Antarctica: Paradise Bay

It was the morning of our last expedition day in Antarctica, the 8th of March. We’d had 3 amazing days out on the water (and land) and experienced 6 totally different expeditions in that time. The scenery was never the same on any expedition, it was always beautiful though.

Our final day was going to start early, with a morning expedition to Paradise Bay. Paradise Bay did indeed live up to it’s name! This was, along with Neko Harbour, my favourite of all the expeditions. The scenery was simply breath taking and light was exquisite.

Finally – the killer sunrise

After many days of attempts, and a fair bit of lost sleep, I set the early alarm again, to go get those sunrise shots. I was only in Antarctica for a few short days so figured I could sleep on the way back to South America through the Drake Passage. Well that didn’t work, but more about that later!

At 5.40am I struggled out on deck but today we hit the jackpot. There was going to be some beautiful colour over the Antarctic mountains surrounding Paradise Bay.

The back deck is usually quiet first thing in the morning. Just a few of us crazies with our cameras. Even though there were some clouds we were already getting some beautiful light.

This was the view we had, amazing mountains and pastel skies!

The WWF flag was flapping away over the front deck as the sun started to rise in the sky.

What a morning to be on the deck, and even better with a camera!

We were lucky to get to witness the sky turning every shade of pastel as it came up from behind those mountains.

There were a few other boats out on the water in Paradise Bay, giving scale to those impressive mountains rising out of the sea.

By now there was quite a crowd out on deck, including our photo guides. Unfortunately we had an early first expedition, so we were all debating whether we skipped breakfast to keep watching, or tear ourselves away so we could scoff down some food before heading out on the water.

It had been a magical 45 minutes, and definitely worth the early alarm. But the best was yet to come!

Expedition time….

The photo group was out first again today and we were not going to be late for this one, so at 7.15am we were all ready and geared up to go.

I was in Simon’s zodiac for the morning expedition, and we headed out towards the first building we’d seen in quite awhile. After days of just ice, snow and wildlife it was curious to see a man made structure, this Argentinian Base.

Paradise Bay is located just north of the Lemaire Channel and Bryde Islands, and was once used by whale hunters as an anchorage for their floating factory ships in the early 20th century. The Argentinian research station, Almirante Brown, is located here.

Almirante Brown owes its name to the Irish-Argentinian admiral William Brown, founder of the Argentinian Navy and hero of the Argentine War of Independence. His namesake station is one of 13 Argentinian stations in Antarctica. The base was well equipped in the 1960s but burned down in 1984 and was only partially rebuilt as a summer station. Rumor has it, the station’s doctor set fire to the building to avoid spending another winter there, though an American ship saved the staff.

As we cruised towards the station there were some Antarctic Skuas out and about and we all agree the light was just perfect.

We were lucky that our 2 photo group zodiacs were out very smartly, and had pretty much the entire bay to ourselves to explore and make the most of the light, while other expeditioners were getting ready. This was the earliest we’d been out on the water during this trip and the light was just perfect.

Waddling to water….

We spied a group of Gentoo penguins waddling down to the edge to take their turns heading off for an early swim.

They always amuse me with their awkward waddles on land and then graceful swimming once they hit the water.

Apparently it’s important to test the water before you dive in!

Cruising the Bay…..

The Ocean Endeavour was hanging out in the glassy water dropping zodiacs into the water as we continued our cruise around the bay and checked out the colonies of Gentoos around Brown station.

The scenery was definitely magical…..

The penguins on the rocky outcrops next to the colourful station were definitely a different look to our usual – penguin on snow! They were not the least bit fussed about us watching them.

Shags on a rock…..

Yes in Australia, we do say – hanging out like ‘shags on a rock’ and here they are Antarctic Shags, on a rock 😛 We cruised underneath some rock faces, trying to get a look at them on their rock nests.

The water was so calm it was much easier to get shots than our little adventure out on Orne Harbour in those awful winds!

The beauty of the reflection….

There were now plenty of zodiacs cruising the bay, but the glassy, still water meant we had the perfect opportunity to get some amazing reflection shots. I may have been in landscape heaven on this expedition! It was impossible not to point your camera at something good.

The light, the glaciers, the still water and the ice made for a magical time. As we drifted around trying to find different angles to capture the amazing scenery before us.

