Pack your down coat and your swimsuit: we’re going to Antarctica!

Pack your down coat and your swimsuit: we’re going to Antarctica!

This week, I want to revisit my favorite place with you: Antarctica.

People often ask, “Why would anyone want to visit Antarctica?”

And it’s not a bad question. I mean, it is, after all, the coldest, windiest, and driest place on Earth.

But for me, it’s one of the most spectacular and interesting places a person can go. The draw of this place lies in its mystery and its history.

As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletter, the lost Admiral Byrd diaries suggest secret Nazi bunkers and Hitler spending his last days painting in Antarctica. Recent discoveries in Antarctica include Lake Vostok and its underwater civilization, WW2 pictures of UFOs, and icebergs as large as Connecticut.

In addition, the world’s largest desert is on Antarctica; 98% of the land is covered with a continental ice sheet, and the remaining two percent of land is barren rock. Antarctica holds about 87% of the world’s ice.

Slide80 land of fire and ice

The South Orkneys is a group of four islands that is 85% glaciers. The weather is cold, windy and usually overcast. Britain declared the South Orkneys part of its Falkland Islands Dependencies in 1908; a territorial claim was later challenged by Argentina in 1925. However, in 1933, the South Orkneys became one of the first Antarctic regions to receive tourists. It has the oldest continuously-run research facility in Antarctic, and they also have a three-room museum. The islands have a population of eight people.

From the South Orkneys, we sailed down to Deception Island, and the scenery took my breath away. The icebergs that we saw are 10% above the water and 90% below.  The largest iceberg recorded was 265 miles long. (Take a look at how small our Zodiac is as we float through two icebergs!)

DSC01524 - southern ocean

Deception Island is an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands, off the coast of Antarctic Peninsula. Its unique landscape is made of barren volcanic slopes, geothermal springs, and ash-covered glaciers.

The horseshoe-shaped flooded Caldara opens into the sea through a narrow channel called Neptune’s Bellows, forming a natural sheltered harbor, making it one of the rare places that a ship can sail directly into the center of an active volcano.

Deception Island is a very popular place for tourists. Not only can you go hiking — you can go swimming in Pendulum Cove, because the water is heated by ongoing volcanic activity about a mile below the surface inside the collapsed caldera.

Slide 13 - swimming

In the 1920-21 seasons, the water here boiled and stripped the paint from the hulls of the whaling ships. Also, an eruption in 1969 destroyed the British base and covered most of the base and cemetery with ash; however, there are buildings that can still be seen and entered.

slide 12 - springs

Lemaire Channel is a strait between the mainland continent and Graham Island. The day I was there it was beautiful, and I could see the water reflecting from the amazing snow-capped mountains.

After an exciting day floating around the massive icebergs in the Southern Ocean, we were back on the Clipper Adventurer and on our way to Paradise Bay. Paradise Bay, one of two ports, is a great place to stop and go hiking. As you can see, even at the young age of 80 you can still have fun sliding down a snow bank on a garbage bag!

slide 10 - hiking

Cuvehrville was discovered in 1897 and is home to hundreds of thousands of Gentoo Penguins. They make this a favorite photo stop for tourist.

DSC01438 - penguins

At Port Lockroy in the 2008-2009 season, 17,517 people have visited, yet only 350 people are allowed daily, which demonstrates the incredible popularity of this destination. The naval post there was intended to provide weather reports and keep watch for German surface raiders. While at Port Lockroy, don’t miss the Bransfield House Museum and Post Office. In 1996 the British beautifully restored the station where around 70,000 post cards are mailed each year to over 100 countries.

Last stop: Neko Harbor. Not only is this a great place to hike, it is famous for Lynn Cox’s 2003 unprecedented swim in Antarctica’s waters — in 32 degree weather for 25 minutes without a wet suit. I could only find one picture of her.  She was actually 45 years old at the time!

So what are you waiting for? This incredible place is not to be missed!

We have come to the end of our Antarctic journey… If I can provide you with any additional information, please email me at   Join me next time when we visit the mysterious side of Antarctica on “Travels With Sara.”