Travel insights...

Posts tagged Antarctica

Active Antarctica

Enjoying unique adventures on the seventh continent

Nowhere on Earth compares to Antarctica. It’s an unspoiled frozen land that barely has been touched by civilization. The human race is merely a visitor to the seventh continent. Several countries have set up temporary research stations there, trying to stake a claim to this pristine land, while intrepid travelers journey through the Drake Passage from Argentina on expedition ships ready to explore the final frontier of world travel.

Antarctica is a vast land of ice and snow and visitors marvel at its enormous ice shelves, active calving glaciers, and floating icebergs larger than high-rise apartment buildings. One might think that there is nothing to see or do in Antarctica beyond gazing at the never-ending span of water and ice. But the place is brimming with wildlife unafraid of human contact. Whales surface within arms’ reach of your boat. Penguins waddle up to peck at your jacket to say hello. Seals bask on ice floes, barely giving you a second glance. Petrels fly overhead, scanning the ocean for food.

Take an expedition to Antarctica and you’ll find the scenery unforgettable, too. The Gerlache Straight is so awe-inspiring that photographers nicknamed it the Fuji Funnel and Kodak Canal. In the iceberg graveyard of Pleneau Bay, giant chunks of ancient ice have run aground and created extraordinary formations due to rolling and erosion. One could spend a week simply sailing along the coast observing the ice and scenery, but there are many things to do in Antarctica that you never may have considered before.


Did you know you could camp in Antarctica? Not many people visit Antarctica to begin with, but even fewer can say they actually have camped there. We slept in bivvy sacs under a full moon as we listened to a Weddell seal gurgle and snore on the shore close by. It was cold and uncomfortable, but camping on Antarctica provides the avid traveler with ultimate bragging rights


When on the water, the most spectacular way to explore is by kayak; it was one of the most exhilarating and peaceful adventures we’d ever done. The rushes of paddling through dense brash ice and circling icebergs while penguins were jumping at the bow of our boat both were thrilling. At the same time, paddling in silence hearing nothing but the crackle of ice as we approached sleeping seals on huge flows of ice was very peaceful. Because you are paddling in silence without the noise of an engine, wildlife remains undisturbed and you can go even closer to them than you ever could on a motorized boat. As our guide Val said, “I couldn’t imagine seeing Antarctica any other way.”

Zodiac Tour

Wildlife encounters on Antarctica are extraordinary. Our journey with Quark Expeditions offered daily zodiac excursions to explore islands and ice, but it also gave us the opportunities to float closer to seals basking in the sun and to let whales come in for closer views. Seeing whales from the ship was exciting, but to see them swim under the zodiac and surface just a few feet away was extraordinary. Whales haven’t been hunted in Antarctica since the 1970s; experts think this is one of the reasons the animals in the area have little to no fear of humans. This is one of the factors that makes Antarctica the perfect place to witness wildlife in its natural habitat.

Deception Island

While Antarctica’s whales are healthy today, they were hunted to near-extinction in the early 1900s, and there are still remnants from that dark time scattered on the shore. When visiting Deception Island, we explored an abandoned whaling station. Large decaying boilers and barrels still stand on the beach where whales were killed for the oil in their blubber. As you walk along the shore, you see whale bones scattered in the sand. It is a strong reminder of just how destructive the human race can be.

Viewfinder Tip: Put your camera in a large Ziploc bag before going inside, it will help to protect your camera from condensation.

Port Lockroy

Another worthwhile land excursion is a visit to the British research station at Port Lockroy. Here you can peruse the museum to see what life was like for the early explorers. There also is a gift shop where you can buy Antarctic souvenirs and send postcards to your loved ones from the continent’s only post office. Outside you can explore the buildings as penguins scamper from place to place.


