drake passage Crossing the Drake Passage

This is often the most daunting aspect of a trip to Antarctica and one which many travellers would prefer to avoid! There are horror stories about rough seas, injuries and sea-sickness and many of these are true; however, nowadays, modern ships are more stable and fewer passengers experience discomfort – in fact the crossing is all part of the experience and something to brag about!

And, if the prospect is too daunting, there are options for avoiding the crossing – by flying to King George Island in the South Shetlands and boarding ship there!

I have crossed the Drake several times and in a variety of ships and experienced rough seas, mill-pond conditions and everything in between. I am a proud advocate of the Drake and encourage visitors to try it out for themselves, so they can speak from experience.

birds drake passage

What is the Drake Passage?

It is a 600-mile-wide stretch of water between Cape Horn at the tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands. It is often one of the roughest stretches of ocean in the world, where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans converge without a resistant land mass, creating rough seas or the ‘Drake Shake’, but also for many, calmer conditions or the ‘Drake Lake’!

Much depends on which ship is chosen for the voyage. There are lots of options from luxury ships to more basic expedition vessels. The former include vessels such as Silversea’s Sea Explorer, which offers six-star service and a dedicated crew, combined with modern stabilisation equipment. This ship carries a maximum of 120 passengers in first class conditions, with butler service for all. At the other end of the scale is Polar Pioneer, a converted Russian survey ship, which offers a more ‘authentic’ polar experience to just 50 travellers. This ship is stabilised, but to a less stringent standard than more modern ships; nevertheless, it is ice-strengthened and sails in the waters of Antarctica throughout the season.

The passage takes typically 2-3 days depending on conditions and the ship. Even when conditions are severe, there are great opportunities for bird and other wildlife viewing.

Wildlife Spotting

Not long after leaving Ushuaia or Punta Arenas, the ship is accompanied by birds. These start with South American species, such as … followed by true Antarctic birds like albatrosses and petrels, ducking and diving amongst the waves and defying amateur cameramen to catch a shot of them!

I have a basic camera, so it always takes me ages to reach a point where my shots include more than images of waves, with an occasional wing or head.

The crossing is also a time for spotting your first big mammals, especially whales. This is where a good pair of binoculars is essential, because most sightings are just a blow some distance from the ship.

The crew on the bridge are always on the lookout for wildlife and will call sightings over the PA – this leads to a scramble of those not already out on deck bird-watching and there is always somebody around who can tell you what species it is, just from a blow or a glance of a silhouette at distance – I am always overawed at the expertise of these people and took some time to be convinced that they were accurate.

Humpback Whales

Until you sail in southern waters, you do not realise just how many varieties of whale there are, and these creatures share the ocean with you. The most prolific everywhere are humpback and these will be seen on every visit to the Antarctic with their distinctive flukes or tails displaying as they dive below the surface.

basecamp antarctica

They are a particularly robust creature with a colour range from all black, through shades of grey to black and white. They are strong creatures and are known for their spectacular breaching, when they often jump fully clear of the water. They can be identified from a distance by a bushy blow of some 3m as well as their dive and fluke display.

Fully grown, they can reach 15-16m and weigh 48 tonnes. The female usually is bigger than the male and breeds every two years, giving birth to a single calf weighing a tonne and a half and measuring over 4m.

The have a particularly long pectoral fin or flipper of some 5m and cruise slowly, which made them easy prey for whalers in the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, by mid 20thcentury, the world population declined significantly and is only slowly recovering. Humpbacks travel mostly in small groups, but are often encountered in herds of more than a dozen, which also made them easy prey for whalers and native hunters elsewhere.

In Antarctica, they congregate in the summer feeding in the krill-rich waters, before dispersing to winter in African, Australasian and American waters.

Spot the Blue Whale

The blue whale is the largest creature on earth and is often seen in Antarctic waters. This animal is a solitary creature and is distinctive because of the blue hue of it skin, as well as its sheer size of approx. 30m – if you are very lucky, you may see an adult with its young, but this is rare and especially rewarding.

Fully grown adults weigh 150 tonnes or more and can be identified by a massive 10m vertical blow as well as its amazing dimensions and distinctive shape. Females breed once in three years and give birth in warm waters to a single calf, which becomes independent when it reaches some 15m in length and can feed on their own on the available krill. Stocks were devastated in years past by unregulated whaling and, despite protection have hardly recovered, to the extent that the world population may be less than 10,000.

Minke Whale

Other whales which can be seen are Minke, distinctive because of its smaller size of approx. 8m and weight up to 10 tonnes, but normally 6-8 tonnes. It does not show a fluke when diving and has an insubstantial blow, which is hardly visible at distance, but does show its dorsal fin during dive. They are found close inshore within the pack ice, often many miles from open water, often moving very quickly at up to 16 knots.

whale spotting drake passage

Southern Right Whale

Known as the right whale because it was the ‘right’ one to hunt, rather than for any other reason. It is slow moving and easy to harpoon, so was popular with whalers: it also had the advantage of being rich in oil, so when killed, it floated on the surface and was easy to harvest. The animal is black-brown in colour with a large head characterised by lower lips, which extend upwards. There is also a profusion of callosities around the blow holes, which give a distinctive white-pink-orange effect. The blow itself is high and ‘V’ shaped.

Fin Whale

This is a regular summer visitor to the Antarctic and sometimes confused with blue whales because of the shape. However, it has distinctive characteristics from size – it is quite a lot smaller than the blue – to colour, it has variable colours on its head – dark on the port side and paler on the starboard. This is thought to be due to how the animal rolls to scoop plankton. It also deep dives for fish and squid, sometimes as deep as 230m.

Seen in all waters, fin whales display a long vertical blow, repeated 4-5 times, before a dive, with a show of the dorsal fin and, occasionally a fluke. These whales travel quickly, at between 7 and 18 knots, which saved them from the early whalers: however, they became easier prey with the advent of faster catcher boats, and numbers dropped in southern waters until they attained protected status.

Sperm Whale

antarctic explorer drake passage

This was once the main target of early whalers, due to its size and profitability. Moby Dick was as sperm whale and became the great whale of literature. It has a massive head, which when surfacing, exposes an offset blow-hole, unique to this species. The blow is explosive and can be heard from a significant distance away.

Dives, which are near vertical, last from 10 minutes to over and hour and are followed by a series of blows. Because they cruise slowly at 3-4 knots, they were also a classic prey of early whalers. They eat a tonne or so of fish and squid a day, feeding at great depths, possibly as deep as 3000m or more. A bottom-dwelling shark was taken from the stomach of a sperm whale at 3200m. It is thought that the bright white interior of the whale’s mouth combined with the red tongue act as a lure. Sperm whales often have circular scars from the tentacles of giant squids around their heads.

Sei Whale

Seen mostly in the Drake Passage, this relatively small whale, between a fin and a blue in size, travels mostly in deep water. It was much persecuted in the 1940s and 60s and is now considered to be endangered. It has a characteristic blow of some 3m and often has scars from shark bites, indicating troubles encountered underwater.

Other Cetaceans

Apart from whales, there are many other species of cetacean to be encountered in Antarctic waters. Smaller whales such as Arnoux’s Beaked and Southern Bottlenose are the most common although, because of their size, they are often confused with dolphins.

Another relative of the dolphin, which is often found in the Antarctic is the orca, or killer whale. These predators travel in groups and families and prey on seals penguins and even other whales, such as minke.

Seals

seal drake passage

Seals are ubiquitous in Antarctica and include a number of discrete species, including the massive elephant seal, which can be seen throughout the region, from the Falkland Islands and South Georgia to the Peninsula itself. This seal is massive and the bull is always larger than the cow. The name derives not only from its size, but also from its appearance: the bulls grow a long appendage on its snout, which inflates on older animals (8th year onwards) to act as a warning to other males.

Other seals include the Antarctic fur seal, found throughout the region, notably on South Georgia, but also on South Orkneys, South Sandwich and South Shetlands as well as Bouvet and Heard. It is said that some also breed on Kerguelen, the island which gave the species an alternate name.

This is a true polar seal, with long, dense hairs insulating the neck areas – this was especially valuable to commercial hunters, because of its rarity. It also meant that the animal did not have a well developed blubber supply. Nevertheless, this seal is moderately aggressive and is known for its sharp teeth and speed of movement on land as well as in the water.

The crabeater seal is one of the most numerous in the world and is essentially a creature of the pack ice, although also found in non-polar areas, such as New Zealand, South Australia and South America.

The Weddell seal is one of the largest of all seals and is identified by its size and spotted fur. Unlike the crabeater, this seal is often found onshore. They are accomplished divers and feed on the Antarctic cod, as well as crustaceans and squid. Named for the explorer who gave his name to the Antarctic sea, these seals are found around the continent’s northern coast from South Georgia, where they also breed, down the Peninsula, almost as far as the Ross Sea.

One of the most fearsome Antarctic animals is the Leopard seal, named for its spotted appearance as well as for its aggressive nature. It is a sleek animal, with a huge gaping jaw and fearsome teeth, usually seen basking on an ice floe and not exploited commercially by man.

The least known of all Antarctic seals is the Ross seal, due entirely to its remote habitat on the polar pack ice. This animal is known for its trill vocal sounds, which enable it to communicate across large ice distances.

Birds

bird drake passage

Of all wildlife in Antarctica, birds are the most prolific and a subject completely on their own, from nesting albatross one South Georgia to petrels and other birds seen throughout the continent. Antarctica is truly a birders paradise.

Crossing the Drake Passage is a truly memorable experience which should not be missed. Get in touch with us today to start planning your adventure.

antarctic cruise vessel Argentina – Gateway To Antarctica

Gillian Landells - Polar Travel ExpertWildfoot Travel’s Polar expert Gillian Landells visited Argentina recently to board polar cruise vessel Ocean Endeavour for an antarctic cruise. Here she gives an account of her adventure along with a few pointers for those considering taking a similar trip

 

Valdes Peninsula

Argentina boasts some incredible locations which are made for exploring – one such place is the Valdes Peninsula situated in Patagonia – a truly stunning wildlife hotspot and a highlight of my recent trip to South America.

Getting there

Access to the region is very easy from Buenos Aires and other domestic airports within the country with regular flights into Trelew and a lesser number into Puerto Madryn.

Arriving into Trelew will mean an overnight stay or a 1 hour transfer to Puerto Madryn itself which is the gateway to the Valdes Peninsula. The city is a prime beach destination with a promenade filled with restaurants and is a lovely base for a few nights. Plenty of accommodation options are available making for a comfortable stay.

When to visit and what you will see?

The Valdes Peninsula is an area which can be visited at any time of the year however there are certain months which draw wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world.

Orca can be seen all year around though the months of March and April see these fiercely intelligent animals demonstrate some unique behaviour involving attacks on the sea lion rookeries.

They beach themselves intentionally to catch sea lions and elephant seal pups – this behaviour has been learned and developed from one orca generation to the next and is only displayed at this particular location.

Southern Right Whales are to be found in the area between June and December before they make their way down to the waters of Antarctica. The peninsula offers calm and protected waters where the they can breed, and the mothers can nurse their calves and you are pretty much guaranteed to see these majestic creatures on a visit to the area. My experience was at the very end of the season during the middle of December (when even the guides were careful not to over promise the chances of seeing the whales) and I was treated to seeing 2 separate mothers and calves right beside the boat. An experience never to be forgotten.

From June until the middle of August, the whales are best seen from Puerto Madryn, sometimes right from the beach and from mid-August until mid-December, the main location to base yourself is Puerto Piramides. This tiny beachside town has some serious charm and with only 3 streets and plenty of accommodation options, it promises some fantastic whale sightings.

Magellanic penguins are common in the Valdes Peninsula between September to March – they will start to build their nests on arrival and bring their young up through the following months. This species mainly live in nests under bushes or in burrows and walking amongst them is entertaining indeed.

Magellanic penguins on Agentinas Valdes Peninsula

The numbers of penguins can be upwards of 300,000 and are to be found at a few locations, Punta Tombo, Punta Norte, Punta Delgada and Punta Ninfas. Seeing these creatures in this completely natural environment is something very special indeed.

Elephant seals are present in the Valdes Peninsula all year round with the breeding season being between August and November with October providing the peak numbers of these animals. There is nothing quite like seeing the huge hulk of the males up close and the sheer numbers that are grouped together on the shores.

beautiful beaches on Argentina's Valdes Peninsula

Sea lions will also be present throughout the year and you can easily see them lazing on the beaches in huge numbers. They mate between August and December with the pups being born between December and February. You can spend your time watching these animals both on land and sea as there are kayaking and snorkelling excursions available to give the ultimate interaction.

Buenos Aires

With one day in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city, there are many sights to see and it is hard to know where to start and what not to miss out. My recent trip involved a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery and it really is something to behold – anyone who has been will agree that their time there was a thought provoking experience.

Recoleta Cemetery is located in the lovely neighbourhood of Recoleta which is leafy, elegant and full of grandeur – a walk around the streets is a particularly pleasant experience with the eye always being drawn upwards to the French inspired architecture.

Taking a map when you first walk through the gates of the cemetery feels a tad strange however it is a handy tool to have as there are over 6400 mausoleums, many decorated with statues.

The style of the cemetery is what will first grab your attention, there are hundreds of little laneways, a labyrinth where you can wander around and never see the same thing twice. The mausoleums are where many of Argentina’s notable people lie in rest – writers, poets, scientists, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, some of the most wealthy and famous families in the country however most famous of all is Eva Peron – the former First Lady who was loved by many but was equally a very controversial figure.

There are statues and decorative features everywhere you look; some of the mausoleums resemble houses, hints of the fairytale imagination, marble, brass, engravings, stain glass windows. A lot have been very well maintained and some have fallen into disrepair with broken windows, a myriad of cobwebs and a look of the past about them.

There is always a queue of people wanting to pay their respects at Eva Peron’s resting place although it took her body nearly 20 years to arrive there as she was taken by the military to a graveyard in Italy where she was buried under another name. She is now in her rightful place back in Buenos Aires in a heavily fortified crypt 5 metres beneath the ground so her remains are completely protected ensuring she will rest in peace.

Eva-Peron's final resting place in Buenos Aires

A visit to the Recoleta Cemetery will give you the chance to take some beautiful photographs, listen to some haunting stories being told if you choose to take a guided tour which run every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am and if you just want to sit and take it all in then there is always a bench to be found shaded by the cemeteries many grand trees.

When to visit Antarctica?

Planning a visit to Antarctica means travelling during the Southern hemisphere summer months namely between October and March. Expedition companies will offer various itineraries to meet the needs of adventurous passengers wanting to make the journey south.

