Antarctica: Reaching Our 7th Continent

Kodak Gap, AntarcticaOur expedition ship squeezes through the Lemaire Channel, sandwiched between the towering mountains of Booth Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Even in summer, there can be too much ice for ships to pass, but we are heading into the gauntlet of Kodak Gap, an apt nickname for this extremely photogenic passage. Standing at the windy bow of the Quark Ocean Endeavor, a tear from cold and joy slides horizontally across my face. At 65°04’S/64°00’W gorgeous glaciers pour off every cliffside and the icebergs resemble Richard Serra sculptures. And so begins Antarctica Part #2 (read Part #1 here!), where we take to the sea with a stand-up paddle board, waddle through penguin colonies, and finally set foot on our seventh continent. All aboard!

 

Standup Paddleboarding Pleneau Bay

SUP-Antarctica-VideoWe dock in Pleneau Bay, an iceberg graveyard between a ring of mountains, and gear up for our morning excursion: Standup Paddleboarding! We were among a handful on the ship to SUP, partly because there are limited spots and partly because it’s borderline insane. Standing on a shaky board over hypothermia-inducing water and paddling around icebergs that could roll and tidal wave…this could go badly. But instead, it was epic. The sheltered bay was perfectly still, reflecting every neon-blue iceberg like a mirror. We paddled through brash ice in a state of heightened adrenaline and wonder. Watch this SUP video for a taste of the action.

 

Port Charcot

Port Charcot AntarcticaOur heads were still reeling from standup paddleboarding but after a hearty lunch and afternoon siesta, we were off to our next excursion: Port Charcot. Named after the French scientist who stationed himself here in the winter of 1904, the island has the remnants of his research hut, boat, and a cairn. It’s wild to imagine living here during Antarctica’s harshest months, especially since it’s so cold (-40° without wind-chill), the penguins don’t even stick around. The 1,000+ penguins on the island were finishing molting and growing their waterproof feathers. Most of the Adelie penguins were already heading north, but we were lucky a few hung back, so we could see all three Antarctic Peninsula species: Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap!

 

Zodiac Cruising Lemaire Channel

glaciers of Lemaire ChannelMost days consiste of two big excursions, but today we got a third…exploring the Lemaire Channel by zodiac. We hopped in one of the 10-person boats, and as luck would have it glaciologist Colin was our captain. He reminded us that the glaciers are like toffee, a viscous fluid, slowly flowing and changing shape. He’d point out the moraines to show us the direction the ice flows, the crescent-shaped crevasses denoting a faster flow, and the striations in the icebergs–each representing a year in time. The landscape is so gorgeous it speaks for itself, but Colin’s insights made the ice resonate.

 

Evenings on the Ocean Endeavor

Quark Expeditions DiningWhen you disembark from the day’s last excursion, there is always a hot-cocoa bar with a variety of liqueurs waiting to warm you up. Can you imagine anything better? How about we follow that up with a hot shower, and a five-course meal with perfectly paired wine? Evenings on the Ocean Endeavor were always a fabulous affair—from the quality of the food to the level of service to the company. There are no assigned seats or reservations and no formal attire necessary, so we would join a different table for lively conversation each night. We dined with everyone, from fellow RTW travelers, Australian farmers, an English dentist, and even an 80-year old triathlete.

 

Cuverville Island

Cuverville Island, Antarctic peninsulaAnchoring the boat in Paradise Bay, the zodiacs whisked us over to Cuverville Island, home to the largest Gentoo Penguin colony ariound the Peninsula. Over 5,000 pairs arrive each December to breed. By March most of the parents are feeding at sea, which leaves thousands of adorably clumsy adolescents to figure out life. They give rookie attempts at belly slides, running over the rocks (more often tripping over them), and spastically swimming in the water. We strolled the ice-capped island, making way for penguins darting in every direction.

