Quest for the Antarctic Circle: Ship's Log

With our 2024 and 2025 dates for Antarctica now on sale, what's going on a once-in-a-life-time journey really like? A couple of years ago KE Ad... Read more
Quest for the Antarctic Circle: Ship's Log

With our 2024 and 2025 dates for Antarctica now on sale, what's going on a once-in-a-life-time journey really like? A couple of years ago KE Adventure Travel’s CEO Ashley Toft completed a journey he’d long been dreaming of and took a voyage into one of the world's most extreme destinations: the Antarctic. Here's his breakdown of what goes on day-by-day on an adventure into the polar regions to show you what life is like on board - along with the moments which make it so spectacular.

“In many ways, Antarctica is the ultimate adventure destination; one of the most hostile and fragile environments on our planet, but also one of the most beautiful and pristine. For me, getting to see it for myself was a boyhood dream, following in the footsteps of the great polar explorers who braved the elements to discover the most inhospitable and beautiful of places.

I knew I had to do it one day, so seized the moment when I had the time.

I was yearning to discover something of a continent that I actually knew very little about, so when I saw Alex, the expedition leader, speak at a polar evening in London, I was inspired. I knew that this was the guy I wanted to travel with. I knew we’d be travelling on one of the smallest ships in Antarctica, with a crew that has sustainability at its heart – and I’d have the chance to kayak. I’d always wanted to paddle through the icy waters of this pristine wilderness, get as close to the environment as possible. It was everything I wanted it to be”

Read on to find out what life is like on a voyage into one of the earth’s last true wildernesses.



Arrive Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini airport on schedule and in time to transfer to Jorge Newberry (Domestic) airport. The flight to El Calafate is stunning, with views of coast, islands and then snow-capped peaks. Approx 45 mins on the ground there, then 1hr flight to Ushuaia. It’s stunningly located and we’re greeted with views of the Beagle Channel and Tierra del Fuego as we come into land. We’re transferred to the hotel and settle in.


A whole day to spend in Ushuaia affords me a lazy start. Take a long walk around town, seeing the sights: the harbour, the Armada navy base, views across to Navarino island and its peaks. Late eve meet up with some of my fellow passengers for dinner at Chicho’s – very good seafood.




We’re up early to squeeze in a visit to the End of the World railway station and the southernmost point in Argentina (the end of the pan American Highway from Alaska) before heading to board the Expedition. We board 10 at a time and head straight to cabins where bags are waiting before a full safety briefing.

It’s a wonderfully international team and group of passengers too on board, with passengers from Australia, China, Jamaica and more. Our first dinner on board is excellent, beautifully presented – we’re all impressed. This is the perfect intro and I’m feeling even more excited for the voyage ahead with such a great vibe on board.


Our first day crossing the Drake Passage, notorious for its rough seas. We hit it in the night and I wake to my belongings crashing around the room. Breakfast is fairly comical as passengers emerge from their cabins and struggle to get their breakfast/coffee etc. back to the tables. We’re informed this is ‘moderate Drake. I’m feeling fine, helped by the sea sickness tablets we were given the night before, though many aren’t. By the second day it’s calmed a lot, and everyone is much better. Over these two days we’re entertained by a fantastic series of talks. A few highlights:

  • The mandatory lecture led by Alex (pictured), our expedition leader, is excellent, informing us about what we need to do to get in and out of Zodiacs and how to treat this beautiful landscape well. The sustainability ethos on board is superb.
  • Photo briefing with on board photographer Ira Meyer – a great summary of photo do’s and don’ts and he showcased some of his amazing pics. I make a note to use the histogram more.
  • Session with Annette, Alex & Lyn on the scientific work being done on the ship – it’s fascinating. There’s a phytoplankton survey, a happy whale survey, bird counts, NASA cloud surveys all being conducted as we travel.

At mealtimes, I learn more about my fellow passengers. Turns out there are plenty of life-changing stories and different reasons that people are travelling here, from those who’d survived near-death experiences to folk who’d come into an inheritance and were using it for a trip of a lifetime. I’m pleasantly surprised by how different the passengers on board are; they come from all walks of life and the ages span from a 23-year-old to some in retirement.



