Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands archipelago contains one of the safest harbors in Antarctica. Chile, Argentina, Spain and the UK all have occupied and then deserted the island. Remains of buildings, boats and whaling equipment litter the land. Starting in 1906, it was a Norwegian-Chilean whaling station. Whaling operations continued until 1931, when the station was abandoned due to a slump in whale oil prices.
Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano, which seriously damaged local scientific stations in 1967 and 1969. The eruptions demolished research centers and buried everything left behind in ash, including a cemetery occupied by 45 whalers and a long-deserted aircraft hangar. We could see iron boilers and tanks of the long-gone whalers. We noticed very large holes cut in their sides. Whalers cut these to deter the Nazis from using them to store fuel.
Chinstrap penguins roam around everywhere, as the west side of the island is home to one of the world’s largest chinstrap rookeries.
We had two excursions on Deception Island. The Silver Cloud navigated into the caldera of the island, and we disembarked at Telefon Bay.
Penguins and skua greeted us on the beach.
The skua were happily trolling the beach, looking for scraps of food. Chinstrap penguins grouped together, as well. There’s a large chinstrap colony a few miles away, so these guys were a long way from home.
We got to see what remains from the 1967 and 1969 eruptions. From the landing point we followed our guides for about a mile and a half to the rim. Looking down we saw the base 150 feet below us. Sediment and ice slowly are filling it in.
With the snow melting at temperature of 34 degrees, we spotted a little waterfall feeding a small river at the caldera base. When we first saw it at a distance, it looked like snow.
As we approached, we heard water. IT was eery and beautiful at the same time.
We could have continued to a higher vantage point, but we’d accomplished our goal. And the hike wouldn’t have taken us any nearer to penguins, seals or other wildlife. I took a picture of Madeline who was taking a picture.
It was time to go back to the ship.
In the afternoon, the Silver Cloud stayed in the caldera but moved to Whaler’s Bay, where the old whaling station operated from 1906 to 1931. We saw giant blubber tanks, some old buildings and whale bones.
We walked along the beach, and then up a 30-degree incline toward Neptune’s Window. The window is a narrow gap between two rock pillars, just east of Whaler’s Bay. Lieutenant Commander D.N. Penfold, Royal Navy, gave Neptune’s Window its name following his survey of Deception Island in 1948-49. From Neptune’s Window Penfold said he could see a channel on the southeast side of Deception Island, which he named Neptune’s Bellows. This is the entrance to Port Foster, in the South Shetland Islands.
It didn’t take long for Madeline to find some of her chinstrap penguin buddies.
The walk to Neptune’s Window was another mile and a half from the landing point. As we walked along the beach, we watched small groups of penguins waddling back and forth with us. We also saw many sea birds searching for food. I saw petrels swimming along looking for easy feeding near the shore.
We also saw whale bones among the detritus of wood and a whaler’s town.
The walk to Neptune’s Window took us up a 30-degree incline that was quite narrow. Even with our hiking poles, we took careful steps.
When we arrived at the top, it looked like something from a movie set. The jagged cliffs impressive us. We weren’t allowed to wander close to the edge because there’s a steep drop. Silversea didn’t want to have to rescue anyone on this expedition! The left side of Neptune’s Window is different from the right side. The left side is dark in color and appears volcanic in makeup. The right side is volcanic, too, but it’s lighter in color.
We returned along the same beach and saw more of our chinstrap friends strolling beside us. But we needed to get back to the Silver Cloud for a polar plunge.
I’m a member of the 200 Club. To join I sat in a sauna at 250 degrees, and then jumped into a lake with a water temperature of about 44 degrees. This might sound hard, but it’s nothing compared to the 300 Club at the South Pole.
Of course, you’d have to living at the South Pole to dream up the 300 Club. Members wait until the temperature outside is ‒100 degrees. And wind chill doesn’t count.
After sitting in a sauna of 200 degrees, they run naked, except for insulated boots and an optional neck gaiter, around the real South Pole (going through every latitude), and then run back to the sauna. Upon completing this challenge, members have experienced extreme temperatures and all 24 times zones in their birthday suit!
In the polar plunge on the Silver Cloud, passengers jumped into the Antarctic Ocean (about 34 degrees), and then came back to the ship and warmed up.
So, the temperature difference isn’t that extreme. But I’d guess passengers noticed the cold when the air hit their skin while waiting to take the plunge.
Staff strapped a safety belt around the plungers’ waists, which was tethered to a rope so they could quickly pull them back to the ladder—and the warmth!
The intrepid souls who took the plunge received a certificate of achievement. We talked to many of the crew who said they did it once but had no plans to repeat!
After watching the polar plunge, we got ready for Christmas dinner. All the staff wore little Santa hats and were in a festive mood. We’ve always been with family for Christmas, so this was different. But Silversea made it very special.
That's it for Day 6 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.