Home Blog Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands – Q&A with Darren, Polar Travel Specialist

Antarctica, South Georgia & Falklands – Q&A with Darren, Polar Travel Specialist

Thursday, 9th May 2024



When it comes to research and gaining first-hand experience to share with clients, our Travel Specialists truly love their jobs! Polar and Nordic Specialist, Darren, is a veritable globe trotter having notched up visits to 45 countries across six continents. His ethos that the journey should always be savoured as much as the destination was perfect for his recent voyage to the Great White Continent, which included visiting the Falkland Islands and spectacular South Georgia.

Spending 19 days aboard the Ocean Albatros, a next-gen expedition ship with X-BOW technology, he navigated the Southern Ocean to reach the abundant wildlife and pristine natural beauty of the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic islands. Read on for some of Darren’s standout experiences from his Polar odyssey in our Q&A.

Where did you fly into?

I flew from Heathrow to Buenos Aires in Argentina via a short touchdown in Rio. My planned two-night stay in BA was cut in half due to needing to catch an earlier flight down to Ushuaia at the bottom tip of Argentina and the embarkation point for the voyage. There was the chance that strike action would delay my original flight, so the best course of action was to bring it forward 24 hours. A key thing about Polar voyaging is that the ships can’t wait, so it’s best to allow a buffer.

Plus, this meant I had a day to explore Ushuaia where I took a short circular walk out of town to a nature reserve.

argentina ushuaia harbour sunset istk

What was your favourite thing about your ship, Ocean Albatros?

Ocean Albatros is a modern and very comfortable ship, with a luxury feel. The Expedition Team were always mingling with passengers and the crew were amazing, so I felt in safe hands. The facilities are top notch with a panorama lounge, spa, sauna but my favourite thing were the hot tubs on deck. On one occasion, I was relaxing in said hot tub and there was a bonanza of whale sightings including humpback, fin and a blue whale!

What can you do onboard ship whilst at sea?

The open water crossings limit activities on sea days, but there’s a schedule of informative lectures and of course, wildlife spotting from deck. We were also very well fed, with buffet-style breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and a la carte dinner.


Describe your first landing on reaching the South Shetland Islands

We’d made good progress across the Drake Passage with it resembling more of a “Drake Lake” than the more notorious “Drake Shake”. As such we were able to make our first landing at the South Shetland Islands half a day ahead of schedule.

The weather was more then we could have hoped for, low winds and bright sunshine as we anchored off Barrientos Island. To comply with the rules that only allow 100 passengers ashore at a landing site at once, we split into two groups. Group one landed first with group two heading out on a Zodiac cruise before swapping over.

When came our turn to land, we walked into what could only be described as a “pinch me now moment”. Barrientos Island is shared by two species of penguins, gentoo and chinstrap. They were everywhere! We kept our distance of at least 2m. As this was moulting season, the penguins don’t move much allowing for great photo opportunities. It was an amazing first experience, and I couldn’t even imagine what was to come next!


What was your highlight of the Antarctic Peninsula?

A Zodiac cruise off Gourdin Island was special. The sky was clear and the water like a millpond. In and out of the coves we went, fur seals coming close to get a look, leopard seal sleeping on a floating iceberg, chinstrap penguins lining up on the beaches. Suddlenly behind us up popped a leopard seal in the water. It swam under the Zodiac back up the other side and kept circling us to investigate what we were doing. They have been known to puncture Zodiacs before, so we hoped our “top predator” was going to play nice. As it swam off into the distance, we saw more seals and penguins and the start of a vivid orange sunset.

One of our days at sea on route to South Georgia was also very memorable. Having passed Elephant Island in the morning – historically significant as part of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition – we were happily listening to a lecture in the afternoon when an announcement came across the tannoy. Appearing through the mist ahead was the edge of A23a – the largest floating object in the world. In the distance I could see what looked like a standard iceberg until as we sailed closer the scale became evident. It was taller than the ship and stretched further then the eye could see. It was seemingly endless with an area of approximately 1500sq miles. What else would you do when sailing past the biggest tabular iceberg? Set up an ice-cream station, of course. A welcome treat even on a cold day in the Antarctic Sound.


