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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

On our way to our next landing site, we pass the mountain that you see when you open Lightroom. It is something I see nearly every day on my computer, and to see it in real life is surreal.

The ice prevents us from making it to our first landing place on time, so we carry on down the Neumayer Strait until lunch. It is much the same scenery, but closer. It’s a narrow strait and the landscape feels as if you could reach out and touch it. Giant icebergs float by, and I still can’t get over the blue of the ice. One iceberg is covered with penguins and as I snap my camera, I catch one popping out of the water onto the ice. The entrance to the strait is so small that it looks like we are going into a dead end. We pass by Dorian Bay where we were supposed to stop and I see two huts on the land - the first sign of “civilization” in days. One is an Argentine hut and one is a British refuge hut.


Our afternoon stop is Port Lockroy - A British Research stationed manned by 5 people from November to March. It’s a tiny island, but it’s covered with gentoo penguins. January is the perfect time to come to Antarctica because of the chicks. Babies are usually born around Christmas, and we are lucky enough to see chicks everywhere we go. I witness a mom feeding her two chicks at once, and feel like I’ve been plopped into a documentary. The craziest thing about Port Lockeroy is that it has a gift shop. That takes visa. Via satellite. I pick up a few necessities - a patch for my backpack, a pin, a children’s book about Shackleton (probably my favourite purchase so far) and a gift for my niece. This is also the only Post Office in Antartica so we mail a few postcards. There is also a museum here - the hut that was used as a British Research station until 1962. It’s still set up as it was and I am impressed by the size and facilities it had. Except for maybe the toilet which is more of an indoor outhouse. There is also a store here - (that accepts visa!) and I am delighted to find patches for my backpack, pins, and a book about Shackleton for kids. I can’t believe it. Now I can share my admiration for this guy with my students! There is also the only post office in Antarctica, and we are excited to send out greetings from the white continent. The museum and post office were opened in 1996 and are operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust.

As we wait to board the zodiac for our landing site, we are lucky enough to see both a chinstrap and an Adelie penguin on the beach. Adelies are becoming more difficult to find, apparently, as the Gentoos have taken over their breeding colonies.


We go for a zodiac cruise, where we see ice blue glaciers covered in green and yellow snow algae, and get dropped off on Jogula Point. There are two sailboats anchored near the glacier and I can’t help but think about how they got here - sailboats can go through the Drake Passage? Yikes. At Jogula Point we see nesting cormorants and chicks mixed in with nesting Gentoos and chicks. There is also a blue whale skeleton laying near the beach. The immense size gives me only an idea of how big a blue whale must be. I spend some time watching a Gentoo male trying to pick up a piece of whale bone. It’s much bigger than the rocks they use to build their nests, and after awhile he gives up. We see two Weddell seals before it is time to head back to the ship for dinner. Another mind blowing day in Antarctica.

That night, we eat dinner on the 5th deck of the ship. It’s a barbecue, and although I am cold, and the food cools off immediately, it’s my favourite meal so far. I never dreamed I would be eating dinner outside, with icebergs and glaciers in my view, and of course the ever present Gentoos.



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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Neko Bay

We make our way toward the next landing spot and I spend these hours on deck. Even though I’m a writer and a photographer, I doubt that I can fully capture the beauty, the wildness and the wonder that is Antarctica. The light is almost pink, but the blue of the glaciers steal the show. Icebergs and bergy bits (small pieces of icebergs that have broken off) fill the water. The ship navigates through a strait overflowing with icebergs and I have no idea how the captain manages to get the ship through here safely. I can’t stop taking photos, but nothing on the screen compares to what I am seeing in real life. I have never seen anything like this, I can’t believe what I am seeing, and everyone is saying the same thing. It is literally like we are on another planet. I stand on deck and just watch paradise glide by. Antarctica is going to ruin travel for me - I don’t think anything can compare to what I am seeing.

We arrive at our next landing site, and as we board the zodiacs, we are told that Neko Bay is a favourite among the staff and tourists and that it’s going to be even better than this morning, which is hard to believe. But it is. Humpback whales frolic in the bay, only metres away from the zodiacs. Our landing is more hurried this time as the glacier that lines the mountain can calve at any time, sending tsunamis onto the beach. The bay is stunning - more gentoo penguins clamber over the rocks to make their way up the steep hill to the rookery. I do the climb again, but this time I take hiking poles. The snow is soft and slippery, and the climb is hard. About a quarter of the way up, I shed all my layers and hike in just my thermal top. I never dreamt that I’d be hot in Antarctica. The climb is absolutely worth every bead of sweat and every muscle ache. The views are phenomenal. Icebergs bob in the deep blue waters and I can still see the humpbacks. The glaciers crack and groans and everybody watches for chunks to break off, but it doesn’t happen. The penguin rookery is perched on the edge and a glacier sits directly behind them. The contrast of the penguins and the glacier behind them is probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

At the top, people line up to have their photo taken on a rocky platform that overlooks the bay. When I take my place, a booming noise has everyone looking behind me and I spin around just in time to see an avalanche cascading down towards the water. Our guides stop and I can sense some panic in their faces. The avalanche is heading directly for the ship which is anchored not far off the shore. We hold our breaths, but the snow spreads out gently and the water isn’t affected at all. I get my photos taken and make my way slowly back down to the beach and retrieve my jacket. The photos of me on the rock are probably the coolest photos I have ever had taken. Even though I’m a writer and a photographer, I doubt that I can fully capture the beauty, the wildness and the wonder that is Antarctica.

