Many people ask – ‘when is the best time to visit Antarctica?’ PART 1
Part 1 – Spring into Antarctica
When talking with friends or prospective travellers, I am often asked, ‘are there polar bears up there?’ However the second most common question is ‘when is the best time to travel to the windiest, driest, coldest continent on the planet?’ Our answer is, as soon as it becomes accessible, and whenever you can find time to visit.
Each stage of the season presents meritous reasons to experience one over the other. Spring in the sub Antarctic islands and Antarctica is when everything comes back to life. The image of a tulip opening up in full bloom is similar to the awakening of the Antarctic following the cold and dark of winter. Over the course of the Austral winter, the Antarctic Peninsula becomes heavily surrounded by ice. So much so that most species retire for the winter a little farther north, to milder climes. In early October, which is considered spring in the Southern ocean, the sub Antarctic islands come to life. Birdlife is highly animated as mating becomes the most popular sport on many islands, seals too partake in the age old art of procreation. These two species alone make the beaches of the sub Antarctic islands (South Georgia & Falkland Islands) an incredible frenzy of activity. Add to this 100’s of thousands of king penguins flooding the beaches to mate with their one and only, and a miracle is born.
Fast forward a few weeks and entrance to the Antarctic peninsula becomes possible. By early November spring in Antarctica opens her arms wide with deep, untouched snow amassed over months of darkness and continual accumulation covering the majestic mountains and glaciers emerging from crystal clear waters. Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins slowly make their way back to shore. Usually together to reestablish their nesting area, as they do each season. In the same spot, with the same partner. Amazing. Penguin migrations are methodical and determined. Their stoic waddle takes them from sea to shore, clearing jumps upwards of 3 feet in height, to gain access to the rocky shorelines of their summer homes. Once ashore, the penguin march begins as if there was a drummer keeping time, not one is out of step until a dozen or so end up like dominos, whereby a new line bypasses the fallen, and they continues their march to the small area of snow free rocks, uncovered by the strength of the spring sun.
Hiking with snowshoes at this time of year is optimal as snow cover is deep. Breaking trail to a look out is both fascinating and hard work – a good way to spend a morning or afternoon. Sea kayakers and zodiac cruisers benefit from frazzle ice still potentially being part of an excursion, and those who find solace in the high alpine can make ‘first tracks’ any time of the day by ski touring with select programming. These specialised opportunities are not found later in the season as temperatures steadily climb towards the peak of summer when snow pack decreases and areas of higher elevation see less snow coverage over time. This steady climb of temperature encourages the remaining penguin populations to come home, parents to nestle their eggs, and the varied seal and whale populations to gorge themselves on their favourite delicacy (be it krill, cod, or penguin). And the answer to the first question. No, unfortunately there are no polar bears in Antarctica. You will have to sail with us to the Arctic to see those!
To learn more about travel to South Georgia, the Falkland Islands or Antarctic in the Antarctic spring here are a few links:
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