You can choose to focus solely on the Antarctic Peninsula which is the main destination for travellers or opt to include the Antarctic Circle, visiting the Falkland Islands or South Georgia – there are many options however my voyage took me down to the Antarctic Peninsula – a 10 day round trip including flights from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia.

What months are the best?

In truth there is no better month to travel to Antarctica, the experience will blow you away regardless of the month and each month has its highlights.

December and January are the most popular months to travel however pricing is reflected in this. If you are flexible on dates, then voyages at the start and end of the season can offer great discounts.

The start of the season (end of October through to November) will see the largest icebergs in their most pristine form, the month of December will have between 20 and 24 hours of daylight and provide some stunning photographs, January and February are the months when the penguin chicks and seal pups are born providing a chance to see these baby animals in their earliest of stages and March is particularly good for seeing whales.

What will you see?

Antarctica offers so much that your senses will be overloaded – from the sight of the majestic icebergs, to the smell of the freshest air on the planet, to the sound of a whale expelling air from its blowhole and the sight of thousands of Gentoo penguins (not to mention the smell!)

The scenery is absolutely magical and personally will be the part that I always remember from my trip to Antarctica. The tranquillity and the pristine beauty are really something to behold and although photographs will capture the look of the landscape, it cannot capture the feeling and emotion you have when you are actually there. Nowhere else on Earth will make you feel the way you do when you are there in person – the feeling of absolute wonder and thankfulness that somewhere like that exists on our planet.

Whales are to be found in abundance, all types from Humpback to Minke, from Sperm to Fin, from Blue to Right and not forgetting Orca. You will be able to see them from the ship itself and also during the zodiac excursions – they are not fazed by humans and to watch them behave in the natural way they do with all the space they could ever need is something very beautiful indeed.

Orcas

Seals are very common to see with different types being spotted during your daily excursions – Weddell, Crabeater, Ross, Fur, Elephant and not forgetting the fascinating Leopard seal. For the most part they will be onshore, sleeping and genuinely not at all bothered about the human activity around them. Though after being very close to a Leopard seal on the shore of Deception Island and seeing their almost manic smile, my image of seals being cute and non-threatening was changed forever!

The bird life in Antarctica is incredible with many sightings and many species ticked off the list throughout the voyage – Wandering Albatross, Storm Petrels, Giant Petrels, Diving Petrels, Skua, Snow Petrels, Cormorants, Snowy Sheathbills – the list goes on. Right from the start of the trip along the Beagle Channel and crossing over the Drake Passage, you will see these birds and the sightings keep going during your time in Antarctica.

 

Birds in Antarctica cannot be mentioned without talking about the penguins – they are found in their thousands and thousands in this polar environment – you will find yourself captivated by them and their entertaining ways. The species of Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper, Adélie, Macaroni, King and Emperor can be found – they are masters of their surroundings, making nests, looking after their young, porposing through the water and mischievously stealing rocks from their neighbour’s nests. Seeing these animals in their huge numbers and to be able to sit down to observe their behaviour really is a humbling experience. Be prepared for the numerous penguin photos in your camera roll though as you take photo after photo of these beautiful creatures.

Ocean Endeavour

There are many different expedition vessels which travel down to Antarctica – all with varying levels of comfort, passenger numbers, activity options and facilities onboard however they are all designed with the polar environments in mind and to give passengers the best experience possible. The ships have ice strengthened hulls which enable them to slice through the icy environment.

Ocean Endeavour

On my recent trip to Antarctica, I stayed on the Ocean Endeavour which has a maximum capacity of 199 passengers and offers a modern style of ship along with passionate expert guides and crew who did their upmost to provide us with some incredible sights.

The ship itself is very spacious throughout meaning wherever you are on the ship, you can move around freely and with large windows situated in all the public areas and easy access to the outside decks, the outside views are never far away.

With 13 cabin categories onboard, from triple cabins to twin cabins and single cabins – some with portholes, some with windows and some situated in the interior of the ship, there really is something that will suit everyone’s requirements and budget.

If you are travelling solo, there are dedicated single cabins if you wish to have your space whilst journeying far south or if you wouldn’t mind sharing with someone else then this is a great option to have some company whilst keeping the cost down. You will be allocated a cabin mate by the expedition company with males being kept together and females kept together – they will tend to allocate cabins to people of a similar age as well.

The cabins themselves are very comfortable with enough space to move around – a ensuite bathroom, small desk area with tv, storage facilities and the beds typically set up in twin style or bunk bed style.

The public areas are spread throughout the ship meaning there is plenty of space for the passengers to relax and spend their time onboard the ship. A beautiful restaurant where meals were held, the main lounge where you could relax and also where the lectures and presentations were held, the other lounge areas on different decks along with a small gym, sauna, spa and library meant you never felt crowded. There is also a polar boutique found on the ship which is a shop next to the main lounge providing lots of souvenir ideas as well as clothing – it is quite amazing how many items they stock and how many things you are able to buy as a memento to your journey.

Mealtimes are split between buffet style for breakfast and lunch – endless options to fuel yourself up for the morning and afternoon excursions with dinner being served la carte – be prepared for a mouth-watering selection of meals and lots of chatter about the days experiences. Any dietary requirements are catered for and the crew made sure that every person was made to feel special. We were personally greeted at each mealtime and over the course of the few days onboard, it made for a family atmosphere.

There was also the chance to have a BBQ on the upper outside deck of the ship – a unique experience sitting wrapped up in your outside gear with the incredible landscape surrounding whilst eating your food and chatting to your fellow passengers. It’s something to remember that is for sure!

There is an open bridge policy onboard the Ocean Endeavour meaning that full access can be given to the bridge, weather depending. It really does provide such a unique perspective to stand in the bridge, chatting to the crew and captain, looking at all the equipment and being able to look out onto the wide expanse of ocean or view the polar landscape from that kind of vantage point.

During the voyage

A major part of an expedition trip to Antarctica will be the team of expert guides who make the trip as informative and as fun as possible. They are some of the most passionate people you will meet who spend each Antarctic season showing off the beauty and wonder of this most Southerly continent to intrigued passengers. Being experts in their fields of marine biology, glaciology, ornithology, history, photography, geology (the list goes on!) they will give informal lectures and presentations during your time onboard. You will find yourself taken in by their passion for their subject and their respect for the animals that live in this harsh but beautiful land as well as the environment itself.

They will also be the people taking passengers out on the daily excursions and answering any questions you may have – they will keep you safe at all times and make sure you really are given the best experience possible.

The guides will make sure they immerse themselves into the passenger’s experience whilst onboard by sitting down at mealtimes with the guests, taking the time to talk to everyone and always being seen around the ship. Many will sit in on their fellow guides lectures and by the end of the trip when you are saying goodbye, it really does feel like you have made a bond with them as a team and individuals. Without them, these voyages cannot operate, and their commitment never wavers.

Activities

The Ocean Endeavour carries 20 zodiac boats and a selection of kayaks and stand up paddle boards – these are all stored on the upper decks of the ship to be brought down by crane to water level.

There is the option of adding on an additional soft adventure activity to your voyage in addition to the normal zodiac excursion program – this will give you a different perspective of the landscape and wildlife, getting you as close as possible to the action.

Any of these activities are best to request at the time of booking as spaces are limited and although there may be the option to sign up when you are on the ship, if it is something you are keen to participate in then the best advice is to pre-book to avoid disappointment.

Zodiac cruising and landings

On every expedition trip to Antarctica, the daily excursions off the ship are included in the cost of the voyage. Zodiacs are rigid inflatables which can hold between 8 and 10 passengers plus a guide who will drive the zodiac – you will be assisted on and off every time and lifejackets are compulsory.

Zodiac trips on an antarctic cruise vessel

You can expect to participate in these excursions twice a day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon though it is important to remember that everything on a trip like this is weather dependant. Every evening you will be briefed by the expedition team on what the plan is for the next day; where they are hoping to visit and what activities are likely to be able to take place. If due to weather or ice conditions, things have to change then the expedition team will come up with an alternative plan with safety being first and foremost in their minds.

Zodiac trips on an antarctic cruise vessel

In Antarctica there is a regulation that all expedition companies have to follow which only allows a maximum of 100 people on the land at any one time. Ships which carry less than 100 people will be able to take full advantage of making sure every passenger experiences a landing every time an excursion takes place however that is not to say you should disregard a ship which carries more than 100 passengers. The Ocean Endeavour which I stayed on during my time in Antarctica has capacity for 199 passengers and the operation each day of disembarking everyone into zodiacs worked like a well-oiled machine. We were split into 4 groups of 50 people and as the ship has 2 separate platforms at the side of the ship, things worked very quickly and efficiently.

As well as zodiac landings where you will have time to explore by foot, take photographs and be enthralled by the wildlife on the shore, there is also plenty of zodiac cruising which will give you a different perspective of the polar landscape. Humpback whales may be breaching in front of you, penguins porpoising through the water, a leopard seal searching for food making its distinctive sound, all the while being surrounded by the most pristine icebergs and absolutely huge cliffs.

Excursions will take your breath away on countless occasions and hundreds if not thousands of photographs will be taken during them and will make sure you experience Antarctica, not just from your cabin and the outside decks of the ship but be properly immersed in it.

Kayaking

Typically, with kayaking in the Arctic and Antarctic, you do need to have had previous sea kayaking experience as the polar regions are not the ideal place to learn to kayak given the conditions. The kayaks will have a spray skirt and you will need to have a good level of physical fitness to participate in the programme.

As long as the weather is good, and the conditions are safe then you will be going out kayaking as many times as possible – some of the photos and video footage the kayaking group caught on my voyage was phenomenal. Two humpback whales surfacing right beside the awestruck group of 8 to 10 kayakers is something that will forever stay with them – you really are on the water level with these marine creatures.

Stand up paddle boarding

Stand up paddle boarding is another option to consider – no experience is needed beforehand and with the activity being a mixture of surfing and kayaking, it is another way to experience life in Antarctica

On other itineraries, there is further options of camping where you spend a night on the ice, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and mountaineering – all of these are designed to enhance your experience however if you focus on the zodiac excursions with the hiking/walking then you will certainly not miss out on anything.

The Drake Passage

The infamous stretch of water which connects the tip of Argentina with the South Shetland Islands, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula is a main component of any Antarctic voyage and depending on what you have read, you may be put off completely by the stories or finding yourself drawn into the adventure of the crossing.

On my voyage, once we had left the port of Ushuaia and the calm waters of the Beagle Channel behind, 2 full days lay ahead as we crossed the Drake Passage, and no-one really knew what to expect.

Truth be told there were some moments that keeping yourself upright was a challenge and moving around the ship turned into a comedy routine however for the most part it was fine and nothing like I had read.

The expedition team onboard made sure to keep everyone busy by providing a full lecture programme on various topics such as marine biology, the history of the Antarctic treaty, glaciology and the expert photographer onboard offering tips on how best to get the most from our cameras.

We were still able to access the outside decks at times whilst crossing the Drake Passage, there were a lot of birds to be seen and just staring out at the expanse of the water knowing you were getting closer to Antarctica kept everyone going.

There was a doctor onboard who was available at all times if you felt the medication you were using wasn’t working as well as it should be or if you didn’t have anything with you at all – it was comforting to know this however thankfully I didn’t need to speak with him.

Our 2 day crossing on the way back was pretty similar, a few moments which got everyone talking namely one of our last evening meals turning into an episode of keeping the china on the table however we all agreed on our return to Ushuaia that we were happy we had sailed the Drake Passage.

It played such a big role in the whole journey and really gave me a sense of how far we were actually travelling – the distance involved is phenomenal at 500 miles each way and if you embrace it rather than fear it then it will become as much a part of adventure as the wildlife and landscapes.

If you are really not sold on the idea of sailing the Drake Passage then don’t worry, there are trips where you can fly between Punta Arenas, Chile and King George Island, South Shetlands which will cut 4 days off your journey – great if you are short on time.

Another option is to fly the Drake Passage one way and sail the other way – you will still get to experience the crossing by ship however flying will cut down the journey time by 2 days.

Passengers on an antarctic cruise vessel

Natalie In Patagonia Top Ten Bucket List Trips For 2018

Natalie's Top Ten Bucket List Trips For 2018
Wildfoot travel expert Natalie Natalie Greenhalgh has always been passionate about travelling. Seeking out new places and new travel experiences is something she has done all her life. Always lining up the next life-goal or travel-target. So who better to ask to put together her top ten bucket-list adventures for 2018? Here’s Natalie’s top ten. How many of these adventures would you add to your bucket list?

We all do it, every year we make a list of new year’s resolutions that often tend to be about bettering one’s self. And we can’t think of a better way of doing this than to travel. So book your time off, pack your bags and set off for a new destination! It’s a great big world out there, so here are some highlights that we at Wildfoot Travel would highly recommend.

Beautiful Patagonia

Hike Hidden Pathways in Patagonia

Celebrating 200 years of independence this year, Chile is unlike any other place on earth. Isolated from the rest of the world with the vast Pacific Ocean to the west, the Atacama Desert to the North, the soaring Andes to the East and the wilds of Patagonia to the South, these extreme environments make for a remarkable country. In my opinion, Patagonia is the most beautiful spot on the planet…an otherworldly dreamland of majestic mountains, deep blue glaciers and fairy-tale woodlands, a trek in this remote wilderness will stay with you for life.

When? Chile’s summer months of December to March are warmest and best for trekking. Visit in October and November for Wildflowers.

Diving in the Galapagos

Go Goggle-eyed in the Galapagos

As a wildlife destination, the Galapagos offers a once in a lifetime experience, where adventurous travellers can get extremely close to exotic animals and aquatic life. These isolated islands are home to the marine and land-based animals that have enthralled biologists and nature lovers since Darwin’s day, and the fearless and friendly animals that roam this untouched natural world are in abundance.
Easily one of the best snorkelling spots in the World, there is over 15,000 square miles of protected, marine reserve waters. Unlike Scuba Diving, no special training is required for snorkelling, so if you can swim and breathe through a snorkel, you’re set! I will never forget watching green turtles paddle in front of me as two sea lions were demanding my attention as they circled me then swam up and looked me in the eye. Marine iguanas are warning in the sun, Galápagos penguins dive in, and hammerhead and white-tipped sharks lurk in the depths.

When? Unlike most wildlife destinations, there’s no wrong time to visit & go snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands. There are two distinct seasons in the Galapagos. The dry and cooler season runs from June to November while the wet and warmer season lasts from December through the end of May.

