Antarctica – we have been regular visitors to Antarctica for the past 15 years. It is our intention to host a variety of trips to the region including the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands and South Georgia. We also plan to visit Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea to see breeding emperor penguins, and to make longer trips to the Ross Sea and the Historic Huts; we recently completed a semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica with Quark Expeditions (now part of First Choice group of companies) aboard the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov and are eager to return.
Our book Antarctica: Journeys to a Fragile Eden (HaperCollins, 2007) is a tribute to a land beyond reality: there is nowhere as remote and spellbinding in its beauty as Antarctica and the subantarctic islands. This is as much a journey of the soul as a visit to the world’s last great wilderness. Let no one dissuade you from making this trip. A safari to the Antarctic, along with the Mara-Serengeti, is definitely in our top three ‘must see’ journeys of a lifetime.
Why Antarctica? The appeal is multi-faceted: the landscape, wildlife and history combine to make a journey there a unique experience. Despite the pain and suffering experienced by the early explorers, many of them returned again and again to savour Antarctica’s starkly beautiful landscape. Antarctica has become a symbol of ‘something other’, of life distilled to the bare essentials. As the American novelist Thomas Pynchon wrote, ‘Everyone has an Antarctic’ – that inner white space of clarity and reflection that you feel when you visit Antarctica.
Having spent the majority of our lives together photographing the wildlife of some of Africa’s most spectacular wilderness areas, Angie and I see Antarctica as the ultimate challenge and counterpoint to Africa, the all-pervading whiteness of snow and ice replacing the russet earth colours of wide open savannas, with animals and birds that spend much of their time at sea rather than on land: an abundance of penguins and seals to rival the sight of a million wildebeest and zebras on migration.
Where to visit? South Georgia has been described as the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean and I well remember when we made our first trip to the Antarctic Peninsula being told time and again by people who should know, ‘You must visit South Georgia if you want to see Antarctic wildlife at its most spectacular.’ It is almost as if the ark of biblical times had washed up on the shore of this remote island and opened its doors one last time – here you find fur seals in their millions, hundreds of thousands of elephant seals, four species of penguins, nesting wandering albatrosses and a variety of whales. South Georgia may not have as much ‘ice’ as the Antarctic continent (a good reason to journey onward to the Antarctic Peninsula), but it certainly has the wildlife.
When Angie and I traveled with Quark Expeditions in 2006 to explore the Ross Sea region we were filled with excitement at the thought of landing on Ross Island and visiting the Historic Huts, preserved virtually untouched from a hundred years ago when Scott and Shackleton used them as a base of operations for their attempts to reach the South Pole. We were also able to pay homage to the emperor penguin, largest of the penguin tribe, which breeds on the fast ice at some 40 remote colonies scattered around the continent. Quark Expeditions also offers trips to an emperor penguin breeding colony at Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. These areas are inaccessible to all but the most intrepid – or those on board an icebreaker such as Kapitan Khlebnikov with helicopters capable of landing on the ice.
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