In February 2012, Ronnette did a 10-day trip to explore Antarctica on board the MV Ushuaia, as part of a wider trip round Patagonia and beyond. She talks penguins and ice bergs and tells us about some of her most memorable experiences on the Great White Continent.
If you’d like to read more about her trip to Antarctica, visit Ronnette’s blog or if you’d like to do this trip yourself, check out our Antarctica Cruises page.
In one sentence, how would you describe your trip to Antarctica?
An adventure on the (sometimes) high seas, that was varied, interesting, thrilling and awe inspiring.
Would you recommend this trip and operator?
I would recommend the trip highly
What do you think about Swoop?
I have found Swoop’s service first class too – you guys are very responsive and incredibly helpful.
How did you find crossing the Drake Passage?
The Drake’s Passage coming home was pretty rough, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. Going over it was so smooth we got there early enough to have an extra landing.
What was walking amongst penguins on Brown Bluff like?
It does quite hurt when a baby penguin bites your finger. More nips than hurts perhaps. A few hours later I still had a little bruise on the knuckle of my finger where I was bitten. It was an enchanting bite though – we’d landed on Brown Buff, a volcanic point and home to a largish colony of Gentoo penguins with a few Adele, some seals and other seabirds. The only place to walk was through the middle of the colony. We found the baby penguins quite inquisitive. whilst we normally kept 5m away from the penguins, here they approached us, so there was no getting away.
By the end of the couple of hours we spent on the beach, most people had had a close encounter with a penguin. A couple of the lads had baby penguins sleeping on them – one penguin became quite territorial about the warm “rock” it had found, fighting others off who came near. We climbed the hill to see a Snowy Petrel. It was deep in a crevice in some rocks. It was a bit like visiting a religious icon – everyone got to have a look for a few seconds before being moved on so the others can see.
You went swimming in the Antarctic??
The sea in question was lapping on the black beach of Deception Island, an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands. This beach is heated by the fires deep in the earth. Stream rose from the surface of the water. The air above it was freezing. It was in this air that we had to get undressed and re-dressed for the trip back to the boat. Weather wise it was one of the worst days we’d had for a landing. Cold driving rain and strong winds. We’d trudged through this to get to the crater of the volcano on another part of the island. The landscape was what I would imagine the moon to look like, but that the moon has less rain. The shoreline was the warmest place – the sea was very very cold, but the stones on the shoreline were hot, almost too hot to touch. So as long as you sat still and there were no waves from the boats, it was actually very pleasant.
How was Neko Inlet?
The Neko inlet is beautiful. 2/3rds of it is a glacier, the sort which makes great big icebergs. These are made when the 200 meter high ice breaks off straight into the sea. We were warned that if this happens we needed to get away from the beach as a little tsunami might happen and we may be swept away if we didn’t make immediately for higher ground. In spite of this warning, I’m sure we were all preying for a major shearing.
We climbed a fairy steep hill. It was worth the trek – even though it was overcast, the view of the glacier and the sea was fantastic. The true highlight was the journey down. The pioneers had carved out a toboggan ride down the side of the mountain. By the time we slow coach latecomers got there, it had become icy and really fast. I went down three times.
When we visited Neke bay, I broke some ice off an iceberg and brought it back to the ship for our evening cocktails. There are few things that make 6 year old Jim Beam better than drinking it with millennia old ice.
What was your top highlight in Antarctica?
I forgot the cold when a fifteen metre whale “crested” within 5 metres of the ship. Amazing. Another joined it. Lifting it’s head fully out of the water. It had little spots, I assume barnacles on its head. It’s underbody was a blueywhite, whilst the top was dark grey. It rolled back into the water. For the next half an hour they played around the ship, going under at times when we got to see their huge tails. Sometimes they behaved like synchronised swimmers, blowing and diving in unison.
They made a throaty snorting sound – called trumpeting and a very special thing apparently. They played up to the 80+ cameras trained on them. They ignored the excited whelps of the Australian guy declaring how incredible they were and shouting to his wife about how well they compared to the whales he’d seen off the coast of Christchurch. They circled the boat so that we all got a view. Then they swam off. They left a ship full of contented people. The poor old penguins on the island we visited once the excitement died down didn’t stand a chance.
But my other highlight was the people. Travelling alone I’d been paired up with the most fantastic room mate in Louise, a fellow Arsenal fan from London, who’d booked this return cruise the day she had landed from her first one. I also met some great people from all over the world, some of whom I know I will be friends with forever.
The people on the MV Ushuaia were more adventurer than cruise line types. There were 21 nationalities in the 82 people on my adventure, but who all shared a love for the beauty and wonder of the Antarctic. More my kind of people.