It is a rare and special moment to experience a landscape so breathtaking that it moves you to tears. A panorama of glaciers, mountains and icebergs, basking in the sunshine, cut a white line between the clear blue sky and the tranquil waters of Charlotte’s Bay.
“Glittering white, shining blue, raven black, in the light of the sun the land looks like a fairy tale. Pinnacle after pinnacle, peak after peak, crevassed, wild as any land on our globe it lies unseen and untrodden” Roald Amundsen.
“Good morning… good morning”, the familiar voice of our expedition leader, Solan Jensen, filled the silence over the tannoy. “It’s 7am on Saturday November 17th. The Ocean Adventurer has made her way to Charlotte’s Bay…”
We first set foot on the continent here, at Meusnier Point. Aboard Zodiacs we navigated our way through ice floes, growlers and ‘bergy bits’. Cruising silently alongside a young humpback whale, we watched as his tail flukes silently broke the surface of the water before he disappeared to the secret depths below.
Meanwhile the changeable currents had pushed icebergs and pack ice in behind us, occluding an obvious exit route from the bay. Our captain guided the ice-strengthened Ocean Adventurer skilfully through the sea of broken white as we gathered on her bow to watch and listen to the hypnotic spectacle as she pushed her course onward. Yvonne, the expedition geologist, explained how we could differentiate the ice formations, and their terminology, and described how ancient glaciers break into colossal towering icebergs, before floating silently on their journey out to sea.
The following morning we awoke to a different world. Overnight the ship made her way along the Errera Channel to Danco Island. Snow was falling heavily as we disembarked from our Zodiacs to explore the atmospheric site. The seemingly inhospitable landscape is home to a colony - hundreds strong - of gentoo penguins which waddle past, unperturbed by human presence, as they make their way up and down highways between ocean and rookery.
It is the Antarctic landscape which often holds the most allure for the traveller – with its promise of remoteness – of pristine wilderness. A strong polar wind whipped the snow off the mountains as we made our way to Damoy Point, where a well-preserved hut containing scientific equipment and other artifacts stands at the point. This stronghold for gentoo penguins had a most dramatic backdrop, with vast mountains jutting skywards from the snow covered plateau on all sides.
Our final morning was spent observing the wildlife on the Barrientos Islands - home to an enormous combined colony of gentoo and chinstrap penguins. Seemingly oblivious to our existence, their focus was selecting the perfect pebble to poach from a neighbour’s nest. Comically squabbling over pebbles one moment, they ensemble the next to chastise an opportunistic skua which casts a shadow as it glides above, scanning for an unprotected egg.
One final Zodiacs excursion took us along a seemingly endless face of a glacier. Enraptured by the crevassed and sculpted beauty of glacial formations, we were stirred from our trance with the arrival of a lone fur seal, rolling playfully alongside the boat.
Neither words nor photograph can fully communicate the rugged wilderness of Antarctica, where nature has a raw and ruthless beauty. To witness this place reconnects you with your sense of adventure and reaffirms your appreciation of the natural world. Something that must be experienced, witnessed, felt.