Long awaited dream comes true
January 2013

I have been dreaming of going to the Antarctic for a long time. Now that I am back, I still feel as if my trip was just a dream that is too good to be true. But, I had indeed set my feet on the Antarctic!!!


My friend had advised that cetacean encounter for Antarctic cruises is not particularly good but there will be chances to see rarely seen whales or dolphins, e.g. Hourglass Dolphin, Peale's Dolphin, Southern Bottlenose Whale, etc. I therefore was delighted to know about a chartered cruise led by Mark Carwardine, a cetacean expert and zoologist who had published many books on cetaceans and other wildlife. Unlike other Antarctic cruises which mainly focus on sightseeing and penguins viewing, we had made efforts to search for whales and dolphins, as well as many other wildlife during our trip. We did have some wonderful encounters with Humpback Whales in our zodiac cruising. However, due to the unfavourable weather condition (two storms) in the Drake Passage on our way back, it took a longer time for our ship to get back near Ushuaia. We, therefore, did not have time to hang around Cape Horn where various types of dolphins are often sighted. Cetacean sightings for this trip included:

•  Humpback Whale

•  Fin Whale

•  Antarctic Minke Whale

•  Orca (sighted by crew three times during early hours around 4:00 am)

•  An unidentified beaked whale (sighted by 1 crew member at Drake Passage )

•  Peale's Dolphin (sighted by some others after sunset at Beagle Channel)

One of the highlights of our tour is the intimate encounter with the Humpback Whale we named Gloria. When she was sighted, there were three zodiacs (including the one I was on) at the scene. She came over to our zodiacs, had a good look at each of us, and gave us her whale breathes (with stinky fishy sprays ;)). Humpback whale is at least two times longer than our zodiacs. And yet, when she came over to us, she was so gentle and graceful that each of us was so much touched. We found her so glorious that we named her Gloria.

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There was also a Humpback Whale that kept on breaching for almost an hour early in the morning (~ 6:20 am) hoping to wake us up early!

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Fin Whale

We also have excellent encounters with other wildlife:


Magellanic Penguin

(Please click for video)

King Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin

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Gentoo Penguin

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Macaroni Penguin

Adélie Penguin

(Please click for video)


Weddell Seal

Crabeater Seal

Leopard Seal

Southern Elephant Seal

Antarctic Fur Seal

Sea birds

Albatrosses - Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Royal Albatross

Petrels - Storm Petrel, Cape Petrel , Giant Petrel

Exotic Scenery – Icebergs, mountains, etc.

Harsh Life as a Penguin

Living in the Antarctic is never easy. This trip makes me respect the penguins even more.

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First of all, most penguin parents would have to climb up the hill (some with snow or rocks) to build their nests. Although it is sometimes funny to watch them climbing up the hill clumsily, one can at the same time tell how much efforts they had to make with their small feet. And, all the eggs have to be hatched in time during the breeding season otherwise the chicks would be too young to survive the cold weather as they could not moult in time.

Besides this, there are a lot of skuas around, keeping an eye on the vulnerable chicks and taking chances for a meal. I've seen a poor chick possibly attacked by skua and for some reason being abandoned eventually. Without the care from parents, the poor chick kept shivering. Our wildlife guide estimated that he could not survive the day.

Another predator of penguins is leopard seal which are seen many times during our trip. Although they look so relaxed resting on ice, they could swim fast and gave penguins a fatal strike.

Lucky though, human impacts are not prominent in the remote Antarctic and visitors usually exercise self discipline to minimize impacts. Many penguins expressed their interests in us – visitors in red and some even came over for a poke.

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Leave nothing but footprints…

Conservation measures to be taken to minimize impacts on the Antarctic

•  Vacuum all gears to be taken on land

•  No food allowed on land

•  Maintain a 5 metres distance from wildlife

•  Stay away from the penguin highway and let them choose their path first

•  Cleaning of gears when getting back to ship

•  Levelling of snow holes (our deep footprints in snow) before leaving to avoid trapping wildlife

Unique experience – camping in the Antarctic

Have you ever thought of camping on snow with penguins, seals and skuas as your neighbour? Equipped with waterproof bivy sack, sleeping mat and polar sleeping bag, we went camping on snow for one night (night time temperature around -3 ° C ). After we have set up our sleeping gears, some lovely wild animals came to join us!

(Please click for video)

Photo taken from my sleeping bag, with penguins sleeping over there with us

Sunrise (around 4: 00 a .m.)

Arial Route

Hong Kong -> London -> Buenos Aires -> Ushuaia (Boarding for Antarctica )

Other possible place for changing flight: Dubai , all other European cities, Johannesburg

Physical Requirements

Reasonably fit, as you need to wear all those gears (waterproof jacket, pants and shoes) for zodiac landing and cruising (two excursions per day) and need to maintain balance when the sea becomes choppy. Long haul flights can also be unbearable to some.

Temperature in mid summer (January)

hovers around 0 ° C

Weather condition

Unpredictable. The lovely blue sky on postcards is not a common scene. One can normally find overcast and foggy days instead. It also snows and sometimes can be a bit heavy.


Led by cetacean expert Mark Carwardine:

Some of the souvenirs sold at Pork Lockroy can be purchased here:

Catering and Accommodation on board

Being built initially for research purpose, accommodation on the Akademik Ioffe is simple and comfortable, with food in good variety served everyday. Four courses meals (including salad, soup, main dish and dessert) were served during lunch and dinner. And equipped with stabilizer, the ship is quite stable even at choppy sea.

Extended Tours

It is essential to have enough rest after long haul flights to prepare for the seasick prone Drake Passage crossing. It may be a good idea to reach Ushuaia one or two days early before boarding for a short rest. Here are some of the things you can do at Ushuaia:

Boat tour to the Beagle Channel

Our tour leader had also chartered a boat trip to the Beagle Channel for wildlife viewing. We have seen quite a number of birds, as well as Magellanic Penguins, Gentoo Penguins and a pair of King Penguin. The appearance of a Humpback Whale also caught us by surprise.

Tour to the Tierra del Fuego National Park

If you are interested in birds, you may try your luck at the southernmost national park in the world – the Tierra del Fuego National Park to look out for the Magellanic woodpecker, etc.

Touring around Ushuaia

There are quite a number of souvenir shops and restaurants on the main street of Ushuaia (Av. San Martin). However, tourist would need to be aware of their siesta time in Saturday afternoons and public holidays as many of the souvenir shops would be closed.

For more photos of this trip, you are most welcome to visit my online album: