An Unforgettable Snow Hill Island Tour

June 3, 2021

Snow Hill Island is an iconic location on the eastern coast of Antarctica. It was named by British Explorer James Clark Ross when he first discovered the island in 1843 and was mystified by the snow-covered surface of the land in contrast to clearer terrain on nearby islands scattered across the continent.

Due to its location near the southern tip of the world, Snow Hill Island is a rarely explored land. Only a relatively small number of travelers (and lucky ones at that) have crossed the notoriously icy (almost impenetrable, at times) Weddell Sea to reach the snow-laden landscape of Snow Hill Island. Perhaps it’s the remoteness, and quite possibly the fact that relatively few travelers, comparatively speaking, have actually visited the famous Emperor penguin colony at Snow Hill Island, or the thought of navigating through the Weddell Sea that have prompted so many travelers to dream about going there. 

 Quark Expeditions guests travel to Snow Hill Island on the legendary ice-breaker Kapitan Khlebnikov.

 Quark Expeditions guests travel to Snow Hill Island on the legendary ice-breaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. Photo: Dave Merron

The Impossible Journey

Like much of Antarctica, Snow Hill Island is a largely uninhabited and rarely explored landmass. Uninhabited by humans, of course. Snow Hill Island is teeming with wildlife, notably a large colony (an estimated 10,000, in fact) of majestic Emperor penguins. Voyagers’ imaginations are fueled by the possibilities of what could happen in the vast icy wilderness of the island. The imagination is a powerful thing, especially for those who are naturally inclined to wonder about the unexplored and hidden beauty in the farthest corners of the world.

For that reason, Quark Expeditions created a promotional video —based on past voyages to Snow Hill Island —highlighting some of the most memorable moments from tours of Snow Hill and the surrounding regions in Antarctica to captivate the imaginations of those passionate voyagers. The video tells the tale of what motivates explorers to long for the experience of places like Snow Hill, and what they witness upon arriving at such incredible to behold locations such as the island.

Snow Hill Island Tours

As one of the rarest terrains on the planet, Snow Hill is rich with 65 million years of ecological history that illustrates the planet’s natural state over the course of a geological lifetime. It’s these majestic sights, largely unspoiled by the touch of humankind, that attract seasoned travelers to its icy shores. The most fascinating species on Snow Hill Island, of course, are the Emperor penguins, and they’ve established their habitat on the shores of Snow Hill to mate, breed and raise their young—all on the ice-covered landscape.

However, there are some signs of human interaction with the land. For example, near the northern edge of the island is an historic hut that was built by Otto Nordenskjöld and his crew of explorers when they arrived at the island in 1901. The crew used the hut to study the remains of ancient species of animals discovered on the shores of the island. Most incredibly, they uncovered evidence of Dromaeosaur (bird-like theropod dinosaurs) as well as the ornithopods Trinisaura and Morrosaurus scattered across the island.

Snow Hill Island is home to an estimated 10,000 Emperor penguins and their chicks

Snow Hill Island is home to an estimated 10,000 Emperor penguins and their chicks. Photo: Dave Merron

Unforgettable Sights, Explorations, and Emperor Penguins

In 2017, Quark Expeditions arranged for its first legendary voyage of Snow Hill that allowed travelers to witness the lands and the discoveries seen by Nordenskjöld and his crewmen from over a century ago. This exploration followed on the heels of the last time Quark Expeditions staff visited the island in 2009 to assist with the making of the BBC documentary “Frozen Planet.”

By November 2018, Quark had successfully completed its third expedition to the isolated Emperor penguin colony. The experience boasted unforgettable moments aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov, which is built to withstand the staggering layers of packed ice that freeze the waters surrounding Snow Hill. Among the highlights of the expedition were:

  • Visits to see the Emperor penguin colonies, one of the rarest and most mysterious sightings on the planet
  • Aerial views of the Emperor penguins in their natural habitat during ship-to-shore helicopter tours
  • Visits to the frozen rocky peaks on the coast of the island overlooking the Weddell Sea where steep glaciers plummet into the frozen sea
  • An exploration of the fabled Drake Passage that’s considered a rite of passage for Antarctic explorers

Snow Hill Island Antarctica

For some expeditionists, the opportunity to explore such an unknown and seemingly magical location like Snow Hill is impossible to resist. One of our famed expedition leaders documented their own march across Snow Hill that included visits to the locations of Emperor penguins in their own habitats.

For explorers who are fascinated by wildlife, the Emperor penguins are undoubtedly the highlight of a voyage to Snow Hill. They’re a species of flightless birds built for the rigors of the Antarctic climate, capable of withstanding winter gusts upwards of 200 kilometres per hour. Additionally, the sense of collaborative community among Emperor penguins is one of the most impressive in the entire animal kingdom.

Emperor penguins are the largest of their species, and thrive in extremely cold Antarctic temperatures.

Emperor penguins are the largest of their species, and thrive in extremely cold Antarctic temperatures. Photo: Dave Merron

As with with the rest of Antarctica, the best time to witness Emperor penguins on Snow Hill Island are during the months of October and November. This is typically after the new babies have hatched and they’ve grown into young penguins capable of learning how to feed and care for themselves. It’s also the only time of year when the icy conditions are less obstructive, allowing small polar vessels operated by Quark Expeditions to navigate through the waters and reach the island.

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