This is a journey I’ve wanted to make for a long time, but I had not dared to go until now because of my 93-year-old mother back home: 21 days on a polar expedition cruise through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Orkneys to Antarctica! As I leave, I hope it will be as wonderful as I’ve imagined, but nature is nature. Allow me to share with you a few of the days I experienced with Oceanwide Expeditions aboard m/v Plancius.
One of the stops on the Falklands is Saunders Island, renowned for being a photographer’s paradise. As we walk along the shore and over a small rise, on the other side we see an even bigger beach. It’s covered with beautiful white sand, a place that could’ve easily been in the Caribbean, except here there are penguins populating the beach and tide line.
As we walk up a steep grass covered hill and continue along a good walkable cliff, we see the nesting sites of black-browed albatrosses. The adults are flying overhead, and every now and then they land to feed their youngsters. The chicks are gray fluff balls, about the size of chickens, and so cute and cuddly! What’s more, they’re hygienic: They defecate in such a way that the stool does not end up in the nest, but with a considerable pressure they push it farther out.
Next we come to the breeding ground of the rockhopper penguins, a species with a yellow band above its red eyes and yellow strings that form a kind of earring. We stay here for a while to watch these agile creatures jump up and over the rocks, back and forth. It’s a treat to see all this beauty with our own eyes.
Further along the hill, we arrive at a huge colony made up of other rockhoppers, Magellanics, gentoos, imperial shags, and albatrosses. It’s a busy place, but they all tolerate each other, and we as humans can learn a thing or two from them. We sit, watch, and listen to a symphony composed by nature itself. Time passes quickly when there is so much to see.
Our morning landing is at Salisbury Plain. Here we find the second largest colony of king penguins in the South Georgia Islands. When we’re dropped off on the beach by the Zodiacs, I walk around in awe, taking in this special landscape, open-mouthed, letting it all sink in. I have never seen anything like this before.
The beach is bustling with king penguins and fur seals, mostly youngsters, all trying to talk simultaneously. As we walk further up this long beach, every few paces you can stand still to make a movie or photo. There are seven penguins walking in single file, a kind of crèche of young seals, a few penguins slapping at each other with their flippers, and a penguin couple in love. I can go on and on. We have looked forward to this for so long, and now we are actually here. Please pinch me and tell me I am not dreaming.
Then we hear a buzz of noise coming from farther along, behind some high grasses, and the noise gets louder and louder as we get closer and closer. What unfolds before our eyes is really unbelievable: a colony of king penguins in the thousands! It's almost impossible to comprehend how many penguins there are here!
The next morning, we have an early landing at 4:30 to see the sunrise and the animals of Gold Harbour. As we arrive on the beach, we hear a cacophony of penguin chatter. Do these animals sleep at all? We are a large group of passengers, all early risers, so everyone spreads along the shore to find a perfect spot to view the penguins, fur seals, and sea elephants as the first sun rays hit the beach.
What amazing shots we take there, with penguins silhouetted against the dawn light. The sun rises from the water like a big red ball. What more can we ask for on this final day in South Georgia?
This season there’s a lot of krill, the favourite food of the whales. Because of this, whales are present in large numbers, and we have a lot of chances to see them en route to Antarctica. On one of those days, we spot some 30 humpbacks in groups of three or four, at different distances around the ship. There’s a spout, there’s a pair of backs with fins, there’s an open mouth with a big mouthful of krill. “Oh, look at the great big flukes!” people say around the decks.
After that, we reach Antarctica – for some of us, myself included, this marks our seventh and last continent.
At 2 o’clock, we arrive at Paulet Island and Brown Bluff. When you’re standing on the deck, an icy wind comes to meet you, not to mention a certain smell: Gentoo and Adélie penguins are breeding here in large numbers.
What awaits us on the island immediately makes us forget the smell, and we burst out laughing. Adélie penguins are the funniest penguins you’ll ever see! Adults have a black head and beautiful blue eyes, and their young are gray and fluffy, but so busy and awkward. They run in all directions, a little ADHD. It’s hard to look at them and not feel happy.
Finally, I would like to thank the captain, crew, expedition staff, and our fellow passengers on Plancius for the great service and the enthusiasm with which they shared their knowledge. This made the trip a most memorable experience, which we will cherish.
If these excerpts have piqued your interest, feel free to visit my blog (in Dutch) at www.waarbenjij.nu.