I spent a little time yesterday looking in detail at where, exactly, in Antarctica we’ll be going. I looked at the itinerary and did a little Googling about each of the places we’ll visit. Then this morning I got out the Antarctic Explorer map that our editorial assistant at the magazine, Barb Fries, got me for Christmas and tried to plot our path. I’ve got it all figured out! So much so that I’m sure the captain won’t mind letting me steer the ship.
We really don’t go deep into Antarctica—we spend all of our time around the Antarctic Peninsula, a tendril-like slice of land and islands that extends about 800 miles north from the continent. Most of our stops are on islands; only once, I think, do we actually set foot on the mainland.
Below is a section of my Antarctic Explorer map that zooms in on our first few stops (I’ve underlined them in red):
At Port Lockroy, our first stop, we should be able to see the skeleton of a blue whale, as well as Gentoo penguins and blue-eyed shags (the latter being a bird I took for granted on my last trip, but do a Google Images search and you’ll see just how beautiful they are). I think this is also where we can send postcards from the “Penguin Post Office,” which is so famous that people review it on TripAdvisor.
The next day we travel south(-ish) to Petermann Island, where we should see Gentoo penguins and possibly Adelie penguins as well. Then we cruise back north through the famed Lemaire Channel, which is very icy and, as you can see from the map, very narrow (about a mile wide at its narrowest point). No cruise-ship captain in his or her right mind would choose that route, except for the fact that the scenery is gorgeous. Everyone will be out on deck for that part, I’m sure.
The day after that, we visit Neko Harbor, where we’ll actually be walking on the Antarctic continent. Here we’ll see more Gentoo penguins and more panoramic views. Then to Paradise Harbour—more stunning scenery.
On our final day, we head to the South Shetland Islands, which are just north of the Antarctic Peninsula, and make two stops: one at Deception Island and one at Half Moon Island. Here’s the section of my new map that shows that:
Deception Island is actually the top of a submerged volcano, and you enter through a narrow opening called Neptune’s Bellows.
One attraction here is the relatively warm waters, heated by the still-active volcano. When I visited in 2002, a number of passengers actually stripped down to their swimsuits and spent a little time in the water, as you see in the photo at right. I’m not sure whether that’s still done or not; I didn’t see any mention of it in the info sent by the travel company. I can assure you that even if some people do go for a swim, I won’t be among them! (Hey, someone has to stay on shore and take photos.)
The other thing about Deception Island is that it was once the site of a huge whale-blubber processing plant. As one website put it, visitors are “faced with grim reminders of this place’s grisly past. Whale bones partly buried in the black volcanic sands and the rusting remains of huge boilers and oil storage tanks give some indication of the immense scale of the whaling operations that once took place here.”
Our final stop before heading back north across the Drake Passage is Half Moon Island, where we’ll get our last chance to hang out with penguins (including chinstrap penguins, which are very cute) and also visit the biologists working at the Argentine Antarctic Institute. There might be elephant seals there, but I think we might be there at the wrong time of the year for them.
So, two days on the Drake Passage headed south, four days along the Antarctic Peninsula, and two days on the Drake Passage headed north. I’m so pumped, I could jump on that plane tomorrow.