Antarctic Peninsula on Oceanwide Expedition's MV Plancius
von Daniel Phelps
In January, 2015 I visited the Antarctic Peninsula on Oceanwide Expedition's MV Plancius. Upon return to Ushuaia, Argentina I had day trips to Tierra del Fuego National Park and Gable Island run by a company named Canal Beagle. The entire trip was organized/booked with the assistance of Ms. Jessica Roberts of Adventure Life Travel Agency of Missoula, Montana. Jessica did a wonderful job of assuring the trip went off without a hitch, making sure I had a well-scheduled itinerary. I can't thank her enough for her hard work on this.
Upon arriving in Ushuaia, I stayed a day at the Hotel Altos, located as the name implies at the higher part of the town. Very comfortable with a great view and good restaurant with a free breakfast.
I visited the Antarctic Peninsula on the MV Plancius, a former Dutch research vessel that was converted into an "expedition cruise" ship with approximately 112 passengers. This turned out to be the perfect choice to visit Antarctica because regulations limit the number of people who can go ashore at one time at most sites. Going on a smaller ship like the Plancius assured a maximum number of landings on the Peninsula and nearby islands.
Although the Plancius was advertised specifically as not being a luxury cruise ship, I found the food and amenities far better than expected. The food was always delicious and plentiful with great service from the staff. I was in a twin cabin with a window and never felt cramped. Since I traveled alone I was matched with another traveller to share a cabin. He turned out to be a great person. I made friends with him and several other travelers.
The expedition leaders were excellent! Expedition leader Sebastian Arrebola was great. By coincidence I had bought a book by him on Antarctica when I was still in port. Katja Riedel was also excellent and gave several good lectures on climatology and climate change while we were at sea. Also memorable were fellow geologist Andrew Bishop and ornithologist Christian Savingy's presentations and knowledge. Most of the lectures were introductory, a few more technical lectures would have been welcome, but I'm not sure they would have been as well attended by the other passengers.
I suspect we were rather lucky with the weather and had an exceptional trip. Remarkably, the Drake Passage was rather calm on the trip south. Nonetheless, many people were seasick. The ship doctor provided patches to many people. I was fortunate not to get seasick and didn't take medicine. On the return trip the Drake was rather rough (probably typical). Temperatures were typically near to well-above freezing on the trip. Many times I was on deck without a coat for short periods. Onshore, I was usually too warm in the heavy parka I brought. I suspect it is usually colder and more windy than on this trip, so having a heavy coat along is necessary.
The scenery was spectacular, as expected. In Antarctica the ship visited: Cuverville Island, Argentine Base Brown/Paradise Bay, Neko Harbor, Port Lockroy, Lemaire Channel, Petermann Island, Pleneau Bay, Danco Island, and ended with a zodiac ride in the Melchior Islands.
Many penguin colonies were visited, mostly Gentoo, but an Adelie Penguin colony was visited on Petermann Island. Chinstrap Penguins were occasionally seen. Many other birds were present. Numerous Leopard and Wedell seals were seen, sometimes at close range. While still in the Beagle Channel we saw several Southern Right Whale Dolphins (a rather uncommon to rare animal). In the Drake we saw several Humpback Whales, including a female with her calf. Later in the Drake a group of enormous Fin Whales were seen. Most memorable was pod of Orcas near Port Lockroy that came up to the ship and played for at least twenty minutes. Several Antarctic Minkes were seen, one of which came alongside and along the front of a zodiac boat I was in (I could have touched it).
I highly recommend going to the Antarctic Peninsula on the Plancius. I may wait a couple of years and go on the longer trip that also visits South Georgia and the Falklands on the Plancius. Or I might go on one of the Plancius' Spitsbergen/Greenland trips some summer.
After returning to Ushuaia I went on the Canal Beagle company's trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Canal Beagle picked me up at the ship and saw that I got to the Hosteria Linares, a very quiet and comfortable hotel. The National Park trip started out with an inflatable canoe trip to the Beagle Channel (we had to haul out a bit earlier than scheduled because of high winds) followed by a short hike to Bahia Lapatia (a beautiful view) and the end of the Pan-American Highway. The lunch provided was excellent. The rest of the day was a long and somewhat exhausting hike through the National Park to the post office at "el fin de mundo". This was a lot of fun, with spectacular scenery, but the hike was a bit exhausting (I was older and fatter than most of the other people on the trip. To be fair, the trip was advertised as "moderate" instead of easy). Francesca was a wonderful and knowledgable guide on the hike.
The next day was a trip east of Ushuaia that visited Gable Island and a Malligenic Penguin colony on a smaller island. After being picked up at the hotel, there was a drive through beautiful scenery to a stream that led to the Beagle Channel located in Haberton Ranch. This trip also started out with an inflatable canoe trip. Unfortunately, the wind again was a bit high to reach the Channel, so we had to portage the inflated canoes a short distance. I was clumsy and one of my boots stuck in the mud and I fell into mud. Fortunately, the guides and other tourists were very helpful (and I was smart enough to have brought spare socks). We soon were on a large version of a zodiac boat and pulled up on shore at the penguin colony (we weren't allowed ashore, but there were plenty of photo opportunities from the boat). Besides the large number Magellenic Penguin adults and chicks, there were three large King Penguins (somewhat out of their normal range).
After the penguin colony we took the zodiac to Gable Island. The trip leaders fixed another great lunch, then we hiked across the beautiful island. This was bit long, but much easier topography to walk than the previous day. There were lots of interesting plants and signs of damage from introduced Canadian Beavers. Norborto was an excellent guide and translated his narrative into English for me (I think I was the only native English speaker on this trip). Eventually we were on the far side of the island where we were met by the zodiac and returned to the ranch we left from. On the way back we stopped and took photos of some of the scenery including the wind swept trees that are famous in the area. I greatly enjoyed the extensions to my trip by Canal Beagle.
I spent the next day in the town of Ushuaia. I visited several museums and had great meals. Prices were most reasonable as the US dollar is strong against the the Argentinian peso.
The next day Canal Beagle picked me up at the hotel to take me to the airport. The extension after the Antarctic cruise including Tierra del Fuego and Gable Island turned out to be a bargain as it included my hotel. I again thank Jessica Roberts for booking the cruise, hotels, and extensions.
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