Speaking of penguins, Antarctica has millions of them. You will see them wherever you go, and never will tire of encountering the little tuxedo clad cuties. It’s important to note that you must stay at least 25 feet from penguins, and you can never block their well-trodden pathways leading to the sea. But if you sit still and watch them from a safe distance, they may approach you to say hello. It’s perfectly acceptable if a penguin comes to you, so long as you don’t reach out and touch them. They can walk all over you if they like, but you must never disrupt their lives. We had so many curious penguins come up to us, it was if they were speaking to us and welcoming us to their land. And we welcomed each and every opportunity.

Polar Plunge

For the truly adventuresome, a dip in the frigid waters of the Antarctic Peninsula is a must; something you’ll remember forever. The water is 31.5 degrees Fahrenheit! When taking the plunge from our ship the Sea Spirit, we jumped from the stern of the ship into the middle of an icy bay. The cruise company tethered us to two spotters to make sure we’d be safe, and a zodiac was parked 30 feet from our dive site for those of us who were daring enough to swim out to it. Dave managed to swim the entire distance; I jumped out of the water almost as quickly as I jumped in (I spent the minimum time required in the water to get the T-shirt). As painful as it was, I am so glad I did it. I would have regretted not doing it for the rest of my life. Now, when it comes to Antarctica, Dave and I can say, “We came, we saw, and we literally got the T-shirt.”

There are so many adventures to be had in Antarctica. It is so much more than a cruise through water and ice; it is a continent filled with life and adventure. As travel to the South Pole becomes more accessible each year, more people will be going there. If you visit, make sure to add one of these adventures onto your expedition and make your already unforgettable experience even better.

Where is the most remote place you every have visited?

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

This author has either a relationship with, or received other compensation (which may include monetary or in-kind compensation) from, the product or service providers that are the subject of this post.


The Wreck of the Governoren: an Antarctic Legend

In 1912, Antarctica was the hub of the Heroic Age of Exploration, attracting famed adventurers such as Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Sir Ernest Shackleton. While these pioneers paved the way for the polar explorers of today and took journeys that led to great developments beneficial to us even now in 2015, it was not without a few bumps and bruises along the way.


As you can imagine, massive ships in 1912, in remote areas of the world, don’t always result in smooth sailing. Part of Antarctica’s historical past includes not only the conquests made by these explorers, but fascinating stories of the trials and tribulations of men on somewhat more pragmatic journeys.

And if you visit Foyn Harbor, Enterprise Island on your Antarctic expedition, you might be particularly interested in the story behind the wreckage of the Governoren

Antarctic shipwrecks – from Endurance to Governoren

The Governoren’s story follows, by nine days to be precise, the equally compelling story of the shipwreck of Shackleton’s famed Endurance. On January 18, 1915, the Endurance was besieged in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. Eventually, the pressure of ice melting from the Antarctic spring caused flooding and broke the ship’s hull, leading to its abandonment.

The wreck left the crew to survive at sea, while presumed lost for almost two years.

Another view of the wreck

Origins of a great whaling ship

Just 800 miles away from shipwrecked Endurance was the Governoren. Once a cattle carrier, the ship eventually functioned as one of the largest whaling factory ships of her time. On January 27, 1915, the Governoren was at sea, performing her duties as a floating factory.

At the time, building whaling facilities on land in Antarctica wasn’t always feasible. Enormous ships like Governoren became ideal carriers of everything needed for hunting and harpooning whales. Additionally, when the whales were brought aboard, the ships provided a space for flensing – the removal of blubber – and separation of other usable parts of the whale.

Because floating factories like Governoren were designed as places for the whaling process from start to finish, the crew was capable of rendering entire whales into oil and other valuable commodities. These factory ships also carried large boilers with enormous tanks for holding and storing the finished oil until the vessel reached its final destination.

In terms of capacity, the Governoren was known for once producing more than 22,000 gallons of oil. The Norwegians considered the ship a leader among factory ships and one of the most technically sophisticated.

Governoren‘s last mission

As this particular 1915 whaling mission wrapped up, the crew threw a party (as was standard practice aboard floating factories) to celebrate the success of a long and laborious mission hunting and processing whales, and the anticipated journey home. Because Governoren’s working decks were designed for flensing, and not for dancing and partying, the celebration was held below decks.

