Lucy I love penguins, especially the gentoos, the chin straps and the adelies, the ones we saw in Antarctica. The chinstraps are my most favourite because I like their straps on the chin. I loved seeing them toboggan down the snowy hills. We saw a gentoo chick feeding from its mother, it managed to eat half but then a snowy sheathbills came in and stole the mother's special sick up for the chick. We saw loads of humpback whales. My friends had a humpback right right under their canoe, it was filter feeding underneath them. We learnt to hulu-hoop in Antarctica. On the last day we were hulu-hopping on the deck with lots and lots of albatrosses and giant patrols flying past really close. We thought they might fly through the hoops too. We camped on the ice, we had to keep Antarctica really clean so we had to take our toilet back to the ship. So we had to wee in a bucket called "Mr Yum Yum". We didn't have a tent just a sleeping bag and outside bag.
We went to Antarctica. We spent two days on the Drake Passage before catching sight of Antarctica through the mist. Lucy spotted it first during dinner. The next day we went out to the front of the ship and took photos of Antarctica. That morning we went for our first excursion to Pleneau Island, where we saw many gentoo penguins. We made several more excursions and cruises on the zodiacs. We made 2 continental landings, on both continental landings we climbed up to see how high the penguins nested, it was a long way up! We got down by sliding and had a snow ball fight but it was far away from the penguins.
There were two other kids on the ship, Brianna and William, we played with them almost every day.
On the 1st February we slept on the ice, with no tent, just in a hole in the snow. I shared a hole with the other children, we had a great night.
This is a video the girls made of their trip
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far, it would be belittling our truck travel to say it was "the" highlight but it is up there with best.
I loved the talks by the onboard experts and Scientists, it helped me understand more about what we were seeing. They covered everything from the fauna, history, politics, photography, climate change and even a comparison about the differences between Antarctica and the Arctic. Something I hadn't fully understood, apart from being on opposite sides of the globe. As the experts were also onshore and drove the zodiacs for cruising around on the water it gave us the chance to ask them questions about what we were seeing as well.
When we got to the continent the views were just stupendous, we didn't know quite where to look at times. This was especially true with the humpbacked whales, we'd already been treated to lots of whales on several of the landings, zodiac cruises and from the ship. In Wilimena Bay we had been told to expect more whales but even the guides were amazed at the actual numbers. There were pods surfacing wherever we looked, it took my breath away.
I was extremely proud of how the girls behaved. They really loved both Antarctica and the experience of being on the voyage. They were really engaged with the trip: asking intelligent questions, going up onto the bridge and even asking to sit without us at meals so they could "meet new people". I couldn't believe it when they asked to take the microphone during the last dinner and thanked all the staff personally by name and presented them all with awards. They had prepared this totally independently without any adult knowing what they were doing. They didn't miss anyone out and there were several misty eyes, even John who has a couple of Polar medals and an OBE looked sweetly impressed. This was in front of over 100 adults, I was so amazed at both their confidence and thoughtfulness.
We have been back from our epic trip to Antarctica for a few days now but are still basking in that warm glow of having had a really special time. The raw beauty of the stark wilderness and the wonderful wildlife will stay with us forever. The trip was made even more special by the One Ocean Expedition crew and staff on board. They had boundless energy and ran a great operation as well as sharing their knowledge and passion for the place. They were also fantastic with the kids.
I could not have been more proud of Alisha and Lucy. It was great that there was another family on board so they had other children to play with but they behaved fantastically, were genuinely interested and knowledgeable in what we were doing and I think brought a different dimension to everyone's trip. The way they interacted with the other passengers and crew was very mature and gave everyone an insight to seeing Antarctica through a child's eyes.
We only got to touch the beauty of Antarctica and each day after our landings we returned to the warmth, comfort and safety of the ship. Even when we camped out on the ice, a memorable night, the ship was not that far away. However two of the crew had been dropped off on the previous voyage and had spent 14 days kayaking around the Antarctic peninsular unsupported. During our time on the trip we welcomed them back on board at the end of what must have been an amazing experience. They shared with us their photos and experiences and we were in awe of what they had achieved. It must have been an amazing and at times slightly scary experience but a wonderful one and shows that there are special experiences out there if you go out and find them and put the effort into making them happen.
