top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Antarctica - here we come

Heading to the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth...
...but also to one of the most beautiful places in the world, which simply cannot be compared to anything else
Waves only 3.5m high – the Drake Passage is kind to us
Jumping into cold water: Polar Plunge at -1.6 C°

The time has come. We arrived in Ushuaia 2 days before our scheduled departure for Antarctica. Our ship, Ocean Nova, departs on Friday afternoon, boarding is at 3pm. Enough time to organize last things and relax a bit. We collect our gear from Freestyle Travel, the agency we booked with. Thick, waterproof jackets and pants, as well as gloves are ready for us. We are prepared for the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth!

Thursday evening at the campsite in a side valley outside Ushuaia. Around 10 p.m., just as we are about to go to bed, cars start rolling in. Young people in strange costumes gather in the common room next to us. It looks like a Halloween party, November 10th. Maybe Argentina is a bit later than the rest of the world? The campsite fills up more and more, music is turned up. Despite earplugs, we can't close our eyes. Around 2 a.m. Micha's patience is at an end (Editor's note: he held out for quite a long time!). We look for a different place to sleep. And ooooops, in the middle of getting the camper in driving mode, our bed falls apart. Oh no. That's what we were missing in this situation. You can imagine the camper bed in such a way that the foot of the sleeping place is a seat during the day. At night, a wooden panel is laid across to reach a length of 2m. The rest of the night is quiet, but very uncomfortable, squeezed together at 1.60m length. No permanent solution. We have no choice but to organize a new board. In a foreign city, in Spanish, in just under 2 hours, which we still have between packing, parking and boarding. Freestyle Travel staff recommends a local kitchen studio. Believe it or not, after a few minutes we get a custom-made, stable board! Once again we are so happy about the helpfulness of the locals. We didn't expect it to happen so quickly. Now we can relax aboard the Ocean Nova.

After a brief welcome from the Antarctica21 expedition team and a safety training, the journey begins. First quite comfortable in the Beagle Channel, protected by Tierra del Fuego in the north and some Chilean islands in the south. We enjoy the views of the countryside. After about 5 hours we enter the open sea. The Drake Passage is waiting for us. The notorious sea route between the South American and Antarctic continents has always been feared by mariners. Countless dramas played and still play out here. The Antarctic circumpolar current pushes its way through the narrows at a width of about 600 nautical miles. That doesn't sound wild at first, but it is. At all other points of this ring ocean, no continent is as close as South America. That’s way the sea is very rough. In addition, there are winds with sometimes more than 110 km/h. But there’s no way to avoid the passage. As a precaution, we have equipped ourselves with medicine against seasickness. Even if neither of us is sensitive, we don't risk anything and take the pills preventively. However, the sea is kind to us. With waves just under 3.5 m high, it is one of the calmest crossings in many years, according to the expedition team. So calm that we even spot humpback whales. And we see an incredible number of seabirds. Black-browed albatrosses with a wingspan of up to 2.40 m often accompany our ship. The further south we drive, the more bird species we see.

Schwarzbrauenalbatross Black browed Albatross Antarktis Antarktica
A black-browed albatross accompanies our ship

grey-headed albatross antarcica antarktis
The grey-headed albatross is an endangered species

