penguins, then Antarctica is the spot for it. It’s the perfect place for nature lovers, adventurers and wildlife photographers.
Gerda shares some last words about Antarctica and the conservation of this region – “Antarctica’s ecosystem is quite fragile. It is feeling the effects of climatic changes more drastically than anywhere else on Earth. It’s thought that much of the pack ice will melt within by the end of this century – causing many of the animals the dilemma of finding new homes or worse, perishing along the ice itself.” So please, if you plan to visit Antarctica, be respectful to the nature that surrounds you.
Find out more
If you would like to learn more and see more beautiful photos that Gerda took on this journey, you can purchase she self-published book “Antarctica Photographs from the End of the World.” It is 239 pages filled with incredible photos from this amazing part of the world.
If you have an interesting story to tell and would like to be featured in our series Traveler Stories, please get in touch!
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