antarctica 2018

In the end of 2018 I’ve made the third and most likely the last trip to Antarctica. My heart’s desire was fulfilled when I finally reached the Emperor penguin colony of Snow Hill Island, off the east coast of the Antarctic peninsula. Snow Hill Island is a destination that can only be reached by an icebreaker carrying helicopters on board. For the first time since 2010, the Russian vessel Kapitan Khlebnikov (in the years in between used as a commercial icebreaker) was once again chartered by Quark Expeditions to make this legendary journey. Probably for the last time too, so when I read about this trip one and a half year ago, I decided to join the adventure.
Antarctica has me completely hooked, it is such a mesmerizing continent. The total absence of human habitation is very special, then there are these beautiful pastel colored skies above stunning ice-scapes and last but not least this is the place on earth where penguins live. Perhaps you know by now I’m very fond of penguins, they are my favorite birds because they are so graphically designed.
There are many penguin species, but the most magical penguin to me is the elusive Emperor. It’s the only species that breeds on the sea ice. They lay one precious egg deep in the polar winter, facing temperatures of -60 degrees with howling snow storms and nowhere to hide. Males incubate the eggs on their toes while their female partners march for 70 miles to the open sea to feed. That’s such long trek, I can’t even begin to understand how they manage to do that. Even in the polar summer, when we visited, the adults still had to trek for 6 miles to reach the ice edge. We, the yellow-jacketed penguins, had to trek for about one mile from the landing spot of the helicopter at basecamp to the colony, and even that single mile was very strenuous and by times it seemed almost impossible to me to reach the colony with all my gear and my bones in one piece.
There are approximately 8000 breeding pairs of Emperor penguins on Snow Hill Island (which is not where they are actually located, they breed in front of the island on the sea ice) and there are many sub colonies that are constantly moving as the chicks are in search of their parents and next meal. Parents leave to forage both at the same time at a certain stage. The deserted chicks form groups in some sort of crèche for safety and warmth, with a few adults to guard them.
Visitors to Snow Hill Island have to keep a distance of 30 meters to the penguins, but that soon turned out to be no real obstacle, as the chicks are very playful and inquisitive and come and check you out.
This gallery of 99 photos should give you an idea of what this journey was like. Enjoy!