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Antarctica! The name alone conjures up images of boundless ice, towering icebergs, comedic penguins, epic snowstorms, great sailing ships held tightly by ice and the hardy explorers striving to survive wrapped in thick, heavy parkas. All of this is, or once was, true. Today, vessels have changed and the level of safety on a journey to ‘The Great White Continent’ has increased immensely. Antarctica is the truest of wild places, the majesty of its pristine natural landscapes is second to no other location on earth.
The animals that thrive in the rigors of the Antarctic climate are present in such great numbers and concentrations that they must be seen to be believed. This untouched oasis harkens back to a time when the world was untouched by humanity, pure in its natural innocence. Antarctica has been a source of natural inspiration for as long as humans have been aware of its existence -- and it may produce in you one of the most exceptional emotional sensations it is possible to experience on this great planet.
The Aitcho Islands are among the most mysterious areas of the South Shetland Islands chain -- a place of both subtle beauty and quiet solitude. This is a group of 13 small rocky islets, submerged reefs, dramatic outcrops and rugged pinnacles. Extensively carpeted by mosses and lichens, the islands display an unexpected tapestry of colors, in hues of brown, green and yellow. Fog often sits over the islands, adding to their tranquil mood. Charted in 1936, the Aitcho group was named by the British Admiralty Hydrographic Office.
Almirante Brown Base
On a small rocky peninsula deep within Paradise Bay lies one of the few landing spots on the rocky outcrop of the Argentine station of Almirante Brown.
The visually stunning location of the base is one of its most engaging features. With the cluster of bright red buildings at one end and Punta Proa, a 230 foot (70 m) cliff at the other, Almirante Brown is truly dwarfed by its backdrop of vertical ice. Climbing the slope behind the station, you will be rewarded with spectacular views all around and have the chance to hear the distant, loud calving of glaciers as their bergs rumble and thunder into the water.
Antarctic Sound (Scenic Cruising)
Some 30 miles (48 km) long and 12 miles (19 km) wide, the Antarctic Sound is located at the far northern end of the Peninsula. It is renowned for a prevalence of massive tabular icebergs. Sometimes miles in length and towering vertically hundreds of feet above the sea, these awe-inspiring ice islands drift in the current after breaking off the ice shelves along the Weddell Sea.
Arktowski Station, King George Island
The Polish Antarctic research station, Arktowski, was established in 1977 on the shoreline of Admiralty Bay on King George Island. It is named for Henryk Arktowski, the Polish geologist, oceanographer and meteorologist of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition from 1897-1899. This was the first expedition to overwinter in Antarctica and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Arktowski was the first scientist to propose the idea of wind chill facto
Baily Head, Deception Island
One of Deception Island’s most spectacular places to visit is Baily Head, the prominent rocky headland on the island's southeastern side. Its steep black-sand beach is exposed to large, rolling ocean swells. Ash-covered ice creates an eerie atmosphere in this alien landscape, where shades of black and grey are interrupted by the rust-red hues of rock.
Brown Bluff (Tabarin Peninsula)
Brown Bluff owes its name to the bright, rust-colored, iron-rich volcanic rocks that form its cliffs above the beach. Towering to 2,444 feet (745 meters), the heavily eroded cliffs are part of an extinct and rare tuya volcano that volcano that erupted beneath the glacier a million years ago. The beach is composed of rounded, water-smoothed pebbles, volcanic rocks and ash, along with enormous, randomly shaped, yellow-brown boulders.
Sitting at the northern entrance of the Errera Channel, Cuverville Island is a dome-shaped rock with a permanent snowcap, rising to the height of 825 feet (252 m). It is home to some 13,000 gentoo penguins, one of the largest colonies in the region. Penguin ‘highways’ mark the snow leading to the upper nests, deep furrows created by the birds’ repeated treks between the sea and the breeding areas. Leopard seals cruise the shoreline in search of a penguin meal, while the island’s vertical cliffs are alive with the nests of Antarctic shags
Deception Island is a geological wonder of Antarctica and one of the safest harbors in the South Shetland Islands. Its name dates from 1820, when American captain Nathaniel Palmer discovered the navigable gap in the volcano’s caldera walls as he explored the island and denotes the deceptive unbroken appearance of the island from afar. Today this passage is known as Neptune’s Bellows, for the strong winds that blow through its narrow mouth. After its discovery, Deception Island became a major outpost for the whaling industry in the Southern Ocean. Remains of a whaling station can be seen on the black sand beaches of Whalers Bay.
Deep in the Weddell Sea lies the one-and-a-half-mile (2 km) long Devil Island, which was discovered and named during Otto Nordenskjold’s 1901-04 Swedish Antarctic Expedition. The island owes its name to the resemblance of two hills, one at each end, to a devil’s horns when seen from a distance.
