A total solar eclipse is phenomenal in itself; observing it from Antarctica makes it even more special. An unparalleled adventure, where the world can’t find you…
When the sun, moon and earth are aligned, the sun is covered by the moon from one spot on earth. That part of the earth is then obscured by the moon; an astronomical phenomenon known as a solar eclipse. On 4 December 2021, a total solar eclipse will be visible in Antarctica. One more reason to explore this unique part of the world.
For many, Antarctica evokes the image of endless ice fields and immense cold. Only heroic explorers and reckless adventurers venture there. But Antarctica has much more to offer! It is the southernmost and strangest continent on earth. Nature is still untouched due to the absence of humans. The largest part of Antarctica lies under a kilometre-thick icecap. The Antarctic Peninsula, on the other hand, has a much gentler climate due to the dampening effect of the ever nearby sea. Moreover, this area has an impressively varied landscape. Every bay, canal or strait is unique. It is a chain of glaciers, vistas, deep-blue ice, ice floes and icebergs. It’s like being in a fairy tale. It is engraved in my memory.
“Never for me the lowered banner, never the last endeavour”
With this phrase from Sir Ernest Shackleton – the Antarctic explorer who led both the ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Endurance’ expeditions – we set off from Ushuaia for the Falklands, South Georgia, Elephant island, Orkney island, the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. An expedition to the little-visited southernmost part of our planet, to ‘the seventh continent’.
After two days of rough seas, enriched by many thematic lectures of the professional expedition team about the Antarctic, we reach the Falkland Islands. A wonderful first encounter with the abundant fauna and flora awaits me. I see my first penguins, ‘rockhoppers’, one of the eight species I will get to see this journey. I visit a White-breed albatross colony with thousands of birds, perched on cliffs that provide the necessary thermals. In capital Stanley, cottages with neat lawns, cosy pubs and an Anglican cathedral remind me that I am on British territory.
The next few days at sea, we are pursued by wandering albatrosses, petrels and whales. I spot orcas, but they are too far away to get a good picture. After two days at sea we pass by ‘Shag rock’, a breeding ground for blue eyed shags. A warming up for South Georgia!
The next morning the weather is pleasant. I can’t wait to discover the unknown. South Georgia is a very remote island and intensely beautiful, rugged and pure. The coastline consists of deep fjords, stunning bays with pebble beaches, glaciers touching the sea, calving ice. In the background snow and ice covered mountains, and hidden valleys with grassy plains. The largest populations of southern fur seals and elephant seals in the world, several species of albatrosses – including the spectacular giant and sooty albatross – and six species of penguins are part of the exceptionally rich fauna of the island. The total number of animals is many millions!
Guided Zodiac, land and sea tours give us the opportunity to observe a wide variety of wildlife up close. We make three different landings in different places. We visit Grytviken, a harbour town and former whaling station with one church and eighteen inhabitants. As icing on the cake, we see fighting elephant seals in the small harbour. The story of Shackleton runs like a thread through my journey. He arrived in Grytviken after a harsh journey across the island from ‘Elephant Island’, where he had to leave 22 crew members behind. He rescued them 45 days later.
Antarctica, The Seventh Continent
Via Elephant Island, a small mountainous island named after the elephant seals that explorers once saw lounging on its shores, we sail to the Antarctic Peninsula. The peninsula consists of an 800-kilometre-long mountain range whose highest peaks rise above sea level, resulting in huge icebergs, towering glaciers and rich wildlife. When we arrive the weather is lovely.
Maneuvering between ice floes and colossal icebergs, we spot crab seal, weddell seal and of course the iconic ‘leopard seal’. Adelai, chinstrap and gentoo penguin in their tens of thousands, everywhere I look I see penguins. Skuas and petrels are always present to steal an unguarded egg or chick. Sheatbills walk like white chickens through the colonies. When lifting anchor, “Orcas!” blares through the speakers. An array of “ooh…” and “ah…” as a result. This is amazing! The photos speak for themselves.
The Drake Passage
Between Tierra del Fuego and the South Shetland Islands lies the infamous ‘Drake Passage’. Different currents, the meeting of warm ocean water with the cold water of the Antarctic and the strength of the wind determine how the days at open sea will be. In the worst-case scenario, you will experience the ‘Drake Shake’ when a sea storm builds up and you have to wait for hours for the waves to subside. In the most favourable case, the passage presents itself as ‘Drake Lake’; quiet waves, clear skies, a wonderful crossing. I am lucky and experience Drake Lake. We are accompanied by dolphins and giant albatrosses that glide seemingly effortlessly through the air. It is the last hurdle before I see the green mountains of Argentina’s ‘Terra del Fuego’ in the distance. This announces the end of my expedition. With a heavy heart I disembark. What an adventure!
I can recommend every traveller to set foot in Antarctica at least once in his life. Leave this autumn, and seize the opportunity to watch the rare total eclipse from the Seventh Continent. Grab your chance, make this unique trip and have an experience for a lifetime. Treat yourself to an unparalleled adventure. Where the world can’t find you…
Jozef Verbruggen is Director and Owner of Untamed Travelling. Untamed Travelling is a travel designer that specializes in high-end bespoke travel experiences around the globe.
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