A magical stopover at the gateway to Antarctica
Wild, uninhabited and far from seaways, the South Orkney Islands are remarkably well-preserved. Joseph Szeles, one of our most loyal passengers, was one of the first tourists to travel to these faraway and otherworldly lands.
Approaching the archipelago, what do you see first? How does it appear to travellers?
We were immersed in a rather dense fog, which came and went. We saw the mountains, the hills, big icebergs, snowslides, and then dozens of chinstrap penguins. It was a magical landscape, and the fog, varying in thickness, gave the impression that we were in another world. This is where the true notion of a PONANT expedition cruise became clear. No tourist had ever travelled along the coasts of Monroe Island! And Captain Garcia had done a remarkably good job choosing the anchorage sites.
What animals did you see?
We were lucky enough to be able to observe the rare snow petrels, which are white with black beaks, as well as many chinstrap penguins by the sea and on the icy slopes. There were also crabeater seals lounging on a small iceberg 200 metres from the shore.
What is your most striking memory?
We sailed along the coasts on the Zodiac®. The guides shut down the engines. We drifted between icebergs, with penguins in sight. It was total silence. For half an hour, we heard nothing but the clicks of the cameras. We didn’t even dare speak to each other. It was magical. I’ve rarely experienced this anywhere else. This feeling of silence and peace was extraordinary. You really do feel like you’re on another planet.
What would you recommend to travellers preparing to visit the Orkney Islands?
I’d tell them to enjoy every moment and remember how lucky they are. They’re going to discover a world like nothing they’ve ever seen before. They really must make the most of it, especially since with PONANT they’ll be travelling in exceptional conditions of safety and comfort. I’ve been to Antarctica ten times, three of which were with PONANT. It’s the only company that takes its passengers to remarkably well-selected places and gives them a real experience of exploration. It’s a striking and must-do experience.
Photos credits: © Studio PONANT / M. Monneret; © J. Fabro