Following your two days at sea with wheeling sea birds and maybe dolphins and whales for company you will reach the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is the most accessible area of the continent and hosts some of the most interesting scenery and wildlife, as well as many of the continent’s scientific bases. Exactly where the ship lands will vary from one expedition to the next and according to the polar conditions as the ship edges its way southwards through the slush and abstract patterns formed by the fractured sea ice.
Here, the silence is so complete that interruptions become indelible memories: noisy penguins squabbling over prized pebbles on Cuverville Island, the boom and crack of a calving glacier in Paradise Harbour, for example. The soaring peaks and stark rocks of Lemaire Channel are just the excuse you need to grab your camera gear for a shooting session from the deck, if the channel is free of ice. Wildlife you may encounter includes gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie penguins, petrel, shag, elephant and fur seal, and perhaps whales.
Either on the way down or on the way back from the Peninsula you will also visit the South Shetlands Islands, a rugged, heavily-glaciated chain of four island groups and dozens of islets tracing the Peninsula, providing a sheltered sea passage defined by towers of black rock. The highlight here is at Deception Island, the centre of which is a volcanic caldera that last erupted in 1969. Names evoke the experiences and imagination of the early explorers – Deception and Desolation Islands, the Watchtower, and Elephant Island, where Shackleton’s expedition was stranded for 135 days.