Penguins on South Georgia Island


Sit among King Penguins in South Georgia

When you land on South Georgia, a spectacularly beautiful and remote sub-Antarctic island, you will be amazed at the sight of 300,000 king penguins crowding the beach. These beautiful birds are recognisable by their orange throats and jet black heads. As they stand shoulder to shoulder on this tiny island, you certainly feel like a guest in their home! But they are very welcoming hosts and are often happy to come a little closer and say hello. And it’s not all about penguins, if you want to spend time with the greatest density of wildlife on the planet, you can expect to see seals, petrels, albatrosses, prions and much more.

When? The short expedition season runs from November-March when the sea ice breaks up to allow passage. November offers the chance of also seeing elephant seals on South Georgia, whilst December and January have warmer temperatures and welcome penguin chicks at this time of year.

 

walking safari in Zambia

Walk amongst the wild things in Zambia

The concept of walking safaris was born here, in South Luangwa National Park. One of the best wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and well-known for its World class guides, it is home to some of the highest concentrations of animals in Africa. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of walking, exploring the area on foot makes you really appreciate the bush as you become a part of the landscape. You may stumble upon a baby elephant learning to use its trunk, watch a wallowing hippo or two or stay as still as humanly possible as a Lion watches you through the grass. But you also take the time to learn about the plants, seeds and insects and how they all work so brilliantly together in this fascinating system. So if you’re after a safari that doesn’t just tick off the big 5, walk amongst the animals that call this place home and see how it all fits together, you will not be disappointed.

When? Some camps in Zambia are only open in the dry-season between June and October. As the heat increases towards the end of August, there is a greater concentration of game.

northern lights in scandanaviaBe in awe of the Aurora Borealis whilst Whale watching

Walking out of a bar in Reykjavik, I looked up and caught a glimpse of the northern lights. Despite the light pollution, I could faintly see the beautiful light show that was happening right above me. I stood in awe for a few seconds before the magical lights disappeared, and I made a promise to myself to make a trip one day specifically to see this sight “properly”. There are many places to see this natural phenomenon, but why not combine this with another wonderous experience…whale watching. Take a winter trip aboard a traditional two masted schooner and sail in arctic waters, looking for orcas and humpback whales, which follow the herring shoals at this time of year. Whales by day, northern lights by night…what could be better?

When? Darkness is the key, and nowhere is darker than Scandinavia in winter! Best seen in the Northern Hemisphere between October – March, the closer to the Arctic circle the better.

Peek at Jaguar’s in the Pantanal

Think of a wildlife destination in Brazil and most people would suggest the Amazon. But the Pantanal is Brazil’s less-famous great wilderness…and the best place in the world to spot the elusive Jaguar. Because the Amazon is so dense, often people can be disappointed with what little wildlife they see, but the Pantanal is like the jungle without the trees – wildlife can be easily spotted.  This vast wetland is also home to giant otters, huge caiman, capybara, anteaters, almost 700 hundred bird species and much more. Exploring this wilderness by boat or on foot, you will have the opportunity of seeing very rare and iconic wildlife up-close.

When?  Seasonally flooded in the wet season between December – May, the Pantanal is best visited in winter with September and October usually seen as the best months to visit for Jaguar spotting.

Feel free in the faraway Falklands

With some of the World’s wildest and remote landscapes, the Falkland Islands are a wonderous place and incredibly bio-diverse. A little bit of Britain at the end of the world, the real citizens here are the animals. With 5 penguin species (Kings, Rockhopper, Magellanic, Macaroni and Gentoo), dolphins, whales, sea lions, leopard seals, elephant seals and not to mention over 200 species of birds…if you are after a wildlife trip with a difference, the Falkland’s will not disappoint. Stanley, the capital of East Falkland Island is often at the start of your adventure, with Volunteer point not to be missed…home to the largest colony of King Penguins on all of the islands. Then take a short plane hop to Sea Lion Island, Darwin, Pebble Island, Carcass and West Point Island, each island offering a unique and unforgettable experience.

When? OctoberMarch is generally considered the best time to visit, with the start of the warmer weather bringing new life and later on in the season, the better time for whale watching.

The Icebergs in Greenland's Disko Bay

Dance amongst the Icebergs in Disko Bay, Greenland

Ok, so you might not dance but this is Disko Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its outstanding natural beauty. Greenland is the worlds largest island, with the worlds largest national park, and on the West Coast you will find Illullisat, a harbour town on Disko Bay whose name translates literally to “icebergs”, and you will see why. Disko bay is packed full of beautiful icebergs of all shapes and sizes rising majestically from the sea. And this is just one tiny highlight of this huge island that has so much to offer.

When? Most people visit in summer (May – September) when temperatures can reach a balmy 10 degrees Celsius! Enjoy the midnight sun at this time too, with most areas lit up around the clock from June – July.

See the sunrise over Sossusvlei Dunes, Namibia

The climb up this 85m sand dune (in sand no less) will leave you short as breath as you reach the top. Short of breath for the climb you have just experienced but also short of breath when you see the beauty of the sunrise over Sossusvlei. As I watched the sun come up and change the colours of the landscape, the orange of the sunrise combined with the rust-red of the Dunes was so intense and I remember feeling lost in that moment, whilst nature showed just how beautiful she can be. Just one highlight of my trip to Namibia, this is one of my favourite countries as it has everything to offer, fantastic wildlife and national parks, preserved ancient cultures, dramatic landscapes and lovely little seaside towns.

When? A year-round destination, Namibia has over 300 days of sunshine per year! Wildlife can be easier to view in the drier months between May to November.
sloth hanging from a tree in the rain forest of costa rica

Go coco for Costa Rica

As a country, Costa Rica has so much to offer, especially for wildlife enthusiasts! Costa Rica covers 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface, but it contains nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity.  Around 25% of the country’s land area is in protected national parks and protected areas, the largest percentage of protected areas in the world. Sloths, Whales, Turtles, Monkeys, Tapirs and hundreds of bird species…it is packed full of wildlife! If you’re after a bit of adrenalin, try white-water rafting, ziplining and canyoning…just a few of the activities on offer. And with coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean, there are many beach spots to relax after a busy trip around this wonderful country.

When? The driest and sunniest time of year to go is between January to April with January and February being the busiest time to go. Temperatures and rainfall can very though with Rainforests, Cloud Forests, mountains and 2 coastlines all battling it out!

Find out more about any of our trips here

Natalie Top Ten Bucket List Trips For 2018

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Lots of people on deck aboard an antarctic cruise vessel Packing For An Antarctic Expedition Cruise

Wildfoot Travel Expert Gillian Landells heads off to Antarctica in a few days. We interrupted her packing to ask her if she had any words of advice to share.
In true form Gillian came back with this informative, in-depth article – and still managed to finish packing her bags in time

So, you’ve booked your once in a lifetime Polar expedition. Congratulations, I know this will be one of the most life changing experiences you have ever had. But right now your mind is filled with the question of what to pack and how to prepare for a trip like this. Luckily for you, this is the exact process I’m going through right now – as I leave for Antarctica in a matter of days.
So I’m writing a few notes, in the hope that they may help you plan for your trip. Here are a handful of pointers which may help you pack your bags better.

The destination

Packing for Antarctica is a daunting, slightly overwhelming task.  You imagine the coldest climate on earth and immediately start packing clothes which are meant to withstand the extreme cold. In reality though you are going to this area of the world in its summer time. Yes it will be cold.  But not as cold as you think. Temperatures can hover between -10C to +12C but usually will sit around freezing point with the chill factor taken into consideration.
The conditions are changeable though – a bright sunny morning can turn into showers, light snow and biting cold winds. So be prepared for change and you should be just fine.

Clothing  – head to toe

Head

I’m going to start from the head going down to the feet covering all the items you will likely need to make sure you enjoy your Antarctic experience whilst keeping warm, dry and comfortable.

people wearing warm hats on deck on an antarctic cruise

A hat is a vital accessory in antarctica. Make sure it will will cover your ears.

The hat you take needs to ideally cover your ears as well as your head whilst a neck gaiter needs to be able to cover your face. Taking items which have a dual purpose is the name of the game. You may not look your most attractive but where you are going it is not exactly going to be Milan Fashion Week!

Sunglasses especially polarised ones will help protect your eyes from the glare of the sun.  The sunlight reflecting off the majestic icebergs will stun you in more ways than one!

Sun protection is essential in Antarctica – for both your eyes and your skin

On the subject of the sun, taking a high factor sunscreen with you is a must.  Your position in Antarctica will have you underneath the ozone layer at its thinnest so don’t get caught out and do apply that sunscreen generously.

Body

For this next part, think of yourself as an onion. Wearing lots of layers.
You want to be able to remove a layer at a time if you are feeling too warm and add layers if you are feeling the cold.  The simple theory is that each layer traps a pocket of air providing more warmth than one heavy layer.

Base layers like thermal underwear, tops and long johns are so important in order to have a thin layer of material against your skin. Avoid cotton which holds moisture or perspiration, leading to cold and discomfort. Instead opt for manmade hydrophobic fabrics, which repel moisture away from the skin ‘wicking’ it upwards and outwards to the next layer, keeping you warm, dry and comfortable. These fabrics also dry very quickly, which means you can give them a quick wash through and hang them up to dry if you need.
These principle have been followed by mountaineers for decades so I would recommend that for advice on the right base layers to choose, try any dedicated ‘outdoor’ retailer.

Next follows the mid layers which include fleece tops or sweaters. Once again, fleece is a hydrophobic material, efficiently wicking moisture away from the body toward the air but at the same time insulating very efficiently. Good fleece is warm whilst very light and quick drying.

Walking up a snowy hill in antarctica

Breathable outer gear and moisture wicking layers below will allow water vapour from perspiration to escape if you are working up a sweat on an activity.

Your final layer will be your parka.  If you’re lucky your expedition company will give you a complimentary parka whilst onboard which is yours to keep at the end of the voyage.

These are usually bright in colour so you will stand out from the ice, extremely good quality and made up of different layers.

If you do not have a parka included and need to buy one then make sure it is a lightweight, wind and weather resistant shell with insulation. Your parka is probably one of the most important items you will be wearing during your expedition so make sure you buy wisely.

Your parka should always be made from a waterproof but ‘breathable’ material. This allows moisture to travel out into the air but does not allow and water to penetrate from the outside. It may all sound like black magic but you’d don’t need to understand how it works. Just check that your outer layer is breathable as well as waterproof. Again, any good outdoor retailer will give you the advice you need.

Hands

Now let’s keep those hands warm shall we? Two pairs of gloves are recommended.  A thin pair against your skin and a thicker pair on top. I would also pack an extra pair in case you lose them somewhere along the line.

Legs

As you will be going out in zodiac cruises 2 to 3 times a day, keeping dry is essential.
Taking a couple of pairs of waterproof trousers will be invaluable and putting a pair on over your base layers before heading off on zodiac trips and onshore activities will become like second nature to you whilst on your trip.
You will thank me when you’re able sit down on the snowy ground taking in your surroundings and some inquisitive penguins whilst keeping dry and warm!

people heading ashore on a zodiac in the antarctic

Waterproof over trousers are a must for Zodiac trips, of which there will be many.

Make sure they have zips (and probably Velcro fastening as well) to allow you to put them on and take them off whilst you have big boots on.

Feet

When it comes to socks, pack as many as you can! During your time in the Antarctic you will be wearing two pairs at a time – the first pair being thin and ideally made of polypropylene. The second pair will be worn on top – thick and woollen is recommended. The combination of the two layers should keep your feet nice and warm. Dry feet make for a happy explorer!

Most expedition companies will provide you with a pair of rubber waterproof boots for use during your trip – if you are not sure if yours does provide them please ask your trusty travel consultant who will advise you! These boots will be worn on every zodiac outing and will form a vital piece of your Antarctic kit.

Pulling rubber waterproof boots on before boarding a zodiac from a polar cruise ship

Pulling rubber waterproof boots on and off is an experience you will get to know well as you enjoy regular zodiac trips.

If you have to purchase your own pair make sure they are rubber, mid calf or higher in height, that they have a non-skid sole and most important completely waterproof.
This pair of boots will become your best friend on this trip so invest in a proper pair and you will not look back.


Onboard clothing

Apart from your numerous layers don’t forget to pack some jeans and comfortable tops for your time spent onboard the ship. There will be times you will be looking forward to escaping your waterproof trousers and thermals so pack your normal everyday clothes so you can relax in comfort.

A pair of light slip on shoes are a great thing to pack to wear around the ship; your feet will welcome the change from the rubber waterproof boots which practical as they are don’t exactly let your feet breathe!

people enjoying a drink and chat in the bar on an antarctic cruise vessel.

Be comfortable an relaxed on board and you will enjoy the social experience much more

Dining on most vessels is a casual experience so don’t worry about taking your ballgown. However, on the last night some people like to dress a little more formally for dinner, a smart casual outfit will suffice but the rule is that you should always wear what you feel comfortable in.

Luggage

Now you have all these items of clothing, you need a bag or case to pack them into. The most popular luggage is the large wheeled duffel bags or a large backpack – if you can find a weather resistant or waterproof one even better.

You will need a day pack as well which will come with you on your zodiac trips, it will serve as a home for your camera, spare pair of socks, snacks, an extra pair of gloves, a spare camera battery and memory card. Nothing too heavy but some essentials will you will want with you whilst being off the ship exploring.

A spray proof bag is another good thing to remember; you can store your camera in it to protect it from the spray whilst travelling in the zodiacs.
Salt water and cameras do not mix so use the spray proof bag and place that in the day pack; you will need that camera working during your time in the Antarctic so look after it the best you can.

Snap happy

Now that we’ve run through clothing let’s move on to the other components of your suitcase.

As you will be setting off to a place of absolute natural beauty, a camera is a must.
Now I am no professional photographer but I do have a keen interest so this is definitely a time to improve my skills. I’ve packed a trusty DSLR Canon camera with a selection of lenses – a wide angle for capturing those amazing scenic shots and a couple which will be good for capturing animals in the distance.

Your interest and your level of photography will depend on what camera you take with you but even a simple point and click will be enough so don’t worry about having to shell out for an all singing, all dancing model. The scenery and wildlife will be so incredible that it will make your job as a photographer very easy indeed.

A lady taking photographs from the bow of an antarctic cruise vessel.

Antarctica is packed with photographic opportunities. Make sure you are prepared to make the most of them.

I would suggest making sure you are competent enough with the basic functions of your camera whether in still or video mode – the last thing you want to do is miss a shot due to messing about trying to set the camera up.

A tripod is recommended to keep shaky hands to a minimum – these are very lightweight and fold up nicely so it is a good investment for a trip like this.

