Discovering Antarctic silence in Paradise Bay Antarctica
It was the slap of kayak paddles that snapped my head around. We were floating on a Zodiac, engine silenced, in the middle of Paradise Bay Antarctica. At the behest of our boat driver, everybody on our raft with 10 people was doing his or her level best to sit still, listening to the Antarctic silence – at least as much of it as we could muster between the squeaks of boot soles over rubber tubing and the rustle of waterproof jackets on restless passengers. Admittedly, it is hard to sit quietly when in every direction, there is something magical to look at and marvel over.
Paradise Harbor or Bay (its name, depending on what map you are reading or guide you are listening to) sits just off the Antarctic Peninsula and is protected both by the peninsula itself and several islands just offshore. Steep mountain slopes lined with curtains of blue-, white- and greenish-colored glaciers are reflected in calm, steely waters dotted with floating ice bits. It is truly one of the most scenic and pristine spots imaginable, which is why nearly every Antarctica cruise makes a visit here.
My wife, Therese Iknoian, and I were lucky enough to be part of a Polar Latitudes’ expedition cruise that set out in late February 2018. On Day 6, the morning started off misty and gray, but that did not dampen enthusiasm for cruising around on Zodiacs into Paradise Bay Antarctica. A small contingent of our group — those signed up for kayaking — had headed off prior.
Our Zodiac left the ship shortly after the kayakers, and soon we were gliding alongside steep rock cliffs, dotted with the nests high above of blue-eyed shags. As I listened to the cries of the shags while they swooped and dove on and off their nests, I was also mesmerized by the colors and texture of the rocky cliffs slipping by – emerald green moss, dark black and gray stone, orange and yellow lichen and, in places, blueish-green streaks from copper deposits.
In front of us, a huge glacial wall of fissured ice rose out of the water, and a yawning ice cave beckoned us, teasing the imagination. But to get too close to a glacier in the ocean, even a place named “paradise,’ would be inviting disaster. Ice regularly calves off walls, falling into the waters below with a thunderous roar. Any boat too close risks being swamped by the resulting waves or, worse, crushed by the weight above. We would float a safe distance away to watch and listen.
And in listening, one learns that an Antarctic silence is not so much the absence of sound. As we sat with the engine turned off, we could hear the crackling of the glacial ice, the cries of shags and terns dipping and soaring above, the creaking and rumbling of floating ice chunks grinding together, the lap of water against the shore and our boats. A nearby splashing from several Gentoo penguins playfully porpoising near our boat brought smiles. The slap of kayak paddles on the water that we heard from a distance seemed so out of place. As I spun around to watch several of our kayaking compatriots glide by, paddles flashing in rhythm, I found myself understanding what was meant by Antarctic silence. It is simply the absence of human sounds – no engines, voices, horns, ringing tones, clattering noises, or humming and clicking cameras.
We sat still for a while longer, watching the kayaks slip away. The longer we sat, the more the silence enveloped us. Off in the distance, I could see our ship. The serenity of the scene was unforgettable, and one that I tried to capture with my artwork, above. It is the unadulterated purity of the landscape, draped in a curtain of subtly contrasting colors and visual textures, combined with the natural silence that makes Antarctica such an addictive, restorative place to visit.
You may also like to read Five tips for staying warm in Antarctica
Yes, it is true that Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and least-populated of any of the world’s continents. It is wilderness in the truest sense of the word. It is also a continent protected by an international collaboration that is, especially when seen through the lens of past and current global conflicts, unprecedented. And it is home to some of the most amazing wildlife imaginable – penguins, seals and whales to name but a few. For all of these reasons, and hundreds more, Antarctica worms its way into your soul. Its silence becomes a call you will hear in your dreams forever.
HITT me with quick facts and travel tips
Want to visit Antarctica? There are many companies to choose from when booking your travel to Antarctica. We recommend Polar Latitudes from personal experience, and Journeys International from having worked with them.
Here are several guidebooks on Antarctica we recommend:
- Antarctica Cruising Guide: Fourth edition: Includes Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Ross Sea
- Lonely Planet Antarctica (Travel Guide)
- Antarctica: A Guide to the Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guide)
- A bonus read for anyone traveling to Antarctica is Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.
Be prepared for anything. When travel goes bad, you must be prepared, which is why we never leave home without the right travel insurance and good travel emergency evacuation coverage. We rely on Global Rescue for emergency evacuation coverage and medical advice and IMG Signature Travel Insurance whenever we need additional protection beyond what is provided with our credit cards. Learn more about IMG Signature Travel Insurance, provided in partnership with Global Rescue here.
Download “Antarctic Silence” original artwork FREE!
If you are a member of our Subscriber Club you can download Michael’s original artwork, Antarctic Silence as a printable PDF here. Not a member of our Subscriber Club yet? It is easy and free to join. Just click on the button below. In addition to full access to our free travel book and recipe library, you will receive a monthly newsletter full of travel inspiration from award-winning travel writers and photographers.
Our Most Recent Travel Stories
Michael Hodgson was awarded a bronze medal in the global International Photographic Competition for his image of wild horses galloping through the ocean in the Outer Banks.
Every summer morning Alaska Railroad trains depart on a 356-mile journey connecting Anchorage and Fairbanks with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali National Park. We took the southbound route for a relaxing, scenic train adventure.
A national historic landmark, Sloss Furnaces blast furnace plant in Birmingham was once the largest maker of pig iron in the world. Today, the 19th-century industrial site is preserved as a museum. Take a tour in photos at its collection of historic buildings, towers, machinery, and furnaces.
As an affiliate for Get Your Guide, Amazon.com, iVisa, Global Rescue, Think Tank, 5.11, Kuhl, Adorama, and others, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you should you choose to purchase through the links in our posts. It is essential to mention that we only endorse products we believe in and personally use. Your support for HI Travel Tales through these purchases allows us to maintain a sustainable platform for creating valuable and relevant content for you.