Dec 14, 2018 - National Geographic Orion
After we bid farewell to the Antarctic Peninsula, National Geographic Orion sailed north through the Bransfield Strait to spend our final expedition day in the South Shetland Islands. Waking up to grey skies that blurred into the grey seas, we soon caught sight of the crescent-shaped and aptly named, Half Moon Island, where we would spend our morning ashore.
Intrepid hikers cruised to the cobble shores first for the opportunity to venture the distance up to a snow covered peak, which offered impressive, albeit windy, views of the landscape outstretched below and close encounters with nesting skuas. Taking advantage of the soft snow on the steep slopes, we slid down to continue our trek across the island, past lichen-covered granite towers, before reaching the breeding colonies of chinstrap penguins. On our way, we were excited to pass by several large Weddell Seals hauled out on the snow covered shores, while Antarctic terns flew overhead. Large chunks of ice packed into the windward side of the island, and low clouds lifted to reveal glaciers in the distance.
Cruising after lunch, the dramatic landscape of our final destination emerged out of the swirling snowfall. What better way to round out our expedition than inside a volcano. The bridge soon filled with excited viewers as we passed through the narrow opening of Neptune’s Bellows into Deception Island. Cinching the cords tight around our orange parkas, we braved the blustery landing to Whaler’s Bay, where the conditions certainly left us with a new appreciation of the experience and endurance of the 20th-century whalers that earned this area its name. Before heading back to the ship for a well-deserved warm drink (and dunk in the hot tub), the bravest among us concluded our Antarctic adventure with none other than a swim in the coldest water on the planet, taking the polar plunge.
Meanwhile, our dive team dressed much more appropriately to explore below the surface, capturing images of the weird and wonderful wildlife that calls these cold waters home. Rounding out with yet another unfairly delicious dinner in the protection of Deception’s caldera, we lifted our anchor and made our way out into the Drake Passage once again.
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