Kayak Adventures in Antarctica from an Experienced Kayaker’s Perspective

March 14, 2017

As an adventure travel destination, Antarctica never disappoints - just ask David Noble of Merced, California. A veteran mountaineer, hiker, kayaker and avid fly fisherman, he’s travelled all over the world pursuing his passions. This past December, he traveled to the Antarctic on board the Ocean Endeavour with Quark Expeditions.

We chatted with David after his Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent expedition. Here’s a guy who’s had kayaking adventures all over, who helped build the University of California Merced’s ‘Outdoor Experience’ program during his time with the organization. I was super interested to hear what he thought of Quark’s kayaking program, and what tips he had for other passengers.

Adventure Activities in Antarctica

Campers get ready for a night sleeping under the Antarctic sky.

In the two-and-a-half years he researched his trip, David looked for ways to make his expedition exciting and memorable. Initially, he had signed up for camping, mountaineering, and cross country skiing. As his departure date approached, though, he realized that what he really wanted was to experience and see Antarctica from a different perspective, he said.

David hadn’t originally thought of Antarctica as a kayak vacation destination, but realized that the unconventional vantage point - from the surface of the water - gave him a whole new way to explore. “I contacted a Polar Travel Adviser to find out whether kayaking was still available, and lucked out as there was a spot open,” he said. (Kayaking often sells out in advance, so book ahead to avoid disappointment!)

David has had epic kayaking adventures near home in California and around the world, but says Antarctica was like nothing he’s ever experienced. “There was one point where we were perfectly still, listening to the crackling ice. Then, a set of penguins started porpoising in and out of the water right near our kayaks. I can’t tell you how excited we were, we could hardly contain ourselves. So (our guide) Becks suggested we develop a signal for ‘stealth movement’ so we could silently tell each other when wildlife was nearby without scaring them away.” David said he balanced his paddle and put both arms up like a big ‘O’ above his head. “Becks said, ‘That’s it. That’s our sign.’ You know, you’re with like-minded people, exploring this absolutely incredible place and making these connections with each other and with the penguins, whales, and leopard seals around you… it’s incredible,” he said.

David never felt torn between the activities he’d chosen and felt that the go-go-go pace of the expedition he’d customized suited him perfectly. Adventure options are always weather dependent, but typically, kayaking groups enjoy several outings over the course of their expedition and get to participate in Zodiac cruising and shore landings. Mountaineering, cross country skiing, kayaking and other adventures take place in the locations most appropriate for each one throughout each expedition, so you can participate in numerous activities if you’d like.

Kayaking in Antarctica 

David said his guides, Ryan Munro and Rebecca Dryland, immediately inspired confidence in everyone in the group, from the hardcore pros like him to the novice kayakers. “From the start, I could tell that they have extensive experience kayaking, but also noticed that they just have a wonderful way of communicating with people,” he said. “I work at a university and understand what it’s like trying to engage people. They did a really great job of connecting with us, and were extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife and incredible ecosystem around us.”

When you book the kayaking adventure, all equipment, guiding and instruction are provided. You don’t need to invest in any special equipment or clothing, but it’s a good idea to take a few lessons at home before your expedition.

Instruction and equipment are provided when you choose the Antarctic Kayaking program for your expedition with Quark.

The most important thing, David said, is wearing sensible clothing. You want to be warm but not sweaty and overheated, so choose a base layer of moisture wicking undergarments and merino wool socks.

“Quark provided a dry suit, personal flotation device, dry bag and booties for us, as well as the kayaks, skirts and paddles. And a safety Zodiac was with us at all times, packed with safety equipment and other supplies… and of course, our guides were just awesome. We had this quality equipment, great guides and a safety plan, so there was nothing to worry about. You could just enjoy this spectacular place.”

Of course, while you’re out skimming the glass-still surface of the ocean, skirting around icebergs and maybe watching porpoising penguins play nearby, you’re going to want to keep your camera handy. David carried his Samsung Galaxy 7, the only camera he took with him, in a waterproof case. That turned out to be a very good thing.

“The first time we got in the kayak, I had my camera in a Pelican Case clipped to my life vest,” he explained. However, he hadn’t secured it properly. “Ryan came paddling up and handed my camera to me… I hadn’t even known it was missing!” His camera had slipped off and was scooped up by his guide, who was bringing up the rear.

The Highlight of a Magical Trip to Antarctica

A Quark passenger enjoys the view from their kayak on tranquil Antarctic waters.

Seeing Antarctica from the water offered David an entirely new perspective, he said, and the experience shared among those 16 kayakers was so meaningful that many of them are still in touch. “One of the most amazing parts of my trip to Antarctica was just being with the like-minded people I met, and the experience we shared,” he said. “With marriage, mortgage, and general mayhem it was just so refreshing to be back with people who just have that same sense of adventure.”

Some of the spectacular photos he captured were turned into a calendar he gifted family and friends at Christmas. “One thing many have commented on is the perspective from the kayak, with the nose in the picture against the backdrop of a massive, beautiful glacier, or the bluest water you could imagine contrasting the vibrant yellow kayak,” he shared.

Even so, he says, photos just can’t do it justice. “I travel a lot, but Antarctica is just so different from any of the other places I’ve been, because it’s just so…”

“If I had to sum up Antarctica in one word—I would say it’s immense. It gave me such a sense of my place in the world. Everything just melts away. When I think of work, home, the kids, and just life... Antarctica was so grounding.”

To learn more about the full itinerary of David’s expedition, and others like it, click here.

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