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Digital Subscriptions > National Geographic Traveller (UK) > October 2018 > COULD YOU CROS S THE ANTARCT IC C IRCLE?

COULD YOU CROS S THE ANTARCT IC C IRCLE?

Brave the journey south to this frozen wilderness and you’ll find unclimbed peaks, place names like Exasperation Inlet and Danger Islands, and a British surveying base abandoned due to encroaching ice — all stark reminders that the Great White Continent is hostile to humans. But the hardships are worth enduring for the spectacular landscapes and wildlife
Close encounter with an iceberg near Pléneau Island

ON THE BLEAK AND CHILLY SHORES OF CUVERVILLE ISLAND, BLEACHED WHALEBONES LIE STREWN ACROSS THE ROCKS LIKE A SMASHED ONION. IT’S HERE THAT AROUND 7,0 0 0 PAIRS OF GENTOO PENGUINS — THE LARGEST ROOKERY IN THE ANTARCTIC PENINSULA — ARE DEMONSTRATING HOW THE SPECIES HAS MANAGED TO SURVIVE IN THIS SUBZERO WILDERNESS FOR THE PAST 40 MILLION YEARS.

I can be certain about these numbers because among the 92 passengers aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov — a Russian expedition ship that’s been making voyages through the steely waters of Antarctica for over 20 years — is o cial penguin counter Grant Humphries.

A jovial Newfoundlander who works for the nonprofit conservation group Oceanites, he must have tougher nostrils than me, because the stench of this vast, orangebilled congregation is nauseating. Yes, I agree that these ‘old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner’ — as polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard put it — are supremely watchable. There’s that comic waddle, the long commuter-like lines as they tramp determinedly through the snow, and the dazzling aquarobics once in the sea.

But now I’m here, standing right beside them, it’s abundantly clear this is no paradise. There are fearsome blizzards to tough out, and the constant threat of attendant south polar skuas, which mercilessly swoop down from on high to demolish the penguins’ carefully nursed eggs whenever they feel peckish. It’s a miserable scene to witness — the gentoos futilely squawking their disapproval while the predator takes a murderous nibble, then abandons the rest. “Most penguins will lay two eggs,” explains our expert ornithologist, Steve Bailey, who seems inured to such trauma. I feel better after hearing that, especially when he adds that it’s late in the season so the eggs are most likely infertile anyway.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

We grab our binoculars and set out to discover the awe-inspiring wildlife of India, scouting out the likes of Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinos and snow leopards in some of the subcontinent’s most dramatic national parks. Elsewhere, we explore the winelands of southern Australia; cross the frozen frontier of the Antarctic Circle; and spend a long weekend in the city of Leeuwarden. Other highlights this issue include the Faroe Islands, Tel Aviv, Manhattan, Tokyo and Santiago, while our photo story takes in the fresh air and Alpine beauty of Switzerland.