Achingly beautiful and wildly pristine, remote Antarctica is unlike any other destination on earth and defies the imagination. The land is a vast white icescape, dotted with soaring mountains untouched by mankind and blessed with wildlife flourishing in this snowy enclave. Take time to marvel at the many wonders of this incredible peninsula where ice-filled channels are surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery and the experience of a lifetime becomes reality. An opportunity to cruise the white continent by yacht is to truly satisfy the explorer within.
During a yacht charter, wake to a visual feast of icebergs floating by and take advantage of excursions with expert guides on the ice, and venture beyond the horizon by submarine and helicopter. To get up close and personal with every aspect of this glistening world, soak up the spectacle and become fully immersed in all that is Antarctica.
Timing is everything when cruising in Antarctica and so much varies during the short season for discovery. During November and December, late spring and early summer, the sun is strong on the frost-clad landscapes, forcing the ice to break out of bays releasing enormous free-floating icebergs. This is also a time when wildlife is actively feeding and breeding: penguin colonies bustle with lively courtship rituals, humpback minke and southern right whales arrive and fur and elephant seals give birth. This is also the perfect season for keen photographers to capture the stunning Antarctic twilight.
During summer, January and February see the longest days, averaging nearly 24 hours of daylight and the temperature reaches a tropical 1 or 2 degrees Celsius (33-35F). This is when the ice starts to break further south and this softened ice offers the chance to cross the Antarctic Circle or Weddell Sea and venture beyond. In the summer months, wildlife really comes to life: penguin chicks hatch, leopard seals hunt their prey, whales feed and there are crabeater seals to be seen, resting on floating bergs.
By autumn, in early March, the sun starts to sink further below the horizon and darkness at night resumes. Colder Antarctic nights deliver beautiful patterns of thin sea ice and it is during this time that the Falkland Islands and South Georgia are teeming with vast concentrations of wildlife. The penguin chicks fledge and head for life at sea, humpback whales perform magnificent breaching displays and thousands of fur seal pups and wandering albatross chicks can be seen in South Georgia.
Setting this destination apart from anywhere else in the world is the unique amount of wildlife visitors can observe on an Antarctic Peninsula charter. With a feast for the senses every day, the rare chance to witness a parade of such astounding wildlife is something to relish. Guides will set out early to scout landing sites for the best places to visit, taking into account weather conditions and proliferation of wildlife, and work alongside the captain to create the best opportunities. Plans are flexible as exclusive wildlife encounters can become possible at every moment in this changing environment.
A huge draw is whale watching and one of the most breath-taking experiences against the pristine backdrop of Antarctica. Whilst the yacht crosses the Antarctic Convergence there is a plummet in outside temperature causing the meeting of the two bodies of water to be rich in nutrients and provides some great marine sightings, that can even include hourglass dolphins.
When travelling by yacht in this extraordinary region there are vast choices available, all dependent upon the prevailing ice and weather conditions at the time. Your knowledgeable captain and crew will expertly navigate some of the most magical waterways in the world – a notable crossing is the 11km Lemaire Channel where steep cliffs line the ice-filled passage that is just 700m wide at its narrowest point.
On board, your team of experienced discovery leaders and guides have made numerous journeys to Antarctica. They will carefully design your adventure using their infinite expertise to maximise the available 18 to 20 hours of daylight. Perhaps cruise on Zodiacs around the towering, blue-hued ice formations, step foot onto icy landscapes where penguin rookeries and seal colonies take ownership, or kayak around the bergs to hear the ice cracking and see whales feeding nearby.
There may also be the possibility to visit a working scientific base to chat with inhabitants to find out about life in such an extraordinary climate. During late February and March, with the ice breaking, there is the opportunity to cruise further east into the Weddell Sea to watch tabular icebergs gliding past packed with seals and penguins. Furthermore, with favourable conditions, there is the chance to walk in the footsteps of early explorers and cross the Antarctic Circle at latitude 66°33’ south.
Nicholas Dean is Managing Partner of Ocean Independence. Ocean Independence is a global leader in luxury yachting, providing a bespoke experience across yacht charter, sales and management.