Hearing about the Antarctic Peninsula's dramatic scenery, its extreme conditions, the wildlife that thrives there, and the challenges faced by its early explorers is exciting enough. To enter this extreme world and to see some of these amazing sights for yourself is the experience of a lifetime for a lucky few.
The strip of land that forms the Antarctic Peninsula is very narrow - in parts as little as 12 kilometres across. It is extremely rugged and mountainous (its steep peaks are geologically related to the Andes) with stunning glaciers that flow into the seas along the peninsula's complex coastline of bays, islands and channels - perfect for expedition cruising in an ice-strengthened polar ship.
The peninsula is a pristine wilderness of snow, ice, mountains, and sea. You will experience periods of crystal clear beauty and serene calm, of threatening skies and blasts of snow, and long polar days.
The peninsula is by far the best region of the Antarctic for wildlife, especially for penguins, seals, whales, and a plethora of seabirds.
Cruising in the Antarctic Peninsula, one would normally hope to make at least two landings per day; for example perhaps at Paradise Bay - the most aptly named place in the world? - and in addition an attempt to land on the continent proper. Waterboat Point at Paradise Harbour was refuge to two young Brits, who carried out one of the first ever penguin surveys, while waiting 12 months to be rescued. Lester and Bagshawe were the remaining members of a group of four wishing to map the Weddell Sea coast. They created a makeshift camp with the help of a ruined waterboat abandoned by whalers - hence the name. This is a rare ice free point at the entrance to the bay. There is a Chilean Air Force base here, staffed during the summer months. It offers a gift shop and is preparing a small museum in one of its original buildings. Brown Sation on the mainland is a former Argentinian station that was burnt down intentionally in 1984 by the station doctor unable to envisage a full winter there! No-one was injured and all were evacuated to the nearby US base, Palmer Station. Many countries have, or have had a presence in this region.
Subject to ice conditions on a manoeuvre through the Gerlache Strait, watch out for humpback whales gorging on krill. Sail through Neumayer Channel, a deep and narrow fjord with steep glaciers tumbling directly into the sea. Great blocks of ice collapse into the sea forming vast icebergs of all shapes and sizes, to be slowly eroded by the wind and the waves.
The Lemaire Channel, another deep, narrow passage flowing between towering rock faces and spectacular glaciers, litters the fjord with iceberg jams providing parking platforms for resting leopard and crabeater seals. Stay on deck to appreciate the spectacular landscape and crane upwards to appreciate the immense peaks that frame it.
Antarctic Sound is one of the best and most spectacular spots to see icebergs including tabular icebergs so-called as their tops are as flat as a table. These are the icebergs that have broken away from an ice shelf in the Weddell Sea- a rare treat and stunningly beautiful.
There is more to see! Having negotiated the iceberg-strewn waters of the Antarctic Sound, perhaps a visit to the bustling Adélie Penguin rookery (over 100,000 pairs breed here) and the Blue-eyed Cormorant colonies on Paulet Island? The Nordenskjöld expedition built a stone survival hut here in 1903. Today its ruins have been taken over by nesting penguins. Otto Nordenskold was leader of the expedition that led the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-03. His ship Antarctic after which the Sound is named was the first to sail through it.
Further exploration may take you to Melchior Island, Cuverville Island, Portal Point, Neko Harbour, Pléneau Island and if ice conditions permit, to Petermann Island, the southernmost of the popular landings, for a visit to the southernmost colony of Gentoo Penguins.