Someone, perhaps while dancing too boisterously, knocked a lamp off a table and the ship caught fire. The Governoren was of course full of thousands of gallons of whale oil, ready and waiting to be hauled back to Norway. This oil fueled the fire, causing it to quickly grow out of control. 

Although resulting in the terrible loss of whale oil and of a historic ship, the captain set Governoren aground and the entire crew of 85 were able to escape, only to watch the blazing ship burn to ruin. None of the crew members were injured by the fire; all were rescued by another whaling vessel.

Download a Brochure

The end of Governoren’s journey

Today, the wreckage of the Governoren lies in wait for the occasional Antarctic cruise visitor to Foyn Harbor. The rusting remains, leftover wooden flensing boats, and old whale oil barrels remind us of the ship’s long history, and what must have been a massive economic loss and setback to the industry during its time.

Arctic Tern

Since then, the wreckage has become home to the region’s Antarctic terns, providing somewhat of a symbol of the commercial and natural intersection of Antarctica’s rich history. And also, possibly serving as a warning of the dangers of partying near fire aboard what was essentially an enormous steel barrel full of fuel oil!

To start planning your Antarctic Expedition, visit the Quark Expeditions website. We can help answer any question you might have!

Source: Quark Expeditions

VIDEO: Antarctic Express Fly Cruise

Flying over King George Island Credit: Adrian Boyle

A short three-hour flight is all it takes to travel between Punta Arenas, Chile and King George Island in Antarctica. Skipping all the extra days at sea, you’ll enjoy only the best scenery and wildlife experiences of the Antarctic.

Watch our new Fly-Cruise video and experience the excitement of Antarctic travel with Quark Expeditions!

[embedded content]

View Antarctic Express Options

Source: Quark Expeditions

Epic Whale Watching in Antarctica

As your ship approaches the Antarctic Peninsula and you catch your first glimpse of craggy, snow-covered rock faces towering over frozen beaches below, you’ll feel drawn to the deck. Without fail, Quark staff and passengers navigate towards the bow, marveling at the sheer magnitude of the seventh continent as it grows closer.

Now imagine a slight disturbance in the glass-like water ahead – a ripple, then a splash. Just beneath the surface, you see a dark, hulking mass cutting through the water between the ship and the icy beach.

 a whale swims under a zodiac

Humpback and Orca Sightings Surprise and Delight at Wilhelmina Bay 

A magnificent humpback whale breaches the surface, churning the water below as it thrusts into the air, pivoting and slowing, before crashing violently back into the ocean.

Not far away, the ocean again begins to stir. Black dorsal fins slice through the undulating wake of the humpback’s plunge. As they breach and jump higher, seemingly egging one another on, you count over a dozen killer whales, or orcas, playfully parading for your camera. 

Now, imagine spotting an incredible 50 whales, both orca and humpbacks, in a span of just a few hours! 

[embedded content]

That was the experience shared by Quark passengers and staff at Wilhelmina Bay in January, 2014. A compilation of the amazing video footage and still photos showcases dozens of whales playing and preening, often in close proximity to delighted passengers watching from Zodiacs.

Passengers in a zodiac view a whale in Antarctica 

When to Visit Antarctica for the best Whale Watching

Jake Morrison, Operations Manager at Quark, recommends the mid-to-late Antarctic season as the optimal time for viewing active whales. 

“Mid-February to mid-March is really the ideal time to visit Antarctica if you have a great interest in whale watching expeditions,” he says. “It’s a short season — five months in total. There are benefits to visiting at different times; for example, the glaciers and ice formations are really incredible early in the season. But whale watching can be truly amazing in the February to March window.”

In Wilhelmina Bay, whales feast on krill, a tiny species of massive importance in the Antarctic ecosystem. The 24-kilometre wide bay is one of the first experiences many passengers have with Antarctica, given its location between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula.


