Neither of us had ever been on a "cruise" before and did not know what to expect. We knew that it was not going to be a mainstream cruise, the entertainment was going to be provided by wonderful Mother nature and this suited us both down to the ground. We were so excited to board the MV Fram, named after the ship that carried Roald Amundsen to the south pole before Scott. She was beautiful. The observation lounge had comfortable sitting areas at the top of the ship and large panoramic windows, which gave us incredible views of nature. The huge restaurant provided the same amazing views. Our Captain, Rune Andreassen, who we later labelled Captain fantastic, welcomed us on board and introduced us to some of the crew, who we grew to know and love over the next few weeks. We then had our first fantastic meal and later settled down in the observation lounge as we headed out of the Beagle channel. I was hyper excited and nearly delirious when I spotted whales blowing and breaching not far from the boat. I lost all power of intelligent speech, shrieked "Animals" and caused the first of many stampedes across the ship as people ran to spot them!
The following day was spent at sea as we headed towards the Falkland Islands. We had a daily programme delivered to our cabin each evening by our wonderful cleaner, Jose. On sea days-there would be a series of lectures or talks delivered by our inspirational expedition team and in between we would fit in eating, chatting and going out on deck to spot the wildlife. On our first sea day we saw a lot of sea birds following the boat, such as the Black- browed albatross and the giant petrel.
We then arrived at the Falkland Islands,300 miles to the East of the South American continent and 580 miles North of the Antarctic. The Falklands consists of two large islands, East and West and 740 small islands and islets. Our first stop was West Point which lies off the north-west tip of West Falkland. The ship anchored and we were taken to shore in a series of small polar cirkel boats. We did a small hike to Devil`s nose where we saw the beautiful landscape of the cliffs and our first of many penguins! We saw Rockhopper penguins, many of whom were looking after their new born chicks or incubating their eggs. It was a privilege to get close to them and watch, as they fed their chicks, protected them and generally went about their daily life. Amongst them was a large number of Black-browed albatrosses who were also feeding their chicks or incubating their eggs.
There were a couple of land rovers (one formally belonged to the governor of the Falklands and still had the attachment on the bonnet for the flag) which were transporting those who struggled to walk, up and down the hill. We got chatting to their lovely drivers, Alan and Jacqui, who kindly invited us into their house which is the oldest house on the Falklands. We went inside and found our expedition team secretly having tea and a selection of homemade cakes! We were invited to join them and had the best cup of tea since leaving home-PG tips! 3 cups later, we had to leave and Jacqui very kindly packaged me up some tea bags! We will most certainly stay in touch with these lovely people and their face book page is West Point island-Falklands. That afternoon we had our second landing of the day at Carcass island-where we did a 10km walk to and from Leopards beach. The scenery was stunning with beautiful white sandy beaches and we were rewarded with a number of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins.
Stanley is full of British influences-with union jacks, red phone boxes, British style pubs and supermarkets full of British brands! We bought 2 cans of heinz baked beans (not seen since leaving the UK!) and a box of Yorkshire tea bags for our onward travels, much to the amusement of our fellow passengers!
The next day we landed at St Andrews bay and this was one of our favourite spots from the whole trip. The scenery was spectacular-with the snow covered mountains of the Allardyce range, some 200metres high, towering over the beach. There were 100-150,0000 pairs of king penguins (the largest colony in the world), pottering around, swimming, making a noise, coming to take a closer look at us etc! There were also some massive elephant seals on the beach, waiting to moult, and burping and farting!! There were also plenty of fur seals, who can be aggressive with humans and who can cause some nasty injuries. We had been taught to raise our arms above our heads and shout stop-if they came for us. Sometimes people forgot and tried to run away but they would chase you, so it was not recommended! One went for me at St Andrews and Gav said he could hear my "STOP" from the other end of the beach and not only the seal stopped but all the other people as well, it was so loud!
That afternoon we all went out on the polar cirkel boats for a short ride around Ocean`s harbour where we saw the wreck of the Bayard, a ship built in Liverpool in 1864 and wrecked in South Georgia in 1911.The ship was covered in tussock grass and blue eyed shag birds.
We spent Christmas Eve at Grytviken on South Georgia and had a really special day. We visited the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who we had learnt so much about on this trip and I toasted him with some whiskey as is custom and practice. We also explored the old whaling station there and saw penguins and fur seals (2 tried to get me this time!) The highlight of the day, for me, was the lovely Christmas Eve service that we all attended in the church at Grytviken. Norwegians celebrate on Christmas Eve and as it was a Norwegian boat with a Norwegian captain, this was a special day. We sang carols in three languages (English, Norwegian and German) and our captain led a short service. It was simple and very touching. We then spent the evening on the boat where we had a toast and a party and were visited by santa! In the middle of all this it had started to snow outside which added to the festive spirit.
We woke up to the most spectacular scenery I think I have ever seen as we came through the Antarctic Sound. It was full of huge tabular icebergs-some had penguins on-as we slowly glided through. We anchored outside Brown Bluff and this was to be our first landing on the Antarctic continent. As we stepped ashore I gave thanks for being lucky enough to have walked on all of the 7 continents on earth. This felt really special. The brown cliffs soared above us and the shore was home to numerous Adelie penguins, Gentoo penguins, kelp gulls and kelp petrels. Here some of our group witnessed a skua (bird) attack and kill a penguin chick and we watched as it devoured it. We watched and laughed , as the penguins stole small stones from each other to place on their nests and squawk to try and keep other birds at bay.