For us I felt such a privilege to have just touched the seventh continent. A trip of a lifetime? Perhaps, but there are others out there and who knows we may go back one day.
On our third day in Antartica we arrived at the small Argentine base of Almirante Brown. Passing the now ubiquitous Gentoo penguins we climbed up behind the base to a small peak about 140m above the base. The staff joked that Lucy was probably the youngest person to have ever "summited" the peak. From the top we again had fantastic views around the bay. Whilst it was fairly hard going climbing up in the snow it was much easier going down as we slid most of the way down on our bottoms. The girls loved it. When we reached the bottom the snow was gently falling but we still took a cruise out in the Zodiacs on the way back to the boat. The ice bergs were magnificent and it was very atmospheric in the gentle snowfall. Yet again we had humpback whales around us, feeding and cruising around. We could also see how one glacier had advanced out into the bay and had massive towers at its leading edge. On our return to the boat we soon warmed up. As usual we were treated to a great lunch of soup, salad, main course and desert. What with full cooked breakfasts, 4 course lunch and dinners plus afternoon tea and biscuits it was clear we would not be loosing any weight on this trip. The weather was clearing and that afternoon we landed at Cuverville Island on a long pebbly beach absolutely covered with penguins. Everywhere you went there were penguins coming in and out of the sea. As we walked further along the beach there were fur seals and weddel seals lounging on the rocks. The sky were clearing and again the views were beautiful it is really hard to describe just how stunning it was. With the clearing skies it meant that tonight it was good to go camping on the ice. So after dinner we headed off the ship to land on the Antartica peninsular for a night on the ice. As everything has to be shipped out with us we had to take our own toilet. Basically a large lined drum nicknamed "Mr Yum Yum". This was placed behind some rocks and poles used on the path to it to mark whether it was occupied or not. It might not have been the most comfortable toilet but it had a great view. To sleep on the ice we were given a mat, a sleeping bag and a bivvy bag to stop the sleeping bag getting wet. No tent! First we had to dig a hole in the snow to place everything into. This was in case the wind got up. We dug 2 triple holes. One for me,Gilly and Lucy and one for Alisha, Brianna and William. The kids were really excited. Before bed they all did some more hulu hooping so what with this and the digging we were quite warm when we crawled into our sleeping bags. It was nearly midnight but it was still light. In fact it did not get dark all night just a twilight. We all slept reasonably well and Gilly and I awoke just after 5 to the most amazing sunrise and humpbacked whales blowing in the waters below us. The zodiacs were coming to get us at 6 but the children did not want to get up as they were fast asleep, warm and cosy. Eventually they were up and we were whisked back to the ship for a very welcome hot cup of coffee. I had always wanted to camp on the ice but thought that after doing it once that would be it. In fact it was really great, yes the weather was good which helped, but if we had the opportunity to ever do it again I certainly would. That mornings landing was at Orne Harbour. First we did a short cruise to see the seals and the sea birds before landing. The star sight here was a different type of penguin, the Chinstrap Penguin. They are the mountain climbers of the penguin world and build their nest high on the top of rocky hills. We found a colony close to the beach and the kids felt that was enough. I though decided to continue the climb up the hill to see some more penguins and to enjoy the view. To my surprise I looked down and saw the girls making the trek up the hill. They had seen that from the top you could slide down and they had not wanted to miss out on a great slide down the hill. Returning to the boat we were surrounded by humpback whales. This time they were really close to the zodiacs. The guides said even they were amazed at how many whales we had seen but it was not finished yet. In the afternoon we entered Wilhelmina Bay on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The scenery we had seen so far on this trip had been fantastic but this possibly topped the lot. It was just stunning. The bay was