Category Archives: paddling

Back in Blighty


We are back. In fact we have been back six months. How time flies!!

It took us a while to get back into the swing of things & even longer for our prized table top book to arrive from Australia.

Packed with memories from our Polar Pioneer adventures; our daily journals & photos brought together in a one off edition, for us & our fellow passengers..

With thoughts now turning to where we will go for my big birthday in 2016 – Patrick……if you are reading this, there is something I need to ask you! – plus our imminent trip to Sri Lanka to celebrate a friend’s wedding & check out elephants, we thought it was high time to recall the highlights…..

Our bucket list holiday delivered everything we could ask for – & so much more – up closer than close encounters with mighty humpback whales, curious & playful leopard seals & more penguins than we could possibly hope to see. We didn’t think much could top this – & then we went to the Galapagos Islands. Nature once again blew us away as we literally had to pick our way along paths & beaches littered with iguanas & seals, saw an enormous number of other species & swam with penguins.

There were other highlights of course; the mournful tango watched in an old dancehall in the heart of Beunos Aires, savouring wines galore in Mendoza & the first jagged peaks of Fitzroy coming into view…. Patagonia, a playground we will surely return to.

Even now, when someone asks us “so how was your trip” a wry smile passes our lips as we try to put into words just how utterly a-mazing our holiday was. We can’t. We dubbed it as a an adventure to the end of the world; it was all that & so much more.

Matt & Jules xxx

For anyone interested in reading our mini adventure in Sri Lanka, go to the link below:


What happens on the Pioneer, stays on the Pioneer…


We bumped into Ted, one of our comrade kayakers aboard the Pioneer, literally, in the middle of a forest walk today in Los Glaciares National Park (as you do) – we almost lost sight of our small group that were heading towards the moraine alongside Perito Moreno, as we shared our unbridled enthusiasm for our incredible trip aboard the Polar Pioneer all things Antartica.

A perfect reminder we haven’t talked about two traditions aboard ship, that happen, pretty much without fail, every voyage… The Polar Plunge and the BBQ. In spite of a Russian crew the ship sails out of Sydney effectively, so “throw another XXX on the barb-ie” CAN be heard from the stern decks.

Thankfully the BBQ came first as the thought of jumping into icy cold water, even with a rescue diver in place, was enough to have us both reaching for the goose fat and inhaler.

Snowy stern deck on our BBQ evening

Snowy stern deck

We came back from our landing at Detaille Island with snow in the air and teeth chatting to smell the universal smell of meat cooking outside #yum. As the zodiacs and kayaks were stowed away, the chefs huddled behind huge drum BBQ’s wrapped up in quilted coats and beanies, turning chicken thighs, pork kebabs and sausages… Time to head to the sauna to thaw out and get our glad rags on.

We needn’t have bothered with any finery as it was cold as and the expedition team had “kindly” provided a dress up box to get us into the swing of our summer BBQ. Arriving a little (fashionably) late I spent the evening impersonating a belly dancing Emirates stewardess.


Let’s get the party started

Gluwein flowed as sounds were pumped out from the back of the bar… Party time! As the snow came down and started to settle, a full scale snowball fight ensued which left s all confused as to who was on who’s side… Time to ‘retire’ to bar for more bevvies and rocking tunes. It will come as little surprise that we were one of the last to leave. Yep, we threw more than caution to the wind and drank our weight in Wyborowa.

The Plunge is normally only attempted on calm preferably sunny days, which is why we thought we had gotten away lightly as the window of opportunity was fading. Drake -1 and unsurprisingly, given our hungover state we thought “what the hell” as the call was made, today would be the day.

Bouyed from our final and truly exhilarating paddle around Paradise Harbour, with it’s millpond conditions, carving glaciers and sightings of minke, we lept into the sub-zero temperature waters….. It was effing cold and all hope if emerging elegantly from the water were completely dashed!

Matt surfacing from his plunge

Yep he did it

Jules emerging from polar plunge

And so did she…

Kayaking and penguins parts II and III

Feeling time at gentoo colony on port lockroy

Feeding time..

We couldn’t get used to two things… How bone numbing cold our hands got paddling and how easy it was to while away time watching penguins – Shooting through the water like missiles on a bizarre and bumpy course (who said penguins can’t fly?!), waddling along well worn tracks along the shoreline, popping up out of the surf one by one and generally going about their lives.


Cierva cove colony

As we neared Cierva Cove (named after the Spanish chap who invented the autogiro) we saw and smelt the 5-6,000 strong colony of gentoo penguins. Gingerly we picked our way along the shore, avoiding the pink stained rocks of the rookeries. We had literally never seen so many penguins in one space, as the chicks fell over each other in search of a playmate or food from their parents, whilst some of the adult penguins posed meditative-like and others lay ‘belly-flopped’ on the stones.

Bleached whale bones on Cierva Cove beach

Bleached bones

Walking along the beach to the farthest end of the shore, we picked our way through whale bones, washed out and bleached by the Antarctic sun. Further along, the main rookery came into view that stretched for a good km and then some.

Happy kayakers

Happy as…

We never tired of how blessed we felt paddling – through swathes of brash ice, slipping across tranquil and glassy coves or navigating our way past tricky and tight-nit ice floes. Even our epic return to the ship in gnarly white capped conditions, took us onwards to our next exciting experience. Once in a lifetime, for sure.

