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Say the following out loud - "Yeah, I just got back from Antarctica. No biggy.”
Say it again. Louder this time.
Sounds good doesn't it? Feels like a barrage of epic tales are about to roll off your tongue, right? Repeat it again, this time with a casual shrug, like you don’t even realise what you’ve just achieved is monumental.
Now stop imagining and start planning, because Antarctica (and the world's largest desert no less) won’t come to you - you’ve got to go out and find that adventure. We’re just here to help, along with Peregrine Adventures, who would like nothing more than to escort you to the very bottom of the world.
The Drake Passage
If it’s Antarctica you seek, first off you have to conquer the dreaded Drake Passage - the moody body of water that divides South America's Cape Horn from South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. By the time you’ve crossed the notoriously wild Drake Passage, you’ll hate Drake and everything to do with his darn passage. Having said that, what comes next is so unbelievably staggering, you’ll soon be singing his praises forever.
Conquering Drake Passage
Peregrine Adventures use three ships to slice through the waters of Antarctica: The Ocean Diamond, Ocean Endeavour and the Sea Adventurer. You only need to know three things about these handsome ladies; they're big, they're strong and above all, they're warm. Facilities wise, you're looking at some pretty plush amenities, including restaurants, bars, libraries, spacious bedrooms and with the Ocean Endeavour, a sauna, spa and gym facilities.
Hot tip: There is a cheat's way to avoid Drake's Passage; you can skip it altogether with Peregrines's two alternative itineraries (Express - Fly the Drake and Antarctic Express - Fly the Drake). You'll fly over the water from Punta Arenas and join the ship at King George Island instead - avoiding the rocky waves (and sea sickness) altogether. Score.
Surviving the Drake Passage
For those who like their travel stories sugar-coated, you’ve come to the wrong place. As the only unhindered flow of ocean on earth, Drake’s Passage is a menacing combination of monster waves, storms, hurricanes and 13 metre swells, plus it’s near enough black. You might have sea legs as sturdy as a peg-legged pirate, but we promise you this much – sea sickness, it’s coming for you. Happily, so are spectacular sightings of whales, dolphins, penguins and albatross, coupled with dramatic vistas most people will only ever see on their TV screens.
HOT tip: The war against nausea starts with medicine. Pop your anti-sickness pills two hours before boarding because they are usually ineffective if you’re already vomiting. And remember, with multi-level ships, the higher you climb the worse the side-to-side motion becomes, so find a good spot and get comfortable. To avoid constant movement to and from your cabin, carry a mini essentials bag wherever you go, with your camera, wallet, book etc.
Itineraries are dictated by the ice and the weather, but most days will see a morning and afternoon landing. These remote realms remain underexplored for good reason; the very definition of hostile, the sand’s black, the shoreline’s choppy and the landscape so inhospitable it’ll make your skin prickle and your soul shudder. Solid sheets of smooth snow are framed by skies that never verge too far from angry; charcoal grey but resolutely stunning. Icebergs dapple the water, with flat plateaus and table-tops of ice. Enormous ships, which you thought so grandiose when you boarded, now look insignificant when dwarfed by nature’s icy giants.
HOT tip: All that ice begs the question – how cold is Antarctica? Well, not very actually. You’re unlikely to feel temperatures drop below zero, but let there be no mistake, it’s not a shorts and tee destination either. Dress for wind and cold water. Bulky items such as rubber boots and jackets are provided, which is good considering you’re limited to 15kg checked baggage and 5kg hand luggage. Take plenty of waterproof outer layers and as many socks as you can pack. The ships are well heated but wet feet (from Zodiac water spray and wet decks) are nobody’s friend.
*** Hang on, hang on. The Zodiac?
The Zodiac is a small, inflatable boat that is lightweight and compact (think Piha Rescue) allowing you to access the land, get close to the water, and up comfortable with wildlife.
Kayaking & SUP boarding
Some voyages offer other activities such as camping, SUP boarding, mountaineering and even cross country skiing.
“But I can do SUP boarding in NZ” we hear you bemoan. Well yes, but are you likely to be paddling amongst curious gentoo penguins, glacial cliffs and water so calm - and so black - it looks like the night’s sky? And say, is that an Antarctic fur seal popping its head up to say hello? We rest our case.
HOT tip: All additional activities will need to be booked in advance, usually at an additional charge. Water excursions are guided by experienced staff in small groups, but only if weather conditions permit and the bays are placid. No one wants to fall off a SUP board in the middle of Antarctica, no matter how many warm showers and dry socks are waiting back on board.
We’ll tell you what’s great about penguins, it’s not that they waddle, or that they’re a little rotund, or that they’re incredibly cute, it’s that they always look so jolly. And if you can live in perennial cold temperatures, with seals that want to gobble you whole and still look that jolly, well, you’re okay in our book. As well as penguins (of which there are many) you’ll spot Antarctic fur seals lazing on the beach and whales so numerous, you’ll start considering them a trifle common (we joke, they’ll take your breath away each and every time). Those with an astute eye might even see the elusive leopard seal, whereas weddell, crabeater and elephant seals frequently make an appearance across pebbly beaches and icy waters.
HOT tip: For those who want to compare penguin cuteness, you’ll find emperor, gentoo, adélies, king and chinstrap. Not so cute? Farting seals. They’re a gaseous bunch those lot. Farting, burping… Just don’t let the added acoustics ruin your already overloaded senses.
Taking a dip in Antarctic waters has got to be a bucket list achievement if ever we saw one. It’s also a rite of passage for any traveller embarking on a grand Antarctic voyage. With the wind howling in your eyes, tear off your layers and go for it. The water will be minus five degree Celsius, so don’t hang around. A couple of minutes in water this cold will kill you, so take a dip, get out sharpish and run for the nearest hot penguin for a hug. We kid, The Zodiac will take you back to the mothership. STAT.
Fancy getting adventurous in Antarctica? Pop in-store and have a chat with one of our HOT consultants or Click here for all our Antarctica deals.
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