If there is one very important piece of advice I would give it would be make sure you have a few spare batteries and memory cards – the cold saps the energy from batteries so much quicker than you will be used to. Keep batteries charged up and take a spare battery and memory card out with you on the Zodiac trips.

Money, money, money

Another question is what money do you take for your Antarctic trip?
Most of the components of your trip are included in the overall cost which you will have paid before you leave. Some vessels include alcohol and soft drinks during the voyage, others don’t so make sure you know which category you fall into.

Onboard you can add items to your cabin account as you go along, any drinks from the bar, laundry, wifi or data packages and simply pay at the end of your trip. Debit or credit cards are accepted with the main currency onboard being US Dollars.  A little cash in US Dollars is always handy to take with you as well.

Gratuities tend not to be included and these are best paid for in cash – it is completely up to each individual what they decide to pay. A guide is 20 US Dollars per person per day – the gratuities are collected anonymously at the end of the trip and will be shared equally between all staff and crew members.

Do also make sure to you let your bank know you’re going abroad and the destination – the last thing you want is a blocked card transaction at the end of your trip!

Communication

I mentioned about wifi or data packages whilst onboard – each vessel is different but most nowadays have moved with the times and have packages available to passengers. This may involve purchasing a card with a certain amount of data on it – this can be used to check emails, send messages and keep in touch with family and friends.

Don’t imagine being able to stream movies or upload all your photos to Facebook – as the connection is controlled by satellite the strength may not be what you’re used to at home. Don’t fret, this is normal but do keep this is mind. Simple communication is fine, streaming an entire season of Game of Thrones is pushing things too far.

Handy extras

Some other handy things to pack include ear plugs and an eye mask which should help you sleep during a night time which will never really feel like night time – the Antarctic summer is famed for its twenty hours of daylight!

An adaptor or converter for your electrical items is very important, do ask what kind outlet your ship will have or if you want to be safe pack an universal world wide adaptor – that way you will have covered all bases. Keeping all your items charged especially camera batteries will become like second nature to you on a trip like this.

Travel

The crossing of the the Drake Passage is something that a lot of people look forward to due to the two days sailing each way and the feeling of a proper adventure beginning or ending. Despite all the excitement, this will be your time to chill onboard so packing a book or a Kindle will be something you will be thankful for. Writing a daily journal or blog, listening to music, getting to know your fellow passengers, sharing photos and listening to informal lectures given by the expert guides onboard are all ways to pass the time during the crossing.

A lot of the Polar vessels will have a library onboard with books on all things Polar just waiting to be read so pick up a book and see what you can find out! You may also want to take your own wildlife book with you so can read up on all the incredible species you will experience firsthand.

Waves crashing over the bow of an antarctic cruise vessel in the notorious drake passage

The Drake Passage. Gateway to Antarctica. A stretch of water notorious for its unpredictable sea states.

On the subject of the Drake Passage, it is a good idea to take medication with you if you are prone to feeling the effects of the sea. There are tablets, bands and patches readily available to help you in case you experience the ‘Drake Shake’ – do seek advice from a pharmacist before you depart and remember there is always a doctor onboard the vessel! Let’s hope I will experience the ‘Drake Lake’ during the next few days!

Swimwear

Now one last thing I forgot to mention is to take your swimsuit – I know what you’re thinking why would you possibly want to take your swimsuit to Antarctica?!
Aside from the fact that your hotel before or after your cruise may have a swimming pool and some Polar vessels also have a hot tub onboard, a lot of vessels will include the possibility of taking part in a Polar Plunge – yes jumping into the freezing waters of the Antarctic is not for everyone but equally this trip will have been like anything you have ever experienced before so why not have a go?!

Two ladies in the hot tub on the deck of an antarctic cruise ship.

Some polar cruise vessels have a hot tub on deck.

A warmer climate

Possibly like myself you are so busy thinking about the land of snow and ice that you have forgotten about pre or post Antarctica. As most vessels will depart from Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina which is not exactly warm even during their summer time, you may need your layers there.

Though if you have some more time on your hands and want to experience more of what Argentina has to offer then remember temperatures will be between 25C and 35C in most parts of the country. I am due to visit Buenos Aires and the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valdes Peninsula, which are both feeling the heat just now. Just as well I thought to check the temperatures before I left!

So dig out those shorts and tshirts – you can squeeze them in the last remaining space in your bag, though your bag may be saying otherwise at this point.

Last words of wisdom

Preparation is key to a trip of a lifetime like this  – and lots of layers!
Most expedition companies will have a packing list which will be sent to you before you depart your home country. These offer a handy way to tick off items as you pack.

I hope that by my sharing this packing experience with you that it will make things easier and give you food for thought. If in doubt remember you can never have enough socks!!

If you haven’t booked your trip yet you can find out more about all our cruises to antarctica here

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The emporer penguins of Antarctica's snow Hill Island Snow Hill Island

 

Travel Expert Gillian Landells checks out the polar cruise liners refit

Wildfoot’s polar travel expert Gillian Landells tells us about her favourite polar cruise destination, Snow Hill Island, Land Of The Emperor Penguins.  As a wildlife enthusiast and keen amateur photographer, she reveals why she feels drawn to this remote island wilderness. Continue reading

Wildlife spotting on board an Antarctic Expedition Cruise Ship The Drake Passage

Natalie. Wildfoot travel's Antarctica Cruise Expert AdvisorWildfoot Travel expert Natalie Greenhalgh explains about the legendary stretch of water know as the Drake Passage and what it means to those venturing to Antarctica.

The Drake Passage…an infamous 600-mile-wide passage between South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Island’s of Antarctica. For some, this crossing is all part of an exciting adventure. For others, severe sea-sickness can prevent them from fulfilling a life-long dream of visiting Antarctica. Reputed as the roughest sea-passage in the world, the Drake Passage is the stuff of legends and crossing it is often an experience that passengers on Antarctica cruises look forward to the most. For those who have experienced it they would say there’s something quite exhilarating about taking on rolling waves aboard an ice-strengthened Antarctica expedition vessel.

What makes the Drake Passage so infamously rough is the fact that this is the spot where the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Seas converge, creating a roaring current mix known as the “Drake Shake”. Currents at this latitude meet no resistance from any landmass making this the only unhindered flow of ocean on the planet. Luckily, nowadays expedition vessels are equipped with stabilizers to absorb much of the swaying. Thanks to the advancement in sea sickness medication, most Antarctica cruise ship passengers get by with just a queasy stomach. At times, the passage is so unpredictable that it can, also be eerily calm, referred to as the “Drake Lake”. But if all of this makes your stomach churn and you think you just can’t face this crossing, there is another option.

Antarctica XXI have made it possible to fly across the Drake Passage

Antarctica XXI have made it possible to fly across the Drake Passage, saving time and worry for anxious sailors.

Antarctica XX1 were the first company that came along and introduced the Fly-Cruise option. Instead of enduring the 2-day passage, you can fly from Punta Arenas to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands and meet your cruise to explore Antarctica. You vastly cut your travel time down from a 2-day crossing to a 2-hour flight, giving you more time to spend exploring Chile if you wish.

Flying across the Drake Passage, landing in Antarctica

Flying across the Drake Passage, arriving in Antarctica fresh and raring to get on with the adventure.

Zodiac racing out towards the polar cruise

Zodiacs will take you out to board your polar cruise vessel. An exciting start to your Antarctic adventure!

Of course, the flight operation is weather dependent and delays may happen. However, in the 14-year history of the company, only 1 flight was delayed to the point where clients could not make it to Antarctica at all.

Simon Rowland, Wildfoot Travel’s Managing Director took a Fly the Drake expedition recently on MV Ocean Nova. Simon had this to say about his trip.

“One of the most fulfilling expeditions I’ve taken part in. Kayaking in Antarctica is a must for those seeking even more adventure and it’s an aspirational way to see the wildlife even more up close with no more than 10 other kayakers.
The fact that from your hotel in Punta Arenas to the start of this unique Polar adventure in this winter wonderland environment is just over 2 hours. Quite remarkable. If you are time sensitive or just don’t wish to contemplate the Drake Passage, this is certainly the trip for you!”

Simon Rowland kayaking on his excursion on his Antarctica XXI 'Fly The Drake' trip to Antarctica

Simon enjoying the optional kayaking excursion on his Antarctica XXI ‘Fly The Drake’ trip.

We also work closely with Quark Expeditions who offer the option of flying to the South Shetlands and also the option of taking on the Drake Passage on one of their fantastic expedition vessels: Island Sky; Ocean Diamond; Ocean Adventurer and Ocean Endeavour to name a few.

Wildlife spotting aboard a Quark Expeditions Polar Cruise Vessel.

Wildlife spotting aboard a Quark Expeditions Antarctic Cruise Vessel.

So if you fancy this intrepid adventurous crossing and can imagine yourself cheering on the waves, you’ll be rewarded with the chance to spot spectacular wildlife watching along the Drake. Ships in the passage are often good platforms for the sighting of whales, dolphins and seabirds including giant petrels, albatrosses and penguins. And what a way to be rewarded when you arrive…you’ve made it to Antarctica!

Find out about all our trips to Antarctica here.

 

Paulina Ramirez form Antarctica XXI stopped by our office the other day to discuss forthcoming trips. While she was with us, we asked her to tell us what was so special about ‘Flying The Drake’.  You can hear what Paulina had to say in this short video.

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Polar Cruise Vessel The Spirit Of Enderby Jewel of the Russian Far East
Mike Unwin, travel and nature writer based in Brighton UK. Voted UK Travel Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers. 

Mike Unwin, travel and nature writer

Mike Unwin is a freelance travel and nature writer based in Brighton UK. He writes regularly for the Telegraph, Independent, BBC Wildlife and numerous other publications, and is the author of more than 30 books for both adults and children. In 2013 Mike was voted UK Travel Writer of the Year by the British Guild of Travel Writers.

Here Mike gives us a brief account of his experience on an expedition cruise aboard the Spirit Of Enderby with Wildfoot Travel.

Continue reading

9 year old dominant male tiger Harsh Vardhan – Wildfoot Ambassador
Two male Great Indian Bustards facing wind mill threats in India's Gujarat

Two male Great Indian Bustards facing wind mill threats in India’s Gujarat

Pioneering Indian conservationist and wildlife expert Harsh VardhanPioneering Indian conservationist, wildlife expert and good friend of Wildfoot Travel, Harsh Vardhan is coming to talk at the Rutland Birdfair this August.
Ahead of his trip, we caught up with him and asked him a few questions, to find out exactly what he’s been up to and what his plans for the future are.

If you are coming to the Birdfair, make sure you don’t miss Harsh’s talks:

18 Aug Friday 2pm ‘Great Indian Bustard’ – only 90 left in the world, what’s next for this amazing iconic bird.

20 Aug Sunday 2pm ‘Indian Tiger population increases’ – a good news story. But do tigers have a place to go?’

After the lectures Harsh will be on the Wildfoot Stand to meet anyone interested in visiting India.


1.     At what age did you start to feel that something had to be done about conservation and wildlife protection within India?
A: In 1969-70, when the IUCN General assembly met in New Delhi and the crisis over Tigers erupted . India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi banned Tiger hunting in 1970 all over India. So emerged Project Tiger. “An impossible project” we all thought!
As it rolled on, I tried to attend most meetings. I read all about wildlife and as a journalist I commenced reporting wildlife conservation.
I covered the visit of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to Ranthambhore in 1974, at the time he was President of WWF – International.
My news item went round the globe within hours and the die was cast.
Prince Bernhard observed a Tiger and a leopard sharing the same kill at 10 pm in the park in the peak of winter and we all shivered as we watched the scene through torch lights fixed to the engine of a jeep!
2.  What are the most important conservation and wildlife issue in India today?
A: The needs of our population creates a huge amount of pollution. The natural habitat is disappearing and finding a solution seems to be a low priority. Things are improving but only at a snail’s pace thanks to layers of bureaucracy (a legacy left by the British).
3.  You are a major force and campaigner for Indian birds and wildlife, what is the good news to come out of India at this time?
A: Science has been a priority in conservation for the past two decades. Tiger Conservation is an iconic success for India in the eyes of the world. There has been global cooperation from WWF, BirdLife International etc., which has helped us to gain ground.
Yet all this is simply a drop in the ocean, the force of Indian non-government organisations (NGO) is fierce. Each one keeps a vigil over wild species and each on is willing to take a stand against authorities who are in the wrong. These organisations are spread all over India, though not networked yet they are doing a very good job individual.
I myself am an NGO.
4.     We know you will be giving two lectures at Rutland Bird Fair this year in August, one on the Ranthambore Tigers and the other on The Great Indian Bustard looking at the future for both species.
Can you see a positive outcome for the survival of the Bustard Harsh and the growth of the numbers of Tiger in India?
A: Bustards: India started its conservation in 1979-80 when I successfully prevented Arab Sheikhs from carrying out illegal falconry in the That desert.
The Bustard conservation was started and inviting overseas experts, we held the first ever international symposium on Bustards in Jaipur in 1980.  We produced a book “Bustards In Decline.” But the bureaucracy and the damned  forest officers paid little attention, so the Great Indian Bustard was driven to the brink of extinction. The population has plummeted from 1,300 in 1980, down to only 90 today!

Hue and cry has been our lone defence. 2017 saw a meeting in Jaipur attended by experts from  Britain and  Spain to decide on captive breeding of the species in the Desert.  I  attended the meeting but a strong section of the government did not want me to be included. They thought I was too harsh and too critical, so they tried to keep me out but I went to the meeting anway .

We live in hope.  The habitat has been better protected for the past 4 years in the Desert, by the same set of forest officials who were doing nothing earlier, so officials can improve.

