Leaving South Georgia and heading down to the Antarctic Peninsula is a major crossing. We had reports that we were likely to hit a storm and this would mean that we wouldn’t be attempting to land at the South Orkney Islands. Instead we headed directly for Elephant Island.
Our cruises take you to some truly spectacular areas of this most southern part of the world and you can expect opportunities to experiment with photography in Antarctica. Choose one of our select cruises that hosts onboard photography workshops to really make the most of your trip. With an expert on hand to offer tips and advice you’ll be returning home with photos you never thought possible. Blessed with the magical backdrop of the towering icebergs as your starting point, your images will be enhanced with birds in flight, wallowing seals, colonies of penguins and much more and, as each day dawns, new opportunities for making memories arise.
Landscape Photography in Antarctica
When it comes to landscape photography in Antarctica, opportunities are endless. This desert of ice and snow punctuated by glaciers, volcanoes, dramatic coastlines and towering mountains creates unrivalled scenic beauty. It is not surprising that this region of our planet is a bucket list destination for many snap happy guests.
Before heading off, however, it is a good idea to do a little research about how to achieve the best images. After all this may be a once in a lifetime chance to visit this region and you really want to return home knowing you gave the photography the attention it deserves. This is a very unpredictable area of the world and knowing how to capture its essence while dealing with the stark light, the adverse weather conditions and much more is very important.
Tours almost always run in the summer (December and January) which means that guests get the best of the weather and can enjoy the months of the Midnight Sun. The endless light means plentiful photo opportunities and with the shadows changing throughout the day and altering composition more interesting images are created. The Midnight sun however does mean that there are no golden sunsets, but this is a small price to pay for the alternative.
Photographers can find it difficult in this light to create contrast of colours so always try to incorporate some form of darkness into your frame. Look for rocky outcrops, clouds and far away rainstorms enveloping landscapes as points of contrast. These can also create mood and ambience. Another option for adding focus to your landscape image is to use the wildlife around you. Throw in a penguin or two and the extra interest creates a whole new perspective on the image.
It is a good idea to get familiar with your shutter speeds before you embark on photography in Antarctica. On bright days with strong reflections of the sun off the snow, the faster the shutter speed the less exposure to light and therefore reduced chance of overexposed pictures. Faster speeds can also be used to get really sharp images of detail in the foreground while slower speeds can be used for artistic effect, particularly if it is snowing or raining.
Landscape photography in Antarctica can be much improved by incorporating a polarising filter. The idea of this kind of filter is to bring out the colours, which as we have already said is important when taking pictures in this kind of bright winter landscape. The filter creates contrast and balance and tones down the mount of light in the image without the need for shutter speed or aperture adjustment.
As with anywhere else in the world this kind of photography requires patience first and foremost, but there are other considerations too. You must always follow the rules set out by your guides and never get closer than 5m to an animal. If an animal approaches you, remain still and don’t make any sudden movements. They are only being inquisitive, and you are the intruder in their world so you must respect it.
Generally, you don’t need to worry about the light as there is always plenty in this part of the world, whatever season it is. No big apertures are required and you don’t really need to fuss about your ISO either.
Animals here all live very differently, making their homes in different settings and moving at varying speeds. They all require different considerations when it comes to capturing their images, so here are our tips on how best to capture fabulous images of animals in different settings.
Animals in the Water
When considering taking a picture of a whale you will most likely require a zoom lens of 100-400mm and sometimes up to 600m. If, however, you are lucky enough to have a whale come much closer to you while you are in a zodiac for example, then you won’t need such a large zoom.
If the whale is moving fast, you may wish to use a fast shutter speed. We recommend 1/2000-4000th of a second as a good baseline.
Animals to Look Out For:
Wide-angle lenses are great for snapping penguins onshore. If you are aiming to create portraits of seals or penguins, you won’t need a very fast shutter speed. These animals tend not to move very quickly and rarely make sudden movements.
Tripods can be useful for capturing animals on land, especially if you want to take a video too. Be aware, however, that winds can be strong and this can affect tripod use.
Classic portraits of the animals are wonderful but remember to take shots that include the scenery too. This tells more of a story about the animal and its intrinsic link to its environment.
Animals to Look Out For:
Birds in Flight
A good tip when trying to capture birds in flight is to watch them carefully first. They often make repeated patterns in the air and many actually follow the cruise ships. Once you have tracked their flight you can make a better judgement about how to photograph them. Remember to use a faster shutter speed of 1/2000-4000 of a second.