Where did you visit on South Georgia?

Goldthul was once a whaling station. The stone beaches are backed by mountains and tussock grass which seemed to be popular with the fur seals who would suddenly pop their heads out behind you or come bounding towards the sea. As I followed the trail suggested by the expedition team, we had our first up close on land encounter with a small group of king penguins. Their size in comparison to the chinstraps was incredible.

We Zodiac cruised around Gold Harbour in Cape Charlotte, which boasts an impressive glacier and wildlife. The weather was as amazing. Our Zodiac driver shut down the engines and we floated in silence taking a moment to absorb what was around us. We then followed the coast to the end of the glacier as the sun poked through cloud above. Returning we cruised in and out of the iceberg formations of every shape, size and colour including a rare green tinge.

We saw remnants of the past at Leith Harbour. Whale bones, anchors, chains, and silos in front of the old buildings to one side. The area now has been taken over in a much more appropriate fashion with a large population of fur seals moving in.

At Fortuna Bay we saw a true spectacle; a valley, a river delta and a coastline absolutely bustling with life. There were no quiet moments here as tens of thousands of king penguins accompanied by frolicking seals dominated the scene. It was just incredible to be so close. After a mile hike across the tundra, we came up above the main colony to hear (and smell) and watch in awe of the thousands of birds all in one spot. The distinctive bellow of the king penguin echoing all around. I stood and took in the moment, taking time off from taking pictures to absorb the incredible sight.

What was your South Georgia highlight?

Fortuna Bay was incredible but there was an abundance of wildlife at every turn. At Cooper Bay, we entered a passage into a cove which turned into one of the most memorable encounters of the trip. There was a fur seal nursery with so many seals it was like seal soup! They were very inquisitive tried to follow the Zodiac.


Your final destination was The Falklands. What was your highlight?

Visiting the British monument in Stanley to commemorate those who served in the Falklands War was poignant. And Stanley itself was a taste of home after our time in such remote regions. It was a little strange finding land legs again and chatting with people in shops and restaurants.

Heading to West Point, the scenery was stunning. This remote west tip of the Falkland’s is home to a settlement of sheep farmers and a hot bed of wildlife that competes with South Georgia. On our shore landing we very carefully navigated the sinking mud, fauna and rocks to a vantage point hidden behind the grasses. From here we were able to look at a large group of nesting albatross intertwined with rockhopper penguins. The sheer size of the albatross up close was incredible, making the penguins look tiny!


Can you describe your trip in three words?

Exciting, enriching, humbling.

Which is your favourite penguin species?

King penguins. They look majestic as they stand tall on land and go to extreme lengths to feed their families.

Do you have any top travel tips for crossing the Drake Passage?

Crossing the infamous body of water is a true mark of an explorer on an expedition cruise, being prepared for the occasions of a “drake shake” can help if feeling a little under the weather. Take along some over the counter sea sickness medication and natural behind the ear patches take the edge off. Having sailed a lot over the years my big tip would be to have some ginger products such as ginger tea or ginger sweets or ginger ale – sit or lay somewhere where you can see the horizon and get some air from time to time.

What are your tips for anyone planning an Antarctic expedition voyage?

To get the best out of this once in a lifetime voyage, I would recommend making the most of your time on the white continent by choosing an itinerary which includes South Georgia and the Falklands to witness the highest density of wildlife and double the species you may see while following in the footsteps of Shackleton.

Feeling inspired?

To start planning your own adventure, browse our collection of small-ship Antarctic cruises or get in touch with Darren or one of our other Polar specialists. They’ll offer unbiased advice and share their extensive knowledge to help you choose the best route and ship for you.