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Antarctica Expedition

Story by Johannes Huwe March 1st, 2015


The expedition to the Antarctic began with several days spent traveling from Germany to Argentina’s southern-most city, which is also the southern-most city in the world: Ushuaia. The word “Ushuaia“ is taken from one of the indigenous languages and translates roughly as ”bay that faces east”. At latitude 54° 48‘ south, however, Ushuaia lies further from the South Pole than Moscow, at 55° 44‘ north latitude, is from the North Pole. It certainly feels like we’re near the very end of the earth.

It’s a great surprise to learn that the expedition ship, the L´Austral, with the French Ponant line, serves during summer months as a cruise ship in the Mediterranean – which explained the pool at the rear of the ship, something that initially seemed so utterly out of place in the arctic climate. The fact that the ship was not built for extreme arctic conditions soon became abundantly clear to us. It worked to my advantage, though, since I was assigned to a suite, despite haing only booked a basic cabin. The door connecting the two cabins wouldn’t close and that’s how I ended up in a double cabin, or, rather, suite.


the First iceberg

The first leg of our journey to the Antarctic brought us to South Georgia Island, part of a chain of islands far to the east of the tip of Argentina. South Georgia is 160 km in length and is known for its flora and fauna, in particular its incredible wildlife.


south georgia

Along with see leopards, seals and sea elephants, there’s a colony of over 400,000 king penguins at St. Andrew´s Bay.
During the approach in the Zodiac we soon caught wind of the foul odor coming from the king penguins. But what truly amazed me was how easily they were able to find their way around the enormous bay.


A rather strenuous hike through the mountains of South Georgia was on our schedule the following day. Fierce winds whipped at us as we made our way along the historic Shackleton Hike from Fortuna Bay to Stromness Harbour.
The British polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, reached South Georgia at the end of the dramatically unsuccessful Endurance expedition. His ship, the Endurance, was crushed by pack ice and his crew rescued themselves by crossing the ice to reach Elephant Island. Six of his men sailed around the South Georgia coast in a lifeboat. Shackleton traversed the glacier on foot, arriving in Stromness on May 20, 1916.


Icebergs -the journey to the Antarctic

Following our initial days spent off South Georgia, the ship next set course for the Antarctic. Two days sailing through the infamous Drake Passage lie before us before we arrive at the Antarctic peninsula. Icebergs point the way, signaling that we don’t have much farther to go.


paradise bay

Arriving at the southernmost point of our expedition, we are treated to a stunning view of Paradise Bay. Countless glaciers are reflected in the crystal clear, ice cold waters. We take the Zodiac across the bay, landing at the Chile’s González Videla Antarctic Research Station.


wildlife and nature


Neko harbour

From Paradise Bay we continue on to Neko Harbour. Neko Harbour lies on Andvord Bay, which slices into the western side of the Antarctic peninsula at 64°50’S. Like everywhere else along this part of the peninsula, the coastline at Andvord Bay is comprised mainly of the tall leading edges of glaciers and steep, rugged cliffs. Owing to the terrain, there are very few spots where a landing can be made on the continent. Neko Harbour is one of these spots. Only a few hundred meters from the rocky landing site, an enormous glacier was calving into the bay, setting adrift large quantities of glacial ice. Neko Harbour was discovered in 1898 by the Belgian, Adrien de Gerlache, and is named after a Norwegian whaling boat that worked the area between 1911 and 1924.


On the way back, we travel through the Lemaire Canal, a strait between the Antarctic peninsula and nearby Booth Island, before setting course for the American continent. We sail past mountains cloaked in layers of snow untold meters in depth. You can see along the escarpment the massive amounts of snow that lie piled atop these mountains. Just as throughout the entirety of our Antarctic expedition, we are treated to an unbelievable array of colors and light in a rich variety of moods.

Near Cape Horn the winds grow increasingly stronger. While I’m standing in the shower in my cabin, the ship heels over so much that the stream of water shoots past me on the right.
With a queasy look on my face, I glance over to the monitor and see that it’s registering a 120 km/h side wind.
I think to myself, thank goodness it’s not much farther to our destination, the harbor at Ushuaia, but then it occurs to me that our ship was actually meant for the calmer weather found during summers in the Mediterranean…

Footnote: The pictures were made with a Hasselblad medium format camera and with a Leica M.