surrounded by white mountains with massive glaciers flowing down to the sea. It simply blew us away. And then to top it all it was teeming with humpback whales. Everywhere you turned you could see them either singly or in groups. Excitedly we got into the zodiacs and were surrounded by them. We even saw a couple breaching (jumping completely out of the water) although they were too quick to get a photo of. It was just amazing to be in such a beautiful, pristine environment surrounded by such large gentle animals who were unconcerned by our presence. Half way through the cruise we were surprised to see a couple of the crew pull up in a Zodiac. They had coffee laced wit some liquor to warm us all up. Very nice. That evening we were treated to a magnificent sunset and also a full moon. What a day. The next morning we had headed to the South Shetland Islands and were welcomed with a sunny but windy day. The wind was gusting up to 45 knots which is around 90km an hour or Force 9 on the Beaufort Scale. Inside the ship it was rocking much more but you only really noticed the wind if you ventured outside. We had arrived at Deception Island which was to be our landing for the morning. But first we had to get in. Deception Island is a Volcanic Island in the shape of a horseshoe with the Middle been a giant caldera. The entrance to the horseshoe is narrow made worse by the fact that about halfway across is a submerged rock just below the surface so it's a tricky entrance at the best of times. We were told if the winds were above 35 Knots we would not be able to go in. However our captain very skilfully navigated us in despite the 45 knot winds. It was though too dangerous to launch the zodiacs so instead the ship cruised around the giant caldera. The landscape was very different with volcanic ash everywhere. The last eruption had been in the late 1960's. On the way out we could see large colonies of Chinstrap penguins on the rocky cliffs. At Deception Island passengers are given the opportunity to swim in the Southern Ocean. It was not going to be possible today but the plunge pool on the ship was filled with sea water so for those passengers who wanted to take a polar plunge this was where it could be done in 2 degree water. Gilly and I decided it had to be done so took the plunge. Needless to say after been immersed we got out very quick! With the winds we were not going to be able to do any further landings that day. There was also a storm coming in with winds of 70 knots an hour, hurricane strength. Our captain, and for that mind us, did not want to be out in the ocean in those winds so it was decided to set sail immediately for Ushuaia to try and stay in front of the storm. Despite the storm the sail across the Drake Passage was relatively calm. We spent the day sailing reliving what we had seen, interspersed with some more great talks by the experts on board. Time passed quickly and we had made lots of new friends there was always a good evening to be had in the bar. We managed to stay ahead of the storm and arrived early back to the Beagle Channel. This meant we had to spend a day circling around until it was time to take the pilot on board to take us to our mooring. Mind you we still had a great day. More talks as well as a tour of the ship to see the engine room etc We also had loads of sea birds near the ship and it was great watching the birds, especially the Albatrosses as they wheeled in the sky and dipped just above the waves with their massive wings. We celebrated our return and the great trip we had had in style that evening. A great dinner followed by speeches. Then right at the end the 4 children asked to speak. They confidently came up and took the microphone to speak to the 100 people seated. They wanted to thank the crew and presented each of them with a special badge they had made. None of the parents knew anything about this, they had done it all by themselves. The crew were really touched and we were so proud. We knew then that they had enjoyed the trip as much as we had. The next morning we were in Ushuaia and after an early breakfast it was time to disembark. It had been a trip of a lifetime to a truly special place. We said our goodbyes to the fantastic staff who had made it so special and to the many great people we had met and returned to the campsite via the launderette to find the truck all safe and sound. We were exhausted after the trip but our memories will stay with us forever of the special, magical place at the end of the world called Antarctica.
