To wrap up his 3-part series, David Schultz shares valuable information on when, what, where, and how to travel to Antarctica so you too can possibly marvel in the majesty of the Emperor Penguin. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the behind the scenes look into one of his journeys which lead to one of his many all-star images Snow Island Hill 2.
When to Go
My favorite time of year to go is early in their season which means November. The snow is fresh and once you’re around one of the penguin colonies you’ll appreciate that fact. One word…POOP, lots of poop. Earlier in the season ice conditions may limit areas where the ship might be able to explore but you’ll learn straight away that there’s always Plan A, B, C etc… The end of the season for the expedition ships is late March and perhaps early April. Later in the season you will see more of the chicks that have hatched and perhaps more whales.
Where to Go
The vast majority of the Expedition Companies begin their voyages in Ushuaia, Argentina and head South to the Antarctic Peninsula. There are several routes they might travel and a number of sub Antarctic islands such as the South Shetlands that might be visited along the way. My suggestion. Save your money and take a trip which includes South Georgia Island. These are typically twenty day trips whereas the voyages more direct to the Peninsula are around ten days. Depending on the temperament of the Drake Passage expect two days sailing time each way. The expedition I wrote about was a special trip to reach the Emperor’s and I don’t believe it’s one that is still being offered. Unless you come across a young stray you will not encounter the Emperor Penguins on most of the trips to the peninsula. South Georgia is a whole story on its own so do some research.
How to Get There
You can arrange flights to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires on two different airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas or LAN Airline. I suggest you arrive in Ushuaia the day before your ship disembarks and my preference is LAN Airlines if you can get a seat. I’ve sailed with a few different polar expedition companies and conduct Photo Tours, usually in November and December. I’m currently offering tours with One Ocean Expeditions and the two ships they’re operating are highly recommended. Personally I prefer sailing on the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. It has a great bar/lounge on the top deck next to the bridge with great views and easy access to get out quickly with your camera. Again, do your research. Stick with a ship that holds no more than 100 passengers.
What to Pack
You’ll probably be surprised at how warm, relatively speaking, the Antarctic Peninsula can be. Most of the expedition companies offer “wetskins” — waterproof jackets and pants. Use them, unless you care to try your hand at removing penguin poop from your clothes when you get home. You’ll also need rubber boots and those are provided as well. So, cold weather gear to wear under the wetskins along with a good hat and a few pairs of gloves will make for a good start. The thing I look for when purchasing hats and gloves is that it’s windproof. Your hands ARE going to get wet so have a backup pair and liners. I also take along a heavy pair of rubber gloves like commercial fishermen use for those long, wet and rough zodiac rides.
As far as camera gear is concerned pack a sturdy RRS tripod, a monopod, and your RRS Ballhead. Unless you are a real avid birder trying to pack a 400mm or 600mm prime lens will be a big challenge for you. During my last four trips my gear for the most part consisted of two bodies, either/or a Nikon D3X, D700, D800 and D600. By far my go to lens was the Nikon 28-300mm but I also packed the Nikon 80-400mm and a wide angle lens (most recently the Nikon 16-35mm). During the trip described above I took the Nikon 200-400mm because we were mostly shooting while on the ice and not moving around in zodiacs. I also carry along a video and small underwater camera.
You can find out more about my upcoming trips under the Tours tab on my website.