March Polar EDMblog

Antarctica - what's a typical day like?

3 March 2017

Antarctica - what's a typical day like?

So, you're thinking of ticking off the rarest and most unique continent there is - Antarctica.

It sounds amazing. You've seen some David Attenborough documentaries, so you're pretty confident it's going to be beautiful. But what will each day really be like? How does it all work?

To give you a picture, we've put together a story describing an average day on an Antarctic voyage. Bear in mind that every voyage is different and every day is different. But be assured – it will be anything but average.

Setting the scene

It's summer in Antarctica. The sea ice around the Antarctic Peninsula has broken up and ships can now get close to the shore. The weather is pleasant, hovering around zero degrees, and the days are long – there's only an hour or so of semi-darkness each night.

Your expedition vessel has crossed the Drake Passage and is now at the Antarctic Peninsula. You had a day out exploring yesterday and the crew has moved the ship to a new location overnight.

Wake up

You wake up, warm and cosy in your comfortable bed in your cabin. You head to your ensuite bathroom for your morning routine and then take a look out of your cabin window. It's fine and bright out there and the ship's new location is quite different from yesterday's. The flat water stretches towards shore, studded with chunks of ice. The water is like a mirror, reflecting the distinctive white peak on shore. It's beautiful.

Breakfast - no you don't have to catch it yourself!

You get dressed in casual clothes and head down to the dining room. Breakfast is served – with a good range of options – along with hot coffee and tea. You chat with the other passengers about your day. This morning you going to head to shore to visit some penguin rookeries.

After breakfast, you head back to your cabin to pack your day pack with your camera and water bottle and get changed into some layers of thermal wear and polar fleece, ready to head out.

Boarding a zodiac

You head down to the lower level, pull on your expedition jacket and boots and head out onto the deck. You are allocated a zodiac vessel for the excursion. A zodiac is a sturdy inflatable boat with a motor that is used to take passengers on water-based excursions and to shore. You climb aboard the zodiac with eight other passengers and your group leader for this morning.

Your group leader is one of the ship's crew. Some group leaders staff the boat for the whole Antarctic summer and some are experts in particular areas who may join the ship for a voyage or two to give informative lectures and lead excursions. On each voyage, there is a range of experts – perhaps a polar historian, an ornithologist, a geologist, a kayaking guide and a glaciologist.

Your morning excursion

For this morning's excursion your group leader is a naturalist who talks to you about the way the landscape has formed in this small bay. She points out a black-browed albatross flying overhead and some nesting storm petrels as you pass by a small island. Your zodiac pulls up at shore and your group clamber out.

You spend an hour or two exploring the shore and watching the gentoo penguins. You find a spot to sit quietly by yourself on the pebbles to watch one particular group – it feels like a great honour to sit near them in this remarkable wilderness.

You walk to the end of the bay and take some photos from the point. Then it's time to head back to your zodiac. When you arrive back at the ship, you strip off your expedition gear and head up to your cabin to change.

Lunch and free time on the ship

After a delicious lunch, you decide to spend some time in the ship's library. While you are flicking through some books about Shackleton's voyage, the captain's voice comes over the loud speaker system. He explains that a group of orcas are nearby, out to the left of the ship. You look out the library window and can see the orcas, so you head outside onto the deck to watch them. There are jumping orcas, icebergs, birds overhead. It's like being inside the ultimate Antarctic documentary – but it's right in here front of you and it's absolutely incredible.

An afternoon excursion

Soon, it's time to head out for an afternoon excursion. You don your expedition gear again and climb into a zodiac – this time your group leader is one of the ship's permanent crew. The talk in the zodiac turns to icebergs so the leader steers the boat towards some huge icebergs so you can check them out up close. The formations are strange – beautiful aquamarine sculptures of smooth curves, bulges and holes.

You spot some seals sleeping on a flat chunk of sea ice and as your zodiac passes by, they look up and roll off the ice into the water.

This afternoon's excursion is a hike to the top of the small peak you saw out your cabin window this morning. The hike is beautiful – only about an hour's walk up the hill, but the views are simply spectacular. You can see the ship down in the bay and the islands dotted beyond. The water is shimmering, icebergs are catching the sunlight. There is utterly no-one here except your fellow passengers and the wildlife. There are no trees, no buildings, no nothing. It is a vast, white, beautiful, wilderness sprawling endlessly all around you.

Dinner time

Back on board you strip off your expedition gear and head up to your cabin. You get changed and head to the gym for a quick half-hour work out. Then you lie down on your bunk to read for a while.

At dinner, you order the Beef Bourguignon and a glass of Argentinian red. You talk to the others at your table about their days – each person has had a slightly different experience in each of the different groups. But everyone has had a great day.

The end of an amazing (average) day in Antarctica

The captain comes over the speaker and informs the passengers that he has decided to move the ship now rather than later in the evening – it's going to be a cold night and this small bay might freeze up, restricting or slowing the ship's movements.

You pull on a jacket, grab a scotch on ice and head onto the back deck with a group of passengers to enjoy the evening. It's cold out there, but it's bracing and pleasant. You watch out the back of the boat as it moves along. The ice is broken and pushed aside by the powerful ship – but behind the ship, the gap in the ice closes up again, freezing together almost immediately. It's a dramatic display of the power of the elements.

After another drink and some more chat, it's time to head up to your cabin for the night. It has been an amazing day.


And tomorrow, there's another amazing day in this wonderful icy wilderness.