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Whilst David Attenborough might be a genius there is no substitute for the real thing.

Experiencing Antarctica first-hand gives you a sense of the smell, sounds and above all scale. Penguin poo has a particular perfume. The honking bray of penguins, the shrill party whistles of young chicks trying to find their voice. The bleating, mewing, strangulated cries of a crèche of young fur seal pups. The deep visceral gurgling of the stomachs of elephant seals. The staggering size of icebergs, the overwhelming numbers of penguins.

That’s the trouble with visiting this part of the world: sensory overload. The weather, the seas, the scenery, the marine life, the bird life, the colours, the contrasts. You scour your memory database for superlatives, you are constantly reaching for your camera – thank goodness for digital cameras – but however much you try, you are never quite able to capture the experience.

The on board expedition staff undoubtedly help you get close to this goal, indeed they are key to a successful Antarctic journey. They use their experience to get you ashore when the weather is challenging and provide you with alternatives when the weather is inclement. They are on hand to give you insight into the wildlife, geology and history of this unique part of the world. Their insight vastly enriches your experience.

Moreover the expedition team give lectures throughout the voyage. But it’s meant to be a holiday I hear you protest. I felt the same way but unlike university, I found myself with a 100% attendance record and my mind reeling with knowledge information and trivia. The daily intake of krill of a blue whale would feed a human for four years. Snow falling on Antarctica takes 100,000 years to ‘flow’ to the coast before calving off as an iceberg. And worryingly, if Antarctica's ice sheets melted, the world’s oceans would rise by 65 metres.

Next on your Antarctic checklist should be ship. We at A&K use Le Boreal not only as it is the most luxurious and comfortable boat in the Antarctic but for two other key reasons a) its speed allows it to access more remote areas and make up for lost time b) it is an amazingly stable ship – a key consideration given the stormy seas of the southern oceans.

The final consideration would be itinerary. My particular preference would be for one that includes South Georgia for the history of the island but also for the scale and difference of its wildlife. The size of the king penguin colonies at Salisbury Plains and St Andrews Bay are humbling. The scenery is mesmeric. The playfulness of young fur seals cavorting, leaping gracefully out of the water, stopping, heads popping up with inquisitive frequency, before returning to their synchronised swimming, brings a smile to your face.

In an experience of a lifetime it is disingenuous to isolate moments but two do stand out, Danger Island and Paradise Bay. The first was not on our schedule but was one of those serendipitous moments of travel and thanks to the experience of our expedition leader Larry Hobbs. We could not get to Paulet Island as intended due to ice so Larry suggested to our Captain, Danger Island, an island that none of the expedition team had visited except Larry some twenty years ago. This was the morning that news of Costa Concordia running aground was coming through to us. The irony was not lost on our Captain.

The flat calm water was in stark contrast to the rolling shuddering waves of a Force 10 a few days previously. The dazzling brilliance of the sun belied any thoughts of danger. In fact, the opposite. The shimmering beauty of the bright blue water, icebergs strewn about the seascape sparkling in the sunshine, the steamy blow of a pair of humpback whales in the distance set the scene. Adele penguins skipping out of the water wherever you looked stole the show. The peaceful serenity of it all was overpowering. Spirits soared.

Paradise Bay began with a midday cocktail and ended with afternoon champagne. Yet alcohol was superfluous to requirement. The scenery as we cruised through the Neuemayer Channel for some two hours before anchoring in Paradise Bay was simply breath-taking. I have never seen such intelligent well-travelled people shaking gasping for words. To say that everyone was floundering in disbelief would be an understatement.

If my images and words have failed to make you consider Antarctica as a destination more than worthy of your time, let me appeal to your good nature. Antarctica is a continent with immense natural resources that no country can claim for itself. A natural reserve devoted to peace and science.  It is a shining example of the solidarity between peoples is stronger than the selfishness of nations. Long may it remain so.




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