Monday, February 8, 2010

Antarctica 2010 - Day 14

Today was the beginning of the long trip back to Europe for most of us. Our three Galway girls, Rena Norah and Catherine, had already decided that they needed a few more days to see Buenos Aires…and the shopping bags were proof of that!

We said our goodbyes on the steps of the hotel and made our way to airport. It wasn’t long before we were airborne once again and settling in for the overnight flight back to Paris.

It felt like we had been away for a very long time but in only two weeks we had done and seen a lot. From Dublin to Buenos Aires and a tour of the city, then on to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. Then we caught the first sight of ship the M/V Plancius as she waited in the harbour to take us on our adventure to Antarctica.

Out into the Beagle Channel and on across Drake Passage which was kind to us for our crossing. Escorted by a variety of bird life including Albatross and Petrels we then spotted our first sight of Antarctica. We had arrived. The following days were spent visiting some of the most beautiful locations on this planet and seeing some of Antarctica's wildlife in its natural habitat, a real privilege.

We've walked, camped, kayaked, talked, laughed, danced and even shed tears of joy during our adventure. It has been a very special trip to a very special place. We had a great group of people who added all the more to make the trip so memorable.

There is a saying "it's not the destination but the journey that matters" and in our case I can honestly say the journey was definitely amazing but the destination equally so. Antarctica delivered yet again. It is one of the most special locations on Earth and hopefully will remain so.

We have already planned the reunion which will take place in where else other than The South Pole Inn in Annascaul, Co. Kerry in May of this year. The South Pole Inn was originally owned by Tom Crean, our very own Antarctic Explorer so a very fitting place for our motley crew of Antarctic Explorers to meet up again.

If you are interested in seeing more on the photos and videos of the trip you can sign up for our newsletter which will have details. We will also be running information evenings if you would like to hear more about travelling to Antarctica or our upcoming trip to the Arctic.

We will also be regularly updating the blog with details of other trips, information about the destinations and also logs of other trips we will be doing so a pay a visit now and again.

I've included a selection of some other photos from the trip below.

Thanks for visiting our blog. I hope you enjoyed getting a little taste of what our trip was about. If you have any comments or questions you can contact me directly at

Best wishes and happy travels wherever they may be to,

Tom McManamon - New Horizon Expeditions -

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Antarctica 2010 – Day 13

We get our last alarm call at 7.30am. After breakfast and customs clearance we were allowed to disembark. We were met by our local guide and transferred to their local offices in Ushuaia. Our bags were stored there to allow everyone some free time in Ushuaia before our flight later that afternoon.

Some people opted to take a cable car to the nearby glacier. Others visited the Maritime, Prison & Antarctic Museum located at the east end of town. That’s right Martime, Prison and Antarctic as well as an art gallery! It’s a really interesting museum with areas dedicated to the Maritime history of Ushuaia, the history of the Prison in which the Museum is housed, Antarctic history and also has a gallery as well as some additional wildlife displays.

It’s a quirky kind of place but this adds to its charm and there is plenty to see. You could easily pass two or three hours here.

We headed to the nearby airport at 3pm and it wasn’t long before we were airborne and retracing our route back up to Buenos Aires. We were well and truly back to the hustle and bustle of civilisation! We had a last glance from the air down to the port where Plancius was berthed preparing to set off again into the Beagle Channel that evening to begin another voyage, this time to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

We arrived into a very different Buenos Aires than we had left. Three days of monsoon rains had left the city with rivers of water running through the streets. The approach from the air showed plenty of evidence of flooding with fields full of water and rivers overflowing.

Alexjandra our guide met us at the airport after some traffic delays and soon we were making our way back in the city for our final nights stay. There was time for a quick freshen up before we were off again. A final night out had been arranged to mark the end of our adventure. The Esquina Carlos Gardel was our destination for a dinner and Tango Show. The restaurant/theatre is a beautifully decorated building thta offers good food and wine along with a the show thta celebrates the music of Carlos Gardel, a famous Argentine singer. The show was a mix of song and dance with some amazing displays of Tango dancing and everyone enjoyed themselves.

We also had a little surprise for a couple of our group. Brendan and Olga had let it slip during the trip that this had been part of their honeymoon so we had a champagne toast in their honour to mark the occasion.