Birds to Look Out For:
Penguins (of course)
Our Expert Photographers
At the heart of Northwinds Photography is husband and wife team, Dave and Dawn Wilson. Their passion for wildlife and landscape photography in Antarctica and other diverse and exciting regions of the world is contagious.
The Antarctic and surrounding areas of South Georgia and The Falklands have long been wish list destinations for anyone interested in photography in Antarctica, thanks to the variety of photographic opportunities on offer that is both enthralling and unique. The list of ‘want-to-see’ items is naturally pretty extensive. Our hope, however, is to be able to expand our photographic horizons, experience and hopefully capture the magic of the location and the creatures that inhabit this inhospitable land. We also aim to enrich our understanding and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of planet Earth.
1) Pre-Trip Considerations (with hindsight after a few days)
a. Consider the need for back-up equipment / redundancies – on the Sea Adventurer, once you leave Ushuaia there aren’t a lot of options available to either repair or replace a piece of equipment if it goes wrong.
b. Think about weather protection, as you are almost certainly going to encounter bad weather while taking photos (rain, high winds, hail, sandstorms, sea spray – and that was on just one landing). As a minimum you will need something to dry the camera and if you are not using pro grade equipment that is suitably weather sealed, be extra careful that the elements are not going to destroy the electronics.
c. There have been a lot of forum discussions about whether you should take filters. I’m not a fan of UV filters as I don’t want to add an extra layer of (cheaper) glass in front of a (relatively expensive) lens. A circular polarising filter, however, can be very useful for bringing out contrast and reducing glare when the sun is out (there are lots of reflective surfaces out here).
d. Take lens hoods and use them. Religiously. They protect the lens front from many of the elements and prevent lens flare when the sun is at the wrong angle.
e. Get familiar with your equipment. If you are going to treat yourself to that nice new camera or lens for your photography in Antarctica extravaganza, bite the bullet with sufficient time to become familiar with how everything works. Using the various functions and capabilities needs to become second nature. When an albatross is bombing past the side of the vessel, you don’t want to be trying to figure out where the focus point selector button is.
2) Photographing Seabirds While on Board Ship
a. A feature of any ship-based trip between Ushuaia and Antarctica or any of the surrounding island groups is that your vessel will be accompanied by numerous small, large, and very large seabirds. Each presents their own unique challenges in terms of their performance as a model subject, and they all seem to possess an in-built ability to second guess you by changing direction just as you are about to press the shutter button. To combat this, the best tip (other than being familiar with the capabilities and functionality of your equipment) is to practice, practice, practice. In these days of digital photography, practice is almost free. Get used to tracking moving objects (try following cars as they approach you).
b. Think about the background and consider using the wake of the ship, as this can be a useful background to create some interest rather than a white / grey sky.
c. When photographing, spend some time looking at the patterns that the birds follow as they will tend to repeat those patterns. This will indicate to you the best place to stand in terms of your ideal location, especially if you want to have the birds alongside the ship and moving at approximately the same speed as the ship – this makes it easier to track the bird and enhance the composition. As much as possible, stand on the rear quarter of the ship that is less windy. Not only do you have to deal with moving birds, but you will be moving as well due to the wind and the effects of the ship’s movement. Minimise this as much as possible to increase the chances of a sharp picture.
d. If the light allows it, increase your aperture as this will give you a shot with more of the bird in focus.
There are many famous names when it comes to photography in Antarctica. Many have created history by capturing iconic images telling stories of the most prolific age of exploration in this region. Here we introduce you to our favourites.
A famous documentary photographer, this Australian icon made his name in photography in Antarctica, a region he visited six times. His visits were in the capacity of explorer, and he was fortunate to be part of the incredible age of Antarctic exploration. His most famous shots are now regarded among the most significant images of exploration of this part of the world and include some historic pictures of Shackleton’s somewhat unsuccessful Endurance expedition.
This professional photographer was born in the latter part of the 19th century and is most famous for his involvement in Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to the Ross Sea and South Pole. During his time with Scott he took some remarkable images recognised as some of the most famous in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In 1911 Ponting helped organise and install the Terra Nova Expedition’s Antarctic winter camp on Ross Island. The camp had a darkroom and, although the trip occurred more than 20 years after the advent of photographic film, Ponting was keen to stay in control of his image creation. He favoured his high-quality images taken on glass plates that he claimed yielded the very best photography in Antarctica.
