My hands were shaking when our guides Val and Solan told us to prepare to jump into our kayaks for our first sea kayak adventure in the icy waters of Antarctica. We had taken a zodiac off the ship to calmer waters with our kayaks in tow and now it was time to start paddling through brash ice, around ice bergs and through waters filled with marine life such as humpback whales and leopard seals. It was going to be an exciting 5 days, but we were also a little nervous.
Dave and I put on a good face though and we both volunteered to jump into our kayaks first. Our guides pulled a sea kayak parallel to the zodiac and I climbed in as a few people held on to keep it steady.
Getting into the kayak from the zodiac is where most people fall in. Sea kayaks are tippy and if you don't distribute your body weight properly, you're going overboard. Luckily we took a refresher course at the Toronto Kayaking club before we left for Antarctica so we felt comfortable with our entries and exits and even were prepared for a roll if need be. Hopefully that would never happen, as these waters are chilly!
Once we were in the water, we paddled around to get comfortable in the kayaks. I felt stiff, nervous and unstable at first, but once we all got into a group and started paddling along the shore, my confidence grew and I relaxed into the motion while taking in the incredible scenery.
Sea Kayak Antarctica
There is nothing more special than kayaking in Antarctica and we highly recommend everyone do it when taking their own Antarctic Expedition. It's expensive at another $950 added on to the price of your trip, but if you are going all the way to Antarctica for an adventure, this is the adventure of a lifetime. The amazing thing is you don't just kayak once, we had the opportunity to kayak 8 times during our 12-day Antarctic Explorer trip with Quark Expeditions.
While the rest of the ship did their shore landings to visit the penguins, our group of 16 people set out to face the elements. We had a minke whale surface right behind our group and penguins jumped right in front of our kayaks. We saw leopard and Weddell seals sleeping on ice flows and crept towards them so silently, we could almost reach out and touch them.
When you take the kayaking trip, you don't miss out on any of the land activities either. After kayaking, we do shore landings where we have the opportunity to walk on the continent and visit with the colonies of penguins. We experienced exactly what every other passenger experienced, but more!
We kayaked through a bay filled with icebergs and even kayaked completely around them. There are rule to stay twice the distance away from the height of an iceberg as they can roll over at any time, taking you with them.
We kayaked through thick layers of brash ice. We could hear the ice scraping along the sides of our kayaks as we paddled though the thick layer of frozen water creating our own trails.
The trick to paddling through brash ice is to take it slow. Stay balanced and don't do any sudden turns. It is an exhilarating experience to paddle through such rugged conditions. You feel as if you are a true adventurer and not simply a tourist watching from a distance. We were experiencing Antarctica to the fullest.
Some days the conditions were rough and the waves were high and we had to paddle with all our might to make it to shore. Other days were calm and we sat in silence taking in the landscape before us. We sat in our kayaks facing giant glaciers that were constantly calving (giant chunks of ice breaking off and crashing into the water)
In complete silence, we all yelled our names and at one point we yelled “Meatloaf” paying homage to Paradise by the Dashboard Light while paddling in Paradise Bay. We listened to our voices echo from the high glacier walls surrounding us.
We sucked on ‘thousand-year old' glacier ice that floated in the water when we were thirsty and we played around as our confidence grew and tried to paddle over larger and larger pieces of ice.
We only took our waterproof cameras with us out on these excursions. When paddling in Antarctica there is a very real danger that you could fall in, so our advice is to use a Gopro or an Olympus Tough waterproof/freezeproof camera. We came away with amazing footage from the entire trip.
After a couple of hours Kayaking, we either landed on the shore to visit the penguins or we returned to the zodiac to be taken to the next destination. Shore landings always relied on conditions. At times they water was too rough to land, but at others we could paddle right up to the beach, step out of our boats and begin the hike along the path to see the amazing wildlife of Antarctica. We left our dry bags filled with our non-waterproof camera equipment in the Zodiac and once we were on dry land, we could start shooting away at the beautiful scenery. Sea Kayaking in Antarctica is the perfect addition to any Antarctic adventure.
Want to read more on Antarctica?
- The Antarctic Expedition Experience Explained
- Camping in Antarctica, The Videos and More Tales
- Chinstrap Penguin Stretch in Antarctica
- Camping in Antarctica
Have you always wanted to visit Antarctica? Check out for details.