Discovering “Whale-amina Bay”

While we’re at the whims of marine mammals themselves and cannot guarantee sightings, whale watching is so fantastic in this area that some call it “Whale-amina Bay.” This is also a popular spot for photography (including polar selfies!), given its dramatic geography, with steep cliffs and an almost perfectly diamond-shaped peak over the water.

While in Antarctica, you may have the opportunity to view humpback, minke and killer whales (Orcas). Less frequently, passengers catch a glimpse of the more elusive blue, fin, sei, southern right or sperm whales.

 To learn more about the best Antarctic expeditions for whale watching, contact one of our experienced Polar Travel Advisers and start planning your perfect whale-watching cruise today!

  Subscribe to our Newsletter

Source: Quark Expeditions

Antarctic Adventure Activities for All Types of Travelers

As we’ve readied the Ocean Endeavour for its upcoming sailings, our Operations team members have put a great deal of work into purchasing, testing, and stocking everything you’ll need to participate in a variety of exciting Adventure Options throughout your guided Antarctic cruise.   

Operations Manager Jake Morrison has taken two dozen small ship adventures himself and still gets out into the field a few times a year. We asked Jake to tell us a bit about what it took to prepare the Ocean Endeavour, fresh from its multi-million dollar renovation, for this epic season of adventure in Antarctica.

 Operations Manager Jake driving a zodiac in the Arctic
Operations Manager Jake driving a zodiac in the Arctic with Quark

How do you prepare for kayaking adventures on small ship cruises? 

Jake: “We have 14 to 18 different kayaks onboard, with a mix of doubles and singles. We’ve stocked dry suits; accounting for different sizes, we have about 35 dry suits. PFDs (personal flotation devices) are mandatory for safety, and we have a variety of sizes available to make sure passengers find one that fits.

kayaking in Antarctica

Obviously, kayaking requires quite a bit of other equipment – you have spray skirts for the cockpit of each kayak, so we offer those in different sizes. We also provide pogies, which go over your hands to keep them warm and dry, as well as booties for your feet. All accessories including a dry bag, sponges and pumps are provided.

On Ocean Endeavour, we have a good supply of maintenance kits, sealants and cleaning supplies to ensure the kayaks are kept in great shape.”


What equipment is provided for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Antarctica? 

Jake: “We like to have lots of snowshoes and poles in stock, since this can be a really popular choice when offered at certain landing sites, where weather conditions allow. 

Skiing in Antarctica

Those who choose to go skiing are provided cross-country ski boots, skis and poles. Each passenger receives a Quark parka at the start of their journey, so they’ll already have a warm, waterproof outer layer. And in the months leading up to your expedition, our Polar Travel Advisers provide packing lists and advice to help you choose the best inner and outer layers. Typically, we try to avoid wearing cotton under layers and encourage you to bring merino wool garments, which have fantastic moisture-wicking properties. 

We also stock over 350 pairs of muck boots (you’re going to need them for landings!), ranging from men’s size 4 to 14, and can accommodate size 15 with advanced request.”


What should I know about Antarctic mountaineering and camping?

 Jake: “For mountaineering, passengers are provided harnesses and ropes, helmets, carabineers, shovel, mountaineering boots, ice axe, ice screws, ice hammers and snow stakes. 

Quark Expeditions passengers camping in Antarctica

We can take up to 60 passengers overnight camping in Antarctica and if you want to know what to expect, check out this review from one of our camping guides, Dave Riordan. You can choose to camp out in a tent, but we encourage people to use bivvy bags and sleep under the stars, to take in the full experience. Camping in Antarctica is a cold experience whether you’re in the tent or not, but we have great gear to keep people as warm and comfortable as possible. We recently ordered a huge shipment of fleece-lined sleeping bags, which are fantastic for conserving body heat in these conditions.”


What should we know about Zodiac cruising equipment? 

Jake:Ocean Endeavour carries 20 brand new Mark V HD Zodiacs, which are a great luxury. Each one seats 12 people and is outfitted with PFDs, all brand new this year.  

