The End of the Earth – Classic Antarctica Voyage on the Greg Mortimer
Silently gliding along in my kayak through the icebergs, breathing in the fresh, crisp air, a small colony of gentoo penguins wandering about peacefully on land to the left of me. At this moment I really felt like I was at the end of the earth. The peace only to be abruptly disturbed by an unexpected crabeater seal, playfully swimming under our kayaks. This is Antarctica.
Majestic towering glaciers, breathtaking snowy landscapes, jousting elephant seals alongside a sprinkling of penguins here and there, all topped off with intimate whale sightings. The juxtaposition of drama and action set against peace and tranquillity; Antarctica will both challenge and thrill you all at the same time. If you’re keen to visit this continent, but feel somewhat intimidated by its great white wilderness, why not consider exploring its Peninsula on a small ship expedition cruise? Such voyages make the wildlife and terrain of this area incredibly accessible, whilst still allowing for those on-board creature comforts.
In November 2019 I had the privilege of voyaging aboard the brand new Greg Mortimer. Named after the Australian explorer, the ship has a maximum capacity of just 120 people, providing an intimate opportunity for its lucky guests to get up close and personal with everything Mother Nature has to offer. The ship is cutting edge in terms of nautical technology and design, boasting two unique hydraulic viewing platforms which unfold out from the sides of the vessel, providing incredible photo opportunities. Its key feature though has to be its unusual inverted bow, which allows for gentler seas crossings, making the infamous Drake Passage a bit more bearable for those, like me, with sensitive stomachs.
The daily zodiac cruises and landings allow for better exploration of the immediate surroundings, taking you closer to the wildlife and spectacular scenery. We were spoilt for choice with our sightings right from the get go. A zodiac excursion on our first full day in Antarctica brought us close to two humpback whales, diving into the sea alongside us, providing a glimpse of their famous humped backs and signature tails. Later in the trip, we were treated to another great whale sighting, with one of our delicious lunches suddenly interrupted by an announcement from the expedition leader that a pod of orcas had been sighted close to the boat. We immediately got up from our tables and rushed outside with our cameras to see a few females with their young calves curiously investigating the ship’s hull.
The key highlight of this trip for me though, had to be those comical and inquisitive penguins. It was nest building season and we were all treated to their humorous mating rituals and the occasional sighting of an odd, rare egg. It was still early on in the season, too soon to spot penguin chicks and most other young wildlife. However those fresh, undisturbed snowy Antarctic surroundings you experience at this time of year more than made up for this.
For those new to expedition cruising, the key factor you should be aware of is that no two Polar voyages are the same. Itineraries are flexible and can vary from trip to trip depending on the weather and sea conditions you encounter. This type of trip requires explorers with a strong sense of adventure and an open mind; remember to be prepared for the element of surprise and always have your camera ready!