Back on ship, more humpbacks are spotted, so many that we have lost count. They are feeding and I see a humpback mouth for the first time. Every second here provides something new, something amazing.


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  • Writer's pictureDawnelle Salant

Updated: Jan 19, 2020

We woke up to a message this morning saying Welcome to Antarctica. We passed the 60th latitude and are officially in Antarctic waters. We cheered. This still doesn't seem real.

After attending a lecture on whales and marine mammals that we might encounter, hopes are high for whale spotting today. After lunch, we see our first humpbacks. They are frolicking off the bow of the ship and everyone crowds around for a better view. Over the course of the day, we spot about 13 humpbacks. It is mind blowing. We also see land for the first time since leaving Ushuaia and our first iceberg appears that afternoon. Gentoo penguins also make their first appearance - I didn’t expect to see any penguins until we ventured onto land, but these little guys are porpoising in the water around the ship, right by the whales. They are far away and tiny, but our first penguin sighting is exhilarating. I had no idea that they jumped out of the water like that while they’re foraging for food.

Something really interesting happened today with one lady’s camera. When she went to use it, everything was upside down. They came to me for help and I had never heard of it and had no idea what would cause that. One of the guides googled it and the answer was to put a magnet near the camera. We think it might have had something to do with the magnetic south pole….. mind blowing.

I’m fairly certain I won’t sleep tonight - we have our first excursion tomorrow to the shore. We are surrounded by land now and the ship hardly feels like its moving. We have survived the Drake Passage and we have glass coffee mugs and real wine glasses at dinner. This is actually happening. Tomorrow I will step foot on my seventh continent.


Cuverville Island


I wake up to Cuverville Island looming on the horizon. It’s big - there are glaciers and dark spots where the mountains peek through the snow. But what is even more exciting is the humpback whale that is sleeping outside our porthole. When whales sleep, they hover near the surface, breathing through their blowholes. They only use half their brain to breathe, and the other half is given a break. The whale sleeps near the ship until we are all ready to load into the zodiacs for our first excursion to shore.

My heart is pounding, I’m both nervous and probably the most excited I have ever been in my life. Before we get into the zodiac, we have to wash our boots in a special solution. There are strict laws about bringing non-native species into Antarctica. We had to vacuum any backpacks or outerwear that had been in contact with the ground anywhere besides here. Velcro is particularly bad for holding onto vegetation etc.

When we arrive at the shore, with penguins who have followed us all the way, we step out into the water, and boom, just like that, I have been to all seven continents. I don’t even have time to take this in - the scenery and the amount of penguins practically have my jumping up and down. Our guide briefs us on where we can and can not go. We have to stay 15 feet away from any wildlife and follow the marked paths, staying off the penguin highways. We climb up slippery rocks to a penguin rookery, the smell leading the way. Cuverville Island has the biggest Gentoo Penguin rookery on the peninsula. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of penguins and I don’t even know where to look. We see penguins walking and slipping on the rocks. Female penguins guard nests and we are lucky enough to see several chicks. We watch one female feed her babies and I can’t believe that I am lucky enough witness this in the wild.

Behind the rookery is a huge mountain, dark against the fog and mist that is rolling in. It’s warm, I don’t even have my gloves or hat on. We are told the temperature is about 3 degrees Celsius. I climb the snowy hill to get a better view of the bay and I’m roasting inside my Shackleton jacket. I did not expect to be hot on this portion of my trip! But we have to have layers because the weather can change drastically at any moment.

From the top of the hill, I can see the bay filled with gorgeous blue icebergs. They crack and calve and I see several huge ice chunks break off into the ocean. It sounds like rifle shots, or a big car crash. A skua flies into the rookery I am looking down on and the penguins go crazy trying to protect their chicks. But I am pretty sure that I see the skua take off with something small and dark in its mouth. I know this is a part of the food chain, and a natural part of life here, but it makes me sad.

I spend about 3 hours on shore and it is even better than I imagined. It doesn’t seem possible that I am finally here, and it’s paradise for me. The penguins are everywhere, they walk right in front of you, they climb the hill, slipping and sliding everywhere. I could spent hours watching them walk. I came to Antarctica mainly for the wildlife, and I didn’t expect the scenery to be so incredible. The blue of the icebergs is stunning, and I am sure that even my photos and videos will not do this place justice.

On the way back to the ship we take a zodiac cruise and see a crabeater seal, Antarctic terns and a leopard seal. We also spot several chinstrap penguins. Glaciers are cracking and groaning all around us. I have found a different kind of paradise here in Antarctica. The wildest place on Earth.

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Hi there! I'm Dawnelle - travel photographer, adventure seeker and digital nomad currently exploring  South America. 

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