Words and photos Daniel Resnik
Daniel Resnik sets sail to the continent of elephant seals and penguins with Ponant.
Ushuaia is the capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province and is considered the gateway to the continent of Antarctica often described as the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth.
To get to Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia entails a two-day voyage through The Drake Passage which is renowned as one of the roughest sea passages in the world. It’s here that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans converge and cause soaring currents and at times, fearsome seas.
If you like terribly rough conditions you’re going to love the journey and find the experience exhilarating as you cruise through an endless surge of swells framed by grey ominous skies. Along the way you’re escorted by a throng of seabirds including albatross and cape petrels.
The metamorphosis nearing the peninsula is as dramatic as it is magical. The closer you get to Antarctica the colder it becomes. Huge icebergs appear, as do the occasional humpback whales heading back to feed after breeding in the warmer tropical waters of the Pacific.
When you finally arrive into the calm sheltered waters of the Antarctic Peninsula it is time to rejoice.
Our Ponant ship, Le Soléal, is skippered by ten year polar veteran Captain David Marionneau, who has sailed to some of the most remote destinations in the world. He’s always available to talk to passengers and his enthusiasm and passion for navigation and the love of his profession shines through.
Our onboard expedition leader on this adventure is veteran John Frick, who’s on his 113th polar trip and has been an expedition leader for 18 years. Frick hails from Pennsylvania and his enthusiasm for the Antarctica is infectious.
Just two days into the Antarctica Peninsula and already we’ve seen some of the most brilliant mountainous landscapes, pack ice filled seas, icebergs the size of city blocks and a variety of wildlife including penguins, seals, orcas, humpbacks, minke whales and a huge variety of seabirds.
Cruising through the Antarctica Lemaire Channel we feel miniscule compared to the huge snow-covered mountains either side.
It’s Summer in mid-December and it’s daylight 24/7. Although this makes it difficult to sleep, you don’t really want to for fear of missing out on seeing something remarkable.
At 5:30am one morning I’m awoken by an announcement by our captain that a pack of killer whales (orcas) are on the starboard side of the ship, which happens to be on the side of my cabin. I race out onto my balcony and start taking photos of a pack of five orcas chasing one defenceless penguin. These whales are so close to our ship I feel like I can almost touch them. The poor little penguin shows elusive skills and thankfully escapes onto a chunk of floating ice.
Twice each day with the weather permitting there are zodiac tours that one day see us walk among 200,000 nesting Adelie penguins on Paulette Island to the next morning strolling on Hannah Point, Livingston Island. There we watch large packs of elephant seals belly flopping, grunting, butting, belching, snorting and snoring while penguins casually waddle by.
High in the protective rocks above the beach and away from prying eyes are southern giant petrel and blue-eyed shag birds.
Every moment onboard our 1,960 nautical mile journey is captivating. But it’s under a cloudless sky on our third day, moored in Wilhelmina Bay whilst devouring another superb lunch that one of the most memorable wildlife sightings happens. Against a backdrop of the snowy mountains a humpback whale appears for a 40-minute breaching spectacular.
Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the most compellingly beautiful and untouched wilderness.
Ponant is the only French cruise line and a world leader in luxury expeditions offering exceptional destinations on a small capacity ship. Our vessel the Le Soleal offers a subtle combination of luxury, privacy and comfort.
Discreet refinement and a relaxed elegance give Ponant passengers the chance to enjoy the unique experience of feeling as though they’re aboard their own yacht.
Le Soléal: Commissioned in 2014, combing a subtle blend of luxury, intimacy and comfort. The ships understated and refined exterior and interior lines along with her smaller capacity (only 132 staterooms and suites) make it a rare and innovative ship in the cruise ship market.
Antarctica passenger capacity: 200
Total Crew: 156
Deck two: Gastronomic restaurant
Deck three: Main Lounge, shop, reception area, excursion desk and medical centre
Deck four: theatre
Deck five: fitness (gym), spa, massage, beauty and health (professional hairdressing salon), leisure area and image and photo desk
Deck six: Grill restaurant, internet, library, Panoramic lounge/bar and terrace
Decks three, four, five and six are where all staterooms and suites are located.
Gross Tonnage: 11,000
Overall Length: 142 metres
Deck two and six: Gastronomic restaurant and Grill restaurant.
The two on-board restaurants serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the Gastronomic Restaurant breakfast is served from 7am to 9am and a buffet lunch. In the evenings set menus and à la carte dishes are served to your table. In the Pool Deck Restaurant all meals are in the form of a buffet in an extremely relaxed atmosphere.
The Panoramic Bar is located on deck six and offer spectacular views. Alcohol is also served at both restaurants. A wide selection of refreshments, fruit juices, cocktails and aperitifs are served in each of the bars.
GYM & BEAUTY:
The gym offers some of the world’s most spectacular views while burning off the calories. The ship boasts a beauty and wellbeing centre, a hair salon, and a hammam (Turkish bath). There is also a pool heated to 29°celcius.
Nightly professional entertainment via cabaret theatre productions feature singers, musicians and dancers. Another popular option is to relax in the library’s quite tranquil lounge area or enjoy cocktails at the bar.
Lectures and seminars are a huge part of this Antarctica expedition adventure and are held daily in the theatre. Incredibly educational and important to ensure the continent is kept in pristine condition for generations to follow. Before all zodiac tours expedition leaders, marine biologists and naturalists explain where we will be going and what wildlife hopefully we’ll see and precautions we need to adhere to.
Zodiac tours depending on conditions are available twice a day. Before passengers are invited to participate, expedition leaders have already been to the intended destinations to ensure passengers well-being and safety is assured.
COST OF TRIP:
Ushuaia / Ushuaia Le Soleal ‘The Great Austral Loop’ 15 nights / from $18,810pp twin share.
Ushuaia / Ushuaia Le Soleal ‘Emblematic Antarctica’ 10 nights / from $12,370pp twin share.
Montevideo / Ushuaia Le Lyrial ‘The Great Austral Loop’ 20 nights / from $21,030 pp twin share.
PONANT has over 90 polar/sub polar expeditions.
For more personalised information tips and advice, or to book this incredible holiday contact your local TravelManagers’ personal travel manager here.