Our blogger Madlen dared to travel into the blue ice. In her travel report she shares her adventurous experiences in the vastness of Antarctica, the southernmost point on earth.
Huge icebergs are piling up in front of our bow. Erosion by wind and water forms enchanting sculptures, almost as if made by human hands. Everyone on board is enchanted as we enter the Antarctic Sound, a strait at the northeast end of the Antarctic Peninsula, through the swirling snowflakes. In the distance I can hear the creaking of calving glaciers, from which chunks of ice break off and fall into the sea. Before my eyes, the vague idea I had of Antarctica takes on a real shape.
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Travelogue Antarctica: Explore Brown Bluff in the whirlpool
It’s Day 6 as we set foot on Antarctic mainland for the first time on our 12-day cruise aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Midnatsol through the Chilean fjords to Antarctica. In front of us is the steep brown-yellow wall of the 745 m high, extinct volcano Brown Bluff on the east coast of the Tabarin Peninsula. After breakfast we will go to this point in small tender boats. As soon as we walk along the paths marked with flags, Gentoo penguins cross our path. “Attention, penguin highway!” someone from the expedition team calls out to us. About 500 breeding pairs are said to live here. They clumsily wobble up and down the slope and often fall on their noses.
From the landfall I take the path to the right, which ends directly at a colony of Adelie penguins with about 20,000 breeding pairs. They are busy building their nests here in the whirlpool. From November to the end of February, penguins visit the Antarctic land masses to breed, before the hard-working waterfowl disappear back into the ocean waters, where they sometimes swim up to 200 kilometers a day.
Travelogue Antarctica: Anchoring in the volcanic cone of Deception Island
Overnight we return to the South Shetland Islands via the Bransfield Strait. Around 7 a.m. everyone is crowded in the bow area of outer deck 6. Nobody wants to miss the entrance through the 400 meter wide strait “Neptune’s Bellows” into the ring-shaped remains of the crater basin of Deception Island. Some ships have already collided en route to the flooded inner crater lake of Port Foster due to the narrowness.
Deception Island is a volcanic cone that erupted 10,000 years ago and is now surrounded by many small, snow-capped volcanoes. Fine columns of steam rise from the cold water and indicate volcanic activity. Some research stations and the remains of an abandoned whaling station lie on the shore. It even has a small hangar for airplanes.
At our anchorage, Telefon Bay, dark volcanic rock peeps out of the snow remnants. The bright blue of the icebergs and ice floes is accompanied by the contrasting black and white landscape. We have one and a half hours to walk around the crater of a small side volcano. It goes up and down. You realize that Antarctica is the highest continent on earth. The ice layers are on average at 2,400 meters. There are even mountains like the Vinson massif, which is almost 4,900 meters high.
Travel report Antarctica: the melody of the humpback whales
Hunting humpback whales appear in front of our bow as we sail to our next stop. Silence descends on the deck, broken by an enthusiastic murmur at each appearance of the impressive fluke. Known for their melodious songs during the mating season, the mammals move silently and elegantly through the ocean. Back in the cabin, I watch the whales dance in the light of the setting sun for a few more minutes. The view alone from my outside cabin on deck 4 is priceless.
Travel report Orne Harbor – not every landing in the Antarctic is easy
We cross Bransfieldstrasse again and enter the picturesque Gerlache Strasse; sounds like a city map, but it is wind and wave-swept sea. This passage separates the bay-rich western side of the Antarctic Peninsula from the islands of the Palmer Archipelago. Many names in Antarctica can be traced back to Belgian adventurers and explorers, such as the naval officer de Gerlache, who sailed here on the Belgica at the end of the 19th century.
Snow peaks pass my window. When we reach Orne Harbour, an icy wind hits me on the outer deck. Today we are allowed to drive out a little earlier with the expedition team to witness the preparations for the other landings. But the strong wind and the swell make our plan fail by a hair’s breadth. What is otherwise very easy to do is now a difficult thing: getting in and out of the tender boats.
Travelogue Antarctica: surrounded by ice floes
The drive to the shore is like a meandering run. Floes of ice drift towards us and surround us. I remember the words of the polar expert Arved Fuchs, who accompanied our trip and who has already been on the trail of Shackleton in the Southern Ocean several times with his sailboat. If you drive into the ice, you have started a game of chess. It is always to be hoped that one is a good chess player who wins against nature, which pushes the floes back and forth. As a poor planner, you would quickly have lost in this rough landscape in the innocent white dress.
Travel report Antarctica: the gentoo penguins up close
In the distance, a fine, jagged line emerges on the snow-covered slope. Orange cones mark the path, which we follow strictly a short time later. Any step off could mean sinking into the deep snow and creating holes – deadly stumbling blocks for the penguins. From the top, the view opens over the Errera Canal, the Gerlache Strait and the Anvers and Brabant Islands. A small gentoo penguin colony breeds on the hill. The flightless birds waddle and hop up and down the slopes. Skuas, skuas, lurk in the area for the moment to steal eggs.
Travelogue Antarctica: Pink light shows in the Neumayer Channel
In the evening, the captain steers the ship through the Gerlache Strait and then into the picturesque Neumayer Canal, where we reach the southernmost point of our voyage at latitude 64.47. Snow-capped glaciers encircle the waterway as we glide past icebergs and ice floes. Everything seems pure and pure in the rough and rugged surroundings. And as if that wasn’t enough, from 11 p.m. on the day-bright, Antarctic summer night, a pink shimmer covers the radiant, light-blue ice and gently plays around the glacier peaks. This light transports us into another world that almost seems a bit kitschy.
Travel report Antarctica: The ice landscape of Cuverville Island
The last day in Antarctica has arrived. As our expedition leader Tessa said at the beginning, you can never plan an Antarctic voyage. Surprises can await you every day and we are experiencing one of them now. Instead of anchoring off the announced Danco Island, in the morning we look at the rocky Cuverville Island, which lies on the north rim of the Errera Channel. She will be our last stop on the Antarctic Peninsula. There was still too much ice in front of Danco, so the captain decided against landing there. In fact, you can watch the chess game of the ice floes in the Errera Canal. In a small boat you quickly become nature’s plaything. But Antarctica surprises us again – today with bright sunshine and a mirror-smooth sea surface, on which the glaciated mountains are doubled.
A long pebbly beach serves as a landing point. Penguins greet us again here. A good 5,000 pairs of gentoo penguins breed in the bays at the north end of the island. From the 252 meter high Dome of the Rock I enjoy the beautiful snow and ice landscape lying at my feet. I walk to the end of the freshly trodden path and drop into the snow there.
I can feel the warming rays of the sun on my skin. I stay here for half an hour to enjoy the moment, preserve it and take it home with me. Antarctica is a dream come true.
Every day in Antarctica sets superlatives. When I think I have arrived at the most beautiful place on earth, the next day I am surprised by an even more beautiful place. Despite its minimalism, Antarctica is full of surprises and makes every day a highlight.
*The voyage was supported by Hurtigruten.