Even our photo guides said it was a corker of a morning and you couldn’t get a more perfect Antarctic day!

Amazing colour

It was amazing how green the water could look next to the ice. So pretty as we cruised around the different shaped icebergs.

Flying penguins…..

It was a mission of the photo group to get some awesome penguin in flight shots. I’d managed a couple of great ones earlier in the trip, but was on the hunt to better it. We all agreed that the best chances were when we could find a group of them swimming together. The little buggers move fast so more penguins, more chance. We were in luck, a raft of swimming Gentoo’s was spotted so off we motored. Simon carefully trying to position us so we could get them head on. All quickly fiddling with our camera settings while moving at high speed, ready for that split second chance to nail the shot.

Here they are, 3 in a line, ducking in and out of the water…..

Then, we moved around and I got this little guy, head on! I love the look of concentration on his or her face as they are launching……

It’s difficult to see this with your naked eye, they move too fast. It looks like they are skimming the water when you are watching them but they constantly going under and then flying parallel to the water, before diving in again.

Then we had 2 in unison, timing their skimming across the ocean…..

Then back into water, nothing but a splash and some ripples to be seen.

Stunning serenity

After that little heart-starter of a penguin photo chase it was back to the serenity that Paradise Bay had to offer. The light had continued to be amazing!

Ask and you might just receive……

Every expedition our photo groups had put in our ‘requests’ of which shots were were hoping to achieve that outing. Now on expedition #7, we had ticked most of our major boxes so our requests were getting more fanciful, kind of like the ‘multiple porpoising penguins’ request we had just scored.

Today one of our group asked for a Chinstrap penguin, on an icefloat. We had only had 1 encounter with Chinstraps to date (the not very photographic friendly Orne Harbour expedition) and we were yet to get Chinstraps on their own. But…… what do we spy?

Oh yes it was, a tiny little Chinstrap, hanging out on his own in the middle of the Bay, not another penguin in sight. If that wasn’t good enough, the light was amazing. We’d all started shooting from very long range, but he wasn’t going anywhere so we had this little guy to ourselves for a bit, penguin posing.

I had no idea what he was doing there all on his own. Maybe waiting for his friends to come back, maybe having a rest from some swimming. Either way he was not in a hurry to move and was not worried about us gently circling him and observing his calm and poised presence.

These Chinstraps are just the cutest! Different expressions from every angle.

Then when we thought it couldn’t get any better, he decided to sing to us! Magic…..

Despite these shots looking super close, we were at all times a respectful distance from all the wildlife. Thank you long lenses, expert zodiac driving….. and patience!

I’m pretty sure he knew he was the star of the show and wasn’t going to let us move any time soon.

What an experience! It might have been a half-joke, Chinstrap on an ice float, but this little guy delivered….

More penguins, more fun…..

We had definitely run out of time, the zodiacs had all been called back to the ship but none of us were keen to leave. We were ever so slowly heading back towards the Ocean Endeavour but trying to use every last second.

This time it was Gentoo’s ready to swim and Skua’s circling for food.

Such graceful swimmers, and definitely show-offs!

Our final bit of fun was watching the Gentoo’s playing in the shallows. Singing away….

Then it was time to (very) reluctantly head back to the Ocean Endeavour. A truly magical morning out in Paradise Bay.

On the upside, the high speed trips back to the ship were always fun. Even on a calm day you did get to zoom around and ride the bumps. I kept thinking how much my kids would have loved it!

Farewell Paradise Bay…..

All that beauty and it was only 9.30am! It had been an early start, but it was definitely worth it. The early start was necessary as we had a very long transit to reposition to our afternoon expedition site – Dannoy Point.

Everyone had gathered in the lounges to sort through our photos and warm up with coffee and biscuits. We had the odd dash out onto deck to take in the beautiful vistas to take in on our journey to the next stop.

Our photo groups had to start deciding on our final photos to submit for the end of voyage presentation, and there were literally thousands to sort through. I was adding to them at a rate of knots too. How could you not keeping taking photos when it was this pretty?

Paradise Bay, you were indeed Paradise…….

Up next…..

Our 8th and final expedition of the Antarctica voyage, Dannoy Point. It was definitely a spectacular end to expeditions with a zodiac cruise and a landing, with plenty of seals, penguins, sea birds and beautiful scenery.

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