Young gentoo penguins frolic around historic Port Lockroy huts and the Royal Mail post office. The older ones inspect our waterproof bags and protect themselves from spouts (Chionis) opportunists.
We continue our journey to Pléneau, where we admire the icebergs that seem to sparkle in the distance. We then go to the island of Trinidad, where we pass noiselessly through a veritable museum of curved ice sculptures where fluffy seals are resting. Later, on Petermann Island, we discovered that the snow in Antarctica is not always white. As the climate warms, algae fertilized by penguin guano tint it olive green or even pink.
Close to Neko Harbor is Paradise Bay, an area that lives up to its name. It offered us a whole new experience, since it was there that we were able to land on the Antarctic continent. Continuing to advance 25 degrees south, climbing about 2,700 meters, we could reach the South Pole. An idea that left us amazed.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A GREAT EXPLORER
Since Antarctica’s weather and sea conditions can be harsh, whether on the mainland or on its islands, landings are never guaranteed. In addition, IAATO rules state that a single boat can only visit one disembarkation point at a time. Also, a maximum of one hundred people can be on earth simultaneously. In addition to minimizing disruption, these measures increase the sense of adventure. Every time we landed, it felt like our group was the first to hit the ground.
However, since 1773, when James Cook at francs polar Circle for the first time, landings on the shores of the Southern Ocean continue. Nevertheless, for decades explorers failed to reach the lands beyond the islands. It was not until 1821 that adventurers arrived on the continent for the first time.
More drawn to hunting seals for profit than eager to make history, these pioneers kept quiet about their whereabouts. The best landing points were kept secret. However, curiosity grew. In a hundred years, some of the most famous explorers have left their mark on the continent. At the end of the 20e century, the ruthless exploitation of Antarctica’s natural resources ceased, in favor of science, conservation and ecotourism.
As we rounded the tip of the peninsula, the weather got worse, forcing our captain to change course. “This is where things get really interesting,” says Christophe Gouraud, the expedition’s main assistant. We take turns piling on deck, silently watching the sailors navigate a thorny road past the monumental icebergs, whose cliffs display deep fissures.
We were able to venture into places that expedition ships rarely visit, such as the Antarctic Strait, splitting the Weddel Sea. We spent two hours cruising past the huge A-68A, that terrible tabular iceberg that seemed to be heading towards South Georgia, seriously threatening its fragile ecosystems.
On Elephant Island, named in honor of the enormous seals which once basked on its rocky shores, chinstrap penguins flee the spray. It is on this stretch of beach that the crew of the Endurance d’ExpeditionErnest Shackleton got stuck for 55 days in 1916. It took another sixteen days for the exhausted explorer to sail to South Georgia and call for help. On our side, we made this crossing in just two days.
“Everyone is looking forward to the arrival at South Georgia, even the guys in the engine room that nobody usually sees,” says Ab Steenvoorden, the expedition’s ornithologist, scanning the skies for evidence. ‘albatross (Diomedeidae). “They are accumulating their break time to go on their own outings in Zodiacs. It’s an incredible island and the only way to reach it is by sea.”
We landed on King Haakon Bay, where the already exhausted Ernest Shackleton began the epic island crossing. I discover with amazement that the wildlife of South Georgia fears our presence even less than that of Antarctica. Young fur seals (Arctocephalinae), both curious and ready to bite, galloped in our direction. We spread our arms to look imposing, a technique that helped stop them. We take the opportunity to progress through the clumps of grass to a distant cove. This time, it was dominated by a real giant: a gigantic elephant seal (Mirounga), as long as a
The morning of our arrival at St Andrews Bay, I woke up early to head for the bridge, my binoculars in hand. I noticed a fleet of small spots moving on the shore. It was about king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), nearly 30,000 adults, accompanied by their young. For an hour or two, I stood in the midst of these majestic birds, which groomed themselves, perched or cried. As one of my travel companions perfectly put it, “this is one of those places you have to discover for yourself, with your own eyes, ears, nose, heart and soul” .