Eyes Wide Open: Antarctica – a Natural Wonderland
Antarctica has to be at the top of almost every traveller’s bucket list for its raw, untouched beauty and amazing wildlife encounters. Traveller, Phil Hancox, was lucky enough to join Peregrine Adventures onboard Ocean Endeavour recently and here he reflects fondly on his Peregrine experience, describing it as "an unparalleled adventure into the depths of the natural phenomena that is the Antarctic". If you’re thinking of travelling to this stunning region, read on to find out what’s in store…
The voyage to Antarctica is as much a part of the experience as is the destination, and what better place to start than the effervescent city of Buenos Aires. An overnight stint provides a streamlined check in process, opportunity for any last minute organisation or necessary purchases and a chance to get acquainted with fellow guests over a glass of new world wine. Phil spoke highly of this process, like most guests he had travelled from far afield and a little down time before the expedition was appreciated.
After a few Argentinean reds and a decent sleep, the group boarded a charter flight bound for the world's southern-most city of Ushuaia where they had a few hours to explore the city before setting sail. The ship cruises through the Beagle Channel then the infamous Drake Passage. Weather conditions in the Drake passage can be temperamental, so most people cross their fingers for a smooth sail but are prepared for rough waters. Crossing the Drake will make travellers feel as if they have ‘earned’ the right to travel to Antarctica.
As the ship safely makes her way toward the Antarctic Peninsula, guests are often in awe of the enormity of the region. "Nothing prepares you for the soul-stirring sensation ... It's an eyes-wide-open journey." Phil goes on to describe it as "untamed and raw…a place like no other." Jagged icebergs soar high in one direction while a pod of whales are sighted just metres away.
He added that "witnessing the sheer power and intensity our world possesses and becoming aware of how fast landscapes can change was rather humbling, it gave me great perspective. In the scheme of things, it really makes you realise your place as a human, and the fierce spontaneity of Mother Nature".
While the highlights of any cruise to Antarctica are the amazing scenery and awe-inspiring wildlife sightings, the vessel is another vitally important part of any trip. It’s not every day that travellers can take a yoga class or sit in a sauna at the ends of the earth. The Ocean Endeavour offers suites inclusive of a private bathroom and a generous wardrobe, quiet nooks perfect for a little R&R, a dedicated photography programme and a wellness centre onboard (exclusive to Ocean Endeavour, including a salt water pool, his and hers saunas, and a gym).
"I like to keep healthy, particularly when travelling, so I was very impressed with the facilities. I was a regular at yoga and enjoyed relaxing in the spa after the day's activities. I also had my fair share of green smoothies from the juice bar. Of course I balanced this out in the evenings with a few glasses of Malbec!"
The ship offers casual meals during the day and a sit down dinner each night, complete with silver service and white table linen. As a self-confessed foodie, Phil spoke a lot about the dining on board, giving rave reviews. Guests can enjoy a variety of cuisines, with tender Argentinean steak and fresh lobster being the favourites.
Phil added that on occasion, the red wine would flow and guests and experts on board would be swapping stories late into the night, travellers were in awe of the knowledge and tales of the specialists and researchers. The expert naturalists and Antarctic historians on board were a major highlight for Phil, who explained that there were about 30 professionals on his voyage with a multitude of PHDs among them. Some were there to collect footage from camera stations, others to carry out research, studying behavioural patterns of the wildlife.
"I attended a presentation on plankton and to my surprise, I was absolutely captivated…plankton of all things! The depth of knowledge of these experts felt deeper than the oceans we were crossing. It added so much to this experience that you simply could not replicate. Chatting with these guys over meals and admiring wild penguins with experts to offer commentary was a real highlight for me."
Phil explained that activities included everything from stand up paddle-boarding (in very thick wetsuits), overnight camping on the Antarctic ice, kayaking and zodiac cruises amongst the glaciers. One unique Peregrine advantage is their capacity to deliver all guests onto land via a fleet of zodiacs. But the highlight for Phil was the famous Polar Plunge, involving willing guests, a safety harness and one giant leap into icy Neko Harbour. This invigorating dive is quickly followed by a warm spa and a few shots of vodka... for medicinal purposes of course. Talk about a bucket list tick!
Phil travelled with Peregrine Adventures aboard the Antarctic Explorer: From Buenos Aires in 11 Days.
Peregrine Adventures pride themselves on carefully curated journeys that delve into the heart and soul of a destination. Established in the foothills of Nepal in 1977, they today specialise in responsible, sustainable small group adventures. Now operating in over 80 countries from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and rugged mountains in between, Peregrine offers intimate, authentic and memorable experiences across all seven continents.
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Images courtesy of Peregrine & Phil Hancox