We make such good progress that on the second day we arrive in time to head out in the Zodiacs. We kit up to protect ourselves from the cold and wet and jet out into incredible views amongst the South Shetland isles. We see Fur Seals, Elephant Seals, Chinstrap Penguins, Gentoos, Wilson Petrels and small icebergs floating just off the beach – all on our very first voyage out.

We dry off then head into daily briefing and recap with Alex and the team. After, Gerard’s talk is interrupted as a call comes through that orcas have been spotted. The ship is instantly turned so we can witness an amazing and very lucky viewing.

Dinner – it’s one of the passenger’s 40th birthday, so there’s a bottle of bubbly and cake provided, along with the obligatory song!

Early night as waking up for sunrise tomorrow.



Reaching the Errera Channel and Cuverville Island, it's overcast, but there’s still breath-taking scenery to be enjoyed.

As we continue cruising to Damoy Point it’s much calmer and the announcement comes that we should be able to kayak. To finally get up close with the water feels great – it’s good to be paddling. I’d been worried I’d feel cooped up on the ship, but this, together with the trips ashore, satisfies my itchy feet and desire to by active.

There are lots of great sightings and an amazing incident with a quite aggressive Leopard Seal who gnawed at the back of our guide Phil’s kayak, blowing bubbles under his boat. We paddle around the bay, keeping a distance from the ice/glaciers that could sheer at any time.

Tonight we’re camping on the ice! I end up sharing with a bloke the same height as me, so it’s a bit cosy. No stars unfortunately as still overcast but an unforgettable experience nonetheless.



Back on the ship, I try to sleep but no joy. Send a few WhatsApp messages and pictures home to the family instead. I’ve bought onto the WiFi package available and it seems to work okay. If you wanted to enjoy two weeks of digital detox however, it would be a great opportunity to do so.

We reach the Lemaire Channel between Booth Island and the mainland at mid-morning, a place “so photogenic it’s known as the Kodak Gap”. Before getting to the narrowest point we turned into a bay for photos – very spectacular with lots of sea ice and glaciers – stunning. Continuing through the narrowest point with high ice cliffs either side is utterly beautiful.

We continue to an ‘Iceberg Garden’ and after lunch we head out on the kayaks – stunning, though sadly I find that my water-proof camera doesn’t work when wet/salty. A great paddle though, and as I return to the boat I’m already champing at the bit for my next outing.

Gorgeous dinner this eve – crab for starter followed by reindeer.



Woke up to the announcement that we were anchored near Prospect Point and that it was only partially cloudy. Look out to see first day of blue skies and sun – utterly incredible.

We glide out in our kayaks, a stunning morning of paddling through the ice on mirror still waters with blue ice and glaciers all around. We work our way through the ice floe to an outcrop with loads of blue eyed Skuas – mostly chicks, we are told, as they don’t have their blue eyes. We also have our first sighting of Adelie Penguins – much bigger than the Gentoos with black and white feathers.

At approx. 6pm, there’s cause for celebration as we cross the Antarctic Circle (66 degrees, 33 minutes and 10 seconds north). We’re at the most northerly point that there is full light for 24hrs on longest day and full dark on longest winter day – a special place to be. We celebrate with a glass of bubbly on the bow and a group photo.



Today we visit Detaille Island and the abandoned British station B, where the old hut which was so hastily abandoned remains still standing. The final team to be stationed here was nearly stranded when their rescue ship couldn’t reach them because of the ice, so they were forced to leave immediately and sledge across to meet it. Everything has been left exactly as it was; long johns hanging over the stove, maps scattered on the bed, jars of Heinz mayonnaise and powdered mashed potato etc. It’s a fascinating insight into a different kind of Antarctic adventure.