Zodiac cruising in Antarctica

Each Zodiac has an extensive safety kit including food rations, water, flares and emergency blankets. Staff carry navigational equipment and HF radio, and rangefinders to stay a safe distance from icebergs.

Quark has its own comprehensive accreditation module for Zodiac drivers. Expedition Leaders are assessed and ranked Level I to V, determining which drivers can attempt specific landing sites. Level IV and V drivers are assigned the more difficult landings.”


How did you prepare for stand-up paddleboarding?

Jake:Stand-up paddleboarding is an awesome Adventure Option, and judging by the response last year, it’s going to be super popular. We conducted a trial launch last year on the Ocean Diamond and now we’re launching it this season on the Ocean Endeavour. 

Stand Up Paddle-boarding in Antarctica

This program required a lot of gear be sent to the ship — the boards themselves, the paddles, and gear similar to the kayak program, including dry suits, PFDs, and neoprene booties to keep participants comfortable and safe. We worked with technical staff to design custom racks to store the equipment onboard, to ensure it stays safe and in great shape.” 

It takes a lot of preparation to gear up for various adventure activities in Antarctica and the Arctic, but we’re sure you’ll agree it’s worth it. Contact a Polar Travel Adviser to learn about each of the exciting activities you can participate in on your expedition!

  Download our Adventure Guide


Source: Quark Expeditions

Traveling to Antarctica with Jonathan Shackleton

As providers of authentic travel to Antarctica, we strive to ensure our passengers have the most relevant, compelling and educational experiences, and this includes the benefit of having explorers and polar experts travel with you. Scientists, historians and other experts who travel to the Polar Regions share their knowledge and expertise with Quark passengers in structured lectures as well as informal talks.

Among these important on-board special guests are historian Jonathan Shackleton, cousin of famed polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. 

Jonathan Shackleton’s impressive background includes degrees from Trinity College in Dublin and Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio; he is also the co-author of Shackleton: An Irishman in Antarctica. He serves as family historian of the Irish branch of the Shackleton family, who moved from West Yorkshire to Ireland in 1720. His Antarctic adventures include 37 expeditions.  


A modern-day Shackleton voyage

Many passengers are interested in Jonathan’s family connection to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s history and background and he doesn’t disappoint. As the family historian, he has access to a vast amount of information about the great explorer’s journeys and his life growing up in Ireland. 

Jonathan’s lectures often touch on the preparations made by Shackleton for each voyage, the lives of his crew members, and a peek into Shackleton’s personal life through his poetry and journal entries. His presentations range from Shackleton’s four trips to Antarctica to historical topics of interest connected to the great explorer, and also Antarctic exploration on a broader scale.


Lectures on great Antarctic explorers

Passengers of all ages are intrigued by Jonathan’s stories on the day-to-day lives of great polar explorers. “It’s very important that young children find out more about our planet, and especially Antarctica, one of the most important continents, and also get ideas from our early explorers. A lot of things today are quite cozy and easy, but in those days they didn’t have that. It was a much tougher existence,” he said.

While we often focus on these amazing exploration and expeditions themselves, Jonathan shares smaller details, such as what the explorers ate and what their daily lives were like. 

Much of the information shared surrounds the lives of great explorers, specifically Sir Ernest Shackleton, but Jonathan also wants to bring attention to those who traveled alongside these adventurers. He told us, “The success of people like Shackleton and Scott depended on the people with them, as well. That’s quite often overlooked. In 1909, Shackleton got within hundreds of meters of the South Pole, but there were other people with him and it’s important to know about other members of the expedition. We’re all familiar with the big names of the heroic age of exploration, but there were a lot of other expeditions and a lot of remarkable men who made up these teams.” 

Outside of his informative lectures and presentations, Jonathan spends time socializing with passengers, taking time to sit and chat with those who are interested in learning more about polar exploration. He often gives informal “bar talks” and leads tours to significant sites to give short talks. 

