The Trip of a Lifetime - Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands

When I originally researched a journey to Antarctica, I knew relatively nothing about the Falklands or South Georgia. Antarctica was my holy grail.
June 2024

When I originally researched a journey to Antarctica, I knew relatively nothing about the Falklands or South Georgia. Antarctica was my holy grail. But, having now returned from the trip, I can tell you that South Georgia and the Falklands make incredible additions to any Antarctica expedition, because they act as a grand cinematic build up to the white continent — all three destinations being among the most inhospitable, remote and captivating places on earth.

Our first stop was the sub-Antarctic Falkland Islands. With a population of just over 3,000, this far-flung natural paradise sees very few visitors, but we were able to take Zodiacs to the shore and wander along golden beaches, beneath rogue cliffs, and hike across windswept hills. The Falklands is home to some of the most unique and abundant birdlife on the planet. I’ve never been much of a bird person myself, but the Falklands changed my mind forever. Our naturalist was so incredibly passionate. The amount of fascinating knowledge he had about the behaviours, personalities and eccentricities of these feathered creatures blew my mind. And the photographic expert onboard taught us all the skills for snapping the type of photography I could hang on my wall.

From here, we sailed to South Georgia as killer whales leapt three metres into the air alongside the ship, and albatross ducked and weaved above. South Georgia is said to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I can testify to this: it was breathtaking. I saw glaciers rising out of the ocean and stretching up the sides of mountains, and the island was ringed by towering fjords. Completely uninhabited by humans, South Georgia is home to over 30 million penguins, and most of the world’s elephant and fur seals. It was outrageous to contrast the grandeur of the landscape with the almost-comical traffic of penguins and seals on the beach. The noise was deafening, both from the trumpeting of penguins to the whistling of chicks and the snorting of seals. At times penguins clumsily waddled up to us, as if to say hello, both curious and unafraid. This was a wildlife experience I’ll never forget.

We also explored the island with an A&K historian, who took us on an immersive journey through the life and death of one of the 20th century’s greatest polar explorers, Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton’s incredible survival tale is etched into the history of the island, and we visited legendary sites, including his grave in Grytviken, where he died in 1921. Our historian was a deft storyteller; it felt as if he’d roused Shackleton’s ghost straight out of the landscape.

As we began to sail towards Antarctica, our expedition crew gave presentations about the discovery of the White Continent, wildlife we’d encounter, icebergs and glaciers, history and explorers, and climate change. They also had a lot to say about what the continent can teach us about Earth: its origins, how oceans operate on a larger scale, and the likely future of our climate. I was becoming nervous, afraid I’d built it up so much in my head that I’d be disappointed. But nothing was ever going to prepare me for the emotional and visceral impact of this immense, alien land, untouched by 200 million years. At twice the size of Australia with 95% glacial ice, the sheer size of it seemed to bring my small human life into stark relief. The views were imposing and magnificent, and everything screamed the power of nature.

The shapes and colours are what surprised me the most, I felt like I was in a gargantuan carving garden. Translucent blue sculptures, towering blue and white icebergs bobbing in the water, grey mountain peaks protruding through the ice, pebbled beaches, and vast glaciers in every shade of white. Hiking on the ice or gliding in our Zodiac through channels surrounded by blue chiselled ice blocks, as penguins did belly slides across the icesheet was surreal.

I expected Antarctica to be silent and still, but it was far from it. There were glaciers rumbling and moaning like thunder as they pushed and moved, and massive sheets of ice crashed into the sea. There were huge ice blocks making popping sounds as they floated in the water. There was the splutter of air from a whale’s blowhole, or the sea sucking in on itself as a huge whale leapt through and then slapped back down again. There were seals lazily belching, while babies growled and wrestled on the beach. And of course, the ubiquitous slapping of penguin feet, and chicks squawking to be fed.

A&K were phenomenal. The quality of the ship and the extraordinary and varied expedition team made the journey relaxed and stylish, entertaining and super insightful. Now that I’ve returned, I can tell you that this is more than just the seventh continent and something for intrepid travellers to tick off their bucket list. It’s an experience that seems to flip human existence on its back, and a place that reveals the past, present and future of our planet. I finally found my holy grail, and it was the trip of a lifetime.

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