Guest post by Jonny Blair
The marvel of it all will never leave me. It really happened and I was there. Overdressed in black, overwhelmed by the snow, surrounded by penguins and gasping in awe, I stepped foot on mainland Antarctica. It was magical. Here’s the story of my epic arrival…
The location for this magic was that little known “harbour” called Neko Harbour. It sits eloquently against a vast array of shining icebergs, tilting glaciers and endless snow mountains. This is the real Antarctica on view here. This is what you expected to see as a child when you had dreams of visiting Antarctica.
So we had finished our lunch onboard the MS Expedition, our marvellous ship for this epic journey. We were called to the ship’s “mud room” to get changed and we are told “this is the Antarctic mainland” outside. We already know that, we have sailed gallantly by it for the last few hours. Endless snowfall and a world bereft of skyscrapers was our aural feast on the entrance into Neko Harbour. Even the name of this place helps to conjure up the magic, Neko. And it’s not really a harbour in the same way you know it. There is no port here, no piers, no fishermen, no anchored yachts and certainly no customs. None of that crosses your mind. Your eyes are feasted on a marvel.
The mud room is the place you exit the ship to join the small dingys – known as Zodiacs. I was one of the first to be called and got into my Zodiac. A snowstorm was brewing up outside and my sunglasses and multiple head wear protected my body from the gales and beating slete. It’s a windy world of white and the 10 of us in the Zodiac take turns to photograph our entrance, protect ourselves from the snowstorm and prepare for the first ever landing on the Antarctic mainland.
There is no passport control, there are no visas required and there is no entry sign. But on arrival there are two welcomes for us on mainland Antarctica:
1. The leader of our expedition is Julio and his words are “Welcome to Mainland Antarctica” as we step foot on the beach at Neko Harbour
2. Penguins glare nonchalantly at us as if to ask “what are these aliens here for?”
My first step is onto a beach. It really is a beach of sand. The sand is murky brown and is hidden below snow and ice. Chunks of ice sit in the water by the harbour and one by one we are on mainland soil. What next? Well the place is a feast for the eyes. There is nothing more extraordinary in my travel repertoire than this moment. As I glared at a forever white sky, a background of blue and white glaciers and listened to the noise of talking penguins I had ticked something off a list. It did feel really good.
I didn’t get over arrogant about it, but I did think of Neil Armstrong for some odd reason. The “small step for man, giant leap for mankind” quote stuck in my mind. This was a special place to step foot on and I was loving it. The first few minutes I was just admiring the place. I was in awe of my surroundings. There are no buildings anywhere and no people ordinarily live here. The snow is deep and as I trudge my way through it, I lose my boots twice.
I’m a Northern Irish traveller and I carry my Northern Ireland flag with me. A great flag moment occurred on the beach as fellow Irish traveller Rhona O’Connor flashed her Republic of Ireland flag and we got a good photo together. It was really colourful as the snow fell on us and we pondered on the troubles back on the island of Ireland. Here on Neko Harbour, things like war and inhumanity are a world away. This is as peaceful and tranquil as life will get.
Next up I dive into the snow to check it’s real. I’m rolling around in it! We walk up to the top of hills for even better views. I stare inland at endless hills of white – the sky is also white and misty. It’s not clear and you cannot see far into the distance. But I think to myself – “wow if I keep walking that way, I could reach the South Pole”. I won’t be visiting the South Pole of course, but it’s a nice thought to know I’m on the same land mass as it.
The views from the top of the hill are simply epic. We are all posing for photos and treating our eyes to a continual scan of this forever winter wonderland. I have never seen anything like it before. We roll down a hill to check out some glaciers and icebergs in behind the mist. The view is sensational. We build snowmen on the hill on the way down.
The only thing to see and do here is to enjoy it. There are no museums, cafes etc. This is travel with a difference! You just stand around admiring the view and taking photos of snowfall. But it was epic.
The Antarctica landings don’t last long and it was soon over in the blink of an eye. I have my videos, photos and memories for eternity from this trip. On board the ship again we all head to the bar and drink a “Mainland Landing Cocktail” which is the special of the day. We had already got a passport stamp earlier that day at the British Base in Port Lockroy (not on the mainland) and we are presented with a certificate to say we have landed on mainland Antarctica.
This has been my best travel moment to date and loved writing this and sharing it with you. If you ever get the chance to visit Antarctica, don’t turn it down! It will probably provide you with the most memorable travel experience of your lifetime. For me the moment will last forever in my memory and I cherish that.
About an Author: Jonny Blair is a passionate travel writer and global nomad. He is currently based in Hong Kong and writes daily for his own travel blog Don’t Stop Living – a lifestyle of travel. You can follow Jonny’s journeys on there. He has travelled to over 70 countries across all seven continents and has no intention of stopping his travels anytime soon. You can also stay connected with Jonny through his social networks for Don’t Stop Living: