Unless Plato was right in Timaeus and there really is an Atlantis, I have achieved one of my life’s goals of exploring all seven continents. The final piece in the global puzzle was Antarctica. Getting to and getting back from Antarctica has never been easy, as the trials and tribulations of early explorers including Sir Ernest Shackleton (who died 100 years ago) and his stranded Endurance team all too well illustrates.
These days modern-day explorers can visit in relative comfort aboard world-class, stabilized vessels with ice-strengthened hulls, but the time and economic investments are still major obstacles. And for those who are prone to seasickness, crossing the infamous Drake Passage might simply be too much to stomach.
Several cruise lines including Chilean-based Antarctica21 offer fly/cruise options that cross the Dreaded Drake by air and shave a number of days off the travel time. Flying in and out of Punta Arenas, passengers can immerse themselves in the pristine beauty of the Antarctic, with penguin and whale encounters almost guaranteed. Antarctica21’s two ships, the Magellan Explorer and the Ocean Nova, have onboard experts that give insight into the wildlife that call Antarctica home. These relatively small vessels can maneuver into shallower waters for even more off-the-beaten-path explorations as well as quicker loading times for Zodiac excursions.
More time on land means more time to get face to beak with countless numbers of penguins as well as hike through areas where few have stepped before, something that has become rarified in this ever-shrinking world. For those who do venture forth from Chile’s Punta Arenas, take time to have a cocktail at the Shackleton Bar at the Hotel José Nogueira and tip your glass to the explorers whose likenesses fill the walls of this former palatial home of Sara Braun where a weary Shackleton once laid his head to rest.
A penguin eyes a skua on Cuverville Island. The predatory seabird eats both live penguin chicks and those developing in penguin eggs. In nature there is no good or bad, just animals trying to survive.
A gentoo penguin’s “ecstatic display” is most often used to attract a mate. This image was taken in Neko Harbour with a Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 lens.
A chinstrap penguin highway at Baily Head on Deception Island.
A mother and her chick in the chinstrap penguin colony at Baily Head on Deception Island.