Travel opens you up to a world of possibility. As a traveller you can try new foods, meet new people, see amazing new cities and learn new things every day. However, one of the best things about travelling is being able to try new experiences! In our blog series ‘Would you try?’ we are looking at some of the fun, crazy, memorable, peculiar and unheard-of activities you can participate in all around the world.
First up on the agenda – paddle boarding. The art of standing up right on a large board in the ocean with a paddle to manoeuvre yourself around doesn’t sound too outrageous, in fact it’s something you can do at quite a lot of beaches around the world. But how about doing it above freezing cold water in Antarctica?
Yvette Thompson, the Australian and New Zealand Industry Sales Manager for Intrepid Group, did just that on her Peregrine small group tour to Antarctica. She was kind enough to share her experience with us – and have us all wanting to add this amazing opportunity to our travel bucket list!
I love paddle boarding.. being in the open water, smelling the salt in the air, seeing everything under you at the same time as everything around you, gliding along smooth waters, and sometimes balancing precociously through rougher waters. I have been lucky enough to paddle board in some beautiful places around the world, Indonesia, The Philippines, Thailand, Hawaii, The Mediterranean and more. So when I found out that Peregrine’s ships, the Ocean Endeavour and the World Explorer, offered Stand Up Paddle boarding as an optional activity – in Antarctica – of course I jumped at the chance!
On this particular day, the temperature above water was 3 degrees, and below the water it was -1 degree so the first thing to get right was the outfit! Peregrine provides you with a dry suit: A loose fitting waterproof outfit with rubber seals around the neck, wrists and ankles to prevent any water getting in . They also provide you with waterproof booties. We put both the dry suit and the booties on in the comfort of the dry room of the ship.
Next, our instructor provided a session on how to stand up on our boards, how to paddle, and what to do if we fell off. Our level of experience varied (this was the first time for some!) , as did our ages (25 to 65) and our backgrounds, but we were all unified by the excitement of paddle boarding in one of the most remote places in the world.
Our group of 8 were taken out by tender to an alcove of flat water, protected from the wind by a glacier. One by one we got off the tender and onto our boards, first balancing on our knees, and then standing upright. It was at this moment that the magic happened.
Around us icebergs of whites and amazing hues of blues were juxtaposed against a backdrop of a light grey sky. Penguins were perched high on these icebergs, their heads burrowed into their feathers as they sat their quietly, enduring their molting season, replacing their baby feathers with thick, waterproof adult feathers. Beneath me the water was black and opaque, like a sea of black ink.
My oar hit the water and I was surprised to discover that the water provided no resistance to my paddle, which simply glided through like I was paddling through air. We paddled a little closer to the glacier. Glaciers can be very deceiving: from a distance they look like they may be 3 storeys tall, but when you get close to them you realise that they are much much larger. This one was in fact 30 storeys tall. There is nothing like balancing on a small board in a large ocean, near a massive glacier to make you feel small and vulnerable !
It was quiet. No chirp of a bird, no sound from any ripples of water, no faint noise of traffic, no hum of cicadas. Just silence and serenity.
I was at the mercy of nature, in the most remote area of the world. I couldn’t help but smile.
And then it came, a light hum at first, then louder and stronger, then a loud crack, like thunder right overhead. It was the calving of the glacier. Sheets of ice shredded off its front, 30 storeys of ice falling into the ocean, creating a huge noise, and then a series of waves as it plummeted in. We had been warned that this might happen, so we were far enough away to not be at risk, but we all moved down to our knees to ensure that we didn’t fall off as the water moved under us .
When it was once again calm we rose back onto our feet. I was again lost in all that Antarctica offered when I heard a splash. I turned to find one of our group had fallen in. He was a man in his 30’s strong enough to pull himself back onto his board swiftly. His face had felt the brisk cold of the water, but the rest of him was still dry. We were all having a giggle, including himself, when we realised the commotion had perked the curiosity of a Weddell seal. With grace the seal made his way quickly over to my friend and poked his head out of the water, no more than a metre away from him, as if to say ‘are you ok ‘?
Of course, he was OK. He had just paddle boarded in Antarctica.
As you can see, a truly memorable experience and an activity in one of the most beautiful regions in the world that will stay with you forever. You can enjoy this experience on Peregrine’s 23 day Crossing the Antarctic Circle via Falklands and South Georgia tour, their 16 day South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula tour and other Antarctica itineraries – contact us to find out more.