Ross Sea Destinations!

General Information

Antarctica cruises cannot get any further south than the Ross Sea area located in the Pacific Ocean sector of Antarctica. Those Antarctic voyagers who are drawn even farther have to change from ship to sledge… The Ross Sea is one of the two deep bays disturbing the almost round shape of the White Continent (the other is the Weddell Sea to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula). Its most southerly shores reach a latitude of nearly 78° S. However, on a closer look, a large part of the Ross Sea is covered by ice – sea ice, of course, during the southern winter months, but permanent glacier ice since hundreds of thousands of years: the Ross Ice Shelf (latitude 81°30’ S / longitude 175°00’ W). This is the world’s largest floating ice rising about 30 m / 100 feet out of the Ross Sea, and measuring nearly 500’000 square km / 190’000 square miles. James Clark Ross discovered the Ross Ice Shelf in January 1841 while cruising here in the Erebus and Terror in search of the South Magnetic Pole. Nowadays, in times of global climate change, the Ross Ice Shelf attracts worldwide attention almost every year when massive tabular icebergs break off and make it to the headlines.
The Ross Sea area is most commonly reached from Hobart on the island of Tasmania (Australia) or from Bluff (New Zealand). After a long and exiting voyage across the Tasman Sea, modern Antarctic expeditions navigate around Cape Adare (71°17' S / 170°13' E) entering the Ross Sea. James Clark Ross named Cape Adare in January 1841 after his friend Viscount Adare. The point amazes with its Downshire Cliffs of black basalt, and it is home to the largest Adélie penguin colony in the world. Up to 1 million birds populate the area. Surrounded by hordes of penguins, one can barely make out the hut of Norwegian polar explorer Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (1864-1934), the oldest in Antarctica, built during the first expedition to winter over on the Antarctic continent in 1899. The house prefabricated in Norway was the first structure built on the Antarctic continent. Since it is still standing there, it makes Antarctica the only continent in the world where the dwellings of its first inhabitants can still be seen. Up in the hills behind the Cape is the grave of 22-year-old Nicolai Hansen, the biologist of Borchgrevink’s expedition who died here in spring of 1899. His grave is the oldest one in Antarctica. Aiming for Ross Island from Cape Adare, Antarctica cruise ships will follow the western side of the Ross Sea passing Cape Hallet (72°19’ S / 170°15’ E) after about 100 km / 60 miles. Breathtaking views of nearby Admiralty Range which seems to grow right out of the ocean to over 4000 meters make Cape Hallet a quite unforgettable spot along the coast of Victoria Land. Adélie penguins populate the cape, and Weddell seals can be encountered resting on beach. One of the next points of interest on the way deeper into the Ross Sea could be Franklin Island. This small rugged island (12 km / 7.5 miles long), deep in the Ross Sea is home to a large Adélie penguin colony (about 70’000 pairs) and other seabirds namely Emperor penguin (about 2500 chicks were counted in 1990) in the south of Franklin Island. If zodiac landings can be executed, there is a rare opportunity on Franklin Island: its summit can be climbed. Up there, South polar skuas nest. Soon, the mighty peak of Mt. Erebus (77°31’ S / 167°08’ E) on Ross Island can be spotted further south. Reaching almost 3800 m / 13’000 feet, this active volcano is the world’s most southerly. From this point onwards, the splendid Transantarctic Mountains provide for a spectacular background. Ross Island covers an area of about 2500 square km / 950 square miles. About half of its coastline is inaccessible, because Ross Island is attached to the Ross Ice Shelf on its southern side. The island provides a lot of history and faunistic highlights. Cape Bird, Ross Island’s most northerly point, is home to an Adélie penguin rookery, and at Cape Royds (77°33’ S / 166°09’ E) stands Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut, built in February 1908 during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909, also called the Nimrod polar attempt. This hut has been restored and is well preserved; it was the expedition base until abandoned in March 1909. At Cape Royds, some 4000 pairs of Adélie penguins breed in the most southerly rookery of that penguin species.
Only 15 km / 9 miles south of Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds, Captain Robert Falcon Scott had built his second hut at Cape Evans. Named after his second-in-command, Edward Evans, Scott had chosen Cape Evans to construct here in January 1911, the base camp of his Terra Nova Expedition. It was from here that Scott started to the South Pole – and never returned.
A short distance away, still to the south, one comes across the largest settlement in Antarctica, the American McMurdo Station (77°51’ S / 166°40’ E) in McMurdo Sound. This station built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point represents the most southerly point of any Antarctica ship’s cruise. It is the site of Scott’s Discovery Expedition hut, built in February 1902 from prefabricated parts from Australia (therefore resembling an “outback” design) and later used by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Considered to be one of the principal sites of early human activity in Antarctica, Hut Point is protected as a Historic Site and Monument.

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