Saturday, December 25

A white Christmas like no other

Weather-wise our first excursion on Christmas Day was probably the least pleasant of our entire cruise. We woke to heavy, sleeting rain. However, our wet weather gear proved more than adequate and so our time outdoors wasn’t particularly onerous. We made our way onto Mikkelsen Island where we found seals basking in the snow, skuas loitering and thousands of nesting Gentoo penguins. It was here that we saw our first penguin eggs and witnessed the practice of penguins stealing stones from each other to build their nests.

We then returned to the boat for a hearty Christmas brunch. The ship then sailed south again to Cierva Cove where boarded our zodiacs once again for a leisurely cruise between icebergs carving off a nearby glacier. It was here that we also laid eyes on the Antarctic mainland for the first time. This sighting consisted of spectacular sheer rock cliffs rising into the clouds above. The weather also played its part as the sleet had been transformed into large fluffy snowflakes. I can honestly say that cruising between iridescent blue icebergs surrounded by perfect snowflakes has to be the ultimate White Christmas experience.

The wildlife was also out in force. We encountered a Weddell Seal basking on an ice flow. As we glided by he raised his head and stretched out a flipper as if offering us a leisurely wave. The guides then surprised us with an impromptu zodiac gathering offshore. The boats were latched together and cups of hot chocolate laced with run were handed around for us to toast our Antarctic Christmas.

The remainder of the day was spent leisurely cruising south along the Gerlache Strait. This stunning waterway is framed to the west by islands of ice-capped, soaring granite peaks; to the east lie a chain of equally high, jagged peaks that run the length of the Antarctic peninsula. It was here that Garry finally fulfilled his dream of seeing Killer Whales in the wild. For almost 20 minutes we watched a pod of these beautiful creatures frolic less than 100 metres away. We even saw a small calf swimming alongside its mother.

Read on for more about our Antarctic adventures as the weather and scenery progressively improved.

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