My Trip to the 7th Continent

By Derek Lloyd – Quark Expeditions

 Antarctica AX

As soon as I was confirmed I did what probably 90% of your travelers to Antarctica do: I spent way too much on new equipment and clothes for the trip. Of course I checked out our blog on what one needs to pack, and then probably doubled it. I was most likely influenced by my “cruising” days, thinking I needed a different outfit for each day’s outing and of course every meal!

My trip started in Buenos Aires – what a fantastic city. I purposefully booked myself in the same hotel that we are using for the Ocean Endeavour transfer package next year – the 725 Continental. If you’re not familiar with the property, it’s a good classic hotel and most importantly in probably the best location you could ask for. Looking down the street to your right is the famous Obelisk, while to the right is the Plaza de Mayo with the famous pink Presidential Palace. All within easy walking distance as is Florida Street – a great pedestrian walk-way with hundreds of shops and restaurants.  Certainly if any of your clients are looking to spend a few extra days in the city, I would recommend that you look at this property.

I arrived in Ushuaia a day earlier than I needed to (in more ways than one) so I was there for two nights.  In retrospect I should have listened to my co-workers, while it’s a quaint little town, you really don’t need a ton of time there unless you’re planning on doing longer excursions outside of the city, perhaps to the national park. I did hike up to Martial Glacier one day, which offered a beautiful vista of the city and the Beagle Channel.  But it was time for the main attraction – the trip on the Ocean Diamond.   The night prior we had our briefing at the hotel so I was ready to go – packed up my luggage and set out to explore the town (again) until it was time for embarkation scheduled for later that afternoon.


My first impression was fantastic… after boarding the buses for what was essentially a 10 minute ride through the parking lot and pier, we pulled up alongside the ship.  Members of the expedition team came bounding (and I’m not using that term lightly) onto the bus to welcome us on to what would (in my case) be our home for the next 10 days. This was the first time I met Shane Evoy, our Expedition Leader, and what was what seemed to be an endless supply of energy, and increasingly odd hats. I managed to scramble onboard the ship as quickly as I was able to walk onboard (having come from the mega-ships I’m used to an hour wait) and was wandering around almost immediately.

I have to say that I was impressed by the vessel.  To me she’s a small ship, with many of the modern amenities I was expecting, but she still managed to retain an expedition feel. I know there are smaller, “scientific research” vessels out there, but I can’t say that the idea of sleeping in a bunk or sharing facilities would be my thing – I like my adventure, but I don’t want to venture TOO far out of my comfort zone! One of the stand-outs of the ship is the restaurant – an intelligent design to put it low and centre, perfect if you dare to order soup while crossing the Drake Passage!  Also, I have to say that the Observation Lounge on deck 7 was an unbelievably great spot to watch the scenery go by as we made our way through Antarctica.


Speaking of the Drake – I was excited to see what it was all about. My thought was always that if I was going to see Antarctica, I’d do it like people used to do it – by sea and at about a 22 degree angle the entire time (that was the stereotype anyway). The way down was, admittedly, pretty rough – even the expedition team said it was on the “rougher side of normal”. I did notice that during meal times on that first day you could easily have a table to yourself. Sitting through the required briefings and lectures took some deep breathing. However one of the great things about the Ocean Diamond is that she’s a FAST (and pretty stable) ship: we literally spent one day on the Drake, and by noon on that second day were well into the peninsula – our first stop being Half Moon Island.

As mentioned this was my first time to this part of the world, and I don’t have enough superlatives to describe it. I managed to get out on cross-country skis that afternoon and was blown away by the vistas from up-high on the ridge. The views in all directions were absolutely gorgeous, and seemed to be right out of a painting. I was immediately comparing to other trips and other scenery that I’ve seen, but was at a complete loss. One thing that I kept thinking over and over was “that is SO blue!”. I know there are advantages to going to the continent at various times, but I have to say I was pretty happy to be there in December – the ice was spectacular.

That was also my first day seeing actual penguins – other than those unfortunate sightings in local zoos – and again a great thing about being there in December is that I got to see them with their nesting behavior. It’s so obvious that they all have their own unique personalities – some would go a hundred meters to find some stones at the end of the colony, while others would simply steal from their neighbours. I could quite honestly watch them for hours – they are a never ending source of amusement.  It was actually here on Half Moon Island that we were introduced to “Kevin” – a lone macaroni penguin that hangs out in a chinstrap colony.  Apparently he comes back year after year. Everybody has their own theory about him – I suspect he just likes to be the different ‘cool kid’ in the group.


