The Antarctic Peninsula is regarded by
many visitors as being one of the most beautiful places on earth.
It is included in the majority of trips to Antarctica for
practical reasons as well as being a fantastic place to visit
in its own right.
The trip there by ship is the shortest distance
between Antarctica and a departure port, (usually Ushuaia in
Argentina) so it takes less time to get there and back than
any other place on the Antarctic continent. There is also a
good variety of scenery and wildlife to be seen within a relatively
small area so a trip to the peninsula is the most convenient
way to visit Antarctica too. Add to this the assortment of Islands
to visit on the way there and back, and the fact that less time
taken and distance travelled which means it's more affordable
and it's no wonder that the Antarctic Peninsula is far and away
the most popular destination for visitors to the southern most
Jagged mountain peaks clad in glaciers flowing
sometimes down to the sea and sometimes spilling into mid air
from an altitude of hundreds of feet or more. Huge open skies,
enormous icebergs, low clouds, sudden weather changes and constant
surprises from the hugely abundant wildlife you see will keep
you in a constant state of awe.
The whole peninsula is
a wonderland, particularly to those who have not seen it before,
here are a few of the highlights:
Cuverville Island off the Antarctic
Hope Bay lies in the Antarctic Sound sometimes
known as "Iceberg Alley" providing excellent opportunities
to see the fascinating shapes and myriad blues of some extraordinary
There lie here the remains of a stone expedition hut
from a Swedish expedition that wintered in 1903 and the more up to date
facilities of the Argentinean Esperanza base. It was at this
base that the first child born in Antarctica was delivered, it also
boasts its own mayor, post office and school.
the most famous and visually beautiful place along the peninsula.
cliffs drop straight into the sea. A narrow channel flanked
by the Antarctic Peninsula on one side and Booth Island
on the other. The mundane nickname of 'Kodak Gap' hints
at the nature of the location (it brings out the cameras
in force) without doing it justice.
The channel is actually a fully navigable
passage between Booth Island and the Peninsula, but this
is only apparent once you're well into it. Ice can
sometimes block the path through causing ships to retreat
and sail around Booth Island.
At the southern
end of the Lemaire Channel lie an archipelago of picturesque
ice-covered islands. One or more of these is often the site
of another landing from tourist ships.
(also known as Paradise Bay)
Paradise Harbor is
another of Antarctica's most visited
areas, "zodiac cruising" on the ubiquitous
small inflatable craft (zodiacs) that ferry everyone around
in Antarctica is very popular. There are many icebergs that
calve off the glacier at the harbor's head, these provide an
fascinating infinite variety of shapes and shades of blue.
floes also provide a floating resting spot for various seals
and penguins that you may be able to view at close quarters
if they aren't scared off by the boat coming up close. If you're
lucky, you may see some whales swimming around too.
Landings are not always
made, but the glaciers and mountains reflect beautifully in
the water and the serenity of the area is a highlight for many
visitors - not for nothing did it earn its name.
Home to terns, petrels,
cormorants, seals, penguins, and whales.
|Neumayer Channel and Port
Port Lockroy is a beautiful natural
harbour on Goudier Island on the Palmer archipelago, reached
by passing through the towering grandiose cliffs of the
Like many sites currently occupied in
Antarctica, it was used by the whaling industry after its
discovery in 1903.
A British base was established in 1944
(British base "A") and it is now designated a "historic
site" under the Antarctic Treaty. Since 1996, the base
has been opened during the summer months by British Antarctic
Survey under the guidance of the
UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT). It is possible
to look around the renovated buildings and museum and get
a flavour of what life used to be like in Antarctica on
a base in the 1950's.
There is even a gift shop and Post Office
where cards and letters can be franked before being placed
on the next available ship for transport to their destination
via Britain. Port Lockroy is currently the most visited
site in Antarctica with about 6000 tourists each summer.
Post office diary
An environmental monitoring programme
was established when the base began being manned in 1996
to to investigate potential visitor disturbance to the rookery
of gentoo penguins nearby. It appears that so far, the large
numbers of visitors have had no discernable impact on penguin
breeding success, which is more closely linked to local
environmental conditions, such as snow cover or the availability
There are also
relics from the whaling days at Port Lockroy such as a massive
fin whale skeleton. The fin whale is the second largest
whale (after the blue whale). Each year the skeleton is
reassembled after the weather blows it apart all winter.
This particular whale has even been shown to have had arthritis
because some of its bones show deterioration in the same
way that arthritic human bones do.
|Visiting Antarctic bases
At some point on your Antarctic trip you
may well visit a research base or station. These are manned
(and womanned) typically by staff from one particular country
as they are run on a national basis. Some bases are
more accommodating than others depending on the level of
tourist traffic that comes their way, how long the people
have been on the base and how keen they are for distractions.
Some are keener on tourist visits than others and some base
personnel are more amenable to visits than others.
This is often an excellent opportunity
to see an aspect of Antarctica not often seen at close quarters
(Antarctic personnel are sometimes the most timid and bizarre
of the endemic wildlife of the region). There are usually
two categories of people on a base, those who arrived the
same summer for whom you may be an annoyance or at best
nothing much unusual. Then there are those who have just
completed a whole winter (or more) for whom the arrival
of a ship full of new faces is a rare, exciting and
exotic luxury of the highest order (I know this, I was one
of those people!). This second group typically see the first
annoyed group as coming considerably below the tourists
in the pecking order for being annoyed in the first place.
If you can befriend these winterers, they
may take you places the average tourist doesn't go, they
will also know that they are not exactly supposed to do
this, but may also not care very much that they're not.
Don't push it though, they are a delicate species and getting
on the wrong side will mean an opportunity missed. Please
respect the base, it is their home even if it doesn't look
very private or much like your home.
You may get an extra slide-show (tourist
ships would supply lunch and entertainment while I gave
a slide-show in return - a traditional role passed on through
the generations of winterers) guided tours of the local
environs and the opportunity to buy or trade t-shirts, sweat-shirts
Why visit the Antarctic Peninsula?
Antarctic Peninsula is mainland Antarctica, so until you
have been here and set foot upon the ground, you have not
truly been to Antarctica. It also offers the possibility
to cross the Antarctic Circle. Most ships will steam down
past the line of 66° 33′ 44″ ( or 66.562°
) degrees of latitude so that passengers can say they have
The Antarctic Peninsula is truly a serenely
beautiful place that makes you feel like you are (quite
rightly) in the cage of your ship an intruder into another
world. It is here that your dreams of visiting Antarctica
will become reality in a way that you can't really appreciate
if you have never been there.
The Peninsula along with the attendant
islands are the best places to view wildlife in Antarctica.
You will find here all of the reasons
that you wanted to travel to Antarctica
You will have your expectations
exceeded and your view of the world will change.
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