 A. Tiger: Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is overflowing with cubs. Nine females have cubs at present (July 2017)  or about to become adults or are pregnant.
We have nearly 68 Tigers compared to only 14 in 1994.
They are moving out of the park. Adult male cubs go out, as the dominant males do not allow them to remain inside (psychologically not letting them mate with own mothers too).
They go out and live in scrub areas with no natural prey. So they prey upon cattle, which makes the villagers unhappy . The forest officials have no plan to deal with the excess tiger population. They say it is a success but we say ‘yes it is a success but the excess population is getting decimated in areas where there is no Tiger Management’.
5.     You have edited, co-written and authored various wildlife, birding and conservation books in the past. You are working on about an Indian tribe called Bishnois – Can you tell us more about the book and its subject?
A: More than 500 year old success story .
Bishnoi Sect (not a tribe), were born in the desert and live by 29 principles, nature conservation being one of them.
Of the million people on earth who are Bishnois, one fifth of the them live in Jodhpur, the gateway to the desert.
They give away their lives to protect gazelles and black bucks and what do they receive  a double column piece in the daily newspaper!
I’d like to revive the spirit of the Bishnois and make it as widely acceptable as possible.
Flora and fauna both are for humanity’s welfare, and should not be confined to one community or a single country. The Bishnois were the first ‘Hug The Tree’ movement starters. In 1730, 363 men and women gave away their lives at Khejreli (near Jodhpur) when the prince wanted to cut trees to burn lime for a new palace to be built. Four such self sacrifices have occurred around that area since.
We all should take their exemplary examples forward. The book is to outline all this in a broader context including other communities across the world involved in similar initiatives. There is a long way to go.
6.     How can our wildlife and conservation community from all over the world support Indian wildlife campaigns especially the ones you are involved in right now?
A: By joining hands together, arriving at consensus and assuming the lead role in fields. Not merely as academics, or confined to face-book items and pep talks over dinner. Together we can make a difference.
Look at Wildfoot Travel’s and Simon Rowland.  We were unknown until a year ago Today, Simon is taking the the lead and putting us on the map. Now we need a thousand more Simons dotted around the UK.
7.     Your love of wildlife has no doubt rubbed off on your children and also your grandchildren and I know you are very close with them. Do you feel there’s a growing wildlife and conservation movement within the youth of India today?
A: It is Incredible. 21 years ago, inspired by my first visit to BBWF when Tim Appleton MBE (One of the founders of Rutland Bird Fair) took me around Rutland in a golf cart, my eyes were opened and I decided to have a Birding fair at Man Sagar lake at Jaipur to conserve it.
The Officers laughed at me, some laughed and said – ‘he has no money but he talks big!’ The Birding Fair will be 21 in Feb 2018, incurring a few million rupees expenditure.
I knew people s would not join it, so I lured students-teachers community. Not an exaggeration, we have a quarter million constituency of students-teachers  who support conservation. At each walk, some one says hi to me, so I ask them who they are, they answer “sir I attended 5 or 7 birding fairs, now I am an engineer or a doctor!”
Lake restoration was our biggest success. People had to use a handkerchief by 2006-07 as they would walk by this 1.5 sq. km lake, But not today. Thanks to an eco system, based approach the heritage lake got conserved but the same lake is once again getting degenerated – the government, has different ideas.
I am currently pitted against the present Chief Minister, she is imperious but I am willing to go to jail if she can pronounce a sentence from her side, which she cannot!
8.     Simon tells me you are a very modest person Harsh, you are always committed to highlighting “the cause” rather than yourself. You have been associated with fierce & sometimes overwhelming conservation struggles within India. What’s next for Harsh Vardhan and what’s close to your heart right now?
A: I have handed over leadership to the next generation and I am trying to ensure they do better than I could.
We had  no volunteers 20 years ago. Today there are about sixty volunteers and a core team of ten. They provide technical inputs, leadership and support.
So the ‘White-naped Tit’ work is led by them. I take a back seat. This bird is rarely observed and only in 6 – 7 places in arid India. It is found about 15 km away in the hills from where I live.
Writing a book on the Bishnois, a profile of wetlands etc. are high on the agenda for me, hopefully they will progress nicely.
The Oriental Bird Club, run by Krys, a Brit, will soon mention the White-naped Tit. Krys informed me yesterday as I introduced Sajal Jugran, next in command here with me, to join hands with Krys. Why just me alone, they should all be involved.
9.     What are your five “must see” wildlife locations of India?
A: Of a total 50 Project Tiger Reserves in India designated so far (2017), only 5 can actually show you Tigers. Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba.
Others are not well managed and are facing problems from terrorism or do not offer basic facilities to vsitors
It is difficult to single out a must see five. I am more emphatic on habitat conservation, I have never been a botanist but my emphasis for the past decade has been more on vegetation, edible and non-edible grasses. if cattle are fed well, there will be less pressure of grazing on forests so forest species shall survive better.
10.  We are hoping you will be expertly leading small groups for us in the next 24 months, with a focus on the Indian Tiger, Leopard, Asiatic Lion, Birding, off the beaten track India and also with a little culture thrown in.  What can we expect from these unique itineraries and what exciting spectacles do you have in store?

A: India has limitless attractions. There are few people who have the skill and knowledge to make sure you get the most out of an indian Wildlife experience.
I can offer A mix of Tigers, Birds, Bishnoi and Culture within two weeks. Visitors need authenticity, simplicity, no show business, and an easy pace with plenty of time to observe the target species.

Check out  this captivating video of a tiger shot by Harsh’s son and fellow Wildfoot Ambassador Manoj Varhan.

Polar Cruise Ship Sea Spirit - Refurbished to the highest standard. Checking Out Sea Spirit’s New Refit
Travel Expert Gillian Landells checks out the polar cruise liners refit

Our travel expert Gillian Landells spent years working and travelling around Australia and New Zealand. She has also travelled extensively around South East Asia including Thailand, Japan and Malaysia. Gillian holds a deep passion for wildlife, photography, conservation and seeing as much of the world as possible.

A commanding position from sea spirit's upper deck

A commanding position from sea spirit’s upper deck

I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit the M/V Sea Spirit after she had undergone recent refurbishment on all cabins.

The M/V Sea Spirit is a purpose-built expedition ship that takes passengers to the beautiful regions of the Arctic and Antarctica.

She has a very classic look inside with lots of wood throughout along with a modern touch – it is a good mixture of feeling spacious but cosy at the same time.

Being able to accommodate a maximum of 114 guests is just the ideal size in my opinion to enable everyone to get on shore as much as possible.

During my time onboard it was really easy to talk to the other guests and that was in part to the lovely homely surroundings of the ship.

The crew took the time to talk to every single guest and were more than happy to answer questions and regale us with stories on the unique wildlife they have encountered. The vessel has great camaraderie between all onboard and this I felt added to my experience.

The bedroom are fresh and comfortable , with a contemporary feel.

Home Comfort Afloat

The refurbishment has made everything look very fresh and the small touches throughout were very much noticed.

The old and new photographs on each side of the corridors was great – it was very interesting to see the exact same image from years gone by mirrored by the present day.

 

 

 

Hot Tub On Deck

Is there a better place to enjoy a soak in the tub than this?

 

bedroom on a luxury polar cruise ship

Bedrooms with a comfortable, cosy ‘home  from home’ feeling about them.

If you are Facebook user, you can check out a gallery of photos from my visit to Sea Spirit here.

Sights of whales and dolphins in the Beagle Channel, and a fond farewell

Our travel adviser’s astonishing journey to the Antarctic finally comes to an end with these last two entries in which they describe their experiences, including a fruitful trip down the Beagle Channel. Read all about what they got up to, before contacting WILDFOOT’s specialists in polar travel about how you can create similar memories of your own.

Day 13

After quite a bumpy ride overnight it was good to wake up to calm seas once again. Despite the rough seas we had made good progress and we were on schedule to enter the Beagle Channel by lunch time. This morning’s schedule followed a similar pattern to yesterday, lectures interspersed with deck time. As we entered the Beagle Channel a pod of fin whales was spotted, it turned out to be one of our best whale sightings of the trip with them staying within just a few metres of our vessel for 10-15 minutes. By mid-afternoon the sun was shining bright, a sight we had become only too familiar with and nearly everyone was out on deck, when the PA crackled into life and the words “bow-riding dolphins” were uttered. A group of ten or so Peale’s Dolphins were bow-riding and stayed with us for about 20 minutes allowing us all to get some great photos. I was particularly happy with this sighting as it was a new species for me and gave me hope that we might yet see the striking Commerson dolphin which are renowned for following vessels up the Beagle Channel and if not, just another reason to come back one day.2016-12-10s-82

As is protocol on such voyages the last night was dedicated to presentations, the showing of the slide show that John (the official photographer) had compiled, the Captain’s Dinner and of course the obligatory few drinks to celebrate our successful voyage.

Day 14

As we opened our eyes to the sound of Michela for the final time we pulled into the port, our fantastic voyage finally over. Disembarkation was a seamless operation, they quickly ferried us by bus us to our chosen destinations, whether it be to a hotel in town or to the airport for a connecting flight, before we knew it the crew and expedition team were frantically preparing to welcome the next group on board.2016-12-11s-20

Every voyage to Antarctica is different but I don’t believe this wonderful continent can ever disappoint. Undoubtedly we were very lucky with the weather and wildlife sightings but by far the biggest contributing factor to the success of this voyage was the crew and expedition team. It is for this reason that WILDFOOT place great importance on choosing the right vessel and itinerary for all our clients, depending on their individual needs and preferences. This was my first trip to the magical white continent however I hope one day to go again, it is simply the most amazing place on the planet, if it is not on your bucket list already, it should be.

 

 

 

Half Moon Island bird spotting is followed by inspiring lectures as our Antarctica expedition nears its end

Our senior travel advisor is reflecting on the imminent end of their remarkable Antarctic trip, but the fun wasn’t over just yet. In their latest journal entries on their Antarctica holidays, WILDFOOT’s intrepid traveller looks back on their final landing site and some highly inspiring lectures.

Day 11

I woke to the startling fact that this was going to be a last full day of activities as tonight we would head north to start our return journey over Drake Passage. This morning’s landing was at Yankee Harbour, on the south-western side of Greenwich Island which is known for its nesting gentoo penguins. It is thought that over 4,000 pairs now call its well developed, raised–beach terraces home and as was becoming habit with this trip, we struck lucky again with many chicks already on display. Previously we had only seen very young chicks (a couple of days old) however here they seemed much further advanced with our ornithologist estimating that some might be almost a month old, which was quite surprising considering how early in the season it was. There were also some juvenile elephant seals to be seen wallowing near the water’s edge.

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During lunch we sailed a short distance to Half Moon Island, which was sadly to be our last landing site. As the name suggests it is a crescent shaped island and offers wonderful views of the picturesque mountains and glaciers of nearby Livingstone Island. It is a favoured site amongst the expedition vessels as it has a large chinstrap rookery and the serrated and crevassed cliffs are also home to Antarctic terns, kelp gulls, snowy sheathbills and Wilson’s storm petrels, all of which we managed to get good looks of. As the afternoon lingered to a close and we were ushered back to the zodiacs for the last time, there was a definite sadness amongst us all. It was hard to comprehend that this wonderful adventure was rapidly drawing to a close and that we would shortly be waving this magical white continent goodbye.2016-12-13s-49

Day 12

By the time we woke we were well into the Drake and there was a light swell and a little wind. Much of today was spent flittering between the various lectures that were being offered and spending time out on deck looking for seabirds and cetaceans. I strongly recommend going to as many lectures as possible, the expedition teams are always a fountain of knowledge on these sorts of voyages and some of them will even do talks about their personal experiences which are just awe inspiring. For example, our assistant expedition leader, Marta, joined a sailing expedition across Drake Passage to Antarctica in 2013 whilst Jonathan overwintered in Antarctica at two different research stations. In terms of birdlife, we had an escort of Wilson’s storm petrels, black-browed albatrosses and sooty shearwaters for much of the day, on occasion they were joined by an imperial shag or a wandering albatross.2016-12-07s-7

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As the day progressed the waves increased and consequently the numbers at meal times decreased, but this is all a part of the experience. I genuinely believe that without a bit of ‘rock and roll’ on Drake Passage you haven’t earnt the splendour that is Antarctica, it goes hand in hand!

Check out latest cruises to Antarctica here

 

 

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Seal and whale spotting and an unscheduled cruise of Spert Island

If there is one type of holiday where you can very much expect the unexpected, it is polar cruises to Antarctica like those provided by WILDFOOT. Again, our travel advisor had much to say about her incredible experiences on the latest day of her trip, including a visit to a site that is inaccessible for much of the year.

Day 10

Overnight we had sailed to Cierva Cove and the plan was to do a zodiac cruise this morning. The cove is known for its rugged mountain line and abundance of icebergs and with the still, mirror like water the scene was only enhanced by the incredible reflections. We spent almost three hours cruising amongst the brash ice and icebergs, absorbing the splendour of this place. We also struck lucky with leopard seals and had two close encounters, one with a curious individual that came and played around our zodiac and another with a big fat one asleep on a small ice floe that barely opened its eyes to acknowledge our presence.2016-12-12s-182016-12-12s-76

Shortly after returning from our morning excursion a call was made that some minke whales had been spotted on the port side, so we quickly dashed outside to see a small pod travelling at the surface. They kept their distance from the ship but gave us our best views of the voyage so far and a reasonable chance of getting a few decent record shots, I suspect they were much closer when the watch officer on the bridge spotted them!

After an alfresco lunch out on deck we had a landing at Mikkelsen Harbour, which is home to a gentoo colony and a small Argentinian refuge, which to be honest consisted of nothing more than a small hut. We also found a small haul out of Weddell seals on some ice and a couple of crab eating seals on the pebble beach which were slightly more active than previous seals we had seen. The colony had no shortage of predators either, with not only nesting skuas, but a few pairs of southern giant petrels.

Back on board we assumed that was it for the day, however an announcement was made that due to the favourable weather they were going to try for a third activity, a zodiac cruise of Spert Island. Spert Island is very rarely accessed due to its position, it is situated in open waters which are notorious for large swell, making zodiac cruising virtually impossible for much of the year. There seemed to be a real excitement amongst the crew about this site, many claiming that it was a favourite due to its unique characteristics, evidently there is nowhere else like it on the peninsular. Therefore, we delayed dinner and boarded the zodiacs once more to start our exploration of this fascinating area. As we crept closer in zodiacs, narrow waterways were revealed, providing access to a hidden network of grounded icebergs, towering archways and maze-like water. Other zodiacs created a sense of scale whilst the cape petrels nesting high in the rock arches provided the soundtrack to the iconic scene around us. On reflection, I can completely understand why there was great excitement about this site, in terms of landscape this was by far the most dramatic and unexpected, it was not what most would imagine of Antarctica.2016-12-12s-44

After dinner was complete we went back out on deck for another hour or so, just continuing to soak it all in. Words, photos and film just cannot do it justice.

Find out more about our cruises to Antarctica here

 

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Reflecting on a magical day at Orne Harbour

The ninth day of our senior travel advisor’s trip to Antarctica involved a spot of ‘penguin gliding’ and ‘polar plunging’, in calmer conditions than one might expect from educational cruise expeditions to Antarctica like those that WILDFOOT can offer.