I’m not going to go through every landing we did – I know a lot of you have managed to make this trip yourself. Other landings we made were at Danco, Ronge (where we camped), Hovgaard, Petermann and Cuverville islands. We also managed to hit Port Lockroy (the postcards I sent finally arrived at their destinations last week) as well as our stop on Jougla Point. It was penguin colony after penguin colony, and more fantastic mountains and icebergs.

I was fortunate enough to try a number of our adventure options – as an employee I was on ‘stand by’ for every opportunity. First off, I wanted to mention the cross-country skiing. This has to be one of THE best options you can offer your clients – I managed to get out personally about 3 times. Let me say the last time I was on a set of cross country skis was back in high school, and that was twenty *cough* years ago. Sure it’s great if your clients have experience, but don’t let that stop them if they’re in reasonably good shape – if you can walk up an incline for a couple of hours you’re fine to do the skiing using equipment from sites as MyProScooter online, so anyone that like the sport can practice it here.  But here’s the big selling feature: it’s not so much about the skiing itself, it’s the fact that you’re the FIRST ones off the ship and the LAST ones back.  You get the maximum time ashore, with a small group of people (most days it was 10 to 12 – a few more on the first couple of trips) and you get some of the best views of anyone because the ski guides take you up those hills. On my trip the ski group actually managed to get out 5 times!

I also managed to get out kayaking on a sit on top kayak once – again it’s been a long time, but it was a great experience. Yes you see some great sea ice from the Zodiacs, but when you’re in a small group of people floating past with no engines it’s almost a surreal experience. Plus seeing penguins dive beneath your kayak as you’re floating there was breathtaking, for this experience they specially trained us about to how to make sure the kayak is stable to avoid any mishap. Other days the kayak group saw humpbacks go by – unfortunately I missed that but I can only imagine what it must have been like.

Camping, I learned early in the voyage was sold out – in fact there was a waiting list.  This was one activity I really wanted to do (no exertion needed!) but what could I do – I certainly wasn’t going to put my name on the list knowing that there were customers ready to do it. The day before however Shane came to me with a proposition – asking how badly I wanted to go and camp in a camping hammock for a month. When I told him the truth he offered that since I worked for Quark he could sign me on as one of the staff, but that I’d have to work for it. I of course pictured that I’d maybe have to put up some flags, maybe carry a duffel bag – i.e. light duty. I was wrong – Shane had me giving out sleeping bags, hauling MASSIVE duffels filled with tents to shore and the highlight of my duties was that I “got” to dig the latrine snow-forts!  I was exhausted before I even began. But it was all worth it – it was an incredible night. The ship pulled away (I suspect just around the corner) and we setup camp. I chose to do the “bivi bag” which meant I could sleep under the stars – of which there was none as it was full daylight the entire time. The most incredible part was the sounds – we could hear the whales before we even saw them (several humpbacks where hanging out in the bay) and then of course the cracking ice. It was without a doubt one of my most memorable nights ever – although I will admit that I was ready for a hot shower at 5AM when the Zodiacs showed up to bring us back to the ship.

The entire voyage was a blur – day after day of life-changing experiences, beyond anything that I was honestly expecting.  It wasn’t just the landings and the continent either – the content onboard was just as incredible: Victoria’s lectures on the history of the continent (as well as current political situation), Wolfgang’s talks about geology, Nick and marine biology, and Fabrice sharing his passion for penguins. They were all obviously experts in their field and dedicated to sharing their knowledge and passion for Antarctica.  I have to say this team make the difference, and really define what Quark is all about – it’s the people.

I’m sure I’m ‘preaching to choir’ here: most of you that would be reading this (if you’ve made it this far in what had started as a few paragraphs) have probably been to Antarctica before. But just like many of your first-time clients I was just so impressed, so awe-struck and so blown away by the trip that I had to share what my experience was. We are in a great business – selling dreams – and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. If there is ever anything I can do to help you with YOUR business please do not hesitate to let me know: we’re in it together and I know that between us we can create even more Polar Adventure evangelists!

Oh and all those clothes that I packed – I probably returned with half of them unused!