The Land of Fire and Ice
Deception Island, Antarctica
The only thing that may not be deceptive of this island is it’s name. With a dark history of some of humanity’s most cruel acts of whaling, hidden in one of the world’s most isolated places, Deception Island offers a mix of both both natural beauty and a beastly history. The island itself is the upper rim of a still active volcano protruding from the ocean’s floor. The irony being that it’s situated just north of mainland Antarctica in the South Shetland Islands. It’s rim dips just below sea level in one section, which has filled the caldera with icy sea water. It’s one of the few volcanos in the world that large sea vessels can actually navigate inside of!
A Little Bit of History
Discovered during the seal hunting days in the early 1800s, the water contained inside the rim is shielded from the harsh waves of the sea outside. This made it an ideal spot to take refuge, rest and set up camp. By the early 1900′s, there was more than a dozen whaling camps set up here. It was a prime hub for the hunt and slaughter of whales, which drastically reduced the world’s population to some of it’s lowest numbers ever! Here, they processed the Whale’s oils in large iron vats. Abandoned during the great depression, it was never reoccupied. After a small volcanic eruption in 1969, all that remains of those dark days are some of the rusted iron boilers and ship wrecks on the shore.
Deception Island’s Geography
Deception Island has a radius of approximately 12 kilometers, making it seem quite massive! As mentioned above, it has a part of the outer rim which dips below sea level making it navigable, and why it was an ideal place to port for the Whale hunts. There is still volcanic activity below the sea, making the snow capped peaks highly contrasted from the steaming black sands closer to the sea. Ships enter with caution, and often passengers are warned that if making a landing and the sea begins to bubble, the ship will evacuate immediately, leaving the landed passengers on shore.
A Couple Deceptions of Deception Island
- This has become a favourite spot for those fortunate enough to have prioritized a visit to Antarctica in their lifetime. One reason is for the legendary “Polar Swims” which one is encouraged to do (doing so at your own risk and with a support team nearby in case of hypothermia). You would think that with the warmer sands that the sea inside would be relatively warm. Unless troubles bubbling below, you would be slightly deceived in this notion. Having done the swim myself, I can assure you there was nothing ‘warm’ about that swim!!
- Being so desolate and almost devoid of vegetation, you would think no life could exist in such a place. Deceived again! One of Antarctica’s biggest colonies of Chinstrap Penguins can be found here, with numbers close to 100,000 pairs, being the world’s largest colony! 9 species of sea birds also nest here. There are several species of moss found nowhere else in the world, and large numbers of seals reside here as well. Beneath the sea level, in the geothermal pockets, live endemic species of bacteria thriving off the exhaust being excreted from the Earth’s core. So in fact, it would seem, “life… finds a way”. (sorry – cheesy Jurassic Park quote).
- Most think volcanos only exist where it’s tropical. Well… I think Deception Island’s choice in geography ‘blows that idea out of the water’ – pun intended.
Obviously, it’s quite difficult to get down there. Even the most sea-savvy sailors would have a hard time crossing the world’s most treacherous seas of the Drake Passage to get here. It’s best to take an Antarctic passenger vessel with ample experience. There are of course dangers in going, and one should be aware of them prior to departure… and expect sea-sickness! That all said, it’s an island few get to experience, making it VERY off-the-beaten-path. It’s rich in history (however dark), and truly one of the most unique experiences of a lifetime! I feel it’s one of the most beautiful, dangerous, and remote places I’ve ever been. I would highly recommend Deception Island to be included in your future travel plans. It gets Where Sidewalks End‘s ‘seal‘ of approval – pun of very bad taste intended.
For some of the best photos I’ve seen of this island, be sure to check out Canada’s Adventure Couple article as well!
Have you ever been to an active volcano… or Antarctica? What about a place which was a bit deceptive in nature? What were your expriences there?
Please feel free to share your stories and feedback in the comment section provided below!