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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Our footprints on the seventh continent

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

Ice, ice and more ice
Continental Landing at Neko Harbor - we set foot on Antarctic land
Orne Harbor - snowshoeing over Antarctic glaciers
Baily Head: population 200,000 (penguins)

The third day in Antarctica. Today is the day we actually set foot on the seventh continent. We land at Neko Harbour, on the east coast of Andvord Bay. The place is picturesquely embedded in a spectacular calving glacier. Around 250 pairs of Gentoo penguins breed here in spring. We have wonderful weather, for the first time it's not snowing or storming, sometimes the sun even shines out. For many passengers, the event of setting foot on the continent itself is very important and is celebrated with the Antarctic flag in hand. From this point, theoretically, we could walk to the South Pole. Theoretically, mind you. It's still more than 3,000 km to get there, so our ship probably doesn't want to wait that long. For me, going ashore is another unforgettable experience in Antarctica. Whether it's an island, a peninsula or mainland, it's the atmosphere that counts for me. And it is absolutely indescribable and overwhelming. I am fascinated by the amount of ice, the absolute untouched nature, the hostility to life that this place radiates. No matter how many pictures I have seen before, feeling and experiencing this place is something else. I feel small and yet so alive.


Eselspinguine in Neko Harbour Antarktis, Antarctica, Ship Cruise Expedition
Gentoo penguin highway in Neko Harbour


We have about 3 hours to explore the place. Some of us go snowshoeing, others kayak, and we walk among hundreds of penguins. You'd think we'd had enough of penguins. But no. Again and again I could watch them for hours as they busily build nests, jump into the sea, chatter with their fellows... and Micha shoots the hundredth penguin photo. The view is incredible. All around us are spectacular glaciers, snow-capped mountains and ice floes.


Eselspinguin Antarktis Highlights Antarctica Ship Cruise Kreuzfahrt
Penguin heading straight for the cool water

At noon as we drive on we suddenly spot a group of orcas swimming next to our ship. Wow! This isn't all that common at this time of year as the killer whales are just about to make their way south.


Orcas Killerwal Antarktis Antarctica Ship Cruise Kreuzfahrt Highlight
Orca accompanied by a cormorant

Another highlight is waiting in the afternoon. A snowshoe hike in Orne Harbour, on the northwest side of the Arctowski Peninsula. We are lucky that we were drawn in the lottery. Only 12 people can come at a time, far fewer than are interested. In fact, we hit the jackpot. “Only” a Zodiac tour is planned for the other passengers. The sun is shining, no wind. It feels like spring. Josh, guide from Canada, leads the snowshoe tour. We zig zag up the glacier towards Spigot Peak. At about 200m is one of the highest colonies of chinstrap penguins. As the name suggests, her trademark is the black stripe on her chin, reminding of the helmet strap of an English policeman. With a body length of 50 to 60 cm and a weight of 4-5 kg, it is one of the smallest penguins in Antarctica. What an experience, this landing. Icy seas to our left and right amidst the dramatic glacial landscape. Cute penguins all around us. I could cry with happiness again. Suddenly the weather turns. The sky is overcast and it's starting to snow heavily. The weather can change so quickly here. Still, it's beautiful. The changeable, harsh climate is part of Antarctica. Otherwise the landscape would probably not be what it is.


Kehlstreif Pinguine in Orne Harbour Antarktis Antarctica Cruise Ship Highlight Kreuzfahrt
Chinstrap penguins in Orne Harbour

Kehlstreif Pinguine in Orne Harbour Antarktis Antarctica Cruise Ship Highlight Kreuzfahrt
This penguin relies on stone when building its house...


