The 5th Largest Continent
More than 98 percent of Antarctica is covered with ice
When someone takes an Antarctic cruise, they need to keep in mind that there are no guarantees as to how far they will get due to the prevailing weather and ice state. Some of the expeditions will actually make a Zodiac landing on the continent, but passengers have to be flexible and realise that sometimes such a landing just may not be possible due to the ice conditions encountered as one gets closer and closer to the South Pole.
The draw of a cruise to Antarctica is the unlimited number of natural wonders that you will see. Huge icebergs floating around the ship, many with elephant and fur seals resting on them, other marine life, such as penguins and seabirds, whales and other sea mammals found nowhere else in the world is what makes this region attractive to the more adventure seeking travellers.
A cruise to Antarctica could last three weeks or longer. Most originate in Ushuaia in Argentina, as well as a few other South American ports. The ships used for these expeditions are the smaller specially equipped vessels. Rarely will a large “mega cruise ship” make the trip simply because they are not equipped to handle the dangerous icy conditions to be found in the region.
Since the ships will be smaller, you can’t expect a traditional cruise experience complete with onboard casino and disco. Instead what you will find is lots of highly educated, adventure seeking passengers such as yourself, who are onboard to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment and the wonders they will be seeing each and every day. Usually a naturalist will accompany the group, and he/she will give plenty of lectures on such subjects as Antarctic history as well as the natural history of the region.
Antarctica expeditions will generally cost a bit more, especially when you consider the distance you will more than likely need to fly to get to the ship but you will view some of the last unspoiled vestiges of nature, in their natural beauty that is unsurpassed by anything in our daily experience. A cruise to Antarctica and its surrounding regions can truly be a life changing event.
Paradise Harbour is considered Antarctica’s most beautiful location. It is one of the best places for watching glacial calving. This describes the moment when a large block of ice breaks off from a glacier and crashes into the sea to form an iceberg. Even when this spectacular event is not occurring, the area is one of outstanding beauty with its surrounding glaciers and snow covered peaks reflected in the water. Sunset at Paradise Harbour is a wonderful sight to behold. During the summer the sun does not actually set, but as it gets lower in the sky it lights up the snow covered glaciers to create a truly beautiful scene. Visitors can explore the harbour in a small inflatable rubber raft known as a Zodiac. Powered by an outboard motor and able to seat up to a dozen passengers, it is perfect for viewing the glaciers from a low-lying perspective. They also enable visitors to get to places that the cruise ships cannot go. Besides the Zodiac visitors can also tour the harbour in a kayak.
The Lemaire Channel runs from False Cape Renard to the north through to Cape Cloos down in the south. It is one of Antarctica’s top attractions. The most spectacular stretch is located between the mainland Antarctic Peninsular and Booth Island. The strait is 11 km long and 1,600 metres wide at its narrowest point. It was first discovered by a German expedition in 1873-74, but it was a Belgian expedition in 1898 that first traversed it. It is named after the Belgian Congo explorer Charles Lemaire.
Its steep cliffs and iceberg-filled passage give it a beauty that has earned it the nickname of Kodak Gap. Its protected waters are as still as a lake, making it ideal for cruising. Visitors should be warned that the passage can become blocked by icebergs in the early part of the season. At the northern end of Lemaire Channel are two snow-capped twin peaks known as Una’s Tits which are also a popular photo opportunity for tourists.
Deception Island is an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands, near the Antarctic Peninsula. It is one of the most intriguing islands in the world with a unique landscape comprised of mysterious steaming beaches, magnificent glaciers and barren volcanic slopes. The island is horse-shoe shaped, with a flooded caldera. This volcanic depression connects to the sea via a narrow channel at Neptune’s Bellows, forming a natural harbour. This makes the island one of the few places in the world where ships can sail into the centre of a volcano. The island has an area of 98.5 square kilometres and over half of this area is covered by permanent glaciers. It is classed as an active caldera with a significant risk of volcanic activity. A volcanic alert scheme is used to indicate whether a volcanic eruption is expected or not. Green indicates that the volcano is dormant while red indicates that a major eruption is in progress or expected within the next 24 hours. The island has been claimed by Britain, Chile and Argentina and each of these countries has operated a research station on the island.
The climate of Deception Island is polar maritime with a mean annual air temperature of -3 degrees Centigrade. Temperatures range from +11 degrees centigrade to -28 degrees Centigrade. However, around the fumaroles and geothermal waters the temperature can reach 70 degrees Centigrade.