We made our way back to the hotel. Some decided that they were not quite finished with Buenos Aires just yet and headed out to some of the local bars for a nightcap or two!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Antarctica 2010 - Day 12

Still on the Drake Passage. Everything started to change again. We were still being visited by many birds including Petrels, Gulls and Albatros. People were out on deck making the most of the remaining time. We were all aware of the little time left and thoughts were now turning to the rest of the journey home.

On board the staff had arranged some more presentations, one about Shackleton’s journeys and another by the expedition leader about Arctic Spitsbergen which is another destination that the Plancius travels to during the northern hemisphere summertime.

Already people are making plans to visit the north. They’ve been bitten by the Polar bug!

We had our final dinner together and the staff had created a trip log for us with day by day details about the trip as well as photos and maps of our adventure. Many of the passengers had submitted some of their photos and Anjali, one of the expedition staff put together a great slide show. I will put a link to the slide show on the blog next week when I get back to Dublin. It really is worth a look.

Later that evening we arrived at the Beagle Channel ahead of schedule and anchored there waiting for the Pilot to board the ship to guide it into port. The sight of mountains with trees and green grass was strange to see and another reminder that our voyage was coming to an end.

We were not due to anchor back at Ushuaia until 7am tomorrow morning. The pilot will board at 12.30 am and then Plancius will make it’s way up the Beagle Channel overnight. In the meantime we will all make the most of our last night on Plancius.

Remember you can track the voyage by clicking here.

Antarctica 2010 – Day 11

It’s our last day in Antarctica! The campers returned at about 6am after a night on the ice. They had a beautiful sunrise to greet them this morning and all were in high spirits after a good night. The ship started sailing about 6.30 once zodiacs were loaded back on board. The morning was sunny and perfect for cruising north again.

The weather for the week could not have been better. This is definitely not normal for voyages down here. You can usually expect at least a couple of bad weather days and often the odd cancelled landing…but not this time…someone was looking out for us.

The plan was to make our way north again to the Melchior Islands which would be our last zodiac and kayak trip for the voyage :-(

We sailed back through the Lemaire Channel again and on through the Neumeyer Channel. The scenery was fantastic and everyone was out on deck to soak it up. It was a quick breakfast and then a return to deck to absorb more of the scenes around us.

We also had a chance to get a few group photos and make an attempt to commit mutiny on the ship by flying the Irish flag…you can take us nowhere!

We arrived at the Melchior Islands at about 2pm and prepared for the zodiac cruise as well as readying the kayaks. There were only 3 single kayaks heading out.

The afternoon was spent cruising through the narrow channels and ice cliffs which ran between the islands. There was also an Adelie Penguin colony located there and plenty of seals around including Weddell and Fur Seals, so lots to see.

We were slow to return to the ship realising that this would be our last trip and the time to make the voyage home was approaching.

Once everyone was onboard everything was tied down in preparation for the voyage back across the Drake. The weather forecast for the next day or so was looking good so it looked like, yet again, fate was in our favour and we would have a calm sail back to Ushuaia.

Dinner was served at about 7pm and we were just about to head out into the Drake again. Suddenly from the starboard side there was a shout “Whales!”. From the windows we could see a group Humpback Whales about 20 metres from the ship. We were all out of our seats to look. It seemed to be a mother and calf and two others. As we passed they started to dive and displayed their flukes as they went to feed.

We were just back to our seats and then there was another shout, this time from the other side of the ship. More whales, another group of Humpbacks again diving. Within minutes again more whales…it was almost like Antarctica was giving us a final send off.

It was a very happy bunch of people that sailed out into Drake Passage to begin the voyage back to Ushuaia.

Remember you can track the voyage by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Antarctica 2010 – Day 10

Another great day for us. Weather conditions can’t be any better.

The plan today was to visit Petermann Island which was a wintering location for one of the French explorers, Jean-Baptiste Charcot. He spent winter there in 1909 aboard his ship, the Pourquoi Pas. It is also the northern-most Adelie Penguin rookery in Antarctica. Besides Adelies, Gentoo Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags breed there too.

The Kayakers made a trip around the shore visiting some of the ice caves and bergs in the bay. Some really spectacular views to see. There was a little more swell in the sea today which made the kayaking that bit more interesting.

