There was a lot I wanted to achieve whilst in Antarctica.
Hanging out with penguins, camping on the ice, sending myself a postcard, spotting seals and admiring icebergs were all things I desperately wanted to do; but more than anything, I wanted to get off the ship and go kayaking in Antarctic waters.
I had already kayaked in Greenland, so if I kayaked in Antarctica, not only would I have visited all seven continents, I would have also kayaked in both the North and South Poles – kinda amazing right?
Many cruise companies offer kayaking in Antarctica, but if kayaking is your ultimate goal, doing some research ahead of time will definitely be required. Many cruise ships will charge an extra grand or two for the privilege of kayaking, whilst others will only allow a very small number of passengers to do so for the voyage – and this is often allocated on a ‘first in, best served’ basis – so you may miss out.
For me, the Basecamp Ortelius voyage with Oceanwide Expeditions was appealing for a number of kayaking related reasons. Firstly, all activities are included in the cost of the voyage – so you can try your hand at kayaking without having to fork out an even bigger chunk of change. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, on these ‘basecamp’ voyages, it is a priority to give all passengers a go at all activities, provided the weather allows.
On these voyages, groups are created based on approximate skill level and how much experience people have had at kayaking. I ended up being placed in the level ‘A’ group – the passengers with the most experience – and we were lucky enough to be the first group to get out onto the water.
In Antarctica, going kayaking isn’t quite as simple as just jumping in a kayak and heading out for a spot of exploring; instead it requires the right preparation and the right equipment.
Getting appropriately dressed and fitted to the kayaks does take a bit of time and patience, but when done properly it means you’ll be able to stay toasty warm and enjoy the magic of the experience without being sidetracked by the effects of the sub-zero polar weather.
Once you find yourself adequately kitted out, it is time to get onto the water and let the fun truly begin!
There was the option of both single and double kayaks, and on this first outing I opted to hang out by myself in a single. Single kayaking is amazing, but be warned, it is a lot harder on the arms than a double!
We were advised not to bring our expensive ass camera gear out onto the water as there is always a risk of capsizing, but this snap happy traveller just could not resist the opportunity for an Antarctica kayaking selfie!
As it turned out, by being just 24 years out, I was the ‘boat baby’ – the youngest passenger on board the ship that wasn’t part of the crew or documentary team. When I pulled out my camera and started taking selfies, all the other passengers around me started mocking me for being a ‘typical millenial’, but it was all in good fun and I ended up absolutely laughing my ass off – leading to a pretty happy travel snap!
We didn’t get to spend quite as much time on the water as I would’ve liked, thanks to the ever-changing Antarctic weather.
Our kayaking guide Pete got a radio message from the ship that the winds had picked up to above 40 knots! Whilst we were somewhat sheltered from these winds in the little bay we had been exploring, if the wind continued to get stronger we may have found it impossible to get back on board the ship! This would not have been ideal (understatement) so we were forced to cut our kayaking short and head back to the vessel…
…but not before getting a few pictures of our ragtag group of Antarctic adventurers!
I had loved my first kayak so much that I was desperate to get back out on the water! However, to keep things fair, everybody else on the ship had to be given opportunities to kayak before people could go back for second (or third) helpings!
In the end, a little persistence is what paid off.
Every time a kayaking group was called to meet and get geared up, I would go and wait to see if there were any no shows, and eventually, I found myself back in a kayak!
On this second outing I went in a double with a Dutch guy named Eric. Though going in a double requires less physical exertion than a single, it does come with a different set of challenges. Good communication between both kayakers is key to having a good experience.
It took Eric and I a little while to get into a groove, but we did eventually get there, and we still had a great time on the water/ice.
I chose not to take my big camera out on this trip as I didn’t have complete faith in Eric’s ability to not capsize! Instead I brought out my little Canon G7X. It certainly didn’t perform anywhere near as well as my Olympus baby, but I was still glad I had brought it, as it was the only time on the trip that I got to see Adelie penguins!
Laying on the same iceberg as these little Adelies was a crabeater seal who unfortunately was very obviously injured.
You can see blood on the ice and a big chunk of his coat missing, suggesting he got into trouble with another Antarctic creature. It was sad to see, but the seal still seemed in relatively good spirits, so I hold out hope that he made a full recovery.
My experience kayaking through Antarctic waters was absolutely unreal, and the memories I made whilst doing so are ones that I’ll definitely treasure for the rest of my life.
If you are planning to visit Antarctica, make sure to find a cruise that will allow you to kayak.
Believe me, you won’t regret it.
Getting to Ushuaia: Ushuaia is well connected to Buenos Aires and El Calafate
Oceanwide Expeditions: An 11 night Basecamp Ortelius voyage starts at around $9650 USD
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with a M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 lens and a Canon G7X Mark II
Remember: Bring a few sets of gloves, they get wet very easily when kayaking!