At Port Lockroy (home to the Antarctic post office plus colony of adelies) we were greeted by tufty moulting chicks along the craggy shoreline as we surfed ashore. Similar to Detaille Island’s restoration of Base “W”, the British Antarctic Heritage Fund had put its volunteers to good uses, renovating Base “A” as well as monitoring the penguin colony.


Bentos hoisting the flag at port Lockroy

All together now.. God save the queen….

Pingus at port Lockroy post office

Penguin post

We were pleased to learn from Flo, one of the volunteers that regular interaction with humans had had no ill-effect on the colony at Lockroy; with half the island off limits to all but penguins, a four year study had concluded no damage done… Probably just as well, as we were literally tripping over penguins who seemed just as keen and curious as we were to see the painted images on the walls of the old living quarters and pick up souvenirs from the post office.

Kayaking & penguins part I

With our half hour call to kayak, we donned our many layers and with trepidation turned our tags to let the crew know we were ‘off ship’ and headed to the stern deck. Matt discovered why marigolds are the best outer layer for hands, as his ‘seal skins’ were soaked within minutes mopping out our kayak.  Not the best start, but thankfully we packed extra gloves and layers in our dry bags.
Paddles in hand, stomachs in our mouths we made our way down the rope ladder into the waiting zodiac before clambering/sliding across the side into our awaiting kayak….bobbing gently in the water. With a water temp of below zero, we gingerly pushed off from the zodiac, careful not to upset the equilibrium and capsize.  ‘Skirts’ on, after several attempts and rudder down we were off and in pursuit of Judd as he deftly led us across choppy waters, through brash ice, past the first of many spectacular small bergs “calving” from glaciers.
Robbie & Philip heading to Brown Bluff

En route to Brown Bluff

We spotted out first fur seal, happily sleeping on an ice floe and wondered how many more we would see. With hands becoming increasingly numb from the bitter cold (in spite of layers and hand warmers)  we were glad to see ahead the flat top of Brown Bluff – our very first landing and sight of adelie and gentoo penguins.
We ‘surfed’ ashore and left our kayaks behind as we crunched a few steps along the beach, mesmerised by moulting adelie chicks chasing each other and their parents along the shoreline (some of them nearly as big as their parents).  It was nigh on impossible to observe the ‘5 metre rule’ as the penguins moved towards us, rather than away. We didn’t know which way to turn as we vainly tried to capture images of penguins at play.
Gentoo penguins on the shoreline at Brown Bluff

Gentoos on the shoreline

Cold hands were completely forgotten as we looked back to see a group of curious gentoo penguins take more than a passing interest in our kayaks!
Penguins discuss who will go in the back & steer

Flip you for who steers..

Ravenous after our morning kayak session and hours spent on deck, looking out for minke whales, we heartily tucked into our pumpkin soup and homemade bread, swapping stories with our fellow hard-core kayakers. Well we thought we were at any rate!

Limbering up our legs…

Two days in Ushuaia gave us the perfect opportunity to test our trekking legs, limber up our limbs and practice our paddling, ready for our kayaking adventures in Antarctica.
First stop the snowcapped Cerro Martial and Glacier Martial that rise majestically above the town and well within reach of mortal man – a short taxi ride took us to the chairlift that shaves a couple of hours off the climb to the glacier. We both giggled as we waited between the painted lines ready to be transported further up the ski area to the trailhead….Neither of us have been on a wooden slatted chairlift before, and chances are, we won’t again.
The panoramic views over Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel were well worth the walk, far more so than the glacier itself, but after three days of solid rain, none of us, penguins included, really minded as it was just good to be outside… like we wouldn’t get the opportunity to see glaciers galore on the rest of our travels!
Penguins peek over the Beagle Channel from the glacier

Penguins peek over the Beagle Channel

Our first paddle in these parts was infinitely more successful. We set out with Valentine & Esteban from Canal Fun through the lush southern forests of Parque National Tierra del Fuego to Punta Luij, the starting point of our 22km paddle. Thankfully we were joined by Belgians, Sofie and Philippe, as the mosies that were lying in wait for us favoured him over the pair of us!
Millpond conditions across Ushuaia Bay

Calm waters across the Bay

As we layered up under our dry/wet suits and eyed our fibreglass kayaks, we listened to the safety brief keenly. Not having kayaked together since Marlborough Sound some eight years ago, we were both conscious of the fact we had over egged our experience to the crew of the Polar Pioneer. Not so much how much sea kayaking we had done, but how recently.
A soft breeze and gentle current was welcome as we recalled all the tips we had been taught previously; push don’t pull, wiggle don’t wobble, dip don’t dunk… Like muscle memory, it all came back to us in a flash.
Sophie & Guide Valentine paddling across Bahaia Lapataia

Sofie & guide Valentine paddling

We paddled through the calm waters of Bahai Lapataia with steamer ducks and cormorants keeping us company as we perfected our synchronised paddle strokes. A pit stop and refuel with a fabulous lunch of Milanesa carne, a local fave of breaded beef in a huge roll, was welcome as we still had two hours of paddling to get back to Ushuaia and our rendezvous with our ship.
As we neared Bahai Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel the waters turned to a perfectly tranquil and glassy millpond. As we rounded the bay the serenity was broken only by the sounds of construction; the expansion of ‘Hollywood Hills’ as the bay area is known. We had reached civilisation and the end of our epic first paddle.