Penguin Paradise
Chillin' with the Emperors

Paradise Harbour

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Each day in Antarctica just seemed to get better than the previous one.

 

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The sun was shining...


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...and the gentoo penguins followed alongside the National Geographic Explorer as we cruised into Paradise Harbour.


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The waters were so calm, creating gorgeous reflections all around us.

 

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The ship nudged right into the rocks to set anchor...


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So close that a couple of the ship's dining staff were having fun hanging off the bow and touching the snow.

 

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Zodiac time! 

 

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The zodiacs were puttering around the ship, awaiting their turn to load for the morning's expedition.



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I took these photos from our zodiac...

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We were literally a few feet away from the rock face. Which means this water was really, really deep!



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This is the Almirante Brown research station, an Argentine base that was unmanned at this time. What an awesome place to do research!!!

 

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On the rock face right beside the ship, a colony of Antarctic cormorants (aka blue-eyed shags) were nesting...


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Seems like a precarious spot for a nest but, then again, I'm not a cormorant...


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The research station might be unmanned, but it is not "unpenguined"! Lots of gentoos call this spot home...


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Penguin love is in the air!


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"Enough, already!"


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This photo is my favorite of this pair! Look at their feet...they are dancing together!


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Gentoo penguins are the 3rd largest penguin species. They stand 2 1/2 - 3 feet tall.

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They had their little penguin trails up through the snow. Penguins look so awkward, I don't know how they can climb up and down such steep, icy hills but they do.


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I could sit and watch their antics all day, but more wildlife sightings were awaiting...


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Love how the rescue station is color-coordinated with the ice!


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Our zodiacs look so tiny next to the massive icebergs and mountains.

 

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photo by National Geographic undersea specialist Alyssa Adler

While the zodiac were cruising, our divers Alyssa and Adam were doing some exploring under the Southern Sea. Alyssa took this photo from the surface, showing the massive iceberg under the water. You truly only do see "the tip of the iceberg"!

 

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Climbing penguins...


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...one waddle at a time...


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Just below the penguins on the hill we saw our first Weddell seals.


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This one looked like it had suffered an injury near its tail flippers. These are big critters, so it was probably from fighting another seal or surviving an orca attack.


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Weddell seals characteristically snooze with one flipper in the air...


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Snoozing the morning away on his icy bed...

 

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A couple more Weddell seals further from the water...


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And another one...


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And then there was this little tella, wallowing in the snow...


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He just couldn't get comfortable...I think he was trying to scratch his back...


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Aahhh! Feels so good!

 

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Javier, our zodiac captain, navigated us around the many icebergs, looking for wildlife...


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...which oftentimes were right beside our boat.


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The snow petrel is Javier's favorite Antarctic bird.


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We saw them flying a lot (Javier said he's never seen so many!) but it's hard to focus on them in flight with their white feathers against white background. I had told Javier that I really wanted to get a good photo of a snow petrel, so he found this one posing for me on an iceberg.


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We stopped to just soak in the stunning beauty of this place! A camera lens cannot capture its magnificence. 

Looking at this gorgeous landscape, I thought it would be a great spot for a selfie of Kim and me. And then I realized...hey, I'm in the boat with a professional National Geographic videographer. Maybe he would take our photo!


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He was thrilled to do so and snapped away. Several shots later, he asked if anyone else on the zodiac would like their photo taken. One lady said she would and just as she began to situate herself in the zodiac for her photo, Javier shouted, "A snow petrel is taking a bath!"

And before that poor lady had any opportunity for a photo, Javier was ordering everyone to hang on and he sped away toward the snow petrel that no one else in the zodiac could see.

 

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Sure enough! As we got closer, there was a snow petrel taking an icy bath in the most beautiful turquoise icy spa!


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Incredibly BEAUTIFUL!!! I imagine the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus looked like this snow petrel to those who witnessed it.

I took lots of photos, but I bet Javier took hundreds in the 5 minutes we watched...he was truly in snow petrel heaven and giddy over such a once-in-a-lifetime sighting! 

But I have to admit, I did feel kinda sorry for the lady who never got her photo taken...

 

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We reluctantly went back to the Explorer around noon. Before the ship could begin navigating again, the guides used the zodiacs to push an iceberg out of the way to give it room. I think it might have been one of the trip highlights for our guide Tua who is from the South Pacific Cook Islands. Never, he said, in his wildest dreams did he ever envision himself pushing an iceberg out of his path!


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As we began moving, we sailed past our first sighting of crabeater seals. They were obviously in a food stupor, enjoying a rest after devouring some penguins.


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The seal is keeping an eye on the sheathbill, prowling around hoping for some scraps...


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This is the season all the seals molt, so they looked a bit haggard...

 

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And yet another couple of crabeaters...

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As we passed, she slowly slipped into the icy waters...

 

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photo by Nat Geo's Alyssa Adler

That afternoon, we took zodiacs into rarely-used Portal Point and got to make a continental landing on the actual land mass of Antarctica. Our guides said we were the first humans in probably decades, if not longer, to step onto this part of the planet.


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We walked around a bit, leaving our footprints in the pristine Antarctic snow.


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A couple of our guides had trailblazed a downhill snow slide, and many hiked to the top and slid down to the bottom.

 

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Again, when there are National Geographic photographers around, I used them! After all, we paid a lot for this trip and for them to be there with us!

Tommy Heinrich took this photo...


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...as well as these of me making a snow angel in Antarctica.


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I think Javier was mocking me...in a fun way, of course!

 

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I doubt we shall ever pass this way again. 



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But we savored our day-of-a-lifetime...

...in Paradise Harbour.

 

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