Our Journey to Antartica aboard the National Geographic Explorer – Day 3
We awoke on this day knowing that the infamous Drake Passage was behind us. Thank god! It felt quite a relief to be smooth sailing on a pleasant, calm water again.
After breakfast, we crossed the 60th parallel south, the geopolitcal demarcation of Antarctica. We finally arrived and were happy to see some land ahead! We were looking forward to make our first landfall later in the afternoon.
During this morning, we enjoyed an educational talk about ice research and climate change from guest speaker Ken Taylor, the chief scientist for Antarctic Project from Desert Research Institute.
Our expedition leader also gave us pre-landing briefing that included biodiveristy security and rules that tourists should abide by to maintain Antartica’s pristine environment.
We also went through decontamination of all our used gears that we were taking with us during landing – boots, outerwears, trekking poles, backpack, monopods, etc. This process is important to prevent transporting foreign species into Antarctic lands and water.
By midday, we approached Deception Island, a volcanic island in the South Shetland archipelago that is shaped like a donut with a small bite. That bite serves as a narrow passage into a flooded caldera that forms a bay. The island was called such because early seafarers just sailed pass the passage, called Nepture Bellow, not knowing that there was a bay within.
The original plan was to make our first landing in Bailey’s Head, an area on the outisde of Deception Island that is a home to a large colony of Chinstrap penguins. However, it was determined that the waves in the area were rough and was not safe for Zodiac landing. Instead, we slipped through the Neptune Bellow into the caldera which offers protection from any swell.
Such is the nature of the expedition. Our activities and schedules were flexible to take advantage of what nature offered best at a given time.
Once inside the caldera, we felt quite amazed to be in the only place in the world where a vessel can sail into the center of a volcano. We were also surprised to see some buildings on the shore inside the caldera. We learned that it has the longest history of human occupation than any site in Antarctica.
Anchor down! We were thrilled to see the fleet of inflatable boats, the Zodiacs, being lowered into the water one by one. These Zodiacs would transport us from ship to shore.
We were transported ashore in batches. When our turn came, we were excited to hop into the Zodiac for the first time and to finally be ashore in a short moment. We also experienced our first wet landing. (See Travel Notes below for footwear and gears needed for this kind of landing.)
It was exhilarating and surreal to finally be on Antarctic land and to be stepping into our seventh and final continent. It was about 24 F/-4 C, windy and with cloudy sky. It was a true polar experience.
Here’s Keith’s short video of our hike to Neptune Window. See the amazing landscape that surrounded us and hear the sound of the polar wind.
When we reached the ridge of Neptune Window, one of the naturalists gave us the geological history of the island. We were surprised, and a bit scared, to learn that this volcanic island was still active! Its last eruption was in 1969.
Industrial history in the island actually started in the early 1800’s, when it became the focal point of the fur sealing industry in the South Shetland archipelago.
Remains of British research stations that were launched at the end of WWII. Britain claimed the area as part of the British Empire. At the same time, Argentina and Chile claimed it as their territory as well.
The building is remain of an aircraft hangar used by British in the 1960’s. It was interesting to learn that Deception Island also has a long history of aviation. It was here where the British aviators took off with a single engine Lockheed in 1928, the first plane to have flown in Antarctica.
Back on board in the evening, we enjoyed the Captain’s cocktail and dinner party. Our captain par excellence, Leif Skog, has been navigating vessels in Antarctica since 1979 and was the architect of the emergency contingency plan for all vessels navigating in Antarctica. We were grateful to have him as our captain. (The least we could all do to show him our appreciation for his excellent and safe navigation was a standing ovation at the end of the expedition.)
It was a great start to our adventure in the Antarctic Peninsula. And it even got better from here. The following day brought us brighter skies, tons of nesting penguins and beautiful ice patterns. We’re excited to share them with you in our next post.
We received a lot of questions about the expedition, especially from those planning to take this trip in the future, and we try to answer them as we go through each post.
- During the day, the temperature averaged in the mid-20’s F/-4C.
- We wore four layers on top: a mid-weight thermal base layer, a fleece or techwick sweater, and the excellent double layer expedition parka supplied to us by National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions (for us to take home).
- We wore two layers on the bottom: an expedition-weight thermal long pants and waterproof/windproof (Gortex) outer shell pants. At times, we wore three layers: a medium-weight thermal, a trouser, and the outer shell.
- For head protection, we wore a combo balaclava that provides cover for the head, face and neck.
- We wore waterproof mittens and a thin gloves to under the mittens (to keep hands warm when we took off mittens for photography).
- Most of our trip ashore required wet landing and, thus, it was important that our footwear were fully waterproof knee-high boots. It is also important that the boots have good traction for hiking on ice and tough terrain. We wore Arctic Sports Muck Boots and they were perfect.
- DSLR camera, a wide angle lens (24-105 mm) and a zoom lens (70-200 with 1.5X extender), a monopod, and a waterproof compact camera for both photos and videos.
- Waterproof bag/backpack to carry the photography gears. This is important to protect the gears during wet landing.
- Trekking poles (Unless you’re attached to your very own poles, you don’t have to bring; they have them on the ship). Your monopod can also double as walking stick.
Note: If you live in a warm place and have no use for the cold gears after the expedition, you can rent instead of purchasing them. Renting them is also a good idea if you want to pack lighter. National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions use From Ship to Shore for gear rentals. The rented gears will be waiting for you on the ship upon embarkation.