Christmas on Ice: Cruising in Antarctica
Words by Sophie Ibbotson
This Christmas you could sail north into the Arctic Circle in search of Santa, but you’d likely be sorely disappointed. For one thing, so close to the North Pole the hours of daylight at this time of year are scant few. You would see very little at all.
But half a world away in the southern hemisphere, the sun barely sets. The White Continent — one of the last uninhabited places on Earth — is dazzling, and the world’s most exclusive Christmas cruise is setting sail for the festive season. Journeysmiths and Nat Hab have joined forces to create the ultimate polar nature expedition onboard a private yacht.
The yacht in question — the 75 foot SV Australis — accommodates just seven passengers, plus an experienced skipper, guide, and seasoned polar crew. It will set sail from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, on December 11, and begin its Antarctic journey by crossing the Beagle Channel and Drake’s Passage.
When was the last time you were truly in the wilderness? It’s a luxury afforded to few of us these days. On this expedition voyage, however, it will be just you, the ice, and sea. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It’s just other people that are lacking. There will be plenty of penguins, seals, whales, and birds to keep you company, and when you to drop anchor and go ashore, you will get very close to them indeed.
Nothing can quite prepare you for this landscape. The walls of silvery blue ice rise up as much as 300 feet from the sea. The glaciers, ice, and water are never static; they’re continually on the move, cracking, breaking up, and reforming in new shapes. The boat feels miniscule in this vast polar wonderland, little more than a toy bobbing up and down on the water, navigating between the ice floes.
Whereas larger ships often spend just a couple of days in the Antarctic Peninsula, the SV Australis’ itinerary allows its passengers a full week. The guests and crew are granted special permission to camp overnight on the glaciers, which greatly enhances the sense of adventure.
From the deck of the ship you can admire the landscape and watch the pods of whales, but to get the most out of the experience you need to leave the boat behind. The SV Australis has two Zodiacs for exploring shallow waters, plus a number of kayaks. Paddling along the rugged coastline you will see huge colonies of terns, petrels, gulls, cormorants, and other sea birds, and you can then come ashore on the beach.
Your first footstep on Antarctica is arguably the most exciting. The chances are that no one has ever put their foot on that exact patch of sand or rock before. With a permit from the National Science Foundation, you’re allowed to spend up to three days and nights on Antarctica, hiking and cross country skiing by day, and camping under canvas by night.
In spite of the remoteness, you will find that Antarctica is far from quiet. The ice continually creaks and cracks, the seals honk, and the penguins make a cacophony of squawks. The volume of their calls increases as you get closer to them. It’s not that they’re afraid — they have very few natural predators and have no reason to be afraid of man.
Rather, the penguins are curious; they’re calling “hello” and coming up to you to check you out. Some 18 different species of penguins live and breed on the Antarctic mainland and its offshore islands, and the colonies of king penguin alone number up to 150,000 pairs.
Antarctica is, thus far, a pristine ecosystem and for both scientific and ethical reasons, it is imperative it stays that way. Nat Hab has worked closely with the WWF to ensure that this trip is environmentally friendly, and that the experience is completely unique. Climbing to the top of the SV Australis’ crow’s nest to survey the 360 degree views is humbling. We are but small in this world, yet blessed to be surrounded by its beauty.
For more information on Antarctic cruises, including the Nat Hab Christmas sailing, visit journeysmiths.co.uk. Book now for 2019.
Photography ( excluding main image ) courtesy of Nat Hab