Every year, in the Antarctic summer, incredible wildlife spectacles unfold. Whales surge into the nutrient-rich Southern Ocean to gorge on krill; migratory birds fly in from afar; and activity levels in the penguin and seal colonies reach fever pitch.
For visitors, no two trips to Antarctica and South Georgia are alike. Weather and sea conditions vary constantly, shaping itineraries and activity schedules on the fly — it’s all part of the adventure. What’s certain is that you’ll be immersed in the wonders of nature. Luxury vessel operator Ponant, in partnership with one of the UK’s leading polar expedition specialists, Polar Routes, offers a range of incredible experiences and exquisite adventures. Here are a few highlights.
1. Drake Passage
There’s no escaping it — crossing the ocean from Argentina or Chile to Antarctica can be a turbulent experience. But if you’re lucky with the weather, it’s an exciting voyage.
Best activity: Pelagic birdwatching. Whenever conditions allow, grab your waterproofs and binoculars and get out on deck. Wandering albatrosses, giant petrels and Antarctic prions might be cruising around your ship.
Best photo opportunity: Albatross in flight over the open ocean.
2. Palmer Archipelago
You’ll never forget your arrival among the majestic islands off the Antarctic Peninsula’s northwest coast, with their iceberg-dotted waters and mountains streaked with snow.
Best activity: Visiting a gentoo penguin colony. Your first chance to set foot among braying gentoos, admiring their fetching white eye-flashes and vermillion beaks, could be at Port Charcot or Port Lockroy.
Best photo opportunity: Gentoo feeding its chick.
3. Antarctic Peninsula
Cruising into mainland Antarctica’s tranquil bays and channels is always a highlight. If you’re arriving at dawn, don’t forget to set your alarm, because the peninsula’s extraordinary scenery is worth every moment of lost sleep.
Best activity: Sightseeing from deck. In Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay and along the Lemaire Channel, mountains, glaciers and icebergs are reflected in mirror-dark waters.
Best photo opportunity: Humpback whale breaking the surface against a spectacular backdrop.
4. South of the Antarctic Circle
In good weather, your ship may cross the Antarctic Circle, venturing south to Detaille Island, Pourquoi Pas Island (named after the ship built for French polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot) and Marguerite Bay.
Best activity: Kayaking. Available in various locations when conditions allow, a guided kayaking excursion offers a very special perspective of the landscape and its wildlife.
Best photo opportunity: Your kayak hull in a dramatic seascape.
5. Weddell Sea
The atmosphere changes when you reach Paulet Island and Danger Islands. You can really feel the remoteness. It was the last safe haven before Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance stuck fast in the ice, inhabited now by wildlife alone. Ponant offers a route for travellers that focuses specifically on the Weddell Sea and its emperor penguin colonies. Keen-eyed travellers can hone their bird-spotting skills on 16-day cruise routes alongside this specialised polar expedition, learning about the continent’s spectacular wildlife with the aid of experts.
Best activity: History and science lectures. Learn all about Shackleton’s voyage and the priorities of present-day researchers with your expedition team.
Best photo opportunity: Massive tabular iceberg.
6. South Shetland Islands
The bleakly volcanic Deception Island, northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula, was once a whaling station. Its scattered remnants of this industrial past serve as a chilling reminder of a brutal era. Half Moon Island and the remote Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s crew took refuge in 1916, are home to chinstrap penguins and elephant seals.
Best activity: Wandering around Deception Island’s abandoned buildings and machinery.
Best photo opportunity: Endurance rescue memorial on Elephant Island.
7. South Georgia
Only visited on the longest and most comprehensive routes, South Georgia teems with life. At Salisbury Plain, Fortuna Bay, St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour, you’ll have unforgettably close encounters with restless king penguins, mighty elephant seals and feisty fur seals.
Best activity: Cruising the shores in a Zodiac, then zooming through the surf to land close to wildlife colonies.
Best photo opportunity: Panoramic shots of vast groups of king penguins and seals, and intimate close-ups of individuals.
Plan Your Trip
Ponant’s luxury cruises can be booked through one of the UK’s leading expedition cruise specialists, Polar Routes. For more information, visit polarroutes.co.uk
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