Antarctica: Penguin lover's trip of a lifetime

Ms Adelene Cheng with a colony of gentoo penguins at Cuverville Island.
Ms Adelene Cheng with a colony of gentoo penguins at Cuverville Island.PHOTO: ADELENE CHENG

The Sunday Times, with travel partners Dynasty Travel and Turkish Airlines, picked penguin lover Adelene Cheng, 33, as the winner of a dream holiday for two to the frozen continent, under its ST+ news with benefits programme to reward loyal subscribers. She writes about some highlights.

In November, I had the best birthday month ever when I fulfilled my lifelong dream of getting up close and personal with penguins in Antarctica.

To make the 34-hour flight to Buenos Aires worthwhile, I kick-started my adventure two weeks before the cruise with visits to both Argentine and Chilean Patagonia.

I trekked the breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier; hiked the picturesque trails of Mount Fitz Roy, Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego National Parks; and watched mischievous Magellanic, king and gentoo penguins annoy their neighbours in their colonies.

But it was the raw, dazzling beauty of Antarctica that cemented its spot as the trip of a lifetime, leaving me with severe withdrawal symptoms and a serious longing to return.

We first lucked out with the weather and managed to reach the South Shetland Islands north of the Antarctic Peninsula half a day ahead of schedule.

The result of our good fortune was a bonus excursion to Barrientos Island, where we revelled in watching gentoo penguins mate and despaired at witnessing skuas display great teamwork to distract a nesting chinstrap penguin and steal its egg.

We were also the very first ship this season to be able to visit the most southerly operational post office in the world - Port Lockroy - as it had been iced-in previously.

Without a phone signal or Internet connection, the Internet junkie in me vanished and I felt a sense of inner peace. I was genuinely interested in the wealth of knowledge the experts on board had to share and took notes at every lecture there was to attend.


I also spent hours out on the deck spotting and photographing birds, whales, seals and penguins of all kinds and watching glaciers calve icebergs with a thunderous roar.

The dramatic landscape of the Lemaire Channel left me staring in awe and I never felt more alive as when I watched penguins porpoise with finesse alongside our vessel or followed a pod of orcas hunt down some seals on an iceberg.

I feel like nothing else will ever measure up to the Antarctica I have just experienced, except maybe a longer and more intense stay on this continent. Perhaps I have ruined future vacations by experiencing the best place in the world at the tender age of 33.

But who knows, maybe one day I will land my dream Port Lockroy postman stint, get to hang out with the emperor penguins farther inland or even spend a winter at the South Pole and live to tell the tale.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 12, 2020, with the headline 'Penguin lover's trip of a lifetime'. Subscribe