Explore Snow Hill Island, Antarctica: land of the Emperor Penguin

By Odette Tonkin 8 December 2022
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Just when you thought your travel bucket list was full, we’ve found the ultimate adventuring experience to rival any trek through the Himalayas or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. A polar cruise to Snow Hill Island in Antarctica will leave you in awe of our spectacular planet. Quark Expeditions is the team to get you there.

Green means go and now that world travel is back on the agenda there’s never been a better time to push your holiday boundaries and book a ticket to Antarctica. Voyaging past breathtaking tabular icebergs in the Weddell Sea and meeting thousands of emperor penguins sounds like an experience too good to be true, but with Quark Expeditions, this exclusive wildlife and nature encounter is within reach.

Remote Snow Hill Island, located off the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, is rarely visited – few have braved the unpredictable weather and exciting journey across the notoriously rough Drake Passage and the icy Weddell Sea to set foot here. But those who do are rewarded with a rare glimpse into the natural habitat of the largest penguin on the planet, the emperor, along with an impressive line-up of other Antarctic inhabitants – humpback and minke whales, orcas, leopard and crabeater seals, plus a host of rare and wonderful birds, including the occasional albatross.

Dedicated tourists have been making the trip to Antarctica since the 1960s, to immerse themselves in the wonders of polar travel and to truly appreciate the raw beauty and importance of this ecological sanctuary. It wasn’t until 2004, however, that one polar operator, Quark Expeditions, made polar history when it conducted the first-ever ground visit to Snow Hill Island to witness the colony of emperor penguins.

With scientists observing emperor penguins in the northern Antarctic Peninsula for many years, it was suspected that a colony of these flightless birds existed to the south within the Weddell Sea. Quark Expeditions had already built up a wealth of knowledge about the region, but making the virgin trip to Snow Hill Island, to visit this now legendary rookery that numbers 4000 breeding pairs of emperor penguins, was ground-breaking.

Affectionately known by adventurers as The Land of the Emperor Penguin, Snow Hill Island is one of the planet’s truly remote wilderness areas. If you’ve ever dreamt of getting near these striking birds, then this is the place to visit. Experts estimate up to 10,000 of these gentle giants live and play in the region. The only species of penguin to breed and incubate their eggs on ice, rather than on shore, emperor penguins thrive in bitterly cold temperatures – as low as -60°C.

Emperor penguin parents and chicks, Snow Island. Image credit: courtesy Quarks Expeditions

A trip to Antarctica is unlike any holiday you’ve taken before and travellers with Quark Expeditions are encouraged to switch on their explorer mode – you’ll be involved in daily updates on the progress of the voyage via weather briefings, as well as meteorolgical and sea ice condition reports from the captain and Expedition Leader. Quark Expeditions also provides a range of polar experts, including penguin scientists, biologists, ornithologists and historians, who make the 14-day trip to Antarctica a truly immersive experience.    

If the often-comical yet endearing interactions of one of the largest colonies of emperor penguins aren’t reason enough to step outside your comfort zone, then sailing onboard the new polar vessel, Ultramarine, might be. Equipped with two twin-engine helicopters and a fleet of 20 quick-launching Zodiacs, Ultramarine invites guests to choose from the industry’s largest portfolio of off-ship adventure options, including helicopter flightseeing, hiking and stand-up paddleboarding.

But polar cruising and helicopter excursions aside, the true hero of a trip to Snow Hill Island is the regal emperor penguin. Observing these magnificent birds and their daily routines in their rookery, as they care for their chicks, slide across the ice on their bellies and head off to hunt, is like being on the set of a nature documentary. And for those lucky enough to visit this untouched Antarctic frontier, these moments will stay forever etched in their memory.

This article was brought to you by Quark Expeditions.