Bringing photography in Antarctica right up to date, Filip Kulisev is constantly on the lookout for more remote and unique regions of our world so he can capture their beauty and bring it back to the homes of nature lovers the world over. Through his magnificent images he strives to raise awareness of biodiversity and the issues that touch the many different wilderness areas on our planet. In 2001 he founded ‘Amazing Planet’ and produces calendars, books and photographs that showcase his work.
Filip is well known for incredible natural ability to capture the most breathtaking landscape in a technically perfect form. His unique ability to balance every aspect of every image, getting the interplay of light and shadow spot on sets him apart from many of his peers. The winner of many prizes, he was awarded the “Master QEP” for his work, an accolade presented to only two photographers in the world. The title Master QEP (Qualified European Professional Photographer) is the most prestigious qualification in Europe.
A photographer for 40 years, David McKay has many more strings to his bow, one of which is his incredible images of the Antarctic regions. He has been the mayor of Nevada City and has been a consistent supporter of arts in his local community. Alongside owning a successful silkscreen and graphic design business he developed himself as a photography teacher. Since 2000 he has also been involved in teaching black and white film and pinhole photography at Sierra College. HIs involvement in his art has earned him several awards and he is well published in magazines and newspapers, books and brochures.
Recommended Tours with Photography Workshops
With so many wonderful cruises on offer, each with their own unique add ons and extra excursions, you are spoilt for choice, but no matter how you decide to travel here and what you want from your experience, we have you covered. Here are three of our current favourites when it comes to expeditions in this region.
Luxury Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctic Islands
Imagine spending 23 glorious days sailing among the three most famous areas that make up a classic Antarctica cruise. Travelling from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, this trip absorbs the very best of the wildlife in South Georgia as well as the scenic wonders of the Falkland Islands and the highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula. Around every corner your cruise opens another door full of adventure and so many incredible opportunities for indulging in photography in Antarctica. WIth the many extra excursions on offer too such as kayaking and even an overnight camp (read more about this experience here), this cruise has something for everyone.
South Georgia and the Antarctic Odyssey
Joining the iconic expedition aboard the purpose-built Greg Mortimer ship and setting sail to discover the highlights of this wonderful part of the world will have any budding photographer snapping away at every turn. From the Fur Seals, Penguins and nesting Albatross of South Georgia to the captivating scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula that forms the backdrop to your every day, photography in Antarctica does not get better than this.
The Shackleton Route from Montevideo
Following in the footsteps of the intrepid Shackleton, this voyage takes in the very best of the beautiful Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the magnificent Antarctic Peninsula. Not only will you have the chance to witness some of the most breathtaking scenery of the region, but there is ample opportunity to marvel at penguin rookeries and seal colonies, as well as visit historical sites and even make a pilgrimage to Shackleton’s final resting place. This region of our world is nothing less that wondrous and if photography in Antarctica is on your agenda, you are in for a treat on this most classic of adventures.
After leaving Stanley, the crossing to South Georgia takes between two to two and a half days, depending on the weather and winds. Although our crossing was fair, it was still good to know we would be landing again soon.
South Georgia’s mountains capped with snow meant the scenery was picture postcard and combined with a clear blue sky it could not have been better for our first excursion. This time it was a zodiac cruise. There is a small population of Macaroni Penguins in South Georgia and Elsehul Bay is one good place to see them especially as it is unlikely that you can see Macaroni Penguins anywhere else on the trip.
A Zodiac cruise is the same as a shore landing except you don’t get off. This does have additional challenges especially for photography (see below) but generally for seeing the wildlife it depends on how close the boat can get to the shore, the swell, the competence of the zodiac driver and your fellow zodiac passengers!
Besides the Macaroni’s there are a huge number of fur seals, both on shore and playing round the boats, giant petrels flying overhead and sitting in the water and a colony of shags high up on the rocks.
From the zodiac, and with a little practice, it is possible to take video underwater of the seals.
Our second stop on South Georgia is at Salisbury Plain. According to the expedition team this is one of the hardest places to land, but for us the sea is calm and allowed us an extended excursion of up to six hours on shore.
