This is one of the most interesting and exciting posts on here to date and certainly suitable for a Quirky Encounter or a Dziwaczne Odkrycia. I was reminiscing on my visit to a part of Poland not actually in Poland! On this particular day, in November 2010, I visited Polish Antarctica, the Henryk Arctowski Station on King George Island. Wacaday to the core and the option of a “dobre piwo” on the cold shores of Antarctica. Dream it up my Polish friends, we’re taking this travel blog south south.
“Your destiny may keep you warm” – Noel Gallagher.
About Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island
This research station is named after Polish explorer, Henryk Arctowski (1871-1959), who was meteorologist who accompanied the Belgian explorer Baron Adrien de Gerlache on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition “Belgica”, 1897-1899. This was the first ever expedition to overwinter in Antarctica. Henryk proposed the original notion of a wind chill factor, arguing that wind could be as damaging to human flesh as cold in harsh climates. Typically on my visit, it was one of the windiest nights of my life.
Location of Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
The research station was established on 26 February 1977. It is managed by the Polish Academy of Sciences, and its main research areas include marine biology, oceanography, geology, geomorphology, glaciology, meteorology, climatology, seismology, magnetism and ecology. On this evening, a gorgeous sunset graced our dreams…
Because it is readily accessible, and the Polish staffers are friendly (unlike the Argentines who wouldn’t let us land) it is one of the most-visited scientific stations in Antarctica. I toured quite a few of the islands on the edge of the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as one mainland Antarctica landing on my tour.
Here on King George Island, they even have their own food. A greenhouse provides fresh vegetables here, yes really. The beaches near the station have numerous whale bones, relics of the time when the site was used to process whales killed nearby. It was also the location where myself and some travel buddies chose to have our only beer on Antarctica, I dubbed this the Antarctica Carryout on my old blog site. Na Zdrowie or Slainte to the man himself:
Weather Conditions and Details
The CODE OSCAR Warning
The trip to Henryk Arctowski base was not without incident. We were due for a late afternoon arrival in the area at Admiralty Bay on King George Island.
I am well used to understanding emergencies on board boats, having worked on boats as a steward, having my own muster number. Those who have worked on a boat or ship will know that the customers and passengers safety is the number one priority. Above anything else. We’re not there to get your car on, give you duty free and serve you coffees. We are there to make sure you get to your destination safely. It was early evening and the Antarctica trip had been immense so far and without incident.
Rumours had spread round the boat that this was our actual LAST landing of the Antarctica adventure so everyone was in HIGH spirits. I was quite simply buzzing as my room mate Mark and I planned a wee tipple to toast on arrival at Admiralty Bay so we could have a toast to each other and a wee drink while standing on Antarctic soil. Then we went out on deck to check out the amazing views and we heard a CODE OSCAR. We had no idea what this meant.
But what it was was that John and Scobie, two of the crew members had an emergency situation in the waters. They were out testing the waters on Zodiacs ahead of our landing and the Zodiac turned upside down. In extreme waters and unpredictable climates, emergencies on board boats can happen. It was an afternoon and evening of extreme wind. The zodiac had turned upside down and John spent several minutes in the ice cold waters on his own. Another Zodiac went out to help him and we got him fully conscious on the boat again. But it was all a bit of a worry and a flurry. Thankfully John was OK and our landing onto King George Island could go ahead.
Arrival at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
After a crazy tour of Antarctica (it was a 13 day trip), this was actually the very last and final place we stood on land in Antarctica. I toured Antarctica in November 2010, writing passionately and extensively about it on my former flagship web story, Don’t Stop Living.
When we arrived near these islands in Antarctica, there were 4 groups we were split into. From these groups, we would then go to the “Mud Room” to get changed before the landing.
From there, we would be taken down to the water in Zodiacs, very firm and hard dingys to cope with the often treacherous Antarctic waters.
We anchored about 10 minutes from King George Island, contacted the Polish Arctowski station and they kindly wanted to welcome us. Now that John was safe, we could get back to living the dream – another Antarctica landing.
Myself, Monika, Russell, Rodrigo, Mark and Elise from the trip had decided to take a “carryout” (takeaway alcohol) onto King George Island with us and toast to a superb trip and have a beer on Antarctic land for the first and only time. It now seems appropriate that we did this at the Polish base! I took a Quilmes Argentinian Beer with me and as a travelling Northern Irishman, I also had a Northern Ireland flag with me.
Sightseeing at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
We arrive on the gorgeous yet windswept King George Island and to get the walking out of the way, first of all we go on a short dander to check out some of the penguins here.
After arriving, there are lots of memorials on the rocks. There are plaques here dedicated to various expeditions and explorers.
Penguins at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
So next is the penguin tour and there is a large penguin colony here. Some of the penguins are nesting and despite being here with penguin expert Frank S.Todd, we are told by the local authorities working here that we cannot spend long with these penguins as we disturb their natural habitat. On the trip to Antarctica, I learnt the different types of penguin. Most of these ones are Gentoo penguins.
As you can see, the penguins are nesting and indeed looked up at this group of odd humans when we arrived!
There were hundreds of penguins here, most of them were nesting.
Away from this there were actually some scattered and lonely penguins, probably males who weren’t nesting.
These lonely penguins have the honour of being the last penguins we will be on land with on this immense Antarctic trip. I grew to love penguins, it’s a tad emotional on departure.
Whale Bones and Seals at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
As well as these penguins, there are whale bones and seals.
Scenery and Terrain at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
As with the entire trip to Antarctica, scenery and terrain here on King George Island was absolutely stunning. Here are some photos to prove this.
The Souvenir Shop at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
After our walk to the penguins, past the whale bones and along gorgeous stony beaches, we are back to the base and here as well as some huts for research sits a wooden hut – the souvenir shop! Of course I bought some souvenirs here! I got an iron on patch for my jacket and a t-shirt. You can pay in Polish zloty, US Dollars and possibly also Euros.
Souvenirs include t-shirts, books, postcards, jumpers, hats and mini penguins.
Our Beers at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
And after buying our gifts, it’s time to have that famous final farewell Antarctica drink. We gather on the other side of the rocks as it is so windy, and we raise a toast and all have an alcoholic drink together.
Other Things at Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station, King George Island in the South Shetland Islands
And that was really it – our visit to King George Island and the Polish Station was over in a flash. I cannot remember how long we stayed here on this island – maybe 1.5 hours maximum, maybe less. There were some other cool things there including a post with signs for other destinations and the yellow hut with a prominent Polish flag.
Back on the Boat – Dinner and Farewell to Antarctica Landings
When we get back on the boat, sun is setting and we are told that was probably our last landing on this Antarctica tour. The next day, we would be touring Elephant Island by Zodiac only, before heading back along the dreaded Drake Passage to Ushuaia in Argentina. Fitting we have a red beetroot soup, which reminds me of Barszcz czerwony, red beet borscht / Beetroot borscht, a Polish soup.
If you are interested in touring Antarctica, I have more information on my other website, which also details some more crazy stories, for example the time I got my willy out in Antarctica, visiting the British Base at Port Lockroy, the mainland at Neko Harbour and my first ever landing at Barrientos.
Here are my videos from my trip to the Polish Antarctica Base: