Kayaking in Antarctica-Tips & Recommendations

Kayaking in Antarctica is a very intimate experience with the Ocean and the sea life. You’ll be paddling in the ocean with the penguins, whales, seal and icebergs. You need to have had some kayaking experience and the pre-expedition instructions say that you must be able to do a wet exit. We had varying levels of experience in our group. On the Quark trip, the kayakers were the first off the ship and often the last to return. We generally paddled for 90 minutes and were on land for about 45-60 minutes. There were one and two-person kayaks. The two-person kayaks were very stable.


Most ships have a limited number of kayaking spots available. These slots sell out quickly. If kayaking is a must-do for you, you’ll want to book 10-12 months in advance to guarantee your spot. There are some trips called base camp trips where there are more opportunities to Kayak. The base camp trips spend more time in an area and offer many more adventure opportunities.

Kayaking & Zodiac Gear
The dry suit is in the middle. On the left side are only for kayakers: life jacket, bootie and kayak skirt. On the right is for the zodiac cruising and landing: rubber boots and blue life harness. Everyone has a locker in the mudroom to store the gear.

Tips for Kayakers

  1. Kayaking is expensive—it’s generally about $1,000 additional. It was worth it.
  2. Quark provided dry suits, booties, life jackets, a dry bag and a skirt for the Kayak. You need to add several layers underneath the dry suit to stay warm. I usually had on three layers. Some of my fellow paddlers wore as many as six layers. Since you need to be able to move, a good base layer followed by thin layers works best.
  3. Hands need to stay dry or you’ll not enjoy the paddle. I had neoprene gloves and the expedition leaders gave us dishwashing gloves to put on top. This combination worked very well.
  4. Your feet will stay dry in the wet suit. You’ll have booties over the wet suit and these will get very wet. Make sure not to make a hole in your dry suit when you put it on and your feet will stay nice and dry. The booties were not so great on land—you will feel the rocks under your feet.
  5. Many of my fellow paddler brought their DSL cameras on the kayak and there were no camera catastrophes. I brought a Lumix underwater camera because I did not want to worry about getting my camera wet. The downside was that I did not have my better camera for my pictures. Many people also brought GoPros.
  6. We had seven kayak excursions. The expedition leaders told us that they try to guarantee 3-4. It was wonderful to have that much time on the water. Being on land offers a different kind of experience with the penguins and especially the chicks. Don’t be afraid to opt out of a kayaking session if you want to have some concentrated time on land.
  7. For the first few paddles, it will take you a while to get on all of the gear. Make sure to leave enough time. If you are not ready on time, it will delay the off-boarding of the rest of the ship.
  8. Have fun.

For more on the experience of Kayaking, see the previous post: In the Water with Penguins, Whales and Seals—Kayaking in the Antarctic

In the Water with Penguins, Whales and Seals—Kayaking in the Antarctic

The seas were calm with a light wind as we transferred from the zodiac to our kayaks for our first ever kayak trip in Antarctica near Barrientos and Cecilia Islands in the Southern Atlantic ocean. While in the zodiac, Shaz, our expedition leader, reminded us that we should keep 300 meters from glaciers, 100 meters from whales and not to touch any penguins. We were excited and eager to get our first paddle under our belt.

I slid off the zodiac into my kayak with my partner Jeanine as the navigator. We began to paddle and get a feel for the kayak, the water, our teamwork. Suddenly someone shouted and pointed. We saw the spout of a whale just a few meters away. Wait. There are TWO hump back whales. We grabbed whatever cameras we had to try to capture the moment. Cameras were not really necessary. The experience itself was amazing—to be in the water with a whale.

Whale from Kayak

The first twenty minutes was to be followed by countless other experiences. More humpbacks. The elusive Minke Whales in Cierra Cove. At Errara Channel near Danco Island, a curious Minke circled us. We excitedly watched, guessing where the whale would come up again and wondering how close it would come.

We didn’t need to guess how close the penguins would come. They were everywhere. Right next to us—under the water, over the water, swimming, diving, splashing, jumping on and off icebergs, hoping unto the land. It was as if we were part of the family. This was one of the most exquisite experience of kayaking in Antarctica—being intimately connected to the water and the life of the sea. We had amazing views of the penguin colonies from the sea. We saw Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adelie, often staring at the water, deciding whether it was safe to enter. Sometimes they stood for 20 minutes, at the water’s edge, seeming to talk amongst themselves.

Penguin on Ice – cropped

We paddled in the snow (a first for me), brash ice, in the wind, in waves and in stillness. We saw a Glacier calve in a distance. The sound was thundering. We were awestruck by the size and beauty of the glaciers. Being in the water with them was a humbling experience.

The seals were also in our “living room.” Rather, we were in theirs. On our first day, we saw Elephant seals lying on an island going through catastrophic moult. They cannot go in the ocean during that process and these massive animals were lying on the rocky island. Wendell seals greeted us in Mikkelsen Harbour and a crabeater seal lounged on a small iceberg near Danco Island. Penguins tried to get on the iceberg before noticing the seal and quickly departing.

Seal – Version 2

Near Jougla Point, we started paddling at 9 pm after our unsuccessful attempt to sail through the Lemaire Channel (it was blocked by icebergs see my previous post). We saw massive chains on rocks from old whaling stations. We paddled by Port Lockroy. We saw Shaz paddle fast and launch her kayak onto the fast ice. Fast ice is ocean water that has frozen and extends out from the land. We all soon followed and were rewarded with hot chocolate—a great treat for a cold evening. There was much laughter. Soon enough, the expedition team pushed us back into the water to continue our evening paddle.

The next day, the weather was too rough for kayaking and Jougla Point turned out to be our last kayak. We left with a few sore muscles, the memory of the sea, the penguins, the ice and the joy of having been a part of it.

Does this make you want to go to Antarctica and kayak? Come back tomorrow for Tips on Kayaking in Antarctica.


Antarctica Lemaire Channel–Blocked by Icebergs

The snow was coming down steadily. The thermometer read 0 degrees Celsius and the wild was blowing. The ship traveled slowly–only 5-7 knots. Visibility from the bow of the ship was about 100 meters—enough to see a series of icebergs spaced throughout the Lemaire Channel.

The Lemaire Channel—one of the most scenic channels in Antarctica—is a seven mile stretch of water that at its narrowest point is only half a mile wide. It was discovered in 1873, but not navigated until 1898 by Adrien de Gerlach, a Belgium explorer.

Inside, in the Bridge, Captain Denis Radja was in quiet conversation with his officers. The ship slowed down even more. Will we be able to make it through the channel? Not sure. Hope we do, but it doesn’t seem likely. The ship slowed down even further. It seemed like it’s moving to the right (starboard if you’re a sailor). Yes. We’re definitely turning around. We won’t be going through the Lemaire Channel.

I step into the Bridge and hear the announcement from expedition leader Laurie. We are turning around. There are too many icebergs in the Channel. We are now setting sail for Jougla Point where we will have an evening excursion.

So it goes on an Antarctic cruise. The weather and ocean conditions determine the activities. The good news is that wherever you go is spectacular.