Cruising The Drake Passage
A voyage to Antarctica necessarily entails crossing the legendary, 600-mile-wide (966 km) Drake Passage. Notorious for its changeable, and often rough weather during the age of sail, the Drake Passage owes its reputation to the fact that currents and westerly winds at this latitude meet no resistance from any landmass. In reality, however, crossing the Drake can frequently be tranquil. Affectionately known as the ‘Drake Lake’, the stillness of such a day is barely disturbed by the sound of the waves splashing behind the ship.
Elephant Island, at the northeastern end of the South Shetland chain, is a narrow, rugged island constantly battered by the southern seas and frequently swept by strong winds. Its steep, ice-covered cliffs rise straight from sea level and are crowned by the protruding nunataks of Pardo Ridge. Resembling a formidable fortress, the stronghold of Elephant Island has only a few existing entry points allowing access its inner domain.
Cruising Gerlache Strait
The Western Antarctic Peninsula possesses some of the most dramatic scenery in coastal Antarctica. Rugged mountain peaks rise to a height of 9,800 feet (3,000 meters). Jagged rock nunataks protrude upward through an endless rolling sea of glaciers, set against a backdrop of numerous islands, protected bays and narrow channels.
Half Moon Island
Half Moon Island is a small, mile-and-a-half (2.4 km)-long, crescent-shaped island located in the South Shetland Island chain. It was named by 19th-century sealers because of its unmistakable half-moon shape.
Hannah Point, Livingston Island
Hannah Point, named after the British sealing vessel Hannah that wrecked here in 1820, is an ice-free rocky peninsula on the southern coast of Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. It teems with life, displaying a wide variety of Antarctic wildlife. Chinstrap and gentoo penguins nest here and the rare macaroni penguin may occasionally be found as well. Giant southern petrels, blue-eyed shags, Antarctic terns and kelp gulls can be spotted nesting throughout the area. A large diversity of sea mammals may also be found here. Depending on the time of year, Antarctic fur, Weddell and leopard seals may be seen, while huge molting elephant seals lounge on the beach.
Hope Bay marks the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was discovered by Otto Nordenskjold and was named to honor the Swedish Antarctic Expedition members Andersson, Duse and Grunden, who were forced to spend a desperate winter there in 1903. Remains of their humble stone hut are still there, beside the brightly colored red buildings of the nearby Argentine Esperanza station. With a school, chapel, post office, infirmary, several family houses and almost two kilometers of gravel roads, Esperanza station resembles a village more than a base. Several children have been born there, comprising amongst the first native-born Antarcticans.
King George Island
King George Island, the largest island in the South Shetlands, is 43 miles (69 km) long and 16 miles (25 km) wide. Its discovery is attributed to British captain William Smith who explored the island in 1819 and named it in honor of King George III.
The Lemaire Channel is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking nautical passages anywhere and has become an iconic photographic image of Antarctica. Seven miles (11 km) long and a mere 700 yards (.6 km) wide at its narrowest point, the Lemaire is framed by the sheer cliffs of Booth Island on one side and towering mountains of the Peninsula on the other. Mount Scott rises to 2,890 feet (881 m), marking its southern periphery, crowning the grandeur of the Channel’s un-scrolling vertical landscape, in which massive glaciers cling to the cliffs on either side as you proceed slowly along the narrow passage.
Neko Harbor is a very small cove indenting the shoreline of Andvord Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula and is most renowned for its proximity to one of the most active calving tidewater glaciers in Antarctica. Massive ice walls, deep-blue crevasses and rugged ice caves surround the harbor. The constant crackling of sea ice is interrupted only by the booming, rumbling and distant thunder of icebergs tumbling into the sea.
The Neumayer Channel is a true jewel among the scenic passages of Antarctica stretching for 16 miles (26 km) through the islands of the Palmer Archipelago. Glacier-covered mountains, glistening under the bright Antarctic skies, rise to great heights over the dark waters of the passage. Strewn with brash ice and larger icebergs, the Neumayer is merely one mile (1.5 km) in width. Its curves create the illusion of impassability, resembling an enchanting labyrinth of icebergs and icy cliffs. Whales occasionally traverse this icy realm, where a variety of seals and penguins are frequent visitors atop its floating ice.
Paradise Harbor is located on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula behind Bryde and Lemaire Islands. It was first named by 19th-century whalers for its serenity and its majestic scenery and became renowned during the early 1900’s for calm waters that provided ships a refuge from blistering winds and rough seas.
Paulet Island is a circular volcanic island in the Weddell Sea, topped by a cinder cone with a small summit crater. It was discovered by British captain James Clark Ross on his expedition of 1839-43 and was named for Royal Navy captain Lord George Paulet.
Pendulum Cove, Deception Island
Deception Island is one of the most unusual islands in the South Shetlands chain. A semi-dormant volcano with a flooded caldera, it has captured the imagination of sailors and explorers alike since its discovery. The calm inner harbor has provided a safe haven for numerous whaling, sealing and exploration vessels. Pendulum Cove was named after British captain Henry Foster made scientific pendulum and magnetic observations there in 1829. Its gently sloping beach is composed entirely of coarse volcanic ash, black sand, and cinders of various sizes, colored in shades of black and red.
