Navigating the white continent

By AG STAFF 3 July 2019
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Guiding the waterways of Antarctica has its incredible challenges and rewards.

Taking groups of 20 or more inexperienced tourists into the Antarctic ocean on kayaks sounds like a recipe for disaster. But it’s all in a day’s work for Ewan Blyth and Sophie Ballagh. Based in Antarctica, adventure kayak guides Ewan and Sophie traverse the icy waterways every day, exploring the glaciers and interacting with the wildlife that lives there. We spoke to Ewan and Sophie to hear more about their experiences on and around the white continent and to understand what life is like in one of the most extreme places on the planet.

How did you get into adventure guiding and why did you choose to settle in the Antarctic?

Sophie’s direction in life pointed towards guiding from the moment a school careers adviser identified it as a potential career path. I on the other hand, started a little differently. After a professional career in a totally non-related industry (a desk-job!), I fell into outdoor guiding rather unexpectedly and without meaning to! We have both guided in many parts of the world but keep being drawn to the Antarctic because it is so special and so unique.

Antarctica itself is an incredible destination to be able to explore. Where else have you kayaked, together or separately, and how do they compare to the Antarctic?

We have kayaked in many places around the world, from the rugged coasts of Tasmania, to the untouched fjords of New Zealand and the tropical islands of the Coral Sea. It’s difficult to compare them to each other because they’re all so different. But by embracing what each of them has to offer, you can see their uniqueness and why each one is so special.

You’re both obviously inspired by the outdoors. What in particular inspires you about the exploring?

We both seek solace and connection in the outdoors – it’s our temple. Regardless of the environment, as long as it is wild land, we feel at home. And exploration of these lands satisfies our curious minds.

What does it mean to you, to be out on the water, in such an incredible place as the Antarctic every day?

It means we have perhaps the best office in the world. Though, sometimes it feels like there are some problems with the air-conditioning! We return to Antarctica because of the place. Because of what it means to give people the gift of experiencing a place otherwise mostly off-limits. The outdoors is our temple, it’s our place of belonging and exploration of the outdoors satisfies our curious minds.

About Sophie and Ewan

Ewan has travelled widely for work and pleasure, leading expeditions in Vietnam, summiting peaks in Ecuador and leading extended sea kayaking trips in the rugged South West of Tasmania. Sophie has led countless multi-day sea kayaking adventures in the rugged fjords of her native New Zealand, as well as along Canada’s famed BC coast. Together, they formed an expert kayak guiding partnership in the Antarctic after having met on a tourist vessel in Antarctica eight years ago. Working with companies such as Polar Latitudes and One Ocean Expeditions, they take their clients from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas in Southern Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula by ship. Here they explore the peninsula by kayak, visiting places such as the South Shetland Islands, the picturesque Neko Harbor, the humpback whale favoured Whilhelmina Bay and the wildlife filled Penola Channel. Expeditions can last up to two weeks and give people a chance to experience the beauty of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Head here for the full story on Ewan and Sophie, and their incredible adventures.