Antarctica by small ship

Whilst Christmas brings on snow, ice and cold weather to many countries in the Northern Hemisphere, those countries south of the Equator look forward to sun, warmth and long school holidays as they head into summer.

The warmer months down south is the only time of the year that tourists can visit Antarctica, and the best way to visit the southern polar regions are by small ship.

One of these ships, the 110-passenger M/V Plancius will begin its Antarctic sailings from the Argentine port of Ushuaia, which is the world’s most southerly town.  These cruises are designed for people who have an interest in wildlife and photography.  They are not like other popular cruises, for which the sole intention is to keep passengers entertained with shows, gambling, sun bathing and other leisure activities.  The M/V Plancius is described as being “comfortable, but not luxurious”.  That’s fair enough, passengers have booked to visit the Antarctic, and so there should be a spirit of adventure and a hint of hardship about the journey.

Beginning in November, the 19-day voyages will visit the Falkland Islands, primarily the western part of the islands so guests can observe the bird and sea life there.  The activities don’t involve overpriced shopping tours as you get on other shore excursions, but hikes through the wild countryside to get close, but not intrusive, to the birdlife.  The cruise also visits the main Falkland’s town of Stanley to meet the locals and learn about the history of this small British outpost.

From The Falkland Islands the Plancius sails to the South Georgia, where there are the ruins of a whaling station, a Whaling Museum and plenty of birds and seals.  You can also view the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton here, and walk along the beaches and climb the hills for some amazing views.

Next stop is the South Orkney Islands, and a visit to an Argentine Antarctic base to see the work that is being undertaken.

The final landfall of the voyage is on the Antarctic Peninsula.  Getting there can be perilous as you sail through the ice-filled waters of the Weddell Sea to land at Deception Island, whose harbour is an old crater, which can give some protection from the almost constant winds.  Here there are some hot springs, and an abandoned whaling station and thousands of seals with whom to share the beach.

The M/V Plancius is equipped with ten zodiac water craft to ferry passengers between the ship and the shore, and from which they can do general sightseeing.

These cruises are being offered by Chimu Adventures, who are offering special prices to those who book early.

Antarctica is the last great frontier, and these cruises offer a few people the opportunity to visit that remarkable continent.  Antarctic cruises do come with a warning, however, that they may not always run to schedule as there needs to be a fair bit of flexibility due to the atrocious weather and very high seas that can be experienced in the southern waters.  It is not the sort of cruise that pedantic passengers who expect an itinerary to be delivered exactly as described should contemplate doing as, invariably, there would be some variation at times.

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