After 2.5 days at sea, our first landing is waiting on Monday morning: Mikkelsen Harbour on Trinity Island. An island in the Palmer Archipelago, offshore the Antarctic Peninsula. We are really excited to finally have solid ground under our feet again. For the first time we see how such a landing is done. Of course, we cannot go ashore directly from the ship. For this we have 10 Zodiacs that can transport up to 10 people. Boarding is quite quick. Boat after boat disembarks and we are taken to the island. There we have enough time to look around and take photos. The colony of Gentoo penguins is particularly interesting. The hallmarks of the approximately 5.5 kg light penguins are the bright orange beak and the white spots above the eyes. We are allowed to approach up to 5m, unless the penguin decides to come closer. Everywhere the clumsy animals waddle around. Typical are the so-called penguin highways - paths that all penguins follow. Due to the heavy snowfall on land, they make it as easy as possible for themselves and walk in the existing tracks of other penguins. In November, after the males, also the females have already arrived at their breeding sites and are busy building their nests. A loud spectacle. You can hear the chattering everywhere. Beyond that far and wide no noise at all. Soon I feel lucky and also deeply humbled in this real wilderness. Along the shore, penguins can often be seen jumping into the water to hunt, or awkwardly looking returning to land. I could stand there watching forever. Some Weddell seals are also on land. They are far less active than the penguins, mostly just lying sleepy in the snow. But always with a smile on the face!

Weddellrobbe Weddel Seal Antarktis Mikkelsen Harbour Trinity Island
Weddell seal – always smiling
Eselspinguin Gentoo Pinguin Antarktis Mikkelsen Harbour on Trinity Island
The Gentoo penguins seem to be constantly chatting and fighting

Schneesturmvogel Snow petrel Eselspinguin Gentoo Pinguin Antarktis Mikkelsen Harbour Trinity Island
A snow petrel in the midst of penguins

In the afternoon we arrive at Cierva Cove in Hughes Bay. Ice, ice and more ice awaits us here. With the Zodiacs we take a ride in the middle of the iceberg landscape. Zibo, our driver, skillfully maneuvers us through the pack ice that is floating everywhere. This ice, the land ice of Antarctica, is probably the clearest and best water in the world. For over 10,000 years, when there was not much air pollution, the snow was compressed and is now calving off the glacier. An absolutely impressive landscape! Here is also Primavera, an Argentine summer research station. Due to its unique location on a large granite massif, the place benefits from a microclimate that favors fauna and flora. Countless penguins nest on the coast, and we see one or two leopard seals on the ice.

Pinguine diving in Cierva Cove Antarktis Antarctica Expedition Cruise Ship
Penguins diving in Cierva Cove

Argentine summer research station Primavera Research Antarktis Antarctica
The Argentine summer research station Primavera

Cierva Cove penguins antarctica Eisscholle ice Kreuzfahrt Expedition Cruise Ship
A small group of penguins in Cierva Cove

The next day we head towards Wilhelmina Bay, a large bay with a diameter of approx. 28km between Cape Anna and the Reclus Peninsula. Due to its geographical location, it is quite sheltered from the wind. A low is coming from the north-west, causing rough seas. Originally, a hike across the sea ice was planned. However, previous storms have ruptured it too much, so we switch to a Zodiac ride. Hadleigh, our expedition leader, always plans with the most up-to-date information and even that often requires spontaneous re-planning based on local conditions. The weather changes within minutes and very dramatically. As we are one of the first expeditions this year, a lot is still unknown, especially at the beginning of the season, even for the experienced expedition team. Conditions such as the amount and distribution of sea ice vary from season to season and day to day. That's why no voyage is like the other. However, the expedition team always tries to get the most out of it. This time we are on board with Wendy, a passionate bird expert from New Zealand. Josh, from Squamish, Canada, is steering our zodiac. We have the opportunity to collect up-to-date data for NASA on site using the GLOBE Observer app. To do this, we enter weather observations and upload photos in all directions and from the sky to the database. This information helps the NASA to improve the artificial intelligence used to interpret its satellite imagery. The weather we report leaves a lot to be desired. Closed cloud cover with moderate snowfall. After two hours in the Zodiac we are a bit cold despite good outdoor clothing.