Before I start writing I'm going to have to apologise for the excessive use of superlatives in this post about our trip to Antarctica but I won't apologise for the number of photos. Even if we managed to capture just a tiny amount of its beauty, it will give you an idea of the magnificent allure. The Akademik Sergey Vavilov is a Finnish built, Russian ice breaker. When it isn't carrying out research trips, a Canadian company hire it as an expedition cruise boat. As we booked last minute and only very few boats take children, it turned out purely by chance that we ended up on what we felt was the best boat for us. Its programme is more adventurous than many of the other voyages, with lots of landings. Neither of us had done any sort of cruise before so I have nothing to compare it to, but we felt we got the best of both worlds: so comfortably looked after but lots of quite strenuous activities. It is one of the smaller expedition cruise boats (max 96 passengers) and because it was built for scientific purposes, it had a variety of functions that most boats don't have, including that it could turn and stop almost anywhere. Having read about other trips we had been slightly worried that Steve and I might be some of youngest passengers on an Antarctic cruise. We needn't have worried as it turned out that the Vavilov had a wide demographic of ages, we ended up being in the middle. The sailors and captain were all Russian employed by the Russian Oceanography Institute but the One Ocean expedition cruise staff were from all over. As we boarded in Ushuaia we were delighted to see another family, they were from Australia and had 2 children. The staff were really surprised too, as they very rarely see children on a trip. The kids were soon running as a pack. Brianna and William are such delightful and lovely kids and at 11 and 9 they were a perfect fit with our girls. The first evening on board we sailed through the calm Beagle Channel and got to know many of the other passengers and staff. For the following couple of days we crossed the Drake Passage, one of the roughest seas in the world. Luckily it was a relatively smooth crossing but Lucy and I still managed to be seasick. By the second day, we were feeling better and I managed to attend some of the presentations from the naturalists and scientists onboard. It was amazing to listen to the lectures and stories from these experts in their fields. Eventually on the third evening after sailing for 48hours we had our first sight of the Antarctic islands. Huge icy cliffs of glaciers looming out through the fog, the excitement was growing. The following morning everyone was on the bow of the ship early, way before breakfast, staring memorised by the black waters with great lumps of brilliant white ice in the Lemaire Channel. Surrounded by high cliffs and peaks outlined in crisp snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful, the white ship was perfectly reflected in the mirror-like waters. After a fortifying breakfast, we struggled into our multiple layers. The boat provided Steve and I with insulated Wellington boots, insulated water-proof trousers and matching jackets. We took clothes for the girls, as they only had them for adults. On went the tights, thin socks, ski socks, leggings, fleece trousers, thick waterproof trousers, t-shirt, 2 fleeces, waterproof jacket, hat, muff, thin gloves,waterproof gloves, wellies and, of course, a life jacket. It sounds a lot but it wasn't too much more than they would wear for a European winter. But after wearing mostly shorts and t-shirts for the last few months, it was a struggle to get them dressed. They didn't complain at all though even though it made them waddle like the penguins we had come to see. Blue skies were peaking out from behind fluffy clouds and the fog kept its distance on the tops of the peaks. We carefully climbed down the gangway onto the inflatable rubber zodiacs. The sea was like glass, which made our first clumsy transfer from ship to zodiac, in all our layers, easier than we had expected. The girl's life jackets had a very handy handle on the top of their back, which meant that if necessary they could be easily grabbed like a giant handbag. Pleneau Island had a large colony of Gentoo Penguins and a fantastic view from the top of a rocky headland of lots of grounded icebergs of all shapes and sizes. Watching the penguin's comical waddling up and down the snowy hills, could have kept us entertained for hours. However once they hit the sea, they changed from comical clowns to fast, sleek, efficient hunters. Both parents care for their chicks, taking turns hunting and brooding to keep them warm. Getting the chicks to be fully grown and independent by the end of the short Antarctic summer is hard work. We took a cruise in the zodiac past the amazingly carved, ice-blue bergs. I know the science behind their their shape and colour but you could defiantly see God's hand in their beauty. As the fog rolled slowly in from behind, as we headed back to the ship, the scene became even more unworldly and celestial. All that excitement and beauty was too much for some people. Lucy conked out in the bottom of the zodiac as we marvelled at the views. That afternoon on Petermann Island we landed between several colonies of nesting gentoo and adelie penguins. We were told that we should stay at