Sunday, August 9, 2020

Antarctica - January 2008

I need to apologise in advance - this post features a lot of photos.


This little excursion had it's genesis in a traffic jam on the Pacific Highway at Coffs Harbour around 12 months earlier. Sitting in the summer holiday traffic going nowhere I was getting pretty jacked off with the  seething mass of sweaty humanity that is the east coast of Australia during the summer school holidays. As we slowly inched the Troopie south past the fast food vendors and used car lots on the outskirts of Coffs I had an epiphany...yes, next year we were going to get as far away from the summer school holiday crowds as possible. 

Arriving at Wollongong the next piece of the puzzle was solved when we checked into the Quest and I picked up a copy of their corporate mag to flick through while I watched the cricket on TV. Somewhat serendipitously the magazine featured a spread about Antarctica in it (I'm not quite sure why, as there aren't too many Quest Hotels down there?). Fuck it, I thought (I'm nothing if not eloquent!), we should go to Antarctica next summer. After managing to make it home Sam and I caught up with our long suffering and slightly startled travel agent, Ali (I don't think Antarctica and Patagonia were high rotation destinations for most punters in Frankston back in the day). To Ali's credit she took us seriously and after throwing around a few options we settled on a cruise out of Ushuaia at the very bottom of Argentina, in the Tierra del Fuego region. To ramp up the logistical degree of difficulty a bit we even decided on a whistle stop tour to the El Calafate region of Patagonia on the way.

Leaving El Calafate and heading for Ushuaia.

Ushuaia airport with the mountains of Tierra del Fuego in the distance.

We spent a night in a hotel on the side of the mountain above Ushuaia.

Looking down towards the Beagle Channel from our hotel.
Ushuaia is a bustling little city with lots to see and do.

I've loosely covered Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego before on my blog and I've even featured a few of the destinations in Antarctica where we went ashore. What I haven't done though was feature the cruising bit of the trip on the blog, and on any trip to Antarctica the cruising component of it is going to make up a large part of the holiday. So anyway, after making our way down most of the length of Argentina, from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Sam and I found ourselves lugging our bags out onto the windswept wharf in Patagonia and boarding what would be our floating home for the next couple of weeks.
Our hotel was the one on the left on the mountain behind the city.

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego.

Things were pretty low key back in the day getting onto the ship at Ushuaia - after flashing our ticket at a bored looking security guard, we wandered up the jetty with our bags before climbing the gang plank onto the ship.

After spending a night and the next day in port we sailed out into the Beagle Channel after dinner on day two, out departure from Ushuaia delayed for a few hours as strong winds had kept us pinned to the wharf. Waking the next day we were well into the Drake Passage, a wild 1000 kilometre stretch of ocean between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula that is sometimes known by mariners as the Drake Shake. Apart from it's reputation as a rough crossing the Drake Passage is also provides for the quickest way to get to Antarctica from the rest of the rest of the world, heading down from Australia or New Zealand will mean a lot more time getting acquainted with the Southern Ocean. The weather gods smiled on us on our two day voyage south on this trip though as we had fairly benign conditions to deal with thankfully.

The Drake Passage

We were extremely lucky with the weather on our crossing of the Drake Passage.

The ship was fairly old however it was still comfortable enough, we had our own ensuite as well as a porthole.

Lunch was enjoyed in this informal area, breakfast and dinner were in a formal dining room.

After two days crossing the the Drake Passage where the ship was pitching around a bit we awoke on the third day to an unusual stillness, looking out our porthole the sight of icebergs floating by confirmed that we had arrived into the relatively sheltered waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. Our days now were spent making our way up and down the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, either scenic cruising or stopping to visit remote outposts and scientific stations.

Now this is something we don't see out the window every day!

This post is a bit of a photo dump from here on.

It never really got dark for the two weeks we were down in Antarctica.

Most of our evenings were spent gazing out the windows in the library - it wasn't a Fairstar the Funship type of cruise!

Sam and I got pretty lucky with the weather on this cruise, while it wasn't exactly sunshine and blue skies every day we mostly had fairly calm conditions. The wind and swell only really picking up for one day and that was on our return crossing of the Drake Passage as we headed for Ushuaia at the end of our cruise. While we were down in Antarctica we only had one day of really average weather when it snowed a bit, although really you wouldn't want to visit Antarctica without some snow falling I'm thinking. Apart from the one day of snow the rest of our visit was either under dry but overcast skies or blue sky and sunshine. The really good news was that we had fairly good visibility for the whole cruise, we were never really stuck in any fog which meant that with basically 24 hours of daylight we pretty well had a scenic view whenever we cared to glance outside.

So long as we were out of the wind the conditions were pretty reasonable out on the deck.

If we are ever lucky enough to go back down to Antarctica again I'll take a decent camera with some good telephoto capabilities. 

Now I'm not going to try and go through the cruise blow by blow because basically I can't remember all the details, this was well before I really even knew what a blog was so I wasn't really thinking that one day I'd be sticking it up on-line. So having said that then this post is a bit of a self indulgent photo dump really, but gee these photos hold some great memories for Sam and I. To everybody else well I hope you can find some enjoyment out of them.

We only really had one day of bad weather on the whole trip.

Still it wouldn't be a trip to Antarctica without some snow I don't think.

We occasionally went for short excursions on the zodiacs.


Gentoo Penguins

It was very easy to spot whales down here - Sea Shepherd were down here harassing the Japanese Whalers at the same time as us.

The Dirt.
The cost of cruising to Antarctica can be fairly daunting, the only way Sam and I could afford it back then was to head across from Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina. Apart from it being relatively affordable heading across from there also allowed us to visit Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, not to mention Buenos Aires. We are hoping that one day our budget might stretch to the longer crossing from Australia or New Zealand although time will tell how that goes I suppose. For any people with time on their side who are looking for cheaper options to reach Antarctica then when we visited Ushuaia there was a business selling last minute type fares, obviously you'd have to flexible, however it could be an option as hanging out in Ushuaia for awhile over summer wouldn't be the worst thing in the world - better than traffic in Coffs Harbour anyway! Apart from all the onboard lectures from everyone from Glaciologists, Historians and Naturalists I also used Lonely Planet's Antarctica Guide (I kid you not) as well as a book by Peter Carey and Craig Franklin called Antarctica Cruising Guide.  

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