I don’t know where to look; on my left is a cute Gentoo penguin climbing a large flat iceberg and looking far too photogenic to ignore, ahead of me a humpback whale is cresting through the water, flicking its tail flukes towards the sky, and all around me is the icy beauty of Mikkelsen Harbour on Trinity Island in the Antarctic.
It’s a bright, almost cloudless, day. The ice peaks are reflected in the deep blue water, which is clear enough to reveal the pale blue undercarriage of the ice growler floating past. I am in a group of 12 people, wrapped up in layers of thermals, wetskins and an assortment of silly hats. We’ve just left the Akademik Ioffe, one of One Ocean Expedition’s Antarctic ships, and we’re making our way (in a leisurely fashion) to the shore in a zodiac. With so much to see, the trip is taking longer than planned, and cameras are already hard at work capturing the beauty of this remote destination.
In the past Mikkelsen Harbour was home to whalers – the sheltered harbour offering a safe place to live and process the slaughtered whales. Later, giant off shore factory ships took on the job of processing – allowing the whalers to capture an ever increasing number of whales. The result? Whales were hunted almost to extinction.
Today, Mikkelsen Harbour offers a safe refuge for Weddell Seals, a Gentoo Penguin colony (and a few visiting Chinstraps), Kelp Geese and Brown Skuas. The penguins create deep ruts, known as ‘penguin highways’ through the snow as they waddle from their nests to the water. They always follow the same path, creating a dirty channel in the ice. As a visitor it is important to stay off the highways and give the penguins the right of way.
After we disembark the zodiac, watching dozens of tiny krill at our feet as we slosh through the shallow water, it’s time to ditch the life jackets and heavy outer layers, and take a moment to breathe in the beauty around us. You’ll want to take a hundred photos… but before you do, stop, breathe, and appreciate. And then grab your camera and get snapping!
There are ancient whale bones decaying on the beach, Weddell Seals snoozing on the ice, penguins tending their nests, dark red seaweed clinging to the rocks, and snow that is so deep you can easily find your leg disappearing through the soft layers as you clamber up the low ridge for a better view of the harbour. From this vantage point the plateau of the peninsula rises from across the water, sending glittering reflections into the sea below. It’s Antarctica in all its picture-perfect glory.
The tiny island also has its own soundtrack; penguins trumpeting and chattering, glaciers cracking like distant thunder, the water lapping at the shore, the screech of the Kelp Gulls, the cackling of the Cape Petrels, and, if you are really lucky, the eerie singing of the seals.
Trinity Island is just one of the many wondrous stops on One Ocean Expedition’s Regal Antarctica tour which visits the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Falklands. You may think the Antarctic is just a frozen wasteland, but there is huge variety here and every excursion offers a new experience; whether you love the wildlife, the blues and whites of the ice and snow, the photogenic scenery, the icebergs that glow with an inner light, or the opportunities for kayaking on the water – you won’t be disappointed.
British Airways flies direct to Buenos Aires. From there you’ll need to catch a domestic flight to Ushuaia to board the One Ocean Expeditions ship.
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.