Antarctica Cruise: Visiting Elephant Island on Zodiacs

Glaciers, Wildlife and the Shackleton Survival Story

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Traveling to Elephant Island, Antarctica

Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

Antarctica is a wonderful cruise destination for adventurous travelers.  Cruising aboard the Hanseatic expedition ship is a way to have the opportunity to visit such remote places as Elephant Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, and the place where Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Endurance crew of 28 sailors were icebound in 1914.

On a Zodiac inflatable excursion to the island, the passengers saw the island up close and recalled the harrowing story of the rescue of the crew of the Endurance. 

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Launching the Zodiacs

Launching a Zodiac from the Hanseatic cruise ship
Linda Garrison

In order to get closer to Elephant Island, inflatable Zodiacs were launched from the Hanseatic cruise ship. These speedy, easy-to-maneuver boats are ideal for exploring.

As the Zodiacs were launched, the passengers recalled the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew who were icebound on the island in 1914—an amazing story of determination. 

Most travelers have heard or read about Elephant Island, where 22 of Shackleton's crew spent four long, dark Antarctic winter months awaiting rescue, and marveled at their perseverance. However, visiting Elephant Island in Antarctica on an inflatable Zodiac boat from a cruise ship will give you a perfect idea of just how amazing their story actually was.

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Approaching a Glacier on Elephant Island

Zodiacs approach Elephant Island in Antarctica
Elephant Island, Antarctica (c) Linda Garrison

The Zodiacs approached a glacier at Elephant Island, Antarctica. After Shackleton and his crew abandoned the Endurance, their sinking ship, the first camped on icebergs before manning their lifeboats to travel to this very island. 

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Heading for Shackleton's Crew Camp

Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

The Zodiacs then headed in for the site of Shackelton's crew's camp on Elephant Island. Shackleton knew that the island could serve only as a temporary haven, so he and five volunteers attempted a perilous 800-mile journey, via one of the lifeboats, to South Georgia Island. They reached their destination 17 days later. ​

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Seeing Point Wild on Elephant Island

Point Wild, Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

Point Wild was named for Frank Wild, the second-in-command of Shackleton's expedition who managed to survive on the tiny point for four months until Shackleton returned aboard the Chilean cutter Yelcho to rescue them in August 1916. A marker on the island is a bust commemorating Luis Pardo Villalón, captain of the Yelcho.

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Circling the Hanseatic Cruise Ship

Hanseatic expedition cruise ship and Zodiac at Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

The Zodiac circled for a view of the MS Hanseatic, a 175-passenger cruise ship with 88 cabins and suites. 

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Visiting the Seals

Seals greet humans to Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

A major aspect of any cruise to Antarctica is seeing the wildlife. Elephant Island was named by early explorers after sighting elephant seals on its shores. Since the Hanseatic passengers were on the maneuverable Zodiacs, they could get close to these seals. 

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Viewing an Elephant Island Glacier

Glacier on Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

Small inflatable Zodiac boats allow cruise passengers to get very close to glaciers and other Antarctica sites on Elephant Island. Endurance Glacier is the main outlet glacier and was named after the Endurance.

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Getting Close to the Penguins

Close-up view of penguins on Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

Everyone loves to see penguins, and this colony is on Elephant Island. There is a Chinstrap penguin colony on Point Wild, surrounding the statue erected that honors Luis Pardo Villalón, the Captain of the Yelcho, the Chilean ship that rescued Wild and his men.

The name of this type of penguin comes from the line under its head, looking like a chinstrap. The diet of the penguin consists of fish, shrimp, krill, and squid. They swim up to 50 miles out to sea each day to feed.

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Taking a Farewell Look at Elephant Island

Farewell look at Elephant Island, Antarctica
Linda Garrison

Cruise ships only stay anchored off Elephant Island for a few hours, but the men of the Endurance endured four months there. After exploring on a Zodiac, most guests are happy to escape to the warmth and luxury of their cruise ship. 

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