Day 9

To the surprise of many I had the best night’s sleep of the trip thus far and in fact only woke to the sound of my companions packing up. In my opinion there is no better way to be at one with nature than sleeping out, I would highly recommend the camping and promise you that it is not half as cold or uncomfortable as you might expect. Back on board it was time for a hot shower and a spot of breakfast before the morning landing on to Cuverville Island, thought to be one of the largest gentoo colonies. Of course, the penguins occupied us with their funny rituals and behaviour, however it was the view from the top which stole the show. Looking down over the penguin rookeries and out to sea we could spot the Sea Spirit dwarfed by huge ice bergs and surrounded by glistening brash ice, it is the shallow waters between Cuverville and Ronge islands that trap and ground these icebergs. For those that couldn’t face the quite challenging hike to the top, (due to the thick fresh snow), there was plenty to keep them occupied at the shoreline with brown sub Antarctic skuas doing their best to steal eggs from any parent who was careless enough to leave their nest unguarded. In fact there was quite a plethora of birdlife to be spotted including the southern giant petrel, Antarctic petrel, Antarctic fulmar, Wilson’s storm petrel, rock cormorant, kelp gull and the Antarctic tern.

We cruised to Orne Harbour over lunch and the weather just seemed to be going from strength to strength, there was barely a cloud in the sky and not a whisper of a breeze to be felt. Once again we had to pinch ourselves that we were actually in Antarctica, supposedly one of the harshest environments anywhere in the world, we certainly hadn’t seen any evidence of it so far. Although Orne Harbour is thought to host a hardy colony of chinstrap penguins, this afternoon’s focus was not necessarily the wildlife but the view. The view from the saddle reaches to the southern Gerlache Strait and Wiencke, Anvers and Babant Islands, it is also one of the few places where you can step on the Antarctic mainland. After a bounty of photos had been taken, many of us tried all sorts of ingenious methods of descending the mountain, the most popular being the ‘penguin slide’, face first on your stomach with your arms behind you – once again the atmosphere of the group was electric.

The daring amongst us then headed back to the boat for the famous ‘polar plunge’. Having resisted the temptation to swim in ice waters on such trips previously, I’m not quite sure what came over me today to make me do it, I can only put it down to the great sense of camaraderie that had formed between a big group of us, as they say ‘all for one and one for all’.

A perfect day was only to be topped off by a superb humpback sighting after dinner. The vessel was literally surrounded by these gentle giants, in every direction there were blows to be seen, glistening in the beautiful evening light, it was simply magical.

 

 

Plenty of whales to spot on the latest day of our Antarctic cruise

What kind of experiences could you have on an Antarctica wildlife cruise booked through WILDFOOT? Our latest set of journal entries should be giving you a lot of insight. It documents the latest trip of one of our senior travel advisers to the region, and day eight proves to be a fine one for whale spotting.

Day 8

With weather conditions still in our favour a new plan of action had been formulated overnight, and it had been decided to sail into Wilhelmina Bay for this morning’s activity as opposed to the plan that had been proposed the night before. As I headed out onto deck before breakfast, I was greeted by what I can only explain as what most would consider a ‘classic’ Antarctic scene, dark foreboding snow covered mountains, sea ice and a scattering of ice bergs. Although we didn’t have the bright blue skies of previous days, the light shafts penetrating through thick cloud made for an incredibly dramatic atmosphere. Wilhelmina Bay is renowned for its high densities of whales and true to form the first were spotted before most had dragged their sleepy heads from their beds. On reaching the end of the bay we dropped anchor and the team scouted out the area to see whether the ice sheets were stable enough to facilitate a landing, but unfortunately the verdict was negative and we embarked on a zodiac cruise instead. All eyes were peered for more whales in the glass like water, but it wasn’t meant to be. Nonetheless, we had some great interaction with some Weddell and crab eating seals that took it in turn to play amongst our zodiacs. There was also plenty to keep the birders entertained with nice sightings of the southern giant petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel, blue eyed shag, rock cormorant, south polar skua kelp gull and the Antarctic and Arctic tern. From these, the one that holds the greatest fascination for me is the Arctic tern, which makes a yearly migration to the other end of the world, it is almost incomprehensible how such a small bird can fly over 60,000 miles every year (round trip).2016-12-10s-1

Back on board, I headed out onto deck in search of more whales and it wasn’t too long before another a small group of humpbacks were spotted, but unfortunately they kept their distance so it wasn’t possible to get any clear ID shots. Shortly after lunch there is a call from the bridge to say that a couple of minke whales have been seen feeding at the edge of the sea ice, but typical to their character they are not forward in giving us a display, with only the occasional blow to be seen.

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Due to some troublesome ice flows, Plan A is aborted and we work towards Plan B, a landing at Orne Islands. Orne is a small group of islands lying close north of Ronge Island, off the west coast of Graham Land which were first surveyed in 1898 by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Gerlache, however the main attraction for us was that it would be our first opportunity to really walk in thick, pristine Antarctic snow. As usual the expedition team land first and mark out a path for us to follow, unfortunately the only suitable route to the top is up quite a steep gradient, but rest assured the effort was well rewarded with terrific panoramic views down the Gerlache Strait. There is something about stepping onto white virgin snow that brings the child out in us all, soon a very playful mood engulfs the group. With the fun and frolics over we head back to the ship for an early dinner, which is a BBQ out on deck. Once again we are astounded by the effort which goes into these occasions with a vat of mulled wine waiting for us, music, bunting tied along the outside deck and most of the waiting staff donning some sort of fancy dress attire. The reason for the early dinner is that it is camping night! Yes, that is right, some of us were crazy enough to sacrifice the warmth and comfort of our beautiful cabins in favour of digging ourselves a pit in the snow and sleeping in a bivvy bag! However, once I had snuggled into my sleeping bag (with a hot water bottle) listening only to the penguins talk amongst themselves I quickly realized I had made the right decision.

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Experiencing the magnificence of Brown Bluff

Could our senior travel adviser’s latest trip to the Antarctic become any more spellbinding? It certainly could, with their visit to the astonishing site of Brown Bluff on day seven of their holiday. Below, they detail their experiences. Enquire now to WILDFOOT about booking your own Antarctica wildlife cruise.

Day 7

I woke particularly early this morning and decided to draw back the curtains to my balcony, only to find the most picture-perfect scene before my very eyes, we were surrounded by beautiful tabular icebergs, gleaming in the early morning light. Once again, we were being treated to fabulous weather which was allowing ‘Plan A’ to be executed this morning, we were going to land at Brown Bluff! This magnificent site is known for its large penguin rockeries and dramatic scenery however it also has a notorious reputation for bad weather and quickly shifting ice flows, to the point that the Sea Spirit didn’t manage to land there last season with any level of success, making our visit even more special. Within minutes of us landing it was quite clear to see why this was a favourite site amongst the expedition staff, the sheer size of the nesting colonies was quite something to behold. Within just a few metres of the shoreline there were nesting gentoos and Adelies as far as you could see, it is thought to be one of the largest colonies on the peninsular. Despite being early in the season, we were lucky enough to see several induvials with chicks, some just a few days old. It can be somewhat overwhelming at these colonies, not knowing where to look as you are surrounded by activity, personally I think the best option is to find a suitable spot to take a seat and let the action come to you. If you keep moving from one place to another, you are likely to miss the finer intricacies of these adorable animals. These little charismatic creatures are an endless source of fascination and entertainment and quite rightly deserve the attention they get. Our landing is aborted slightly earlier than expected as the Captain spots that the ice is rapidly encroaching the ship, so thinks it is best we make a hasty exit to avoid getting blocked in – a gentle reminder that we are very much at the mercy of Mother Nature.2016-12-09s-12016-12-09s-17

Back on board lunch is served out on deck to maximize the glorious weather, these al fresco dining sessions are always well received. As we sail to our afternoon landing site of Gourdin Island we pass countless tabular icebergs, each totally unique but equally beautiful. These incredible floating towers are the result of caving in the Weddell Sea, some of the bergs we pass are three times the height of our ship and almost a kilometre in length, it is difficult to convey their sheer size in a photo alone.2016-12-09s-89

This afternoon is a split landing, two groups of fifty, as determined by IATTO’s guidelines who state that Gourdin Island is of a particularly high environmental importance and vulnerability. En route to the island, our first leopard seal is spotted playing amongst the icebergs, the speed and agility it shows in the water hinders any great photography chances unfortunately, but we are left hopeful that this might not be our only sighting of this incredible predator. As we pull up to land there are a couple of inquisitive Weddell seals waiting for us, more than happy to pose for our cameras. Gourdin Island is home to all three brushtail penguins and a small hike to the top allowed for wonderful views down the Bransfield Strait.2016-12-09s-92

Today, has certainly been a day to remember with some of the most stunningly beautiful scenery I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and of course more penguins than I could bear to count!

 

 

penguins in antarctica Discovering the Great Wall Station and Penguin Island

Most of those who travel to the Antarctic would hope to spot penguins, and that certainly proved the case for our own travel adviser on the sixth day of their journey to the region. Read about their exploits before investigating our currently available range of Antarctic adventure cruises here at WILDFOOT.

Day 6

This morning was slightly more overcast than previous days, but certainly of no concern by Antarctic standards. After breakfast, we headed out for a zodiac cruise, where we managed to get our first glimpse of the true Antarctic penguin, the Adelie. Unlike many of the other penguins you can encounter in this region, the Adelie, is one of the few that is restricted to Antarctic coastal waters and won’t be found at high latitudes. We also managed to spot out first Weddell seal, hauled out on the ice next to a juvenile elephant seal, both relaxing as only a seal can. From here we crossed a shallow channel to make our way over to the Great Wall Station, where we had kindly been invited. The Great Wall Station was built in 1985 and is the biggest of four stations China is currently operating in Antarctica, it is operated by CHINARE, the Chinese Antarctic Program. Currently the base was running on skeleton staff as it was still considered to be their ‘winter season’ however we were assured that as of the 16th December the place would be a hive of activity as by then their ‘summer team’ of scientists would have arrived. passengers on a cruise to antarctica come in all shapes and data-lazy-sizes (and nationalities)

During lunch we sailed south to the aptly named ‘Penguin Island’ where the plan was to explore the rocky coastline and for those feeling energetic there was the chance to climb the Deacon Peak, which is considered a relatively fresh volcanic cone. For many, the landscape of this island came as a surprise, most people expect Antarctica to merely be ice and snow however here we were struggling to find signs of either. The island consisted of dark volcanic matter which was just starting to host its first lichens, so there was a green tinge to much of the lowlands. For those that made it to the top they were rewarded with a panoramic view which was certainly photo worthy. At the base of the volcano there were lots of whale bones to be seen, a very real reminder of the whaling that was so prevalent in this region in times gone by. Once again the wildlife was abundant with plenty of gentoo and chinstrap penguins waddling up and down the beach, posing for their adoring public and also a large haul out of elephant seals. For the birders amongst us, we were happy to spot plenty of skuas, Antarctic terns, fulmars, cape gulls, sheathbills, rock cormorants and some nesting southern giant petrels, to which we gave a very wide berth as they will desert their nests at the slightest provocation.2016-12-07s-52penguins resting on a rock in antarctica2016-12-08s-70 (1)

Although it is tempting to linger over dinner or head to the bar for a nightcap, if you want to make the most of your adventure, head out on deck at every opportunity. For most people, this is a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip and it goes by far too quickly so seize the moment. The daylight at this time of year is almost 24 hours so you will need to pace yourself, or within a few days exhaustion can set in, but being outside for as long as you comfortably can will pay dividends and it did for us tonight! This evening’s delight was in the form of some humpbacks bubble net feeding alongside our vessel, it is such a joy to watch these ocean giants working in unison at close proximity, a very humbling experience with which to end the day.

Find out about all our cruises to Antarctica here

 

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The Drake Passage and the first sighting of an iceberg

For avid travellers interested in Antarctic expedition vacations like those we can offer here at WILDFOOT, this latest story of a journey to this incredible part of the world by one of our travel advisers should make for fascinating reading. In this blog post, our intrepid staffer reflects on days four and five of their trip.

Day 4

I woke early and made my way out on to the front deck to grab some fresh air before breakfast and was pleasantly surprised to see blue skies and relatively calm seas, were we being treated to ‘Drake Lake’ as opposed to the much feared ‘Drake Quake’, and if so, how long would it last? It so happened it lasted much of the day, we couldn’t have asked for a better crossing. Consequently, most of us spent the day flitting between the various lectures that the expedition crew were doing and out on deck looking for cetaceans and birds. Drake’s Passage is a hot spot for tubenoses and we were not disappointed with good sightings of sooty shearwaters, Wilson’s storm petrels, black-browed albatross, southern giant petrels, slender-billed prions and white-chinned petrels and one of nature’s ultimate flyers, the wandering albatross. Unfortunately, the only hint of a cetacean was a distant blow, which no one felt confident enough to give a positive ID of, however little beats the feeling of not knowing what you will see next, anticipation was high!2016-12-13s-49

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Day 5

We woke up to the good news that we were slightly ahead of schedule due to the favourable weather, so an afternoon landing looked likely. Therefore, after breakfast we all headed to the lounge for the mandatory IATTO and zodiac briefing in preparation for this afternoon’s activity, this involved us being taught the ‘do and don’ts of landing in Antarctic. Mid briefing, an announcement came over the tannoy letting us know that our first iceberg, and with this the solid land of the South Shetlands, was now in sight, which as you can imagine, caused a flurry of excitement as people dashed to get cameras and get out on deck. 2016-12-12s-7

After lunch it was time to don our waterproofs and muck boots and head to the back of the boat to board the zodiacs. Our chosen landing site was Barrientos, a part of the Aitcho islands, it is situated in the English Strait between Robert and Greenwich islands and offers some of the most dramatic scenery in the South Islands. It is home to both nesting gentoo and chinstrap penguins so was the perfect starting place.

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Discovering the pleasures of the Sea Spirit from Ushuaia

In this latest journal post here at WILDFOOT, we are continuing to tell the story of one of our employees’ Antarctic adventure cruises, in which we are proud to specialise. The third day of the trip sees our intrepid traveller embark on the Sea Spirit and set sail down the Beagle Channel.

Day 3

As I pulled back the curtains from the hotel room window, I could see the Sea Spirit in the harbour, gleaming in the early morning light. I could not believe my luck, day two of bright blue cloudless skies, I can assure you is not typical of Ushuaia.

After the group briefing I took the free shuttle-bus into the town centre to explore a little bit more. Unlike the day before when there were three expedition ships in the harbour, Sea Spirit was taking pride of position, being the only such moored today. Over 30 ships now take visitors down to Antarctica, it is big business nowadays, but strictly self-regulated. At WILDFOOT we feel ship and itinerary choice are very important if clients’ expectations are going to be met. Most ships belong to IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) who have operational guidelines for its members, but the environment always comes first, WILDFOOT have been a member of IATTO for many years.

