At last we would arrive at the Antarctic Peninsula, making our first stop at Port Lockroy. This was on of two bases set up by the British in World War II to keep an eye on enemy shipping and destroy old fuel dumps. Abandoned in the 1950s, the base was restored in 1966 by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which operates a museum, post office and souvenir shop. The post office was made famous in the BBC documentary “Penguin Post Office. The gift shop is one of the largest and most diverse in the Antarctic region even offering “bespoke” Antarctic tartan scarves specially designed for the Trust. The Gentoo penguins use the area as breeding ground, sharing the space with the elegant Snowy Sheathbills.
Our landing at Port Lockroy reaffirmed our choice of ship for our expedition to the Antarctic as later in the day two of our polar cirkel boats became surrounded by pack ice and the Fram had to push in breaking up the ice to free the craft. Later that evening the Fram would use its ice-breaking capability to rescue passengers from another ship when their zodiac craft could not break the ice to pick them up from land. The Fram brought the 93 stranded passengers aboard and offered hot drinks and cookies until they could be returned to their own ship. The grateful passengers then asked to have the gift shop opened and proceeded to shop for mementos of their rescue ship.
The Antarctic Peninsula is a particularly scenic place laced with glacier-filled bays and startlingly high mountain peaks that remind you that the Antarctic, unlike the Arctic, is one of the highest places on the earth. We would spend the next two days exploring this area while sailing the Errera Channel, a scenic narrow waterway. The Errera Channel is where you will finds Danco and Cuverville Islands. Cuverville supports one of the largest Gentoo Penguin colonies. These medium size penguins prefer to nest high on the slopes surrounding a bay and they tramp “penguin highways” into the snow to make their daily transits to the water easier. As visitors we had to be careful not to harm these trails for the birds who are always accorded right-of-way.
Neko Harbor at the end of Andvord Bay is deep into the Antarctic Peninsula, the Weddell Sea only 50 kilometres away. The bay is surrounded on all sides by the mountains and alpine glaciers of the peninsula and is filled with castellated icebergs and wildlife. This is one of the few places you can actually touch the continent of Antarctica. It does require hiking up a steep hillside to touch some of the exposed rocks. My husband undertook the climb, I figured I was already there being on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. And, I was having too much fun watching a determined and diligent Gentoo penguin steal rocks from his neighbours nests to add to his own. Pebbles are a highly prized commodity by penguins in the Antarctic as building materials for nests are scarce.
We concluded our visit to the Antarctic Peninsula with a day cruising Whilhemina Bay, a favourite spot of Humpback Whales in the Antarctic summer and we were not disappointed, a large pod arrived to keep us amused for several hours.
All to soon it was time to head north across the Drake Passage and our home port of Ushuaia. Our crossing conditions were smooth enough to call it the Drake Lake. The calm conditions persisted as we sailed past the islands of Cape Horn and re-entered the Beagle Channel. We returned to the “end of the world.” But, in fact it was just a beginning. A beginning of a better understanding of this little known continent, Antarctica.