It’s 10 years since I embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica, a three-week journey to the southernmost end of the world.
I signed up for a cruise, known as the Shackleton Odyssey, with adventure travel company Aurora Expeditions. An epic trip covering more than six thousand kilometres, retracing the route taken by famous expeditioner Ernest Shackleton and his heroic journey of survival.
The trip encompassed the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands and was quite simply, out of this world. Not just the incredible landscape with the most amazing icebergs shaped by harsh natural elements over many thousands of years. But the panoply of wildlife: whales, seals, albatross, birdlife and penguins galore. Some places we visited had penguin colonies of as many as 100,000 breeding pairs.
What made the trip so memorable was the access we had. The ship was only relatively small with 54 passengers on board. That meant our schedule was flexible and we were pretty agile – some days we got off the ship and into the zodiacs multiple times either for a shore landing or to cruise up close to a glacier, iceberg or penguin colony. That freedom is much harder to achieve if you’re on a boat with two thousand other travellers.
A decade on, the memories are still incredibly vivid. The trip was the first time I’d taken a camera that wasn’t a happy-snapper and I loved the photos I brought home. Here are some of my favourites:
A stunning iceberg, shaped by thousands of years of harsh weather, near the Orcadas base, an Argentine scientific station in the South Orkney Islands in Antarctica.
As we cruised around in the zodiacs we disturbed this sleepy seal having a lazy afternoon nap on an iceberg.
The black sand beach at Whalers Bay on Deception Island, a circular shaped island with a narrow harbour entrance. In the early 20th century there was an active whaling station at Deception Island, considered the safest harbour in Antarctica. There are now Argentine and Spanish scientific research bases there.
Three wise penguins, part of the massive penguin colony at Gold Harbour on South Georgia Island. You could walk through the penguins without any problem but it’s best to steer clear of the enormous elephant seals.
A fur seal feeding her pup. You could get pretty close to the fur seals who barked and flapped their fins sometimes quite aggressively. The golden rule was NOT to run if they charged you, much easier said than done!
A newly born king penguin chick nestled between its parent’s feet, protected by the furry abdominal pouch called the brood patch. There are huge king penguin breeding colonies in Antarctica – at Salisbury Plain in South Georgia there are an estimated 100,000 breeding pairs.
An albatross and her chick on Prion Island, a breeding area for the wandering albatross. We also saw the sooty albatross on our visit here, where we huddled on the ground in freezing cold temperatures quietly watching these incredible birds in their natural habitat.
The first few days of our trip to Antarctica were cloudy, overcast and snowing. Everything looked grey and very bleak. When the clouds lifted to reveal blue sky and sunshine, the transformation was spectacular. Here we’re cruising around in the zodiacs.
If you told me I’d be hiking difficult rocky, muddy and hilly terrain in my $20 rubber gumboots I’d have never believed you. This was a six-kilometre hike from Sandebugten to Godthul on South Georgia island. It was not a walk for the faint-hearted and many of us fell deep into hidden mud pools along the way.
We saw lots of different types of penguins on our trip to Antarctica and South Georgia – this is a chinstrap scratching or cleaning its flipper.
The funny looking rockhopper penguins were the star of the show on Bleaker Island in the Falkland Islands.
Arriving at Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. Back to ‘civilisation’ after several weeks at sea.