least 5 metres from them but that they are curious animals, so we shouldn't expect them to stick to the same rules. It was lovely just to stop and watch them waddle up and toboggan down the "penguin highways" from their high rocky nesting sites. If you stood still they weren't afraid of humans so would come far closer. While we were totally absorbed watching the penguins, the expedition staff were keeping a close eye of the amount of loose ice that had come into the bay. The wind direction had shifted since we had come ashore and now the little bay was rapidly filling with ice. We were asked to make our way back to the zodiacs, we didn't mind as we'd already had a good walk and look around. The clear landing spot where we'd been just an hour and a half earlier before was now completely choked with small pieces of broken glacier. The staff were highly professional and we felt very safe with them but we could see it wasn't the best situation to have all your passengers in. We slowly ground our way through the lumpy ice soup with the propeller making a horrible scraping sound. The ship itself had no such problems, it is fully equipped to push away any ice, so once we got close enough we were back in clear waters again. Our first wonderful day in Antarctica ended with another breathtaking backdrop of the Lemaire Channel. We decided then, that even with all the hassle of getting there, the seasickness, cost etc, that if we had just had that magical day it would have been worth it. Port Lockroy is a historic base belonging to the British Antarctica Survey, it has been preserved as a museum to show how life was for polar scientists and explorers in the 1950 and 60's. It was fascinating to see how they worked and lived especially how they over wintered. One of the scientists on board had done as such for 2 winters in 1967 to 1969 at a different but very similar base, so it fascinating to hear about his experiences after seeing the conditions they he had lived in. They also had crÃ¨ches of gentoo chicks literally on their doorstop. When the chicks are big enough both parents go to sea to bring back enough food, the chicks huddle and "creche" together for warmth and safety. Our "babies" were mesmerised and all four children just stood and watched the curious chicks. After one of the postmistresses had gently removed a snoozing chick from someone's abandoned backpack we were able to take a zodiac across to nearby Jougla Point and take a look at a massive whale skeleton and the tiny remains of icebergs carved onto almost mythical figures by the elements. I found while wandering around gazing in awe at God's marvellous creation, I was often brought back from the higher plains of wonder by the pungent odour of penguin guano. It is heady stuff and very pink from all the krill they eat. Lucy like many 6 year olds is a mud (or in this case penguin poo) magnet and she had to be hosed off every time we returned to the ship, luckily with all her layers she couldn't even feel the cold water. Later that day we took the scenic route to our landing at Neko Harbour and were treated to a magnificent afternoon of watching several groups of humpbacked whales feed. Wow! We were just speechless, they were so graceful, so huge ....and so close. First we would see a ring of bubbles forming on the surface as they bubble-netted the krill from deep below, then the tips of their huge jaws would appear scooping up any krill in their path. Some were just cruising around near the surface socialising. The noise of them expelling air through their blowholes could be heard throughout the bay as different groups of usually solitary animals congregated in the rich feeding grounds. We didn't know which way to look. Whilst relaxing near the surface we could see their characteristic humpback and small dorsal fin and we were so lucky to see many of them raising their tails just as they dove into the deep. The bay was surrounded by huge cliffs of glacial ice that groaned and cracked. Occasionally there would be a loud shot-like noise as an iceberg carved from the end of the glacier.That night, we had been really looking forward to camping out on the continent in just a sleeping bag and bivvy bag straight on the snow but it wasn't to be. Thick grey snow clouds rolled in during the evening, so it wouldn't have been safe. I think quite a few people were secretly relieved. I was really looking forward to it, I couldn't imagine a more magical place to spend the night. Unlike most of other the boats, ice camping was included in the trip and was open to everyone. The doctor and safety crew thought there was absolutely no reason why the children couldn't do it. In the end about half of the boat signed up to do it. The girls were sad that it was being postponed, until they heard instead that their favourite member of staff: Shiho from Japan, was going to do a short hulu-hoop show instead. We loved the fact that the expedition staff whilst being highly skilled and professional at the job they were employed for were also encouraged to share their other talents. Shiho teaches hulu-hooping in Australia, when she is not in the Arctic or Antarctic. As she had a very willing group, both children and a few adults, she was often up on deck in calm waters teaching everyone to hulu-hoop. A rather surreal view as we glided past icebergs, whales and glaciers.