Kayaking in Antarctica: The Experience of a Lifetime

Kayaking in Antarctica is the ultimate bucket list item.  As lovers of adventure travel, when we found out that we had the opportunity to go sea kayaking in Antarctic waters on our expedition cruise we basically said “shut up and take my money”.  It’s probably one of the coolest, most badass things we’ve done in our lives.  Warning: this post may make you extremely jealous and cost you a lot of money when you decide to book an Antarctica Cruise.  You’ve been warned!

Kayaking in Antarctica
Kayaking in Antarctica, the experience of a lifetime

Requirements and Briefings

When our expedition guides announced that they would be going over the requirements for kayaking in Antarctica we were obviously intrigued.  The only question in our minds was “can we afford this” and “do we have enough experience kayaking”.

Over a couple of briefings they explained that to be eligible for the kayaking program you needed to:

  • Speak and understand English.  Even though we were on a Chinese Charter, the kayaking guides spoke English.  It’s pretty important that you can understand your guides when you’re kayaking in such a hostile environment.
  • Swim: Seems pretty obvious right?  If the unthinkable happened and you went into the icy cold waters of Antarctica you probably have a better chance of surviving if you know how to swim.
  • Be Comfortable in a Kayak: The way the expedition leaders explained it was that Antarctica wasn’t the place to learn how to kayak.  That seems completely reasonable to me!

If you’re going on a cruise to Antarctica, you think you might be interested in this, and you don’t have a lot of experience, I would recommend taking some lessons at home to get comfortable before the cruise.  You wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity!

Our expedition team scheduled two briefings to go over how the program would work, what to expect, the equipment we’d be using and spent some time answering the questions us passengers had about the kayaking program.  The group size dwindled for the second briefing as they confirmed everyone could meet the minimum criteria for kayaking the icy waters of Antarctica.

Kayak Expedition Leader Signalling to the Group
Our Expedition Leader signalling to the group

Is it Safe?

Obviously, a question that we needed to get answered was what would happen in the event of an emergency.  The program leaders were completely prepared and demonstrated their evacuation procedures.  One of the guides would always stay nearby in the Zodiac, ready to pull somebody out and evacuate them back to the ship if anything went wrong.

Even in a drysuit, you would probably only survive a few minutes in the frigid waters so speed was the name of the game.  They assured us that as long as we followed their directions it was a perfectly safe activity and they had not had any incidents previously.

One of the key instructions we were given is to keep a safe distance from Icebergs.  Remember the rule that 90% of an iceberg is underwater?  Well, icebergs have a tendency to flip over without notice which could be deadly if you were nearby in a Kayak.  The rule of thumb we were given was to always be twice the iceberg’s height away.

Antarctica Iceberg
If 90% of this iceberg is underwater I can’t even comprehend how big it must be!

Equipment

We were in tandem Kayaks but depending on the company you cruise with this can vary.  I’ve seen photos of others in single sea kayaks so be prepared to paddle on your own as well.

I’m not sure if you knew this, but Antarctica is kind of cold.  So we were kayaking in full dry suits, pogies (neoprene gloves that attach to the paddles), booties, a spray skirt, and lifejackets.   All of this actually kept us quite warm while paddling and would have bought valuable time if somebody wound up in the water.

On the advice of our guides, we packed light for the paddle, with only sunglasses, sunscreen, a water bottle, and of course, cameras in a waterproof bag.  (Check out some Antarctica Photography tips!)

How much did it cost?

A cool $270USD per person.  Because of the weather, we only had the one opportunity to go kayaking, but if the weather had been better you could have gone multiple times.  Of course, each expedition would cost $270USD so as you can imagine it would add up pretty quickly!

I’ve also read blog posts about longer cruises offering a $900 unlimited kayaking option so don’t be surprised if it ends up costing even more!  It’s expensive, but as a once in a lifetime bucket list item, I still think it was worth it.

Kayaking at Paradise Bay in Antarctica
Kayaking at Paradise Bay, you can see our ship in the distance on the right.

So, Amazing?

So Amazing!  Incredible!  Words simply don’t do it justice.

After we had donned our equipment our group climbed into the Zodiac.  You could feel the excitement as this was one of the experiences we had all been looking forward to.  After getting away from the ship the guides pulled the kayaks aside the Zodiac and one by one, we climbed into our kayak.

Instantly, the perspective was different.  Rather than being above the sea ice, we were right on the water.  As we paddled around, the sense of peace and calm was unbelievable.  Our previous landings, while amazing, had been with 100 other people.  This experience was special, with only 10 of us on the water, getting away from the crowds and sharing something incredible.  It was pure nature as there was no sound of engines roaring or the smell of fuel, and there was no pollution in the water.   It was so quiet you could hear the ice cracking. (And the occasional holler of joy).

Calm and still kayaking in Antarctica
So Peaceful, calm, and still.

It started to snow gently as we paddled around unfathomably large icebergs and watched penguins frolic at eye level.  In the distance, you could see the rest of the cruise on the landing, which seemed like it was a world away.  We all hoped for a whale to show itself but we weren’t so lucky.

After about an hour of paddling, we were given a choice, go for a quick landing or continue kayaking. If it had been any other landing we might have chosen differently and stayed on the water but our group came to a quick consensus.  This was a landing on the actual continent and our only chance to set foot on the mainland of Antarctica!

We climbed back into the Zodiac, looking ridiculous in our spray skirts and dry suits, but not caring.  We were still on a high from the kayaking experience.  It was a quick landing as the sea ice was beginning to blow in and the expedition leaders had to get us back to the ship quickly or risk getting stuck on land.

On the mainland of Antarctica!
On the mainland in our dry suits and spray skirts.

If you’re going to Antarctica this is an amazing experience and worth every penny.  Yes, it’s expensive, but so is going to Antarctica in the first place. And really, how many people get to say that they’ve kayaked in Antarctic waters?  It’s a small list!

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