After a mooch around town I just had time for one last dip in the infinity pool at the hotel before our 3.30pm transfer down to the pier, ready for embarkation. The Sea Spirit could be described as a mid-sized vessel, with her ‘small ship’ feel and ‘large ship’ quietness and stability, making her a favourite with our clients for some years. Before I knew it, I was onboard and settling into my cabin, I had kindly been allocated a veranda suite which comprised two single beds, plenty of storage space, a sofa, small desk and chair, ensuite bathroom with a shower and a small balcony with two chairs on it. There were plenty of power points for charging batteries and running laptops which is always a relief on a trip like this. I unpacked quickly as I was eager to start exploring the ship, especially the outside decks to work out the best places from which to sea watch, depending on the conditions of course! Then it was time for the welcome briefing and with my fellow shipmates we assembled in the lounge to meet the expedition team.Antarctic Cruise Vessel Sea Spirit ready to go in Ushuaiathe view from the side deck of a luxury antarctic cruise vessel

Each ship has an expedition leader, who works hand in hand with the captain of the vessel and a team to look after the passengers on board the ship, our expedition leader was Michaela Mayer from Germany. She has been leading expeditions in the polar regions since 1994 and conducted her post graduate research in marine biology and oceanography in Greenland, Svalbard and Antarctica, so extremely experienced in this field of work. On this particular voyage she was leading a team of 12, who were from around the world with decades of experience between them so felt we were in very good hands, what’s more there seemed to be a great camaraderie between them so felt we were in for a fun trip.taking zodiac tour on a cruise to antarctica

We set sail at 18:00. As we headed down the Beagle Channel the mountains either side of us were illuminated by the beautiful evening light, my childhood dream of visiting Antarctica was fast becoming a reality. As I stood out on deck, furiously taking photos from either side of the boat, in an effort not to miss an inch of this incredible landscape I noted a few imperial shags and giant petrels following us. Before I knew it we were being called for dinner, as always with these types of voyages, it never ceases to amaze me the quality and freshness of the food considering the remoteness of the regions in which they take place. After dinner, I retired to the bar for a cheeky nightcap and savour the sounds of Jonny Benca, our on-board musician, the perfect way to end a day.

Find the perfect antarctic cruise here

Find out more about antarctic vessel ‘Sea Spirit’ here

 

 

Another voyage begins to astonishing Antarctica

Here at WILDFOOT, we are proud to be able to offer unforgettable, tailor-made and surprisingly affordable Antarctic expedition vacations. Here, we document the beginning of the latest journey to this jaw-dropping corner of the world by one of our own senior travel advisors.

Day 1

My British Airways flight arrived into Buenos Aires at 9am so I had plenty of time to traverse the city in order to catch my flight down to Ushuaia that was departing from the internal airport. As airport transfers are notoriously expensive in Argentina I decided to put the airport shuttle to the test and I must say it passed with glowing colours. I used the ‘Tienda Leon’ transfer company and was very impressed by their efficient and polite service and state of the art of buses (with Wi-Fi), especially as the 1hr 10 min journey cost me a mere 13USD, a definite top tip for future travellers!

With a few hours to kill at the airport before my 4hr flight south, it was nearly 8pm before I made it to the ‘End of the World’, aka Ushuaia. As I stepped out of the airport I savoured my first breaths of crisp, fresh Patagonian air, this is where the true adventure was going to start! I grabbed a taxi to take me to the Arakur Hotel and Spa, reportedly the best hotel in Ushuaia. It is located just outside the town, high up on the hill side, so enjoys magnificent views over the port and down the Beagle Channel. As to be expected with this calibre of hotel, the staff were all incredibly friendly and helpful in answering the many questions guests seem to have. The hotel is relatively new and is currently undergoing extensive development due to popular demand. Having done a full day of work on Friday before embarking on a succession of flights, my bed was a welcome sight tonight, to the point, I barely remember turning the light off.

Day 2

I was determined to make the most of the beautiful day that I was being blessed with so had an early breakfast and headed into town to find the tourist information office to seek guidance as to the best way to access Tierra del Fuego. Again, I can only commend the helpfulness of the staff, providing honest advice and a good handful of useful maps. On their guidance, I took the shuttle bus into the National Park (USD24 round trip plus USD13 for the entrance fee) which is about a 30min drive, depending on which drop off point you decide to opt. Honestly, I could not have asked for better where the sun was high in the sky and no hint of the ferocious wind that this region is notorious for. Map in hand, I spent the day hiking many of the trails, savouring the incredible vistas from the various look out points. The park is a birder’s paradise, amongst the species I managed to identify were kelp geese, crested and steamer ducks, rufous-chested dotterel, kelp gulls, Magellanic and blackish oystercatchers, South American terns, various caracas, dark-bellied cinclodes, Austral parakeet and rufous-backed negrito, southern giant petrel, Chilean skuas, Chilean hawk and the much sought after Magellanic woodpeckers. 2016-12-07s-7 2016-12-07s-10 2016-12-07s-22

After a long day on my feet I decided to take the advice of a colleague of mine and went to L’Estancia for dinner, a typical Argentine meat restaurant. I had possibly the sweetest, ‘melt in your mouth’ steak I have ever had the pleasure of tasting, a ‘must do’ pit stop for any meat lover!

 

 

The Urban Birder Goes Polar!

Here at WILDFOOT we are beyond delighted to announce that The Urban Birder, David Lindo, will be joining us on our epic Antarctica – Off The Beaten Track expedition in November 2016, on board MV Akademic Ioffe operated by our close partners One Ocean Expeditions.

Our in-house wildlife experts have been huge fans of David’s for many years since he first came to our attention after enjoying his Rutland Bird Fair lectures, not to mention his appearance on BBC’s much-acclaimed Spring Watch. We have closely followed his adventures ever since. So you can imagine the excitement in our office when we found out that he was a planning a birding expedition to Antarctica!

David Lindo or as most of his fans know him, “The Urban Birder”, rose to prominence due to his attention-grabbing appearances on programmes such as BBC’s Spring Watch & The One Show, and his regular editorial contributions to the RSPB Nature’s Home magazine where he has shared his passion for birding and helped shape a new breed of birdwatching enthusiasts.

Despite David’s love of and dedication to promoting birding in large cities where one may not have usually expected to find such a wonderful array of birdlife in their natural surroundings until now, David is also open to scouring the lesser-explored areas of the world where birding opportunities take on a different shape altogether. That’s why he has chosen to explore Antarctica with us, a region renowned for breathtaking wildlife experiences that are, quite simply, out of this world.

From swooping albatrosses and giant southern petrels to 17 different species of penguin living in colonies with populations larger than some cities, Antarctica is home to some of the most majestic and remarkable birds in the world. The Urban Birder will be looking forward to spotting some of the 46 different species of birds found in this wonderfully remote region and sharing his unsurpassable knowledge with his fellow travellers.

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We are extremely privileged that David has agreed to be a guest speaker on this expedition, giving fellow bird enthusiasts the opportunity to soak up some of his wisdom and share stories and tips as they enjoy their once in a lifetime trip.

If you want to be one of the lucky few who get to share this adventure with The Urban Birder then why not take a look through the itinerary for this exciting trip or contact one of our friendly wildlife experts who will be delighted to help you with any queries you may have. You really won’t want to miss this one!

The Urban Birder is venturing to a land which, simply put, couldn’t be less “urban”…and we are thrilled to be joining him!

Small Group Departure to Antarctica November/December 2017.

David will be returning to Antarctica next year and will be leading a small group. WILDFOOT Travel are delighted to be arranging from start to finish and not only inviting Urban Birder followers but also making this exciting expedition available to our WILDFOOT customers on a first come basis. This is going to be a small intimate group so spaces are extremely limited. You can also experience urban birding with David in Buenos Aries and Ushuaia before you embark the voyage to Antarctica. For further information and registration please email [email protected]

 

You can learn more about David Lindo by visiting his website theurbanbirder.com.

If you’re a wildlife spotter, you’re in luck in Antarctica

Wildlife lovers worldwide have long been great admirers of our Antarctic holidays. You could be the next!

What can be spotted?

One of the most-spotted species in the Antarctic also happens to be the one of the funniest. Penguins are so common that at some points, they cover entire glaciers! Several species of penguin can be seen in the Antarctic, including emperor and king penguins.

As well as Penguins, dozens of species of birds live on the continent, including albatrosses, gulls and petrels, among other species. Whales and dolphins are frequently seen in the Antarctic. As they can be a rarity anywhere else on the planet, spotting one may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Humpback, orca, sie, minke and sperm whales are often identified on our expeditions, with hourglass dolphins also roaming the waters.

Seals are also spotted quite frequently on our trips. Leopard, fur and Weddell seals make regular appearances, as does the largest Antarctic animal that you will probably spot on the ice; the elephant seal.

Seeing all of the animals in their natural environment is a rare opportunity, so it’s understandable that you’ll want to catch a glimpse of as many as possible. Contact our Antarctic experts prior to your trip for more details on which animals can be spotted and when.

Travel options

The choice is yours when you are considering how to make the most of your time in Antarctica. For a unique expedition experience, our vessels are manned by experienced polar crew members. Although comfort is moderate with limited facilities on board, sailing on one of these makes for the most authentic possible polar experience.

Our expedition ships are larger and slightly more homely, but for the trip with the best of both worlds, our luxury ships are surely the ones that you will want to choose – the wide choice of accommodation and five star services makes for a truly amazing journey.

WILDFOOT is dedicated to ensuring that everyone who takes part on our trips does so in safety, style and comfort, and that they make the most of their time here. Feel free to get in touch with us for more information on our thrilling and educational Antarctic holidays.

There’s nothing quite like kayaking in the Antarctic

One of the best things about WILDFOOT is the way we’re able to cater for everyone, no matter how active they want to be while exploring this part of the world. We are proud to be able to offer bespoke breaks designed to suit the unique needs of our clients. We are specialists in polar travel who are always passionate about passing on our knowledge of the Antarctic and helping our clients to make the most of their adventure.

Kayaking is one of the most popular activities in the Antarctic. All of our kayaking excursions offer different views of Antarctica and provide real exhilaration. Explore Antarctica from a sea kayak and you will be able to hear and see incredible things up close. These include crashing glaciers, porpoising penguins, swarming krill and the exciting crackling of ice. These boats are virtually noiseless, which means they won’t drown out some of the most fascinating sounds the Antarctic has to offer.

Your guide will examine your comfort level to keep you safe while you are out on the water. We are here to provide you with the best Antarctica kayaking holiday possible, while giving you all of the attention you need to make your excursion a magical one. We enjoy robust, long-standing relationships with a number of cruise companies and have built up exceptional knowledge of Antarctic kayaking over the years. This knowledge allows us to deliver the excellence that you require, helping you to derive vast pleasure from the widest range of polar activities and create memories that you will never forget.

We are proud of the attention to detail that we offer and always take feedback from our clients seriously, which enables us to continue delivering outstanding Antarctica excursions. Why not talk to us today if you are interested in sea kayaking in the Antarctic? Whether you will be travelling alone or as part of a group, you can rely on us to do everything in our power to bring you the world-class adventure that you are seeking, keeping you safe in the process and helping you build on your Arctic knowledge.

Get in touch with the WILDFOOT team today to find out more about what is almost guaranteed to be the most remarkable overseas journey on which you have ever embarked.

Why should you book your Antarctic holiday with our specialists in polar travel?

With the increasing accessibility of the Antarctic region to ‘ordinary’ travellers is coming an attendant rise in the number of companies offering holidays to this previously largely unchartered corner of the world. With many of these businesses claiming to offer it all in an Antarctic break, why should you specifically target the services and packages of specialists in polar travel like WILDFOOT?

Some of the reasons to do so are less obvious than others. Perhaps the most obvious is our in-depth knowledge and first-hand experience of this most specialised of regions. Quite simply, we feel that a remarkable continent demands remarkable treatment, which is precisely what we have sought to provide here at WILDFOOT – with spectacular results in the form of our consistently glowing customer feedback.

Such customers realise that choosing a great Antarctic holiday provider is about more than opting for the lowest price, or even the company that can boast the broadest range of expedition packages. What is arguably most important of all, is choosing a provider that truly understands Antarctica and has tailored its offerings to suit – the kind of company that allows you to experience almost everything that one of the planet’s remotest regions could conceivably serve up.

Where other providers may focus on slashing the price to the lowest level possible, we channel our energies into giving our customers a genuinely ground-up Antarctic holiday experience. People booking with us can climb aboard the best well-equipped expedition ships and learn about every detail of this most special of regions, via lectures given by seasoned experts in geology, oceanography, glaciology and history, all upon a stunning polar backdrop.

Alternatively, those embarking on such an incredible journey with us may throw themselves into such enthralling optional activities as kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking, skiing or snowshoeing – or they may prefer the slightly sedater activity of wildlife spotting, discovering many more new and wonderful species in a few hours than they would encounter in many years at home.

Some travellers on board our cruises are even lucky enough to be able to board a helicopter for ice landings inside the continent – the perfect opportunity to keep their eyes peeled for the elusive Emperor Penguin. Add to all of these experiences the option of an especially luxurious Antarctic cruise encompassing 5* service and on-board cuisine, as well as our memberships of such organisations as ABTA, ATOL, IAATO and ATTA, and in WILDFOOT, you really do have the complete reputable polar travel provider.

Could now be the time for you to embark on the Antarctic journey of a lifetime? If the answer to that question is “yes”, make sure that it really is memorable for all of the right reasons by keeping our leading specialists in polar travel firmly by your side.

Understanding Earth’s extreme climates – Antarctica

If you are considering exploring some of the Earth’s most beautiful, yet remote places, it is important to understand just what is in store for you once you get there. One of the most vital elements to consider is the climate and for those wanting to explore the stunning continent of Antarctica, the weather really does play an important part.

Antarctic holidays are becoming increasingly popular with those looking to try something different on their next break. As the coldest of the Earth’s continents, the area has witnessed the lowest natural temperature ever recorded, -89.2°C. If you are currently planning a trip to Antarctica, here are the key points that you need to know about the often extreme climate.

The continent itself is basically a frozen desert, offering very little precipitation, with less than 10cm of rain recorded at the South Pole per year. Once you reach Antarctica, the atmosphere can be a little daunting to first time visitors, with prolonged periods of constant darkness contrasted with similar length periods of constant sunshine. It is no surprise that visitors to the area claim that they are often confused as to what time it actually is!