After lunch we were invited to visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Station located at the Argentine Islands. This is our southernmost position on the voyage. The station was formerly British and named Faraday and transferred to Ukrainian ownership in 1996. Its real claim to fame is that it was here that the Ozone hole above Antarctica was discovered.

It is also unique for another unusual reason. The station has its very own bar, specially built by the station carpenter when in British possession. It’s a typically British style bar but instead of beer you can now have Vodka, distilled at the station no less! So twelve staff, 6 scientists and 6 supports (electrician, mechanic, doctor etc.) and one distillery…now if that isn’t good prioritising then I don’t know what is!

After a tour around the station by Eugene (because it’s easier than his real name) we sampled some of the local brew and it was good, very good…in fact so good we had to sample more just to be sure.

So with our bellies warmed it was off again to the zodiacs and kayaks for a cruise around the channels and bay along with a visit to Wordie House which was the original British base at the Argentine Islands. It was built around mid 40’s and has been kept exactly as it was. This is not a museum as such but rather just a hut that you can visit. Everything had been left as it was even down to boxes of stores still in storage including cans of coffee, pemmican, Bovril, dried onions and egg powder…yummy! Back to the boats again…

Then Antarctica delivered her greatest gift so far…a group of Humpback Whales. Three whales, two adults and a calf were spotted in the bay and provided a spectacular display of fin slapping and fluking displaying their massive fluke as they dived to feed. This was all happening within feet of the boats so needless to say it was an excited group of explorers that got back to ship.

As we boarded we were met by the crew who handed out rum which we had received from a Brazilian yacht anchored nearby the night before. A perfect end to an even more perfect day…although it wasn’t over for some. After dinner a second group headed out to camp for the night on the Argentine Islands.

Camp was set on a hill with a 360 degree view overlooking the channel and bay. Every one busied themselves pitching tents in case of stormy weather but the plan was to sleep out which we all did. There’s always time for a bit more fun and it wasn’t long before the inner child had us speeding down the hillside on plastic bags. As the light faded, one by one we started to get ready for sleep.

Spending a night in the open wrapped up in sleeping bags and a bivouac is a very special experience. Watching the light change on the mountains and icebergs as day moves to night and listening to the sounds of Antarctic is food for the soul. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world that can compare.

All around you could here the sounds of nature, nearby birds calling, the constant hushed sound of glacial melt water running into the bay and now and then the crack and thunder of a glacier calving or the sound of a whale blow. Pure, pure magic.

Remember you can track the voyage by clicking here.

Antarctica 2010 – Day 9

Antarctica just will not stop surprising us.

We get a call at 6.30am announcing that we have reached the Lemaire Channel and conditions are perfect with mirror like waters, blue skies and sunshine.

Walking out onto deck we were greeted with the most amazing scenery yet. As we sailed through the channel we were surrounded on each side by huge mountain which then narrowed at the end of the channel. The peaks at the end formed what looked like some mythical gateway.

Passing through this natural gateway we then arrived at an iceberg strewn bay with bergs of all shapes and sizes stretching out all around as far as the eye could see.

Everyone was now on deck with cameras clicking trying to capture the beauty and sheer size of our surroundings but it really is impossible to do this place justice with a camera or words. It really does have to be seen to be believed.

The plan for today was a zodiac cruise around Pleneau Island and the bay to get close to the bergs and some of the seals that haul up on the bergs to sunbath.

Close to the ship we spotted a Leopard Seal basking on one the ice floes. Once zodiacs were loaded people started to get a little closer for a look. As we were looking at the seal a single Gentoo penguin, the main diet of Leopard Seals, darted from the water landing on the ice but within a second was back in the water, a bad choice of ice to land on. Funny to observe but at the same time you are reminded of how tough life is down here. It’s a constant struggle for survival every day.

The kayakers had set out at the same time and headed across the bay visiting some of the shallower channels not accessible by zodiac. They got to cruise one channel with gigantic ice cliffs on one side dwarfing the kayaks as they passed. It’s these times when you really feel how enormous Antarctica is.

