Eyeball a Penguin from a kayak in Antarctica

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Iceburgs and Kayaking in AntarcticaOne penguin, one iceberg, one day – that’s all it took to fall for Antarctica. To be honest with you, I wasn’t too sure about Antarctica; it was my husband’s dream. I worried about being cold, bored and sea sick. I was so wrongMother Penguin Feeds Baby

I didn’t get sea sick (OK, queasy for a few hours, but that’s all), was never bored, met fascinating people, learned a book full, and I stayed warm. It didn’t take long for me to get excited. We climbed into the kayaks and that was it.Kayaking in Antarctica

As we paddled through the chunky ice, around mammoth icebergs and past gaggles of penguins on rocky outcroppings, I shuddered with exhilaration. I was in one of the last wild places on earth.

It’s something to do with the wildness of it all. The frozen continent surprised me with a sense of space and remoteness that goes beyond Alaska or the Himalayas. The icebergs look like something out of a dream – raw, colossal, monstrous, majestic and magical.

A human-free zone

The Antarctic is the only continent without permanent human population. It is truly unspoiled; there are no towns, no roads, no electrical lines, billboards, trash or pollution. The white continent is both pristine and serene.

One visit and you’ll never be the same, that’s for sure.

WildlifeSeals in Antarctica

We saw dozens, yes, dozens of albatross on the sail south and we kayaked near orca and humpback whales, seals, sea lions and hundreds of the world’s most curious birds; penguins. Most visitors explore by zodiac.

Penguin in AntarcticaMeet the Penguins up close.

To spend time with these utterly adorable, comical, inquisitive birds is so different than seeing them in a zoo. They will approach you and you really can look them in the eyes. We visited at “chick” time and watched mothers ing and protecting them. We quietly paddled (no motor noise) up to rocky outcrops where they lived and watched them waddle, and frolic. It was a reminder of how magnificent and fragile nature is, and how critical is it we protect it.

Kayak and Camping

We had a different perspective from a kayak. We felt small and vulnerable. Quietly we paddled up close to seals sleeping on an ice sheet, up to whales napping on the surface, and amid playful penguins jumping in the water beside us. We played “bumper car” with some of the smaller ice chunks, then we’d balance ourselves again and paddle away. Weather and wind permitting, we donned dry suits every morning (for ten outings) and paddle through bays and along rock or snow outcropping with rookeries of penguins. Every outing we stopped paddling and talking for five minutes. The silence was so loud; you could hear the mountains move. A distant boom signaled an avalanche or an ice face falling from a ten-story high glacier into the sea.

The twenty-six kayakers ranged in age from 24 to 67 and in experience from beginners to expert. We guides as well as two Zodiaks that hovered — engines off – nearby.

Antarctica KayakingCamping on the ice for a night was another “one-in-a-lifetime” adventure. Quark Expeditions provided the tent, sleeping bag, two mats, a privy, and experienced supervision. Just as we were ready to call it a night, we unzipped the tent door for one last peek outside, and we were greeted by a curious penguin nodding his head a few feet from us. I’ll admit, we stayed warm, but the ice was so uneven and hard, we had a rough night.

 

The “rite of passage” across the notorious Drakes Passage

The Drake crossing takes two days each way and has some of the roughest waters in the world. This 500-mile stretch of wild water between Cape Horn, southernmost tip of South America and the northern most tip of Antarctica can be either calm – Drakes Lake – or ferocious – Drakes Shake. Few are lucky enough to have it calm both ways. Luckily my husband isn’t prone to sea sickness and the medicine offered by the ship doctor worked well for me. We had calm seas on the trip down, and wild, exciting seas on the return. When it gets rough, you bounce off the walls of the hallway or slide off your bed. It’s just part of the experience.

Every day I felt like I was living in a wildlife documentary. Every evening I told my husband, “it can’t get any better than today,” and then the very next day it was even more extraordinary. The profound journey surpassed all my expectations and all superlatives for description.

How?Quark Expeditions Antarctica

We selected a well-known leader in the Polar explorations, Quark Expeditions who have thirty years of experience. Their ships are relatively are small and they focus on wildlife, adventure (kayaking and camping), expeditions, on board education, and flexibility. We learned the importance of a ship with multiple cranes to off load –quickly — enough Zodiaks for everyone. That means we did not have to wait aboard, as is the custom on some ships, for frequent Zodiak landings –weather permitting—and more on-water excursions (twice daily). Quark Expeditions gets a five star rating from us!

Click here for Part Two.   Adrenaline Moments in a journey to the bottom of the world

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Category: Luxury, Antarctica, Cruises, ANTARCTICA, Adventure, Cruising, Travel

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