One important thing to consider for your trip is the risk of sunburn. This may seem unlikely in Antarctica of all places, but the snow surface is prone to reflecting all of the ultraviolet light that falls upon it, something that you should bear in mind when packing your essentials. Temperatures in Antarctica tend to reach a minimum of −80 °C during the winter and a maximum of 15 °C in the coastal areas during the summer months.

The exact time of year when you are on the continent will dictate the conditions that you experience, the eastern side of Antarctica typically being colder than the west due to the higher elevations. The centre of the continent is cold and dry, due to the main extreme weather fronts not spreading into this area. By contrast, the outer edges of Antarctica are prone to strong winds that often blow at storm force.

If you are planning a trip to Antarctica, we highly recommend that you choose an experienced tour company to help guide you around these often unpredictable landscapes. Here at WILDFOOT, we work with the leading operators to create for you the true holiday of a lifetime in this most extreme and remote corner of the globe.

Embark on the Falklands tour of your dreams

The Falkland Islands offer some of the most fascinating examples of wildlife and nature that the world has to offer, as well as a considerable number of glorious white beaches. They are home to a wide range of penguins and birds, in addition to more than two-thirds of all of the black-browed albatross in the world.

The islands attract people from every continent and appeal to casual fans of wildlife, as well as those with a passionate interest in rare animals such as the Falklands flightless steamer duck. The best places to spot wildlife in the Falklands rarely become over-populated with humans, which gives visitors the chance to see some of the most fascinating species on the globe up close. WILDFOOT creates first-class Falkland Island tours.

Volunteer Point is one of the best places to spot penguins, especially the hundreds of king penguins, whilst embarking on boat trips to West Point Island to see the nesting black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins is a popular activity. Discerning food lovers are catered for wonderfully by the fresh fish, meat and vegetables that the islands are famous for. The Falklands are also the home of the world’s most southerly cathedral.

Here at WILDFOOT, we can help if you are interested in embarking on the Falklands trip of a lifetime. We can assist you whether you would prefer to stay for 7, 10, 14 or 18 nights. Opt for our 14 day tour and you will be able to stay at locations as iconic as Carcass, Pebble and Sea Lion Islands and Stanley, to name but a few. The Falklands Islands are synonymous with epic scenery, clear blue skies, glorious stretches of white sand and some of the most remarkable wildlife that you will find in any country.

You can contact us at any time to take advantage of our vast expertise and find out more about what your tour will be like. If you have ever dreamed of spending time among some of the most delightful and intriguing species in the world, we can make this a reality. Your fare will include various flights and accommodation. We have unrivalled first-hand knowledge of the Falklands archipelago and can’t wait to pass on our expertise to you, so why not make an enquiry today?

So many great reasons to explore Antarctica

For many people, heading out to Antarctica means fulfilling the dream of a lifetime. Antarctic holidays can be the answer if you are interested in taking a trip with a difference that you will never forget. The temperature may be testing, but it’s well worth braving the elements, given the truly magical experience that only a journey to this part of the world can quite provide.

Antarctica is the world’s least explored frontier and is an ideal destination for anyone wishing to take a break in an unspoiled region that offers breathtaking scenery and fascinating wildlife. Antarctica is synonymous with icebergs, whales, penguins and rare birds. Photo opportunities are limitless, and the sunsets are among the most stunning that the globe has to offer.

You will struggle to find a better setting for an adventure than Antarctica. The continent is totally unlike any other and gives you the chance to walk in the footsteps of some of the most iconic explorers in history. Life in Antarctica is completely different from what you may have come to expect from your day-to-day life, which means you really will be able to take a break from the norm when you spend time in this most exceptional and isolated part of the world.

Here at WILDFOOT, we offer cruises to a number of fascinating destinations, including the Falklands, the Antarctic Peninsula, Ross Sea and South-Atlantic islands. We can bring you the expedition that you’ve always wanted, offering guides that know the region inside out whilst keeping you completely safe and introducing you to some of the most interesting species in the world, such as the Rockhopper, Adelie and maybe even, Emperor penguins.

You will also get the chance in Antarctica to see myriad shearwaters, skuas, petrels and many more seabirds. South Georgia offers the biggest concentration of wildlife in the world, including albatross and King Penguins as well as the South Georgia Pipit. You may even encounter the Blue Whale on your travels.

Talk to us today if you’re interested in seeing some of the world’s most talked-about wildlife and engaging in activities such as cross-country skiing, snorkelling, snowshoeing and ice-climbing, on the most remarkable backdrop. We have the knowledge and experience needed to help you plan the perfect expedition to Antarctica.

Captain James Cook: his influence in the discovery of Antarctica

Born in a humble Yorkshire village called Marton in 1728, James Cook rose to become one of the most famous and influential explorers in world history. It shouldn’t overly surprise, then, that he is a key figure in the history of human contact with what we now call Antarctica. Here is a little bit of history for you to enjoy reading before booking one of WILDFOOT’s appealing Antarctic cruises.

The mystery of the supposed Terra Australis

Since Antiquity, mankind had regularly put forward the likelihood of a large continent in the planet’s south to balance those continents that were then known to exist further north. However, no surveying had taken place to conclusively prove the existence of Terra Australis, the name given to this supposed continent – and so, in the late eighteenth century, the task fell to James Cook to seek out the continent for the British government.

In 1770, Cook sailed around most of New Zealand, thus proving that those islands were not part of Terra Australis. During his famed second voyage, which took place from 1772 to 1775, he circumnavigated the planet at a high southern latitude, in the process unknowingly circumnavigating Antarctica. He nearly came across Antarctica’s mainland, only to head to Tahiti for more supplies for his ship. He then made a second, but unsuccessful, re-attempt to discover Terra Australis.

So, Terra Australis didn’t exist. Except that it did…

Back in Britain, Cook’s reports of his travels widely convinced the British that the existence of Terra Australis had been a myth. In his book ‘A Voyage to Terra Australis’, published in 1814, decades after Cook’s death, Matthew Flinders argued that the long-believed Terra Australis was not a reality and so the name should instead be given to the closest that mankind had so far discovered to such a continent: what we now know as Australia.

Of course, Antarctica was later discovered, but only later in the nineteenth century. By then, Australia had been firmly established as the name for the above mentioned island, of which Cook is often considered the “father”. However, Cook gained crucial knowledge about the Antarctic that other explorers later built upon – something worth thinking about before you decide which of our Antarctic cruises you should turn to for a southern adventure of your own.

Experience the rare thrill of Antarctic scuba diving

Not many people are lucky enough to visit the awe-inspiring continent of Antarctica, and even fewer will ever be able to dive in its incredible waters. WILDFOOT’s Antarctic adventure cruises present you with the opportunity to become one of those precious few, diving at some of the most visually spectacular sites in the world alongside an experienced team of professionals.

Antarctica is one of the last remaining unspoilt wildernesses left in the world, and diving into its waters is like stepping into a completely unimagined environment. After you zip up your dry suit and strap on your gear, you will be slipping under the water to witness scenery that only a fraction of the global population has seen before you. Our experienced dive masters are ready to guide you through this jaw-dropping landscape.

The water itself is surprisingly clear and pure, providing the perfect visibility for observing the Antarctic shelf below sea level. Icebergs rear up above the surface, but it is only through submerging yourself that you can truly understand their colossal size, as the light that penetrates the water produces a mesmerising glow from these vast walls of ice.

Aside from the deep blue clarity of the water and the overwhelming grandeur of the icebergs, many divers are attracted by the abundance of sea life. You will be able to spot several varieties of Antarctic fish, as well as star fish, jelly fish and crabs, but one of the most exciting potential encounters is with the resident seals.

Fur and leopard seals are both native to the area, and are generally inquisitive creatures that will jump into the water if they see a boat approaching. They usually approach divers at speed, only to veer off just before they come into contact with them. They also enjoy mimicking behaviour, so you might just be able to interact with them by twisting and rolling. Penguins too jump off the ice and transform themselves from comical creatures waddling and hopping about to streamlined masters of the water, darting swiftly around.

Our scuba diving adventures are only available for a limited number of people from a limited number of departures, and can be included as part of either a bespoke or tailor made package. Diving these pristine waters is an experience that you will carry with you forever, so why not contact us today for more information about incorporating a diving experience into one of our Antarctic adventure cruises?

What can you learn on one of our educational cruise expeditions?

Antarctica is a truly astonishing region – the southernmost, coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth, a polar desert that has claimed the lives of many of those to have underestimated it. But this part of the world isn’t merely about the most intensely adverse elements – it is also about remarkable wildlife, stunning scenery and one of the most memorable travel experiences of your life.

It is a region that teaches you much about yourself, as you learn a lot in turn about it – and there can be no better way of doing so than with one of our educational cruise expeditions.

Book an amazing group experience with us

Contact WILDFOOT today about group holidays on which your friends or fellow members of a club, society or other interest group can learn more about what Antarctica is really about. Not only can brilliantly competitive rates be negotiated for such holidays, but we might even be able to offer a free place to your group leader, or the value of a free place shared out among all of you.

If your group is a larger one, we are also delighted to provide an escort, who can cater for all of your transfers and other arrangements.

Perfectly tailored group expeditions

Whatever the nature of your group – a club or society with a more formal interest in a subject or field of study related to Antarctica, perhaps, or simply friends or sporting teammates who would all like to experience this incredible region ‘in the flesh’ – we are confident of providing the perfectly-tailored holiday.

As you might expect, we can certainly put together the complete educational cruise expeditions for schools, colleges, universities and alumni, encompassing zodiac (RIB or Rigid Inflatable Boat) excursions, bird and whale watching and informative lectures.

However, we are just as happy to build the ideal holiday expedition package for ornithologists and birdwatchers, photographers, wildlife enthusiasts, historians, skiers, kayakers and scuba divers. These breaks allow you to follow in the footsteps of the celebrated figures to have embarked on history’s greatest Antarctic expeditions – Scott, Mawson, Shackleton – in a way that suits everyone in your group.

Talk to WILDFOOT today about the most inspiring educational cruise expeditions that help to bring this mysterious, legendary and ever-fascinating corner of the globe to life.

Embark on a tailor made adventure to the Falklands

The Falklands Islands are certainly well-known for the territorial disputes that have surrounded it down the ages, and indeed, there are few parts of the world that are so steeped in compelling history. However, it is only right that the Falklands are also celebrated for their astonishing geography and biodiversity, with our own tailored packages here at Wildfoot Travel bringing you closer to it all.
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5 explorers that taught us about Antarctica

Key to your appreciation of any of our Antarctic adventure cruises is an attendant appreciation of the mammoth feats of those who came before you. By that, we are referring to the bold, tough and determined explorers whose journeys to this most isolated of regions is why we are able to know so much today about this compelling wilderness and invite you to experience it yourself.

Here are five men who played monumental roles in the development of our modern-day understanding of the earth’s last great wilderness.

Captain James Cook

This Yorkshire-born explorer, navigator, cartographer and Royal Navy captain became the first person to circumnavigate Antarctica and crossed the Antarctic Circle three times in the 1770s. He was killed on 14th February 1779, aged 50, at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii.

Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen

The cartographer and explorer led a circumnavigation expedition that discovered the Antarctic continent. This, however, only made him the second man to circumnavigate Antarctica, after Cook.

James Weddell

Achieving a new record south earned the British sailor and navigator the accolade of having the region of the Southern Ocean into which he sailed in the 1820s named after him – making it the Weddell Sea.

John Biscoe

In the early 1830s, the English mariner and explorer commanded the first expedition known to have sighted the areas along the Antarctic coast known as Enderby Land and Graham Land. A series of islands that his expedition found in the vicinity of Graham Land were named the Biscoe Islands in his honour.

Roald Amundsen

The Norwegian explorer led the first undisputed successful expedition to the South Pole in 1910-12, reaching the pole itself on 14th December 1911. His Antarctic expedition beat Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to the milestone by 33 days. In June 1928, he disappeared in the Arctic while involved in a rescue mission by plane.

These are far from the only names to be associated with the most momentous exploratory feats in and around the Antarctic, with other names that could have been added including Palmer and Powell, D’Urville, De Gerlache and Shackleton.

Nonetheless, even this list goes some way to indicating just how much blood, sweat and tears went into discovering the things about the Antarctic region that we now almost take for granted. These individuals’ towering achievements are worth remembering as you follow in their footsteps on one of our own Antarctic adventure cruises.

Antarctic holidays that really unlock this remarkable region

Antarctica may have a reputation as something of a remote region – and indeed that is part of its fascinating appeal to many – but here at WILDFOOT we take great pride in making it accessible to a wide range of intrepid travellers. Antarctic holidays simply come no better than ours, thanks to our combination of unrivalled local expertise, competitively-priced packages and a commitment to fulfilling your most specific needs for an Antarctica break.

As the Antarctica region becomes progressively more reachable for more and more travellers, here at WILDFOOT, we do everything possible to give you the true trip of a lifetime to this endlessly stimulating part of the world. Nowhere else could you expect to encounter such intriguing and often thrilling wildlife, for example, searching for Emperor Penguins in and around the Weddell Sea, and walking amongst thousands of King Penguins in South Georgia along with Gentoo, Macaroni, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins around other parts of the peninsula.

Other wildlife must-sees on your Antarctic holidays include albatross, petrels, whales and dolphins – but it isn’t merely the ‘local residents’ that will take your breath away on a break to the polar region. That’s because the region also serves up the most spectacular scenery, composed of mammoth glaciers and towering mountains, as well as huge icebergs and even spring meadows and grassland, depending on whether you centre your trip on the Antarctic mainland or such nearby islands as South Georgia and the Falklands. You can even view wildlife and encounter icebergs from on board zodiacs – a truly up-close experience.

While the inhospitality of Antarctica has not lent itself to the development of a native culture, there is nonetheless much to be found on the Falklands and Tristan da Cunha, where the descendants of 19th and 20th century settlers work the land and exploit the sea to live. Our Antarctic holidays also present you with the opportunity to head pole-wards in the footsteps of legendary explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen – even making a poignant visit to Shackleton’s grave.

However, don’t forget that with WILDFOOT your Antarctic adventure will also be an exceptionally comfortable one, for as long as you are onboard one of our luxury ships with their spacious cabins, five-star service and on-board cuisine, your comfort and enjoyment is the priority. At the same time, we ensure the best possible value for money on your trip through our close work with the finest expedition operators. We offer expeditions on all standards of ship, which opens up our experience to those travelling on all budgets.

Our dedication to every aspect of your Antarctic holidays should make us your first choice when you seek to journey to this most remarkable end of the earth. Contact the friendly and professional team at WILDFOOT now for a more in-depth discussion of your options and to book your dream Antarctica break.

Elephant Island is a haven for penguins and seals

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.