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.
Deception Island - Making a landing
Enter at your own risk – a group making a landing!
Deception Island - Old Iron Whale Oil Vats
Walking amidst the old iron Whale Oil vats on Deception Island
Deception Island - Ship Wrecks
Ship Wrecks from the Whaling industry
Deception Island - Sea Lion resident
A Sea Lion Resident of Deception Island – Thanks for letting us visit!
Deception Island - Steaming Sands
Cruising along steaming sands on Deception Island!
Deception Island - Polar Swim Team
The Antarctica Polar Swim Team (check out the video below!)

For some of the best photos I’ve seen of this island, be sure to check out Canada’s Adventure Couple article as well!

This could be one of the greatest challenges of such an awe-inspiring destination. It’s not very easy to get to. In fact, without the proper type of sea-bearing ship, it’s pretty much impossible. Even the most sea-savvy sailors would have a hard time crossing the world’s most treacherous seas of the Drake Passage. 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! There are a number of Antarctic outfitters out there, with ample experience, who make the crossing regularly. It’s best to go through one of them, when planning your dream vacation to Antarctica. Of course, there’s usually a hefty price-tag attached to the round trip journey. We like to look at it as an investment in your life’s experience, mind you.


View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time). 

Of course, it’s incredibly difficult to accidentally find yourself here, if not impossible. That being 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 nerdy taste intended.
This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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! :)