Ocean Nova Wilhelmina Bay Antarctica Cruise Antarctica Expedition
Ocean Nova in Wilhelmina Bay

No good conditions for our next adventure - the Polar Plunge. Not a must, but a unique opportunity. Almost every Antarctic expedition offers a dip in the ice-cold Antarctic waters. From the so-called Antarctic convergence, the biological border to Antarctica in the middle of the sea, the water temperature suddenly drops from around 11° C to a maximum of 2° C. This is mainly due to the amount of sea ice and glaciers on the southern side. The temperature can vary downwards until the salt water freezes at -1.8 C°. At that moment the water temperature is -1.6° in Wilhelmina Bay. I thought long and hard whether doing it. A surprisingly high number (36 of 67), mainly the young passengers, decides to jump into the ice-cold water. I make my decision without further ado. As a precaution, I packed my pink bikini. The mood is good. All brave ones line up on deck 2, where the jumping platform is ready. We heat up with groovy music. Sergej and Germán from the expedition team are ready to help us out of the water. Yuki, the photographer, positioned herself in a Zodiac nearby to document everything. Of course, Micha also takes pictures – his excuse not to jump (not really). Once in line there is no turning back. The mass compulsion is too strong. On the platform I get a waist belt and a hint where the camera is. Just one step forward... the water is so freezing that I forget how to swim. A shock! Hardly out of the water, a shot of vodka and a towel are waiting for me. And it's getting better! A real restart for body and soul! I highly recommend it.

Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Polar Plunge Antarktis Antarctica
Marion‘s Polar Plunge at -1,6°C - "brave or just stupid?"

In the afternoon we head for Cuverville Island in the Errara Channel. There is also a Gentoo penguin colony, probably the largest in the area with around 4,800 pairs. In addition to penguins, the Southern Giant Petrel, the South Polar Skua and other seabirds nest here. A landing is planned. Since there are steep cliffs of about 200m on one side of the rocky island, only the opposite side is accessible via a beach. Unfortunately, the access is blocked by large icebergs. Too high danger that we won't be able to get our Zodiacs back into the water when the tide is low and the wind unfavorable. That’s why a Zodiac ride is on the agenda. This time Sergej is our driver. The Russian has been a guide in Antarctica for years and loves the cold! We drive in between masses of ​​icebergs. The different shapes are absolutely fascinating. Again and again we see penguins, seals, seabirds. Absolutely amazing how varied and lively the fauna is in this hostile place.

Arctic Tern Cuverville Island, Antarktis, Antarctica
Arctic Tern at Cuverville Island

Antarctic cormorant Antarktis Cruise Ship Expedition Arctica
An Antarctic cormorant perched on a rock

The trip has already paid off. Antarctica is love at first sight! You will soon find out how the journey continues...

And here are a few interesting facts about Antarctica:

  • Antarctica is about 1.5 times the size of Europe. The neighboring continents are at a great distance from it. It is more than 1,000 km to South America, 2,500 to 3,000 km to New Zealand and Australia and almost 4,000 km to Africa. In winter, a belt of pack ice that is up to 1,000 km is surronding the continent.

  • In contrast to the Arctic in the north, which is just a mass of ice floating on water, there is a real continent hidden under the mighty southern polar ice.

  • Nowhere is it as cold as in Antarctica. In July 1983, -89.2°C was measured at the Russian research station Vostok, at the cold pole of our earth. The average temperatures in the interior are -50 to -60 C°, and on the coast still around -10 to -30°C. In spring and summer, the best time to travel to Antarctica, temperatures on the coastline range from 0 to 5°C.

  • More than 99% of the surface is covered with ice. On average, the ice is 2,000 m thick, at its thickest point it even reaches almost 5,000 m. Three quarters of all fresh water reserves on earth are bound in this ice pack, about four times more than in all rivers and lakes combined. Paradoxically, however, Antarctica is one of the driest regions on earth - inland there is less precipitation than in the Sahara desert.

  • The storms in Antarctica are the most violent in the world. A never-ending chain of low-pressure wind circles the coast of the continent, turning an average of every third day into a stormy day, and downdraft winds with top speeds of over 300 km/h can rush in from the inland. We mostly only had a light breeze at around 20 km/h.

221 views0 comments



bottom of page