Several miles south of the Lemaire Channel lies mile-long (1.6 km) Petermann Island. Set against a background of the impressive mountains of the peninsula, Petermann is often surrounded by massive icebergs grounded in its shallow coves. Known as an ‘iceberg graveyard’, this phenomenon creates a display of unimaginable icy beauty and attracts a variety of sea mammals including leopard and crabeater seals, and humpback whales.
There is no better place to experience the true wonder and beauty of sculpted ice than the shallow shoreline of Pleneau Island. Deposited by wind and tide, huge and bizarrely sculpted icebergs lie grounded in the shallows. Affectionately known as ‘Iceberg Alley’, the large concentration of icebergs stranded along the eastern shore of Pleneau Island must be seen to be believed. A frozen labyrinth of amazing shapes and colors: free-standing pinnacles, arches, Caribbean-blue lagoons and sculptural ice-castles greet the eye. Those with an artistic imagination can perceive animals and faces shaped in the ice by the forces of erosion, warmth and waves. At closer range, they metamorphose into massive murals of delicate designs: blue veins, crystalline icicles and scalloped waterfalls. In addition to ice, Pleneau hosts a number of gentoo penguin colonies, which attract leopard seals to hunt just offshore. Whales may also be seen navigating through the ice.
Point Wild, Elephant Island
The infamous historical outpost of Point Wild is on the northern coast of Elephant Island. The rocky outcrop, set against a vertical cliff and only a yard above high tide, is densely occupied by a colony of chinstrap penguins. It was here, in one of the most inhospitable locations for human habitation on earth, that 22 men of the Shackleton Endurance Expedition were marooned for some four-and-a-half long months awaiting rescue. Shackleton himself had undertaken one of the most epic open-boat journeys in history, travelling 828 miles (1,333 km) to the closest civilization on South Georgia Island. Surviving on rations of penguin meat and sleeping under the overturned hulls of their two wooden boats, the men anxiously awaited Shackleton’s unlikely return. On August 30th, 1916, he finally returned with assistance to rescue his companions.
Port Charcot, Booth Island
Located on the back steps of the Lemaire Channel, the small sheltered bay of Port Charcot hides along the western side of Booth Island. This is a place of rather quiet, subtle beauty, its gently curving shorelines and shallow waters are often crowded with brash ice and accentuated by massive grounded icebergs.
South Shetland Islands
The South Shetland Islands are a remote chain of isolated volcanic islands separated from the Antarctic Peninsula by 75-mile (120 km)-wide Bransfield Strait. They are one of the true highlights of a visit to Antarctica, their diversity of wildlife and dramatic mountain scenery make them a ‘must-see’ destination on a voyage to Antarctica.
For centuries Ushuaia’s harsh climate was deemed too forbidding for the establishment of a European settlement, thereby leaving the land to its native inhabitants, the Yahgan people.
The Ukrainian research station of Vernadsky, is situated in the Argentine Islands, a labyrinth of small picturesque rocky islets and often ice-choked channels. It began its existence in 1934 as the small wooden hut ‘Wordie House’. Now preserved as a museum, Wordie House was built on Winter Island as part of the British Graham Land Expedition of 1934-37.
The true scale of the Antarctic landscape becomes apparent at Waterboat Point. Located on a small rocky point of land, the Chilean station of Gonzales Videla is named after the first head of state to visit Antarctica, Chilean President Gabriel Gonzales Videla. Surrounded by thousands of nesting gentoo penguins, it sits perched beneath one of the most impressive glacial landscapes on earth.
Scenic Cruising, Weddell Sea
The birth place of massive tabular icebergs, the less-visited Weddell Sea is some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) wide. It stretches eastward from the Antarctic Peninsula to the fringes of Queen Maud Land. Bounded by gigantic floating ice shelves, some larger than many U.S. states, the Weddell Sea is truly one of the grandest and most isolated areas on earth. Gargantuan tabular icebergs, sometimes many miles in length and towering vertically hundreds of feet above the sea, break from the ice shelves to become massive, moving ice islands.
Whalers Bay, Deception Island
Ever since its discovery in the early 19th century, the flooded volcano of Deception Island has earned a reputation as one of the safest harbors in Antarctic waters. Surrounded by high lava cliffs and ridges of volcanic ash, the main anchorage of Whalers Bay is only accessible through a small cleft in the caldera cliffs known as Neptune’s Bellows.
Located in the South Shetland Islands, Yankee Harbur is home to some 2,000 pairs of nesting gentoo penguins, easily identified by the long, stiff tail feathers that stick out behind as they walk. They are also often viewed from the water as they swim. Depending on the time of year, the site also attracts a variety of abundant sea mammals. Antarctic fur, Weddell and leopard seals may be seen cruising offshore, while huge molting elephant seals lounge on the beach. Overhead, predatory brown skuas and giant petrels patrol the rookery for unguarded penguin chicks.