The following day we landed at 2 Antarctic islands-Half Moon bay where we saw our first and only Macaroni penguin and Deception Island, Whalers bay where there was another derelict whaling station. Here I was one of the thirty or so passengers out of 230 who did the polar plunge! This involved running into the sea in my swimming costume at icy cold temperatures and running out again! For good measure I also swam round for a very short while, before getting out. It was the coldest I had ever known and Gav and my lovely new friend Anne, had to help me get dressed as I was completely numb! I then got on the polar boat back to the ship and had a series of cold, then lukewarm and then hot showers to warm myself up!
The next day might have been the best day ever! In the morning we anchored outside Cuverville Island. The weather was spectacular-bright blue skies and pure white snow and ice. The island was mountainous and covered in ice and glaciers. It was home to huge numbers of gentoo penguins-which we observed walking around on penguin highways (channels they have forged in the snow) and we also saw whales feeding and breaching from the shore. We also saw them after lunch from the boat and one swam right under the boat-and we could see it clearly as went past. We had another landing at Neko harbour in the afternoon. First we sailed through some more stunning scenery, into the Andvord bay which is surrounded on all sides by mountains and alpine glaciers. Neko harbour was nestled at the bottom of the bay and we saw more penguins and part of a glacier cave in.
We then went on a 2 hour polar boat cruise with 8 other people. It was brilliant and we got up close to our first leopard seal which was resting on a small iceberg. We also saw hump back whales which were blowing, feeding and flicking their tails out of the water as they deep dived. We were so close to them in the smaller boat and it was another one of our highlights. We then spotted the sister ship of the MV Fram, the larger Midnatsol. We knew it was coming to meet us to swap some supplies over. I asked Adrian, the guide if we could go and meet it in our tiny boat. He hesitated, then said shall we go? We yelled "Yes" and so our driver went racing towards this huge boat. When we got there it towered over us and we did a loop around it, waving and shouting at their passengers who looked on in amazement at this small bunch of people who were seemingly going bonkers!
We had a lovely BBQ ion board that evening which rounded off a superb day!
On New Year`s Eve day our names had been drawn to go kayaking at Port Lockroy! We had to wear special clothing and were dropped off at a tiny shore to get into the double kayaks. This was a superb experience, kayaking around the peaceful waters, spotting penguins nearby in the water and the odd crab seal on slabs of ice. We then landed at Port Lockroy, which has the penguin post office-the most Southerly one in the world where we sent some post cards and enjoyed watching more penguins and their chicks. There was also a small museum which recreated life when it was a British base.
Then Captain fantastic took us though the Lemaire channel-a spectacular 7 miles long and 1 mile wide channel full of steep cliffs, glaciers, and floating ice. It is often blocked by icebergs so we slowly navigated through huge blocks of ice and lots of floating ice. Nearly every [passenger was on deck admiring the wonderful scenery and marvelling at how close we would get to the icebergs and towering cliffs. and We nearly made it through when we were thwarted at the end by some huge blocks of ice that were impossible for us to pass through. We did a 3 point turn and headed back. Then the captain stopped and they announced that we would all get a 30 minute small boat ride around part of the channel. This was an unexpected treat and we got up close to the ice bergs and went through the polar ice. To cap off a wonderful New Years eve, our superb crew put on a show and a party. They did a crew show, which contained a lot of talent and some less talented acts! Our expedition team did a George Michael tribute medley and I got pulled up to join in along with my lovely friend Anne and then poor Gav was pulled up too! We jitterbugged our way though the song, I completely threw myself into it and there is video evidence somewhere! I also got pulled up by our waiters who were in drag dancing to pokerface, but thank goodness afer a few minutes everyone joined in and then we had such a great party! We danced, sang karaoke and marvelled at the light outside. The Captain joined us at 11.30 to count down the New Year with us. By this stage I was giddy as a kipper and much to everyone's amazement, as Captains are rather aloof figures, asked him to dance to Dancing Queen! How could he refuse? He was a great sport and woodenly danced for 5 minutes or so before making his way off the dance floor to do the countdown to midnight. What a way to see in the New Year, dancing and singing, whilst it is still light outside, in Antarctica! Oh not forgetting the whales who made an appearance outside!
The next couple of days were spent crossing Drake`s passage , a notorious rough crossing connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific. We were lucky and had a smooth crossing, arriving in Ushuaia relaxed, happy and tired! We had reached 65.11 degrees South (Just short of the South Pole-damn-will have to go back for that one!) and sailed 4,053 miles. This was our best trip ever! We cannot recommend Hurtigruten and her staff highly enough-they were outstanding and if you ever get the chance to go to Antarctica then just go, don`t think about the cost, just go because it is like nowhere else on earth. It is the highest, windiest, driest, coldest and most beautiful continent. At times we had to pinch ourselves at what we were seeing and experiencing. We are now back in Buenos Aires, ready to collect Ruby and start the next part of our journey. Ruby is ready to get going again, we might need a little more persuasion as we are still dreaming about Antarctica!
Someof the pictures were taken by our brilliant ships photographer-Dominic Barrington.