This is a wide shore line with a huge King Penguin colony, together with numerous fur seals. At this time of year there are fur seal pups everywhere – black bundles of fur just crying out (literally) to be picked up (of course this is not a possibility although the pups don’t seem to have understood the protocol). They are exceptionally friendly, unlike their one year old brothers and sisters who become quite aggressive. Family groups (generally one male with two or three females) litter the shore.
The King Penguins start off in small groups as you begin to walk inland and then become a mass in the area away from the beach. There are penguins at different stages – last year’s chicks still in their brown ‘fur coats’, adults with the distinctive patterns of yellow markings on the head and this year’s chicks.
The extended landing means there is plenty of time to take in the scene as well as taking as many photos as you want. At the back of the colony is a small hill where the expedition team laid a path to enable us to get a high perspective over the colony. This has its challenges as the path is uneven, some of the steps up are quite high, and after many people have been on it, it is very muddy and slippery. However, the view from the top provides a good aspect for an understanding of how big the colony is.
Day two in South Georgia provides an opportunity for three landings. The first is pre-breakfast (departing the ship at 06.00) at Fortuna Bay. Again this is a King Penguin colony with a large number of fur seals. This is a different landscape being a valley between the mountains. Small rivers and streams run through the valley giving different photographic opportunities.
It is worth walking as far as the expedition team allows, to get away from the crowds. The penguins here are very inquisitive and sitting quietly in one place for a while almost guarantees one or two will come and investigate.
The second landing is at Stromness Harbour. This was a former whaling station and the place that Shackleton finally managed to reach to obtain help for himself and his crew. At the end of the valley is the waterfall which he had to climb down to make it the last mile. The walk to the waterfall is on flat, if uneven ground and takes about 45 minutes. En route there is a small colony of Gentoo Penguins and numerous Arctic Terns protecting their nests.
Near to the whaling station (prohibited access to within 200m) is a colony of Elephant seals. The buildings of the whaling station are still preserved although they have rusted, but great light and the amazing mountain backdrop enable some stunning photography.
Our landing at Godthul (third landing of the day) is onto a small beach full of fur seals – and the only way is up! The route off the beach is up a tussock grass hill which is not an easy climb but is made more challenging by the fur seals hiding in the tussocks and ready to make a lunge at you.
But the climb is definitely worth it. At the top is a colony of Gentoo penguins, currently with chicks, and very close to the path. There are also Arctic Terns, Giant Petrels sitting on their nests, and the most stunning views across the bay.
Further up the hillside is a mountain lake which is very picturesque. There are a number of places where the best plan is to just sit and watch the Gentoos, and take in the views of the whole bay and surrounding mountains.
The following morning we wake up in Moltke Harbour and to a deteriorating weather situation. The decision is to sit tight and see if the winds die down to enable a landing. This means we spend the time on board taking a better look at the glaciers surrounding the bay and plentiful rainbows.
After several frustrating hours the decision is taken to move the ship to find a more suitable and hopefully less windy landing place.
This turns out to be Gold Harbour. Although the weather here is improved, the landing has its own challenges in the form of huge numbers of elephant seals all over the beach.
This means that the area we are able to walk along is quite small and there is the constant danger of fighting male elephant seals! Together with some very inquisitive and feisty adolescent King Penguins there is no lack of entertainment.
This is also a good spot for watching both penguins and seals in the sea and surf. Most other landings have meant that we were only on the beach for actually getting on and off the zodiacs, but here the narrowness of the beach area enables you to see the wildlife on shore and in the sea.
The following morning (our fourth in South Georgia) we are at Grytviken. This is another old whaling station, but this one has been preserved and there is also a small museum, church and post office.
It is also the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton. Courtesy of Quark, and with the agreement of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, we are able to toast this great explorer at the cemetery with an early morning nip of Whisky or Guinness.
The Trust staff provide several brief tours of the different parts of the whaling station and the time on shore provides a good opportunity to reflect on the amazing endeavors of Shackleton in rescuing his crew.
The post office takes cards, but it seems that they won’t be leaving South Georgia until 10th January and so will still be on the island when we arrive home!
Our final stop on South Georgia is at St Andrews Harbour. This is apparently an extremely difficult landing place because of the surf, the proliferation of wildlife and the fast flowing glacial rivers running into the sea. We are lucky to make the landing and on passing through the huge numbers of elephant seals on the beach we follow the route to the top of a small hill. And we are greeted by the sight of the largest colony of King Penguins on South Georgia – around 150,000 breeding pairs – so with an average of one chick each we are looking at nearly half a million penguins!