Both groups also got to see some young Elephant seals basking on the rocks after feeding. It’s unusual for this area but sometimes they do wander great distances from their normal breeding and feeding areas so this was a extra treat for us.

The rest of the time was just spent cruising around the icebergs in their many shapes and sizes. The wind and water can act as sculptures down here shaping and changing the bergs. Beautiful forms, colours, ice arches, glaciers and caves surround the whole area. It’s hard to try taking it all in.

Back on board everyone is swapping their experiences and browsing photos before heading for lunch and preparing for the next outing.

This time it’s off to Port Charcot and Booth Island to see more Elephant seals and penguin colonies and cruise some more of the icebergs in the area. The bay is so large and there is so much to see.

Tonight was the night when the first group went ashore to camp. There was a group of 15 and they headed off about 8.30 Pleneau Island. The first job was to get the tents set up in a good location and then prepare the sleeping equipment including sleeping bags and bivouac bags. Using this equipment you can choose to sleep out under the skies instead of the tents. The tents are there for additional shelter if a storm comes in. There are also emergency provisions available in the event that the campers cannot be retrieved the following morning. This is Antarctica and things can change very quickly so every event has to be planned for.

The weather was in their favour, not too cold, no wind and very light sporadic snowfall. Once all was setup the zodiacs returned to ship leaving the group to enjoy one of the most amazing sunsets. They were in for a real treat tonight camping in Antarctica.

Remember you can track the voyage by clicking here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Antarctica 2010 – Day 8

Today we visit Dorian Bay and Port Lockroy which are located in the Neumayer Channel. We arrived this morning to a more overcast and colder day although still very calm. This gives the location a more eerie and mysterious feel. Antarctica showing another side of itself.

The plan today is for zodiacs to visit Dorian Bay which is a small natural harbour. It is a large area dotted with groups of Gentoo penguins nesting at various locations and gives everyone a good chance to stretch the legs. There is plenty of place to stroll off by yourself and get some personal time with your very own nest site.

The general consensus seems to be that this has been the best zodiac landing yet.

Meanwhile the kayakers were away early heading further out into the Neumayer Channel. The channel itself is very wide with plenty of floating and grounded iceberg scattered around. There is also a lot of brash ice around which is basically smaller pieces of ice which make for some negotiating with the kayaks.

We had a lot of penguins passing us throughout the trip, porpoising through the water on their way back to the nesting grounds after being at sea to feed. It’s a great sight to see.

Making our way out further into the channel we started to hear the sound of whales blowing and in the distance spotted a group of Minke whale but they were heading further south away from us.

We continued along the channel for a while taking in the scenery before deciding it was time to head back. Just as we started back a Minke surfaced about 10 metres from us and continued on right by us. It was great end to our kayaking trip.

Back on the ship we had lunch and again were then treated to another group of four Minke whales feeding around the ship.

They stayed at the ship for about an hour so a lot of photo cards got filled up!!

One of the four staff from Port Lockroy came to the ship to tell us more about it so here is a bit of history! Originally it was discovered by French explorer Jean Charcot in 1904, during the French Antarctic Expedition of 1903-05. A base was established in 1944 by an whalers also used the site between 1911-31 and other expeditions visited between 1912-1935. Some time around 1945 it became a base camp for a British expedition team to Grahamland (what the peninsula was called back then). It had various uses through the years but went into disrepair for some time and then the penguins moved in! The British government then decided to invest in renovating the base and it now operates as a museum, post office and shop catering to the different ships that visit.

They have retained all the original fittings and fixtures and even original tins of food etc. so you get a real feel for what it was like to live there then. You can also send cards from here too and plenty were being written today!

So for the afternoon we were off again. Some landed at nearby Jougla Point which has a Gentoo Penguin colony, Blue Eyed Cormorants and some huge whale bones from whaling times. The others went to Port Lockroy and then swapped around later on.

It was back again to the ship and some time to relax before our surprise dinner! At 7pm we got the call to make our way to the dining room, then continue to the rear deck of the ship!. We arrived out on deck to a full blown bbq. Before long we were all tucking into great food with some absolutely beautiful backgrounds of mountains and ice. BBQ in Antarctica…now there’s something you wouldn’t expect.

So it’s party time. Signing off for today.

Remember you can track the voyage by clicking here.