Antarctica, Day 4: South Shetland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula

December 23, 2019

Paul Kay

We’re traveling Antarctica on Silversea Cruises. Today, we sailed from the South Shetland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. Here’s how our trip has gone so far.

We woke up this morning at five o’clock, because we were the first group out on the Zodiacs at seven. But the sun rose at two o’clock, so there was plenty of light.

We arrived at Orne Harbor, two miles southwest of Cape Anna on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Belgian Antarctic Expedition discovered it in 1898. There was supposed to be blue whales, but more importantly, everybody wanted to step foot on Antarctica for the first time.

Blue Whale Spewing Topside, Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 Blue whale spewing topside

These aren’t trained whales like you see at Sea World. Sometimes seeing a whale spew water or a dorsal fin is all you get. The blue whale is the largest animal in the area. It stretches 100 feet long and weighs 380,000 pounds. The blue whale eats only small crustaceans known as krill. Blue whales are always on the hunt for krill because they need so much of it to sustain their bulk. Lucky for blue whales, the Antarctic is the most plentiful feeding ground in the world.

Mountainous Antarctic Continent, Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 Dramatic mountains rising out of the sea

The edge of the continent here is magical with mountains like the Andes, Rockies or Himalayas. The difference is there is an ocean at the shore. And everywhere we looked was more magical.

Blue Ice, Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 Beautiful blue on blue

We caught our first glimpse of blue ice floating off the coast here. One of the most amazing sights in Antarctica is stunning blue ice, rippling like a frozen sea. Our first impression was that someone sprayed some blue dye on the ice. Blue ice in Antarctica is when a glacier has been swept clean of snow. Scientists have dated some blue ice at more than one million years old.

Here’s how blue ice forms: When glacial ice first freezes, it contains air bubbles. As newer ice layers on top of older ice, the old ice compresses and squeezes out the air bubbles. And without air bubbles, the ice reflects the blue wavelengths. Antarctica is the only place on Earth with these incredible stretches of blue ice.

View of Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 The view of Orne Harbor from the glacier

We rode Zodiacs to the landing spot in Orne Harbor, which was rocky but thankfully free of penguin guano. We did see a couple of blue whales, their dorsal fins and spewed air and water only. They were feeding. We hiked up a glacier for a better view. And that view was terrific. And the weather cooperated. While it was 32 degrees, no wind froze our faces, which made it almost balmy Antarctic weather.

Blue Iceberg, Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 A blue iceberg in the harbor

A small blue iceberg just floated in the harbor below. Madeline and I walked up only halfway. The soft and wet ice on the traverse up resulted in sinking to our knees in snow, even with the well-marked path. The naturalist told us it would be an “extreme” climb and to go only as far as we felt comfortable. We saw another naturalist stopped about half way up and stopped there and talked with her and took photos.

Zodiac Coming Back to Pick Up Passengers, Silversea Cruises, Orne Harbor, Antarctica

 A Zodiac coming back for more expeditioners

The Zodiac captains efficiently shuttled people back and forth. We had only an hour on the peninsula because our total trip time was an hour and a half, and it took 15 minutes to go and another 15 minutes to get back.

After we returned to the Silver Cloud, we removed most of our clothing layers and made our way to the main dining room for a terrific five-star lunch. The food on this cruise is amazing. Madeline was looking forward to lunch with crab cakes and spanakopita followed by a salad.

After lunch, we were supposed to go to González Videla Station, named for Chilean President Gabriel González Videla. In the 1940s, Videla became the first head of state from any nation to visit Antarctica. The station was active from 1951–1958. It briefly was reopened in the early 1980s. Today, it’s a tourist stop where you can purchase souvenirs and drink Chilean wine.

González Videla Station, Antarctica

 González Videla Station showing its Chilean roots

With our Zuber ride to González Videla scheduled at three o’clock, the winds starting gusting over 55 miles per hour. The Zodiac captains and the expedition leader decided it wasn’t safe, so the Silver Cloud pulled up anchor and went in search of wildlife as we sailed to our next stop. So close we could see the station, just not get there!

After an hour of looking for wildlife, the captain announced the Silver Cloud would return to the González Videla Station tomorrow morning. Silversea had to get the necessary permissions and authorizations through the appropriate channels with IATTO.

To visit González Videla tomorrow morning, we have to be ready to go by eight o’clock. It’ll be a great way to spend Christmas Eve! We’ll visit the station, and in the afternoon, we’ll go on a Zodiac tour of Melchiore Islands, which are a group of ice-covered islands near the center of Dallmann Bay in the Palmer Archipelago. They’re known as the Venice of Antarctica because of the many narrow canals and islands, so the Zodiac tour sounds fun.

This trip is anything but restful, with me typing and Madeline finding the right photographs each day for the blog. We’ll need a vacation after this expedition to recover! We hope you’re enjoying our posts and beautiful sights. Let us know in the comments!

That's it for Day 4 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!

Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.

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Read More

Searching for Shackleton in the Undiscovered Continent of Antarctica
Planning Our Antarctica Trip
Cruising Antarctica 101
Reading: Antarctica
Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea
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