When he is aboard, the ship flies the family flag, which, along with Shackleton whiskey, is auctioned at the voyage charity auction.

 Hiking at Stromness, South Georgia

Explore Antarctica alongside Jonathan Shackleton 

You can explore alongside Jonathan on a Shackleton voyage as part of the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings Antarctic voyage in November and December of 2015, or on the Explorers and Kings South Georgia cruise aboard the Ocean Endeavour, in December and January of 2015-2016. 

Jonathan shared, “One of the great privileges for me is to share the excitement everyone has in traveling to Antarctica, usually for the first time. I always advise people that if you go once, you’ll probably want to go back again. It’s exciting to share in other people’s trip of a lifetime.”

  Save up to $2300 per person on Antarctic Travel

Source: Quark Expeditions

Meet the Leopard Seal: Grace and Prowess in Antarctic Waters

Seeing a seal up close, or even having some kind of interaction with one, is a dream for many. Seeing one in its natural habitat, though, is priceless! Polar adventurers may have a particular idea in mind of what an encounter with a seal will entail, but leopard seals promise to surprise and delight.

Best known for its black-spotted coat, the leopard seal has many unique characteristics that make this powerful hunter stand out. Leopards, which can reach up to 454 kilos (1,000 pounds) and 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) in length, inhabit many of the Antarctic and sub Antarctic waters we visit.

Photo credit: Alex DawesPhoto credit: Alex Dawes

Get to know the leopard seal

From its beautiful coat to its slender body, the leopard seal is a mesmerizing sight. But looking beyond that aesthetic beauty, you might pick up a few other details about this unique creature:

 While not entirely elusive, there’s no guarantee leopard seals will parade for their Antarctic cruise guests either, although many of them inhabit coastal Antarctica in the months we travel, and Quark Expedition Leaders are skilled in seeking them out.

Your encounter with leopard seals will differ from that of other animals in one substantial way: you’re highly unlikely to catch a family together. Leopard seals are loners and it’s incredibly rare to spot a mother and her pups together. 

The leopard seal: a fierce predator

We tend to think of seals as adorable, cuddly-looking creatures, but don’t let appearances fool you. With its speed and power, the leopard seal is a fierce predator.

Its primary mode of hunting is to wait underwater, close to an ice shelf, poised to spring to the surface to snatch birds as they enter the water. These mammals eat penguins, small seals, seabirds, and krill (this is especially true among pups). A leopard seal can actually consume an Adélie penguin in as little as four minutes.

The leopard seal rarely has to worry about being hunted itself, as the killer whale is its only predator. For this reason, leopard seals are often able to live out their full potential lifespan of 15 years, on average.

Sharp teeth - Photo credit: Kyle Marquardt
Photo credit: Kyle Marquardt

How to identify a leopard seal

While on board an expedition ship, you might spot a seal at a distance and wonder what specific breed you’re viewing. These unique traits can help you determine whether it’s a leopard:

[embedded content]

Is the leopard seal endangered?

Despite that the leopard seal is known for its beautiful, patterned coat, it hasn’t been targeted by commercial hunters as much as some of its fur seal relatives.

Yet even though it has just one known predator, there are only approximately 250,000 leopard seals in the wild and conservation efforts are underway to preserve their existence. As visitors in the leopard seal’s environment, it’s important to respect their lifestyle and habitat. This helps ensure its longevity, allowing others to experience its beauty for many years to come.

A leopard seal in Antarctica- Photo Credit: Quark passenger
A leopard seal in Antarctica- Photo Credit: Quark passenger

Each polar expedition offers unique opportunities to experience different polar landings and interact with different animals and birds — we are at the whims of Mother Nature and the creatures themselves! However, careful planning can help ensure that your Antarctic holiday delivers on your hopes and expectations.

If viewing leopard seals in their natural habitat is a goal of yours, contact one of our experienced and knowledgeable Polar Travel Advisers to determine which expedition options offer the greatest opportunity for you to see them.

See Leopard Seals in Antarctica

Source: Quark Expeditions