Active Travel Adventure Travel

Kayaking in Antarctica

Sunshine hitting the Southern Ocean looks like fireworks made out of diamonds. When a glacier calves, it sounds like thunder rumbling over an oncoming train. These are things I didn’t know before kayaking in Antarctica and now are embedded in my soul.

Before our boat has even anchored, our lucky group of 10 are already suiting up. We’ve learned how to pour ourselves into dry suits over multiple layers of clothing, and are sweating in the heated ship waiting for our adventure.

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The doors open, and we’re whisked away on a Zodiac and taken into the wild, where we carefully transfer ourselves into kayaks. For the first time, we’re navigating the waters under our own power, just like all the other animals out here.

Away from our floating home, Chimu Adventures’ charted ship the Ocean Atlantic, the silence is pristine. Closer to the water, we’re eye-level with crab-eater seals. Sleeping on icebergs with chunks of ice for pillows, the seals scope us out with a yawn before stretching and deciding we’re not worth waking up for.

The bottom of the kayak rasps as we bump our way over the crushed ice that has formed in the waters. My heart races as we navigate through the icebergs that present a slalom course challenge, as I mentally review the wet exit procedure. We’re kayaking in Neko Harbor, past a colony of Gentoo penguins sharing space on a night-black sandy beach, with hefty fur seals that dwarf them in size and noise. I wonder what they must think of us less-than-graceful humans unsteadily rowing by in our neon-green kayaks.

When the first glacier calves, it feels like a wish being granted. We’d been briefed that this area was full of unstable glaciers that could break off a piece at any moment, and we all wanted to witness this phenomenon.

Our kayak guide tells us to back-paddle as a wave triggered by the crash comes racing towards us. Where the chunk of ice fell, the wave seems like a tsunami size, but it quickly peters out as it gets closer, giving us kayaks a little lift before dying out completely. We drift and watch the aftershocks before to the right, a second glacier spills into the water below with thunderous crashes that sends waves crashing towards us.

We kayak a little away from the group, and revel in the sensation of being alone in Antarctica. There are no modern noises out here on the water—no whines of an engine, no smells of fuel, and not a scrap of trash or pollution to be found in the waves.

Too soon, our kayak adventure is over, and we haul ourselves back on to the Zodiac before being taken ashore for our landing. Dressed in our dry suits, with ridiculous looking bulky spray skirts attached around our waists, bright yellow life jackets around our chests, and slippery neoprene booties around our feet, I know exactly how the penguins feel. In the water, we floated so elegantly and effectively, but on land, we struggled to make our way.

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Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Chimu Adventures on their 10 Day Discover Antarctica Cruise. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for more photos and videos from her trip.

By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo,, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle (when the first class private suite isn't available)."

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