South Georgia is truly an amazing destination and should be included on every Antarctic expedition. It has everything from history, picture postcard scenery, outstanding geology and of course, the huge numbers of penguins and seals.
Our arrival in the Falkland Islands was early in the morning after a very rough night at sea. We were due to land at West Point Island (West Falklands) around 08.30 but the expedition leader deemed the sea state too bad and we had to wait.
A couple of hours later and we took to the zodiacs and arrived on the beach. West Point is the landing to visit a Black Browed Albatross and Rock Hopper Penguin colony. We were told the walk was around 1.6km over easy terrain. Actually it is 1.6 miles up and down hills and since we were battling a very strong wind it was not easy going. There is an option of getting a lift by land rover from the beach to the colony – if you get offered this option our advice is take it!
The colony is situated on the side of a hill and you can get within touching distance of the birds, but the paths are very narrow and the number of people great, so it is worth taking your time and letting the crush die down.
There is plenty to see and just watching the antics between the species and themselves is fascinating. Photography here was a challenge as, bizarrely, most things are almost too close!
There is a lot going on besides the Albatross’s and the Penguins and it is worth keeping an eye out for the Caracara which hover constantly over the area looking out for lone chicks to take.
Our afternoon landing was at Saunders Island (West Falklands). This was a picturesque bay which on our arrival was filled with Commerson’s Dolphins. Around 100 individuals rocketed round the boat and chased after all of the zodiacs as they made their way to the beach. None of the expedition staff had ever seen this quantity in one place – truly magical.
This landing onto the sandy beach provides an opportunity to see literally thousands of Magellanic, Gentoo and Southern Rock Hopper Penguins and a small number of King Penguins. There is also a colony of Black Browed Albatross up the cliff.
This is an easy walk along the beach and the penguins are either in large groups, small groups or individuals. It is impossible not to take hundreds of shots! The penguin are very curious and if you stand or sit still they will come waddling towards you completely unaware of the 5m exclusion zone that is supposed to be between them and us!
The colony of rock hoppers at the end of the beach provide an opportunity to see them doing what you see in the nature programmes – jumping up and down the rocks (this was not the case in the visit to the colony on West Point Island).
Besides the Penguin there were Magellanic Oyster Catchers, Brown Skuas, Kelp Geese and Upland Geese.
Coming into the straight before arriving at Stanley (East Falklands) gives a perspective of the landscape and reminds one of the battles that took place here over 30 years ago.
The landing is onto a jetty and you arrive right next to the information centre. It is a small town which is easy to walk round. There is an excellent museum which covers information about early settlers, the whaling industry, information and a short film about the Argentinian occupation and an actual example of an Antarctic hut used on an expedition.
The town also has an excellent supermarket which has items ranging from food stuffs through toiletries, electronics, clothes and hardware. If there is anything you think you might need, have forgotten or (in our case) has broken this is the opportunity to sort it out – there won’t be another one until you get back to Ushuaia when of course, it will be too late!
There are a number of gift shops and places to eat and it is worth walking along the sea front to see the memorials, the church and the Governor’s house.
How many times in the last couple of weeks have we had to explain that polar bears are in the north and not the south? And usually this has been the next question after “why would anyone want to go to Antarctica- there’s nothing there?” !!! But for us this is the beginning of the trip of a lifetime and an opportunity to further indulge our passion for wilderness, wildlife and photography.
We started talking to Simon at Antarctica Bound two years ago (I’m convinced he’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when he knows we are finally on the way…!) and the advice and help he has given, not to say the patience,has been amazing.
We knew exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go – and we also knew what we didn’t want included. We set Simon the challenge of finding the right tour for us. At first he didn’t think it would be possible to find one tour that would cover everything we wanted and we thought we might have to do two tours back to back.
July 2013 – Simon phones to say he thinks he’s found the trip foru s….. Quark’s EpicAntarctica: Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Circle – and it is perfect. Everything we wanted and almost nothing on our ‘no’ list.
So, we booked. Almost exactly seventeen months have gone by since then and our adventure to Antarctica is now less than a day away! We didn’t waste the time since booking, making sure we would have the right camera equipment,right clothing, bags, and everything else you can think of for a month long trip.
And then we started reading blogs, trip reports and got totally confused!! How many pairs of socks is the right amount? Which lens will really be the best for taking Emperor Penguins up close? Camping washing line or not?