 

Seal Sightings

Antarctic SealsYoung penguins are quite vulnerable once they take to the sea and we saw this first hand when a leopard seal snagged a Gentoo for lunch. Thrashing the bird into bite-size pieces, his sheer force was memorizing. Leopard seals are one of the fiercest Antarctic predators, with 1,000+ lb. bodies, powerful jaws, and a taste for warm-blooded animals…they even hunt other seals. They generally keep clear of humans, while the fur seals and crabeater seals can be quite cheeky. We had six crabeaters encircle our zodiac, diving around and checking us out for over 20 minutes. There wasn’t a day that went by without a solid seal encounter.

 

Andvord Bay

Quark Ship PanoramicWhile all the islands that surround the peninsula are technically considered Antarctica, setting foot on the landmass that extends to the South Pole is much anticipated. We stood alone at the bow of the boat, watching the continent draw closer, and could hardly contain our excitement.

 

Continental Landing

HoneyTrek 7th continentWe swung our legs out of the zodiac and finally set foot on the continent…our seventh continent. We practically ran up the steep mountain, enjoying every slippery step through the snow and piece of hail that pelted our face. We were the first ones to reach the rocky outcropping, with panoramic views of Neko Harbour and the endless white landmass as far as the eye could see. It felt like our four years of travel were culminating at this one moment. This called for champagne. We snuck a bottle in our rucksack (don’t follow our naughty example) and popped the cork, the wind exploding sparkling wine into the air and up our noses. Giggling from the tickly bubbles, utter joy, and complete awe, we sat back and reveled in the milestone moment.

 


Watch the HoneyTrek 7th-continent celebration with champagne and hail.

 

P.S. A huge thank you to Quark Expeditions for inviting us on this epic journey!
 

Antarctica Ice Panos
SEE MORE PHOTOS IN OUR
ANTARCTICA SLIDESHOW

 

Don’t miss our next post on the volcanic Deception Island, the eerie Whalers Bay, kayaking with playful fur seals, and the South Shetland Islands.

49 thoughts on “Antarctica: Reaching Our 7th Continent

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  • March 31, 2016 at 3:53 pm
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    My dream is to visit Antarctica one day. I am sure I will be so cold i’ll regret it, but I love all that natural beauty!

    • April 1, 2016 at 12:52 am
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      Trust us, you will have NO regrets. And the weather in January is actually warmer in Antarctica than New York, so don’t let that stop you. Plus Quark gives you amazingly warm jackets 🙂 If you are into natural beauty, this is the place!

  • March 31, 2016 at 3:54 pm
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    I would love to see Antarctica in person one day. There’s a certain stark beauty of all the ice cold water and actual ice. It’s beautiful.

    • April 1, 2016 at 1:09 am
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      Absolutely. When it’s sunny it’s obviously magnificent but when the sky is grey, the iceberg reflections and blue hues come out in epic proportions.

  • March 31, 2016 at 3:57 pm
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    You know what amazes me about Antarctica? Even in what appears to be the most inhospitable places on the planet, there is still an entire food chain at work there.

    • April 1, 2016 at 12:55 am
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      Krill is the core of Antarctic food chain and in one way or another, it draws the whales, seals, and penguins here in the summer to feast. The wildlife here is beyond abundant!

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  • March 31, 2016 at 4:01 pm
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    Oh my goodness what a place to get to see those pictures are fantastic just awe-inspiring

    . x

  • March 31, 2016 at 4:11 pm
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    Can I say I am just completely jealous of you! Our family loves to travel but I don’t know if you’ll ever get there. I would love to explore all these places that you did.

    • April 1, 2016 at 1:06 am
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      Where there is will, there is a way! Also check out family travel blogs like TravelwithBender and TravelingCannucks for more inspiration on making your dream adventures happen with kids!

  • March 31, 2016 at 8:10 pm
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    I didn’t realize how beautiful it was in Antarctica. It’s really cool that you can do some sightseeing from the ship.

    • April 1, 2016 at 12:50 am
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      From the ship, from zodiacs, on foot, stand-up paddleboard…Quark offers many ways to see Antarctica so the best part is it isn’t just sightseeing from the boat, you can get up close to the beauty!

