Tuesday, December 28

The final continent

Our fourth day in Antarctica proved to be the highlight of our entire cruise. It was also our busiest day on tour with three separate excursions. We later learnt that our cruise enjoyed more excursions that any other so far this season. The weather played a significant role in us realising such a packed agenda. As had happened on Boxing Day, we woke to more sunshine and blue sky on December 27.

I was particularly excited to see such perfect weather as this was to be the day that Garry and I finally stepped foot on the Antarctic mainland. Up to this point we’d only ventured onto numerous islands off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. While geographers consider these islands part of the Antarctic territory, I wanted to step foot on the continent itself and thus truly claimed to have visited every continent on Earth.

Our first expedition of the day though saw us take to the boat and explore the ice flow filled waters of Paradise Bay. This bay is aptly named. As with so many locations on the Antarctic peninsula the area is flanked by stunning mountain peaks (clad in snow and ice of course). The head of the bay is also fringed by several spectacular glaciers, each of which sheds fresh bergs on a daily basis.

The eastern corner of the bay is also highly sheltered resulting in a zone of perfectly still water. Imagine this scene if you can; gliding silently through iridescent blue bergs as a vista of stunning mountains are reflected as perfect mirror images in the water surrounding your boat. This was truly the stuff that Antarctic postcards are made of. Words simply cannot do justice to the experience.

Our second stop of the day was equally mind-blowing. We cruised to the opposite end of Paradise Bay, to a rocky outcrop called Waterboat Point. At low tide it’s joined to the mainland by a natural causeway. However, when we landed the tide was in and so we couldn’t really claim to have stood on the Antarctic peninsula. This sheltered, picturesque location is noted in history as the site where two young men (the oldest of whom was 23) lived an entire winter alone in 1822.

In more recent years Chile has built a research base at Waterboat Point, right the middle of an active Gentoo penguin colony. As a result, visitors reach the base’s building by literally walking around the nests of penguins incubating their precious clutch of eggs. Garry and I was left speechless by the experience. As we quietly walked along a guano smeared path we witnessed one penguin after another adjusting its eggs, while other fended off scavenging birds. We even saw a couple of penguins mating, a rare sight so late in the season.

While at the base we stopped to get an Antarctic base stamp in our passports. This was to become the first of three such stamps we secured during our cruise. The base also had a small museum and gift shop in operation. We indulged ourselves and purchased a couple of long-sleeve t-shirts as mementos of our visit.

Our third and final excursion of the day was the iconic moment we’d been waiting for! Our ship sailed on into Neko Harbour, yet another picturesque bay, located on the peninsula. It was here that Garry and I finally set foot on our seventh, and last, continent. It also marked the moment when we could actually claim to have stepped on every continent in a single year. This remarkable feat was never planned and probably won’t happen again in our lifetime.

As you look back through this blog you’ll see that we visited:
  • Africa – celebrating the start of the new year in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
  • Asia – visiting India on our way back to London last August (I also went to Malaysia on business in November)
  • North America – where we spent the Summer cruising from Vancouver to AlaskaAustralia – completing our annual round-the-world ticket in August
  • Europe – where we’ve been living for the last five years
  • South America – where we joined our Antarctic cruise.
Everyone on our cruise went ashore. As the last person landed our crew surprised us all with champagne toast. A smaller group then ventured off to climb up a snowy incline to a rocky outcrop several hundred metres above the bay. I joined the climbing party while Garry elected to tramp along the shore to observe a stunning glacier calving into the bay.

 The climb through knee-deep snow was exhausting to say the least. However, those of us who finally made to the top were greeted with the most extraordinary vista. It was easily the most memorable of our entire cruise, made all the more spectacular thanks to plenty of sunshine and blue skies. Once again I gave the video function on my digital camera a solid work out; click below for the result.

Imagine if you can a sweeping view across a scenic bay, surrounded by soaring snow-capped rocky peaks, through which glacier after glacier could be seen inching their way towards the sea. Then cap off this scene with a series of misty distant mountains, silhouetted by the glint of sunlight reflecting on the harbour’s surface. I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to finally make landfall on my seventh and final continent.

Read on for our final day of cruising (or so we thought); which included landfall on active volcano!

No comments: