Antarc­tic Odyssey

The People's Friend Special - - THINGS TO DO -

Ware very for­tu­nate in hav­ing trav­elled to some re­mote and ex­cit­ing places over the years, but Hazel, my wife, has al­ways han­kered af­ter see­ing the Antarc­tic. Whilst I de­light in snorkelling in trop­i­cal wa­ters, she prefers the com­fort of a cagoule to a swim­ming cos­tume.

So we booked a three-week voy­age on MS Hanseatic, a Ger­man ship which, in ex­change for the cost of my first house, of­fers first-class com­fort and the chance to enjoy this lit­tle-vis­ited re­gion.

Af­ter a brief call in the Falkland Is­lands, Hazel spot­ted the first hint of what lay ahead on the hori­zon.

What looked like a long cloud was ac­tu­ally a six-mile-long iceberg, a sheet of ice which had bro­ken away from Antarc­tica and floated north­wards, caus­ing us to di­vert slightly to reach South Ge­or­gia.

Cap­tain Cook dis­cov­ered South Ge­or­gia Is­land, nam­ing it af­ter the King, but many na­tions have used its nat­u­ral har­bours and in­lets for com­mer­cial whal­ing and smaller-scale seal fur and oil pro­duc­tion.

When Nor­we­gian whalers searched for a base, they dis­cov­ered six old pots used by seal­ers to ren­der down blub­ber and named the bay Grytviken, which means Pot Cove.

Our first land­ing was at Sal­is­bury Plain beach, filled with de­light­ful king pen­guins, the adults beau­ti­fully marked with yel­lowy or­ange and black heads, their young in var­i­ous stages of downy dis­ar­ray as they preened away their ju­ve­nile plumage.

On this kind of ves­sel, shore land­ings are by zo­diac boat, which proved ac­ces­si­ble even to those un­steady on their feet. The staff are used to older pas­sen­gers and get­ting in and out is made pain­less with their help.

Up on the beach, the pen­guins didn’t seem aware of the five-me­tre limit we were asked to ob­serve, com­ing up to get a closer look at th­ese red-clad in­ter­lop­ers.

The beach looked de­light­ful in our un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally lovely weather, with the sun glint­ing high on a glacier, whilst il­lu­mi­nat­ing the hatch­ery ex­tend­ing high up the hill­side.

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