New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... -

Who doesn’t love a pen­guin? Cute, lit­tle, wad­dling, smartly dressed – be­ing sur­rounded by around 20,000 of them would be a to­tal de­light, right? Not en­tirely. Pen­guins, frankly, stink. Well, their rook­eries do any­way, the snow stained pink with the by-prod­uct of a diet rich in krill.

Pen­guins en masse also make the most almighty racket, hoot­ing and squawk­ing non-stop as they greet mates, shout at ma­raud­ing skuas or join in the con­stant cho­rus just for the fun of it. It’s deaf­en­ing.

Get them on their own, though, and they’re to­tally charm­ing. One of the best bits, and there were so many, about my Sil­versea Ex­pe­di­tion cruise to Antarc­tica was that there was plenty of time for qui­etly

con­nect­ing with this mag­i­cal, unique en­vi­ron­ment and its in­hab­i­tants. Sit­ting on a rocky beach in the sun­shine, I could hear the chunks of ice clink­ing in the waves, the an­cient air in­side them pop­ping au­di­bly as sweet lit­tle chin­strap pen­guins scram­bled out of the sea.

Against a back­ground of sculpted ice­bergs and glis­ten­ing glaciers, they stopped to preen them­selves be­fore wad­dling past to join their part­ners and feed their fluffy grey chicks.

And I just watched, lis­tened and felt in­cred­i­bly lucky to be there.

The Sil­ver Ex­plorer, its 136 pas­sen­gers and 116 crew had set sail from Ushuaia, in Ar­gentina, head­ing first to the Falk­lands, then South Ge­or­gia Is­land, and on down to the Antarc­tic Penin­sula and South Shet­land Is­lands. It’s a re­mote and rugged part of the planet, but there was no rough­ing it – my suite had an ac­tual bath, a ve­ran­dah, pos­si­bly the world’s most com­fort­able bed and a but­ler.

Yes, Ivy was my but­ler, for whom noth­ing was too much trou­ble and whose only con­cern was that I wasn’t ask­ing enough of her. But re­ally, ev­ery­thing I wanted was al­ready there be­cause Sil­versea spe­cialises in lux­u­ri­ous com­fort, even on its sturdy, ice-class ex­pe­di­tion ships.

Af­ter a morn­ing climb­ing to a view­point through knee-deep snow, or wrestling through thick mounds of tus­sock to an al­ba­tross colony, or even just bounc­ing around in an in­flat­able boat be­tween ice­bergs with crabeater seals sprawled on them, it was lovely to be wel­comed back on board the boat with a glass of mulled wine. Plus, there was a groan­ing buf­fet wait­ing for us in the restau­rant. And a five-course din­ner that night. With ev­ery­thing in­cluded.

It wasn’t all about in­dul­gence, how­ever. There was a team of spe­cial­ists on board who were keen that we should un­der­stand the won­ders we were see­ing and their daily lec­tures were lit­er­ally an ed­u­ca­tion.

I might not re­mem­ber much of Wolf­gang’s ge­ol­ogy talks – some­thing to do with the rock­ing of the ship mak­ing my eye­lids droop – but Luke, Cory and the oth­ers were in­ter­est­ing over a wide range of top­ics, from pho­tog­ra­phy and whale noises to Ernest Shack­le­ton.

We cov­ered a lot of the same ground that Shack­le­ton did on his epic res­cue mis­sion back in 1917 and to stand fi­nally at his grave on Ele­phant Is­land to drink a toast to “The Boss” was a very spe­cial mo­ment – but re­ally, the cruise was full of them.

There was the slow-mo­tion calv­ing of a glacier be­low us, the rum­ble reach­ing our ears well af­ter we saw the splash of ice into the turquoise wa­ter of the bay. There was the South Ge­or­gia sun­set that was more in­tense and long-last­ing than any I have ever seen. There were the snow flur­ries over a colony of hun­dreds of fluffy fur seals.

There were also the hump­back whales gulp­ing huge mouth­fuls of krill. There were or­cas, glaciers, ice­bergs... and ev­ery­where, pen­guins. I’ll soon for­get the smell. I’ll never for­get the sight.

A fuzzy king pen­guin chick and an equally well-wrapped hu­man eye each other cu­ri­ously.

The va­ri­ety in size, shape and colour of the ice­bergs seen from the ship was as­ton­ish­ing.

The king pen­guin is a strik­ingly el­e­gant bird.

Gen­too pen­guins on play­ing a game in a sunny af­ter­noon the South Shet­land Is­lands.

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