Antarctic Odyssey

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Imagine cutting through Drake Passage between the southernmost tip of South America at Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, as winds surge to 100km/h and seas swirl to 10m. Late last year 16 Brisbane Grammar School boys and two staff members did just that – taking a retired Russian communications ship, complete with Russian crew, to the great white continent of the south – Antarctica. 

Making the journey with One Ocean, the boys were escorted by its team of on-board experts, including ornithologists, scientists, guides, and leaders. After successfully navigating the Drake Passage the ship moved into calmer seas, and the students were able to begin a daily routine of explorations, heading ashore to discover what Antarctica had to offer. 

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BGS Director of Outdoor Education Jon Hodges, who completed his second trip to Antarctica, said the world’s coldest continent was also the most educationally fascinating. “Every day brought new adventures with ice fields, ice bergs, and a myriad of amazing animals and sea life to observe,” he said. “One evening we were thrilled to dig our trench in the ice and camp out on foam mats surrounded by floating icebergs freshly broken off the nearby glacier, with penguins as our neighbours.”

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The two hours of darkness didn’t encourage sleep, nor did the -5 temperature, but spectacular scenery made up for those difficulties. On one particular cruise in Wilhelmina Bay, the silvery bay and grey high cloud cast an eerie light for visiting pods of humpback whales. “We 
floated in the zodiacs with engines cut, and watched the whales dive deeply as they fed on krill before our eyes, coming within metres of the boats on a number of occasions,” Mr Hodges said. 

Not missing the chance for a snowball fight, BGS students were also brave or silly enough to complete a polar plunge, jumping into the ocean surrounded by blocks of ice. Then it was time to brave further giant swells on the return journey, ahead of a marathon 40 hours of connecting flights back to Brisbane. 

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Mr Hodges said one of his highlights was listening to the boys discuss complex environmental issues after a special lecture put on for BGS students by the ship’s biologist, penguin experts, and ornithologist. “It became apparent that they truly had been affected by their visit to this special and sensitive place, and will not forget how fragile the balance actually is,” he said.

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My perspective – Kit Lindgren Year 12nikon ocean.jpg

On December 5 2014 a group of BGS boys departed Brisbane. Over two days we travelled to Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and finally Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. Our vision of this extreme region came when we climbed into the mountains the next morning to view the stunningly picturesque mountains and colourful township below. Next we boarded the Russian icebreaker Akademik Loffe, bound for Antarctica via the infamous Drake Passage.

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After two days we reached the Antarctic Peninsula, and on a daily basis we experienced zodiac cruises, visits to penguin colonies, hikes, and tours of historical sites and international research bases. A favourite experience from the journey was hiking up a volcanic rise, to be surrounded by a blizzard, followed by a dangerous trek back to an ash-strewn beach, and a final ‘polar plunge’ in the freezing ocean.

My trip to Antarctica provided me with memories of a lifetime, and raised my awareness of the natural environment, ultimately giving me an insight into the last untouched continent on the planet.