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Aim, Focus, Shoot - The HyPyC blog
Top tips for experiencing Antarctica

Top tips for experiencing Antarctica

For some people Antarctica is an unknown entity, for others it is the ultimate bucket list adventure. I count myself as one of the former and for years I have watched documentaries about the White Continent and wished to set foot on this magnificent part of our planet. Fast-forward to November 2014 and I found myself on the MS Expedition, heading out of the Beagle Channel and into the ferocious Drakes Passage - Final destination; The Antarctic Peninsula.

Sailing on the Beagle Channel towards the Drakes Passage

This was undoubtedly the most unbelievable travel experience I have ever had - Sailing on the turbulent seas of the southern ocean, watching immense ice bergs glide past the boat, hiking through beautiful wilderness, and of course witnessing the huge amount of wildlife that is ever-present. How can you hope yo prepare yourself for such a journey? Several years have now passed since my journey to Antarctica and this list offers some real advice on how to make the most of your own journey. This is not a cost-saving exercise - This is honest and unbiased information on how to make your Antarctic experience a unforgettable one. Enjoy!

Navigational charts on the MS Expedition bridge

1. Don't take a chance on your clothing!

Clothing is one of the most important aspects of your Antarctic journey - This part of the world is inhospitable and humans are not meant to live here. At times you can experience freezing temperatures, gale force winds and hails of snow - If you lack the proper clothing, you sill suffer! This is no joke! I still remember now standing on the top deck as we approached Anvers Island and feeling the biting winds lash my face and make my eyes sting. The weather can be unforgiving, so prepare accordingly! Layers are key and I would hugely recommend investing in a decent set of thermal leggings, socks and top. Full a detailed guide, check out my base layer and outer layer clothing articles!

Immense walls of ice cover the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula

2. Take seasickness tablets before leaving the Beagle Channel

For most people, Antarctica will be accessed via traversing the Drakes Passage. This stretch of water spans between the southern tip of South America, and the Northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is also coincidentally one of the fiercest stretches of sea in the world and I can see why! I can testify to the ferocity of the Drakes Passage having seen the monumental waves and felt the sway of the boat as it battled against the force of the water. Even if you rarely get seasick or motion sickness, take some anti-seasickness tablets the day before entering the Drakes Passage - You can thank me when you return! By taking tablets, you will ensure that you can make the most of the voyage and see the wonders of this fantastic part of the Southern Ocean.

Gentoo Penguins clean themselves after a swim on Danco Island

3. Protect your camera and use multiple memory cards

Most people will only travel to Antarctica once, therefore it is advisable to take as many photos and videos as possible to serve as visible proof of your adventure. Cameras and Video recorders are not built to survive Antarctic weather! (Well not the bog standard DSLR's you and I will use anyway!) Your batteries may freeze and your cameras may simply not work. Indeed when I first used my Canon Pro Shot to record some footage on Cuverville Island, the camera worked for around 5 seconds and then shut off completely!

A Zodiac team scouts the area to check on the sea conditions near Anvers Island

Try and keep your batteries and camera as warm as possible - I used bubble wrap to encase them and tried to expose them to the elements as little as possible. Also consider switching between memory cards on a daily basis to ensure that you have a fail safe should one of your cards become damaged or corrupt. Finally, consider taking an external HDD and use the ships computer to back your photos up on a daily basis too as an extra precautionary measure! If your photos are lost, you won't be returning any time soon to take some new ones!

Supply crates at the US Palmer Research Station

4. Don't miss out on the lectures and presentations

Part of the Antarctic experience for me was educating myself about this wonderful part of the world. The staff on board the MS Expedition held regular lectures and presentations during sailing days and I found these to be hugely interesting. I learnt about the different types of bird, penguins and whales that frequent the continent, and also the difference in the seasons and the change in climate. If you truly want to immerse yourself in the Antarctic world then I can't stress enough the importance of attending these lectures and instilling yourself with the plethora of knowledge that is made available!

A truly beautiful and calm scene at Paradise Harbour

5. Take every possible opportunity to leave the ship and explore

As previously mentioned, travelling to Antarctica may be a once in a lifetime experience. Due to this fact, It is advised that you explore as much as possible and take part in every excursion onto the mainland. Unless you have mobility issues, I really see no point in spending this large sum of money to simply sit on the boat and look at the scenery from afar - Experience Antarctica up close and personal! Feel the snow, enjoy the exhilarating Zodiac boat rides, push against the ferocious force of the wind, hike up the side of mountains. Immerse yourself in this amazing part of the world and don't be a bystander!

A gigantic iceberg sits in the water surrounding Neko Harbour

6. Take part in every activity (even the Polar Plunge!)

During my time in Antarctica, I took part in some great activities that really made a difference to my trip - I played darts with my fellow travellers in the Polar Bear Bar, I listened to the live music at night, I slid down the side of a mountain, and I even swam in the freezing cold Antarctic waters! Looking back now, I seriously would have regretted not taking part and I implore you to do the same!

Chinstrap Penguins form huge colonies on Deception Island - The noise is deafening!

7. Record your adventure!

This one is simple - Take as many photographs and videos as possible, but also take a journal and record your thoughts, feeling and important notes about your trip. I took a whole host of photographs and some videos that I look back through with pure fondness - I find that they help to bring back the memory of Antarctica and remind me that it wasn't a dream!

Grave marker at Deception Island

8. Never rely on consistent weather conditions

Antarctica is one of the most diverse landscapes I have ever visited in terms of the climate - One second it could be battering with snow and gale force winds could be pushing against you, and the next minute to sky could be clear and the sun beaming down on you. Furthermore, the sea ice is truly unpredictable and there really is no set itinerary! Try not to have your heart set on something too much or a particular place you want to see - The weather could unfortunately prevent this from happening! Go with an open mind, and take each day as it comes!

Remains of an old Whaling boat on Deception Island

9. Spend time out on the top deck

Whilst lectures are fun, and spending time with your fellow travellers is insightful, I found simply wandering around on the top deck of the MS Expedition to be highly fruitful. When standing on the top deck, you see things - You see the various birds following the ship, you see immense ice bergs floating past, you may even see a whale or a seal in the water! Some of my best photos were taken from the top deck and I really enjoyed just being outside in the elements.

My fellow travellers battle against the harsh winds of Antarctica

10. Take time to observe, learn and create memories

Don't let this experience pass you by in a blur - The time you spend in Antarctica will seem fleeting, therefore it is important relish every second you have and create some fantastic memories. Observe your surroundings, sit and watch the Penguins go about their daily business, look at the texture and colour of the ice bergs, look at the Giant Petrels flying gracefully through the air. Immerse yourself in this experience!

A huge blue iceberg glides past the ship near Paradise Harbour

There you have it - My top tips for experiencing Antarctica! Hopefully, I will have given you the knowledge and tools to make this trip a true once in a lifetime experience - I know mine was, and I hope yours is too!

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