  • March 31, 2016 at 9:34 pm
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    What an adventure! I had no idea how beautiful Antartica is. I will add this to my bucket list.

    • April 1, 2016 at 12:47 am
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      We went with really high expectations and it was honestly more beautiful than we would have ever imagined. Push it up the list!

  • March 31, 2016 at 9:43 pm
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    Wow. Those pictures are amazing. I am not adventurous and dont feel the need to travel so I am always fascinated by travel bloggers.

    • April 1, 2016 at 1:01 am
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      Everyone needs travel! It opens your eyes, mind, heart, soul…as they say, it’s the one thing you buy that makes you richer. We are glad you enjoyed the photos and hopefully they inspired a little wanderlust.

  • March 31, 2016 at 10:57 pm
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    Wow, those are some incredible photos! What an amazing, once in a lifetime journey! Antarctica, and especially the penguins are one of the top items on my bucket list.

    • April 1, 2016 at 12:45 am
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      Antarctica is beyond amazing. Seeing a few penguins would be fantastic but you literally see thousands here!

  • April 1, 2016 at 12:27 pm
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    This would be an amazing adventure. I would love to see the Gentoo Penguins.

  • April 1, 2016 at 4:13 pm
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    Wow! All those photos are amazing. What a beautiful place. I know this would be a wonderful place to go for my husband. He has always wanted to go somewhere like that. I would absolutely love to see penguins!

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  • April 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm
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    This looks like such an awesome adventure! How beautiful are these sites!

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  • April 1, 2016 at 10:47 pm
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    Oh wow, what an adventure. Your photography is amazing too!

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  • April 2, 2016 at 9:09 am
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    Wow, that is just amazing. I have got to see this in person some day. Your photos are wonderful and make me want to got there.

  • April 3, 2016 at 9:22 am
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    WOW!! What an experience of a lifetime!!! My son is obsessed with Antarctica (he’s 6), and would LOVE to go!!! So beautiful. I love your photography!

    • April 3, 2016 at 10:47 am
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      Love that your son is already obsessed with Antarctica…with good reason! Try and go together someday, it will be unforgettable!

  • April 3, 2016 at 7:45 pm
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    Wow, it looks beautiful out there but man, it makes me shiver, brrrr..

  • April 4, 2016 at 9:30 am
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    Goodness you are so adventurous. I’d love to just take off and travel the world. We don’t get snow here so I’m amazed at your photos. I’d love to spend time at Cuverville Island.

  • April 4, 2016 at 12:14 pm
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    Congratulations on reaching continent #7! Since visiting Perito Moreno and being in total awe of the beauty of the ice, I’ve been dying to go to Antarctica. Your photos are amazing and certainly inspire wanderlust

    • April 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm
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      The big ice hike on Perito Moreno totally sparked our love for these kinds of expeditions too! It is like Perito Moreno…but everywhere you look!

  • April 4, 2016 at 12:29 pm
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    I am so envy with this adventure, I am not really a fond of winter especially the freezing temperature. But I do not care at all if the view is like this and I been wanted to experience the penguins and seals watching this is like heave to me . I can’t get over your videos and photos. – Chelsea L.

    • April 4, 2016 at 4:28 pm
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      Chelsea, the wildlife sightings were incredible. We saw nearly we saw over 100 whales and seals, and 1000s upon 1000s of penguins. Then the ice is so beautiful, you will not be focusing on the weather, trust us…it’s worth it.

  • April 11, 2016 at 11:44 pm
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    This looks absolutely amazing. Hopefully I can visit one day.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 5:41 pm
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    This is such an incredible journey and accomplishment- my breath is completely taken away!

    • July 1, 2016 at 12:36 am
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      Steph, Antarctica was mind-blowing. Absolutely worth the hype and efforts to get there! Thanks for your comment, Principe!

  • July 1, 2016 at 12:39 am
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    Five ain’t too shabby 😉 Even seven continents in, there is so much more world to see! #NeverStopExploring

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