Searching for Polar Bears

19th century explorers pushing into the Arctic intrigues me. What causes a man to leave a warm hearth, willing to risk life on a ship trapped in ice? Imagine the horror. Ice burns like fire, but is insanely beautiful.

We flew to Spitzbergen and took a shuttle to Quark Expeditions new ship, Ultramarine. She’s a luxurious icebreaker that explorers from centuries ago could never fathom.

We saw Blue Whales, the largest animal on earth. Later–Minke, Humpback, and Belugas with dark calves. Hearing them exhale connected my breath with theirs.

Every day we viewed amazing sites from our balcony.

zodiac cruises and landings are intimate encounters.

Human’s caused destruction, but now they are gone and wildlife flourishes.

Try photographing speedy Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns, Brunnich’s Guillemots, Fulmar’s, Gulls, and my favorite Puffin.

Exciting to see a mated pair napping in the snow, the male crawling towards his beloved. How about a bear gorging on a seal? In the distance, a mother walked with two cubs who misbehaved, playing hide-and-seek.


Put yourself on a ship that navigates through a narrow opening called Neptune’s Bellows,

into the sunken caldera of an active volcano. A submerged rock lies about eight feet below the surface, smack-dab in the very middle of the channel. Bite your nails. The current is wild, and a shipwreck lies just inside the entrance as a reminder how quickly life can go bad. Red ash looks like folded curtains along the cliffs and you may see wisps of steam.

This isn’t the opening of a Hollywood thriller, this is  every day drama at Deception Island, in the South Shetland chain.IMG_2965

The sea floor is rising as magma pushes up. and some water temperatures have been recorded at 158 degrees Fahrenheit. During eruptions in the 1960’s the water was so hot, paint melted off of ships.


hike up here and you can look down and out a “window” to the sea far below

There are so many cool reasons to experience this closely monitored site. The volcano has changed the micro-climate, allowing over 18 species of moss and lichens not found ANYWHERE else in Antarctica.Check out what it’s like to dive below the surface  with the Lindbald expedition :

IMG_2994 (3)If you were a bird, would you want to hang out where it’s warm? Of course. The world’s largest chinstrap penguin colony with over 100,000 breeding pairs are here. We also saw blue-eyed shags (cormorants) with juveniles as big as the adults, nesting high above on the cliffs. (Thank goodness for that 600mm lens!)

Inside the caldera is the historic site at Whaler’s Bay where ruins of oil tanks, buildings and boats from the early 1900’s sit upon a black ash beach.

Two lonely graves still haunt me. This used to be the largest cemetery (35 men buried and 10 memorials to presumed drowned) in all of Antarctica before the last eruptions. I cannot let the memory go, knowing they are so far from home. IMG_2926

There’s an airplane hanger at one end. This is where the first trans-Antarctic flights began in 1928. IMG_2895

During and after WWII, the British destroyed some of the whaling remains, and set up a remote military post. There was great concern that the German’s would use Antarctica for nefarious reasons. After the war, the station returned to scientific study until 1967.

On the internet there are pictures of tourists soaking in pools dug into the warm sand. This isn’t allowed anymore (Hello? Environmental impact?) and there’s discussion about reducing the numbers of ships coming here. Count yourself l-u-c-k-y  if you can visit this unique historic and environmental site.

South Georgia landings at Right Whale Bay and Salisbury Plain

We were supposed to land in the morning at Elsehul, on the NW of South Georgia Island but conditions weren’t favorable. This is part of traveling in this part of the world. One must be flexible. Patient.

Instead, Shane took a look at Right Whale Bay for our morning cruise. We couldn’t hike, because the beach was full of testy male fur seals making landing impossible but the cruise was fantastic.

After lunch, we headed to Salisbury Plain. Historically, this was a favorite hunting ground for sealers (both fur and elephant) in the 19th century. Easy access and landing sites with huge numbers of animals made harvesting quick. Today, Salisbury has the second largest King Penguin colony with up to 250,000 individuals during the molting period. We were able to cruise and hike.  It was an amazing experience, being in the minority and having the privilege of stepping into this animal kingdom.