Over the last week we have been forced to consider the final selection. At the moment our spare bedroom is covered by all of the things we think we’d like to take. No way is it all going to fit in,either into the luggage or the weight restrictions. (We are NOT taking the cat – although she seems to think that if she hides in the clothes she might come too!).
This trip really is an epic adventure for us. Having got married earlier this year,this is our delayed honeymoon and “big birthdays” event all rolled into one. The time has flown by and now it is here. I guess we’ll find out if we got it right when we get there. And we’ll be sure to share the highs (and any lows). Just one more day to find the final items and get it all packed.
R&R – READING AND RECOVERY
Although the major part of our trip is the Quark cruise, we decided to add a few days of R& R and to get acclimatized. Plus we had heard from a number of people that Aerolineas Argentinas could sometimes be a little ‘delayed’ and that it would be better to ensure arriving at Ushuaia in time for the ship to leave at the very least!
Hence we find ourselves in Buenos Aires for three days. Acclimatising is, in the circumstances, an interesting concept- for the time zone it is perfect, Argentina and the Antarctic are three hours behind the UK. Not a huge difference, but enough to cause some confusion to the brain at bedtime. And so spending a couple of days getting into the right time zone is helpful. As for the climate nothing could be further from what we expect to face next week.
At the moment Buenos Aires is in 30 degrees of heat and somewhat humid….having packed for the ice, most of our clothes are at the very least ‘inappropriate’! However, we have managed to put on the thinnest trousers and t-shirts we bought with us and have been managing.
We have based ourselves in the Hotel Madero, which is situated on the waterfront and makes sightseeing of the important buildings easy enough on foot. Everything here is on a huge scale. From eight lane roads to enormous buildings.
We took in the major sights this morning and had an enjoyable lunch in a traditional Argentinian bar. The biggest challenge has been the currency conversion. We brought dollars and so have to work through the Peso to dollar to pound exchange rates to work out how much anything costs.
There are also three different exchange rates for the Peso: the official rate (at banks and in the hotels currently around 8.3 to the dollar) the blue market rate (we paid in the bar/café with dollars and got a rate of around 10 to the dollar) and the black market rate (around all the major tourist attractions and the shopping centres, people on the street offer “cambio” and will change dollars at around 13 Peso to the dollar). All rather strange and confusing – but the prices are around the same as (or slightly cheaper than) London for food and drinks.
This opportunity prior to the cruise has given us the time to catch up on reading about the trip itself. We can now truly identify a chin strap from a Macaroni penguin and have discussed the various merits of using the monopod as a walking aid, underwater camera pole (saves getting your hands wet and cold) or for actually balancing the camera!
Argentina boasts some of the best beef in the world and hopefully we will be able to report the truth of this statement after dinner tonight!
USHUAIA – THE END OF THE WORLD (Well, not quite)
We packed up and left Buenos Aires with some excitement and a little trepidation. Although we knew that the checked luggage would come in under the weight limit the hand luggage with the cameras was well over. We had read other blogs before leaving the UK which said that there was no problem at the airport, but you just never know do you?
Making the hand luggage look as small and light as possible we did get through the airport fine – and the checks at security were cursory to say the least. The flight was on the ´interesting´ side, pretty bumpy but the views were spectacular. Coming through the clouds on the descent into Ushuaia with mountains covered in snow just outside the window and flying over the bay with the town (the last city at the end of the world – although I think that Chile claims the same title!) spread out below was quite breathtaking.
The flight touched down at 19.00 and by the time we had collected baggage, found the transfer and made it to the hotel it was around 20.30 – but it seemed like early afternoon….the sun was still high in the sky and it was broad daylight. Fortunately the hotel has blackout curtains – it was still light at 23.30 when we switched out the lights in the room!
Ushuaia itself is best described as an outpost. With one main street filled with shops providing everything from outdoor clothing (just in case you forgot anything) to penguins in every shape size and form (stuffed toys of course, but in chocolate, stone, soap etc etc) and a variety of cafes and restaurants. To one side of the main street is the sea and the busy port with small and large ships arriving and departing, and inland towards the mountains is the residential district with house in many colours.
Finally, it is sinking in that tomorrow we will be leaving on the Sea Adventurer and will have a cabin as our home for the next twenty three days. Arriving in Ushuaia to see the snow covered mountains and the drop in temperature of nearly twenty degrees makes it all much more real!
So far we have only discovered two important items that we left behind…..a South American adaptor – we have adaptors for every other type of socket worldwide – but not for here! I´d certainly advise that if you make this trip and spend any time in Buenos Aires or Ushuaia you make sure you have the right adaptor. And today we realized that a bottle stopper would have been really handy! Since this trip is going to mean that we are on board for Christmas and New Year we are taking a couple of bottles of bubbly with us (bought in the very helpful supermarket at the end of the main street). Neither of us are big drinkers and so to protect the remains of the bottle from spillage and to maintain the bubbles, a stopper would have been ideal!! I guess we´ll have to make the most of it and drink it all in one go!
Some of the people who arrived on our flight yesterday are leaving this afternoon on Quark´s sister ship Sea Spirit. They have been waiting patiently in the hotel lounge and we have a taste of what we´ll be doing tomorrow. We plan to take a walk along the sea front to watch the departure and prepare for our own adventure to continue tomorrow.
PRE-BOARDING – THE EXCITEMENT BUILDS
Remember to book early!
Finally last night we met our fellow travellers. Quark held a meeting in the hotel to give us information about embarkation and what to do with our luggage. As we expected the majority of the others are Americans, followed by a good percentage of Australians and then British with a few other nationalities.
The explanation of what will happen is simple and then we reaped the benefits for having booked over a year ago…an upgraded cabin!! Turns out that Quark move people round the ship (at first we were slightly panicked by this as we had spent some considerable time pouring over the cabin plans, dimensions and configurations and choosing the one that we thought would suit our needs best), to provide for late bookings. We didn´t stop to ask any questions, but gratefully accepted the move from the lower deck (one porthole cabin) to the main deck (picture window cabin). This means we´ll get a better view of the waves crashing on the ship during the Drake Passage crossing!! And hopefully some great iceberg views too.
Somewhat frustratingly today we have to wait around for embarkation time. Check out at the hotel is 10.00 and meeting to transfer to the ship doesn’t take place until 15.30 – this means there are around 80 people wondering what to do (take a late breakfast). Those who only arrived last night take the opportunity to wander round town and do last minute shopping. But taking hand luggage around for the rest of the day (remember how heavy our camera bags are?!) isn´t really a viable option. So we found a space in the hotel lounge and hunkered down for the duration.
This delay is understandable since the ship only arrived in port this morning and is due to leave tonight. Between times the crew has to prepare for the new set of guests. But still it is a challenge to see the ship in the port and contain the excitement of setting off.
Between reading the Kindle, playing cards and rechecking the cameras for the hundredth time we´re keeping the excitement under control. Hopefully our next report will be from the ship under sail.
LIFE ON BOARD SEA ADVENTURER – THE NEED TO KNOW BIT
Cabins are well appointed and larger than we expected and from the pictures we had seen. Beds are very comfortable and the room temperature can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. The small en suite bathroom is compact, but provides an excellent shower with a toilet and wash hand basin. There is really no need to bring shower gel or shampoo as those that are provided are perfectly adequate and smell just fine. It might be worth bringing a very small amount of a shampoo and shower gel you really like for a weekly ‘treat’. And, if you like to use one, bear in mind there is no conditioner provided separately. But there is a hair drier….I’m not vain, but with the need to be prepared to go on deck at a moment’s notice to see the wildlife, it’s certainly a benefit to be able to dry your hair quickly rather than risk going out with wet hair into a very cold environment!
There is enough cupboard space for clothing items and an area which accommodates boots and parkas away from other clothes so that they can dry without making everything else wet. There are also drawers and shelf space and a small desk, so room for all the ‘other’ items you need to bring. It is worth spending a little time planning where to put things when you arrive both to make them accessible in case of needing to get on deck quickly but also to stop them flying around during rough seas.
There’s an open door policy on the ship. This means that no one is able to lock the door of the cabin. This is for safety reasons and has not been an issue. A safe is provided for the protection of your valuables.
Each cabin has a steward allocated for the whole voyage. This amazing person (whom we have yet to actually see) comes in every morning to make the beds, clean, restock the bathroom and take away any laundry. In the evening they come again to provide a turn down service. Gerry, our steward, has been superb. Whenever there have been items left on the beds and he has been in to make up the cabin, every single item has been put back exactly where it was left.
There are enough sockets, but bear in mind they are European type. We have found it helpful to bring a 4 way trailing gang to enable us to charge up multiple batteries and use the laptop at the same time.