As soon as we get back from lunch they pull up the anchor and we start cruising through the Crystal Sound towards ‘The Gullet’ and Margarite. This is an amazing afternoon passing through some incredibly thick sea ice, an unusual and very special experience. Our Russian captain is at his characterful best here as he takes us through what’s happening; the excitement amongst the crew is palpable. At one point the ship has to back and ram to get through the ice! When we make it through, the whole ship cheers.

Evening meal is a BBQ outside – absolutely stunning. We sat on the high deck with views of glaciers on both side of the channel and Cuban salsa music playing.



Today we reach Stonington Island and are joined at the breakfast table by members of the British Antarctica Heritage who have been working on the US and British bases for the last 8 weeks. After lunch, it’s a short zodiac ride to the landing point, where we see the US and British bases and an incredible viewpoint across the channel. We write and send postcards at Stonington Post Office, the world’s most southerly and remote post office (it’s not actually Port Lockroy!).

With a break to kayak in between (I’m not missing any opportunity to go!), we head out to the British base at Horseshoe as well, an amazing place full of artefacts, food stores, radio room, books, magazine and notes. Beautiful panoramic views from the high point, then back in time for dinner.

Lovely meal as always – this time we enjoy waiter service, all washed down with the last bottle of Postales Malbec on the ship. In the bar the ship’s musician (and also Zodiac driver), Kevin Closs ( , is playing a few tunes – great as always. His music is inspired by the landscapes he travels through on these polar voyages, and he even weaves together new lyrics and songs to reflect our journey as we go.



The next day there’s a strong swell, which, combined with a few vinos & beers, leaves me a bit queasy. So I take it easy and enjoy listening to Gerrard Baker’s superb talk about the ice, right through to when we arrive at Petermann Island in the afternoon.

Today, our kayaks allow us the most incredible sight of humpback whales. We’re so close – they can’t be more than 30-40 metres away. Took my DSLR under the kayak skirt and got some great shots, including a video. It’s quite hard to keep a camera still on the ocean, as it turns out! But it still shows the awesome sight of the whales breaching near our boats.

At the bar tonight Kevin is joined by the crew to form the ship’s band: Monkey Eating Eagles. It’s great to meet everyone working on board and we’re suitably impressed by a musically talented staff.



Wake up to rough seas and high winds – 40-50 knots, so we take Zodiac trips ashore at Hannah Point (no kayaking today due to the winds). Compared to other landings we have had it is awash with wildlife from the moment we step off the Zodiac. There are Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins, Giant Petrels (and the odd chick), and huge Elephant Seals; we see a huddle of about 12 snorting, grunting males on the shoreline. There’s even a solitary Macaroni Penguin amongst the Chinstraps – I catch a snap of him through the telescope. A fantastic last trip to shore.

Back to ships and once all groups are back, we head to the beach – it’s time for our polar plunge. When it comes to it, it’s not too bracing. I’ve prepared myself by completing a New Year’s Day dip in the Solent, which was much colder than here! But we’re glad to be welcomed back to this ship with a shot of warming spirit nonetheless.



Full day crossing The Drake – sun is out and a relatively OK crossing so far.

Day is filled with the ever excellent talks, followed by an afternoon bird session with resident expert Lyn on albatrosses on deck.

In the evening I head to the Polar Bear Bar where Scobie is telling stories of his time in the Antarctic; he was based here with the British Antarctica Survey from the age of 20. Part of the hardy members of the crew who’ve ‘overwintered’ in the Antarctic, his tales are the stuff of legend and include some of his pranks and mishaps along the way – great to see another side of the quiet Zodiac driver from Manchester.



As we’ve had such an easy and quick crossing, we detour to Cape Horn. Cross into Chilean waters then back past the Albatross statue to the Argentinian side.

The rest of the day is filled with more excellent talks, before reaching Ushuaia in the evening. Our last night is grand - our Captain gets a standing ovation for his sterling efforts, and we raise a toast with bubbly. Ira has put together a slideshow with many of his expert shots from the trip but also from those of us who submitted pics, and we reflect on our last two weeks whilst Kevin plays some of his favourite new tunes. It’s a fitting end to an amazing and unforgettable journey.

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