by David Hein
This truly pristine wilderness is home to peaceful bays dotted with colossal icebergs; deep fjords, massive glaciers and a stunning array of wildlife including penguins, whales, seals, and sea birds. A remote, magical place (and potentially my 7th continent!) – Antarctica had long been on my bucket list.
However to get there I needed to cross the Drake Passage. The “Drake”, an ocean crossing between the southern tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is known for its unpredictable seas.
My partner has always struggled with motion sickness, so she was a little nervous about making the crossing. But we found a way!
I was fortunate enough to discover a fantastic travel option I’d never considered before, and that’s to Fly & Cruise.
We travelled with Antarctica XXI who pioneered this concept, by combining a special BAE-146 Jet designed for short runway landings with a locally based expedition ship.
Our journey started in in Punta Arenas, a charming seaside port located in southern Chile.
Charming seaside port of Punta Arenas
Our Cocktail Reception before dinner
Here we met some of the crew, our fellow travellers and enjoyed an overview of what to expect. This included safety briefings, procedures for the Zodiac boat embarkation, and a satchel with our rubber wellies that would be used for the daily zodiac landings!
That evening we enjoyed a welcome dinner which was a great opportunity to further mingle with our travel buddies; an eclectic mix from around the world of singles, couples, young & old.
The following day we packed our bags early, waited for weather clearance and then headed for the airport.
It was pretty unique to see the airport departure board emblazoned with our destination “Antarctica” ..something you don’t see everyday. I got goose bumps just thinking about it!
The flight from Punta Arenas to King George Island (South Shetland Islands) takes a little less than two hours and is very comfortable – we even had inflight meals.
Our Expedition Ship the Ocean Nova awaits, as we board by Zodiac.
Our Jet landed at the Frei Chilean Base, and after the group assembled we made our way past several scientific bases dotted over the white landscape to the beach on Fildes Bay.
This was our first sight of wildlife with penguins waddling around the shore as we embarked the Zodiac boats which whisked us to the expedition vessel moored in the harbour.
Our ship the Ocean Nova, was originally built in Denmark to sail the ice-choked waters of Greenland, and later ice-strengthened for expedition travel in Antarctica.
With around 60-70 passengers on-board and over 40 expedition staff & crew (including historians, geologists & bird experts) we were well looked after! The ship was very cosy with a fantastic panoramic observation lounge, library, bar and dining room.
Humpback Whale, Gerlache Strait
Panoramic view over Glacier & our ship, the Ocean Nova, Neko Harbour
As we set sail, the following days took us south and included visits to some of the most magnificent spots in the white continent; Port Lockroy, Petermann Island, the Deception Islands, Nikko Harbour and more. The specific ports tend to vary with each trip depending on prevailing conditions – a choice made by the Captain each day.
The great thing about our compact ship, was the ability to navigate tight spaces and narrow channels that large cruise liners just can’t access – and we enjoyed several daily landings in the Zodiac boats.
Hot Chocolate with Tia Maria on our Zodiac!
Amazing Iceberg formations , Gerlache Strait
Our on-board lecturers provided a wealth of information about the history, geology and wildlife. Each morning, after a delicious and hearty breakfast, we received a briefing on the day’s itinerary & local wildlife.
Old UK Research Station, Port Lockroy – get your Passport stamped here!
We’d typically enjoy a morning landing, return for lunch and head back for one or two further landings during the afternoon.
After 7 days of cruising and exploring this pristine wilderness, we headed back to King George Island with time to spare before our flight back to the mainland. This provided an opportunity to visit the Bellingshausen Russian Base which features the only wooden church in Antarctica.
This beautiful structure was built in Russia, pulled apart, shipped, and re assembled on the base!
My Antarctic experience was amazing and totally unique – like nowhere I’ve travelled before.
Bellingshausen Russian Orthodox Church
Photo Credit: All Photos by David Hein