Each cabin also has a phone which allows you to reach reception and other areas of the ship in case of emergency. You can also purchase a phone card for making calls home. We will be testing this out on Christmas Day to see if the family is having a good time back home!
The cabin also has a TV – this is primarily to provide the daily programme and anything you need to know about landings on shore. It also enables you to watch the educational lectures provided by the expedition team from the comfort of your cabin. Each day there is also a video shown.
Each day on board has its routine, mainly timed around meal times and activities. Everything you need to know is shown on the TV screen in the cabin and posted on notice boards round the ship. Most things are discretionary (except for the safety briefings).
Meal times don’t vary much except for when the weather or onshore activities dictate. There is plenty of food all of excellent quality and, except for dinner, served in buffet style. The restaurant is free seating which means you can choose who to sit with each meal time – a great way to get to know fellow travellers without finding yourself stuck at the same table every meal.
Outside official meal times there is a coffee and tea station available 24/7 and snacks and cookies if you find yourself hungry at any time.
Each day there is a briefing meeting to find out what has been seen during the day, and an update on what is likely to happen the next day. Additionally, the expedition team put on lectures about different aspects of wildlife, birdlife, geology, history etc.
Landings can take several forms and are timed to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to experience the area.
Outside of meals and activities, time aboard is your own. There is an excellent library, a lounge and, of course, all the decks to spend time watching for birds and sea mammals such as Peale’s Dolphins and the ubiquitous Great Petrels, not forgetting some sunsets (before you get too far south).
Internet is available from two Wi-fi areas on the ship. There are two options, one for an email only account and the second to purchase megabytes of data. The second is relatively expensive. To access emails only, you need to purchase an ‘account’ (at $30) but this lasts for the whole voyage, so arguably if you are going to take advantage of this it is better to purchase it as early into the trip as possible. The email account does not allow the attachment of any documents and so can’t be used to send pictures home.
There is an onboard shop which is open infrequently, and stocks souvenirs, gifts and things you might have left behind – sunglasses, dry bags and sun tan cream. If you want to send a postcard home from South Georgia, the shop has a stock of pre-stamped postcards which means you can write them before landing and then just post without having to spend time queuing on arrival.
Observation/viewing areas are all round the ship. Very few areas are off limits (it is also possible to sit on the bridge and watch the captain and crew steering!), but choosing the best place to stand depends on the weather and the wind direction. So far there has been ample space for everyone to see and for cameras to be swung around to capture the birds following the ship. Expedition staff are often on deck to identify any species you are not sure about.
Bring an extra washing line. You will get wet, even if it is just from washing your trousers in the detergent bath upon returning to the ship. The in-cabin clothes line is fine but doesn’t give your cabin mate any room for their clothes! The best ones are those used for camping that don’t need pegs. But be aware that you might need to go looking for one much earlier than your trip – many shops only have them available during summer camping season.
Bring a repair kit for waterproofs. There are plenty of jagged edges at landing sites along with other things that you can get snagged on and any rips will destroy the waterproofing capabilities immediately. The expedition team might be able to help but don’t rely on it.
Don’t forget something to clean your camera equipment with. Even if you don’t change lenses, thus protecting the sensor, the lenses themselves will get dirty, whether from spray, rain, dust, or any number of environmental conditions. Keep an eye on this and take the time to clean the front of the lenses (and your viewfinder) on a regular basis.
Leaving South Georgia and heading down to the Antarctic Peninsula is a major crossing. We had reports that we were likely to hit a storm and this would mean that we wouldn’t be attempting to land at the South Orkney Islands. Instead we headed directly for Elephant Island.Elephant Island was the place that Shackleton left the majority of his crew when he made the journey to South Georgia in search of rescue. Crossing the Scotia Sea brings home the hardship and enormity of the voyage they made in a rowing boat. For us weathering the storm was uncomfortable, but we still had all the creature comforts of the expedition ship.Elephant Island is another haven for penguins and seals. Leopard seals bask on the rocks and we had a rare sighting of a group of fur seal pups (apparently this is not their normal breeding area).
For us the final leg across the Drake Passage provided time for reflection on the sights and experiences we had had. It seems that everyone who makes the voyage across the Drake Passage starts it with some trepidation that the winds and weather will provide a tough ride. This time someone was smiling benignly over us and the crossing was much less difficult than our earlier experience from South Georgia.