This piece was written by Edi Gardiner, a good friend of mine whom I met on a European Topdeck tour in February 2015. Edi is a world traveler, travel agent for Student Flights and like me, a wannabe American.
In late 2015, she was lucky enough to be part of a sponsored expedition with Intrepid Travel and Quark Expeditions and we are thrilled to share her experience on Enchanted Serendipity.
Ever since I can remember I’ve always loved the idea of travel.
Experiencing new cultures, eating delicious local food, trying new activities, meeting new people and seeing places that quite literally take your breath away. After spending a year traveling and working around the USA, I came home and decided to get a job as a travel agent working for Student Flights. Not only was that the best decision I ever made, but I also got the opportunity to continue to travel all around the globe.
Amazingly, late last year I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be 1 of 15 people to get to visit Antarctica.
There are a few different ways of reaching that 7th continent but the most common way is on an expedition boat that leaves from Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina. You spend 2 days crossing the infamous Drake Passage before entering the Antarctic Peninsula. With literally no idea what to expect, I packed my bags, met my fellow travelers and flew from my home city of Brisbane to Buenos Aires via Auckland with Air New Zealand.
First Stop To Antarctica: Argentina
Upon landing we were greeted by our sponsors, Intrepid travel, and were transferred to our hotel for the night. After getting our bags weighed, collecting our documentation and charter flight ticket we headed out for Argentina’s famous asado (barbeque) and a glass or two of Malbec to toast the start of the most epic adventure of our lives!
The next morning we woke up bright and early at 4:00am to be transferred back to the airport for our charter flight down to the southern most tip of Argentina – Ushuaia, or as the locals call it ‘the end of the world’. We then spent a few hours exploring the beautiful town which was surrounded by mountains and is an entry point into Terre del Fuego National Park (Patagonia). After filling up on empañadas and getting my passport stamped in Ushuaia, we were officially ready to be driven down to the bottom of the marina to board our vessel.
Headed To Antarctica: On Board ‘The Ocean Endeavour’
The Ocean Endeavour, operated by Quark Expeditions, was so much better than I ever expected. Our rooms were spacious, our beds were super comfy, the service was impeccable and they even had yoga classes, a sauna, gym and pool on board.
We then spent most of the remaining afternoon getting a safety briefing and learning all about what to expect over the next 10 days. The session ended with us trying on our custom made wind proof and water proof expedition jackets (which we got to keep) and boots that we’d be needing for the trip. That night we all sat down to the most amazing 4 course meal with more Malbec and got to meet some of the other people on board. The ship held 198 passengers and there were almost that many crew as well. About 40 of those crew members were special expedition leaders that ran educational talks throughout the week and operated all the zodiac cruises, landings and optional activities.
The next 2 days were spent crossing the Drake Passage which is known for having some of the roughest waters in the world. We were lucky to only be experiencing about a 5 out of 10 when it came to rough seas but there were many sea sickness tablets given out and drinks and plates flying everywhere at meal times.
On day 3 whilst everyone was at lunch one of my fellow travelers was looking out the window and spotted the first iceberg. Everyone ran up onto the deck to be able to take photos and get excited about what was to come. Little did we know that that iceberg was nothing compared to what we’d see in the coming days! Later that afternoon we received an announcement that we were officially in Antarctica and everyone was to prepare for their first landing. All the passengers were divided into 4 groups and each group would be called in stages to get into their clothing and boots and prepare to land. Only 2 groups could ever be on ground at once and the other 2 groups would be taken out for a zodiac cruise to explore other coves and see icebergs at a closer distance.
Exploring Antarctica: Paddle Boarding & Polar Plunges
The next 5 days were spent exploring some of the many islands and coves of Antarctica. People were given the opportunity to sign up for various activities before booking, which were run by specially trained expedition crew. Cross country skiing, mountaineering and kayaking were some of the options, and even overnight camping on the ice if weather permitted. I was lucky enough to sign up for stand up paddle boarding which was an activity they were running for the first time.
After getting a safety briefing and hopping into our specially made dry suits we were taken out into a calm part of the peninsula to climb on board and stand up paddle. Being so close to the water and ice and being able to take in all our surroundings was the most surreal experience of my life.
In fact I got a little too excited with my paddling and ended up hitting a small chunk of ice and falling in! Thankfully I was rescued straight away and was given extra warm clothing to heat me up again (not to mention an exciting story to tell the grandkids one day).
Each zodiac cruise and landing was filled with different experiences and sights I’d never seen before. The landscape was spectacular, there were all different types of penguins and seals everywhere and we were even lucky enough to spot a group of Orcas up close as well as a leopard seal lying on an iceberg. Surprisingly the temperature wasn’t as cold as I had thought, ranging from about 0 to -5˚ Celsius. The wind chill however was brutal and packing a balaclava saved me from frost bite.
After the most incredible 5 days our time in Antarctica ended with an optional polar plunge (jumping off the boat into the freezing cold water, whilst being harnessed so you could be pulled out again), cocktails filled with pure Antarctic ice, another amazing 4 course dinner and an Antarctic costume themed party on the boat!
The Antarctic Adventure Comes To A Close
We then spent the next 2 days passing back through the Drake Passage and learning more about what we saw as well as tips on how to best edit our photos. Once docking back in Ushuaia and saying goodbye to all the amazing crew we spent a few hours exploring Terre del Fuego National Park before being transferred back to the airport for our charter flight back to Buenos Aires.
Needless to say visiting Antarctica was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was so impressed with how professional the Quark Expedition team and boat crew were. The food was amazing, the rooms were fantastic, the activities and talks offered were of the highest standard and the experience was completely immeasurable.
Next stop the Arctic!
If you loved this, check out even more Antarctica Travel Tips here.