Exploring the Icy Realm

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Antarctica is often surmised as ‘the last frontier’, typically depicted with a rich history of well known explorers including Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen and Sir Douglas Mawson. A truly awe-inspiring, rugged place that is now surprisingly accessible for adventurous folk.

At the age of 19, I was working for an expedition cruise operator that travelled to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Each voyage was an entirely new journey, and while I may have travelled to a few of the locations many times, each experience was different. Varying times of year, weather, different passengers, rotating staff, changing ice conditions and wildlife. Every trip was a life altering experience, a journey for the soul. These experiences shaped me into the person I am today.

One moody, windy day we were out on the choppy water Zodiac cruising – Zodiacs are rigid inflatable pontoon boats that can drive right up onto the shore and manoeuvre easily with up to 12 passengers onboard. During the cruise we admired the ever-changing ice formations around us, the most vibrant blues our eyes could perceive, each piece looked as if it were meant to be in an art installation. If only these incredible forms of nature could be displayed in museums and galleries, perhaps then humans would wake up and see just what we are taking away from our planet, from our own psyches. 


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Unexpectedly, we spotted a leopard seal napping on an ice floe. Popping his head up when he heard our engine, he didn’t seem phased, but was somewhat curious. We approached very slowly to not scare him, stopping about 10 metres away. At that moment the driver cut the engine completely; silence. No buzzing, revving or churning, no talking, just the quiet of an immense region.

Then, there was sound. The crackling, popping and bumping of ice against one another, water crashing onto huge icebergs; slowly moving, turning, crunching. And then a noise I had not expected, completely foreign to me, it was beautiful and eerie at the same time. The leopard seal had begun to vocalise – a very rare occurrence and one that shook me to my core. I felt it, I felt the vibration of the astounding animal and was truly present in the moment. 

That’s the beauty of Antarctica, it forces you to forget about daily life and worries and instead, catapults you into an experience where only that moment exists. There were days where we would land the Zodiacs on the rocky shores and enjoy watching and interacting with penguin colonies. At certain times of the year they’d be building their nests and we would watch as they stole rocks from their neighbours to build the best home. They’re comically cute creatures and are hilariously clumsy on land, but once they dive underwater they turn into aerodynamic jets, agile and fast. 


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I’ve had the opportunity to kayak away from the Zodiacs and the hum of the ship, finding stillness. I’ve been fortunate to have had countless whale encounters, humbling experiences with beings that bring a sense of wisdom and calm.

At times I’d enjoy moments of gratitude by myself. Drinking a cup of tea on the bow of the ship while passengers were on a shore excursion. Basking in the enormity of the snowy mountains and glaciers that hugged me. The sunsets are hard to describe. As the sun went down, the mountains would turn shades of deep pink, orange and yellow, reflecting off the still water and illuminating icebergs. The sun would disappear below the horizon briefly before rising again. These confusing sunsets don’t occur all summer long, however are very special when you get to witness one.

Many of these soul nourishing moments happened while I was with passengers or other staff working alongside me. Close bonds are formed instantly when sharing such experiences. I spent time with some of the most driven, badass, intelligent, down to earth humans I have the pleasure of knowing. Many were women, working long, hard seasons in Antarctica driving Zodiacs, planning logistics, leading expeditions, providing expert knowledge, delivering amazing service and cooking delicious meals. Wild women are killing it in Antarctica and have created an inclusive atmosphere of ‘anything is possible’. 

Every time I go back I feel a sense of going home, a feeling of connectedness with myself, with other humans, with the Earth; a sense of wholeness.

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