Unfortunately, a large low front is approaching from the northwest over the Drake Passage. Hadleigh informs us in the evening that we expect waves of up to 6m and can only go back at an average speed of 8 knots. And that also means that we have to start returning the next morning. One landing more is planned, on one of the South Shetland Islands, which are located in the north. We head for Deception Island, where over 100,000 chinstrap penguin pairs nest. We are woken up at 5am. The landing is planned before breakfast. Landing at Baily Head beach is notoriously difficult as the waves tend to be high. We have to do a so-called surf landing with the zodiacs. A real challenge for the zodiac drivers and the whole expedition team. At full speed we head for the beach, where four team members are waiting to hold the boat. We only have a few seconds to get out. At the next opportunity the boat is pushed back into the water. For a while we watch the next landings. Good timing and absolute concentration are required here. It's impressive what the expedition team takes on to visit this place. Thousands of penguins cavort directly on the beach. Some are jumping into the waves, others are just coming ashore. Heavy traffic. The further we walk on the island, the more penguins we see. In the lower elevations the snow has already melted and nests are being built everywhere. Behind it tower glaciers, more than 500m high. We can experience the scenery in bright sunshine and the best lighting conditions for photography. That's what it's worth for getting up early.


Einfahrt nach Deception Island South Shetland Island Antarctica Antarktis
Approaching Deception Island


Before heading towards mainland South America, we enter Whaler's Bay of Deception Island. Whaler's Bay has played a major role in whaling, as the name suggests. The sheltered location of the bay made it possible to process the catch on site. Some buildings still bear witness to past activities. The island is an active volcano, you can tell by the horseshoe shape. The caldera lies below sea level, surrounded by volcanic sand and rocks. The last eruption was only in 1969, when the research stations active until then were destroyed. Since then there have been no more permanently manned stations. In the summer months, however, there are many researchers. The island is not only interesting from a geological point of view. Due to the recent eruptions, the regeneration of fauna and flora can be observed very well.


Whaler’s Bay von Deception Island Antarktis Antarktica
Whaler’s Bay of Deception Island

Antarktis mmq Photography Michael Marion Marquardt Antarctica
Now it's time to say goodbye to this wonderful landscape...

Unfortunately, now is time to return. We set out into the open sea; more than 60 hours in the Drake Passage are ahead of us. And Hadleigh keeps his promise - we experience waves of 6m height. It's about time to take our seasickness pills. We use the days at sea to calm down and look at the first photos and videos. The expedition team regularly offers lectures in the lounge, as well as somes movies about Antarctic history.


Again we're so much richer. Lots of new people that we hope to see again in one place or another, knowledge and unforgettable memories. However, we are also a little happy to finally have solid ground under our feet and the prospect of exercise after the numerous days at sea. We will stay in Tierra del Fuego for the next days. There is a lot to experience!


One last farewell photo and the journey continues separately...

Here is our itinery in Antarctica:


And here are a few more facts about tourism in Antarctica:

  • Around 30,000 tourists visit Antarctica on average per season (with the exception of 2020/2021, where there were only 15 people).

  • From small ship expedition to huge cruises - all options are offered. The difference is in the comfort on board and the possibilities on site (and of course the price). Small ships with up to 80 passengers can usually offer landings to everyone at the same time; with a larger number this is not possible from an organizational point of view, so that people take turns. And from a size of 500 passengers, landings are no longer allowed, what means you can only observe the scenery from the ship. The latter is not at all our way of traveling and experiencing. There could not have been a better choice for us than to travel on the Ocean Nova with the Antarctica21 crew: 67 passengers, a 12-person expedition team plus the ship's crew of 23 people.

  • Often there is the possibility to combine the trip to Antarctica with the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. However, this quadruples the time at sea (and the price).

  • Instead of crossing the Drake Passage, there is the option of flying over it. By charter plane you go from Punta Arenas, Chile, to Rey Jorge island, one of the South Shetland islands. The flight is very difficult and heavily dependent on the weather. There is often only a small time window for landing. The ship is waiting there to pick up the passengers.

  • Antarctica itself has strict biosecurity protocols imposed by the IAATO, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Background is that the introduction of foreign organisms into the ecosystem must be avoided under all circumstances. We are only allowed to wear special shoes that are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after each landing. Everything that comes into contact with the floor, e.g. backpacks, must also be cleaned. And it is strictly forbidden to take food ashore.

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