Errera Channel, Neko Harbor, Paradise Harbor, Lemaire Channel
The ship glided through the spectacular Errera Channel in calm waters and under gray clouds. On either side, mountains steeply rise and from them heavily crevassed glaciers descend.
From the channel we enter a wider bay which leads up to the morning destination, Neko Harbor. The ship anchors so close to the beach that it seems that it has run aground. Thousands of small bits of ice skirt the port side of the ship, probably from the very active glaciers which are close by.
Stepping ashore means setting foot on the Antarctic Continent – we have now achieved this on both the east as well as the west side of the peninsula. The landing is on a sandy beach and from there up to a boulder shoulder all made up of colorful granites. Of course there are penguins ashore to greet us, all going about their business of heading out or returning from foraging trips, all in pursuit of keeping hungry chicks well fed.
It is also an opportunity to stretch our legs and walk up a slope of snow up to a rocky promontory overlooking a glacier. The views from there are spectacular, not only of the glacier but also of the ship, the bay and the mountains in the distance. We patiently wait for a calving and when it finally comes it is a large one; with a thunderous crash, hundreds of tons of ice tumble into the waters, causing an impressive wave. Wow!
The Zodiac tours are up to all of these high standards, with humpback and Antarctic minke whales putting on an incredible show for us. The humpbacks gently lolling at the surface and then arching their backs and showing their huge flukes over and over again, on occasions all of this occurring very close by. However, today it is the minke whales that steal the show; this usually elusive species are most taken with the fleet of Zodiacs and cavort all about us, the clear waters allowing us to be able to see these incredibly graceful mammals swimming under the boats, on occasion upside down and displaying their white undersides, a young individual even leaping repeatedly out of the water. Wow!!!
Our next destination is the very scenic Paradise Harbor. The sun appears in between patches of cloud and the waters have become glassy still. Seals are spotted, including the impressive leopard seal, as well as more humpback whales resting on the surface. From the higher vantage point of the ship these giants can be clearly seen under the surface, including their gigantic pectoral flippers.
The captain then takes the ship very close to a steeply rising rocky promontory where we get close views of Antarctic shags busily feeding their almost-fully-fledged chicks. From there we get equally close views of a beautiful glacier tongue. Huge blocks of blue ice hang at impossible angles over caves; surely they must tumble at any moment! Other sections seem to tower into the sky forming high turret and parapet-like structures.
We relieve our overloaded senses with a BBQ of Lomito sandwiches and red wine on the aft deck as the ship sails out of Paradise Harbor and into the southern section of the Gerlache Strait.
Our incredible day ends with the ship sailing the very scenic Lemaire Channel, its walls steeply rising from either side of the ship, impressive glaciers and gentoo penguin colonies on every available breeding site. It has been a “Wow!” day, where words and photographs will never be able to fully portray the beautiful scenery and wondrous experiences we have all been through together.