21 December 2018

Setting foot on Antarctica, my seventh continent, at blustery, beautiful Neko Harbour.
Antarctica is a big, bleak continent, larger than Australia or Europe. The Antarctic peninsula is claimed by Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom, but territorial claims have been suspended since the highly successful Antarctic Treaty took effect in 1961.

Not much more than a century ago, humans began to explore Antarctica and some, not all, lived to tell about it. About fifty years ago, tourism began, going almost entirely to the accessible Antarctic peninsula. So far only one cruise ship has hit an iceberg and sunk (2007), and just a few have run aground.

Waves and wind did force our ship to change the itinerary and sometimes cancel landings, but this is not challenge-free cruise.

Happily, we had some exhilarating experiences exploring a place where you do feel like you are on another planet.

Exploring an island in Mikkelson Harbour

In Cierva Cove, we cruised around on zodiacs marveling at the varied icebergs. Some were smooth, others angular; some were quite blue; a few lacked a stable balance point and were rotating around. Like clouds, they suggested assorted images.

This iceberg had a kind of cubist, geometric side.

Extra fun to push through the ice slush.

When the sun shines through the clouds, everything pops into sharp relief on the way to Neko Harbour.

In some places, the snow looks like icing on a cake.
Landing on the continent will indeed be the icing on the cake for this trip.

At last at Neko Harbour we do get to set foot on the mainland of Antarctica. As usual zodiacs shuttle us to shore. (Photo by Pedro.)

Welcome to the frozen continent!

Gentoo penguins are waiting to greet us.

It was really cold and really windy, just as it should be. Standing here was a perfect finale to the great days in the Falklands and South Georgia, then the rough days at sea, followed by the teaser days on islands close to the actual Antarctic peninsula. This photo also seemed ideal for my Christmas card this year.

One of the bluest glaciers we saw.

Back on ship (right) waiting for the last two zodiacs to return and (left) having a celebratory lunch on the deck, as yet unaware that our voyage across Drake Passage would be remarkably smooth.