The journey of a lifetime to Snow Hill Island

Guest's tale from aboard Le Commandant Charcot

Snow Hill Island | Credit: Studio PONANT/Romain Farge

PONANT’s Le Commandant Charcot, the world’s only luxury icebreaker, has been able to give her guests one of the most exclusive wildlife viewing experiences on the planet – reaching the emperor penguin colony on Snow Hill Island, in the Weddell Sea, on two unique voyages.

PONANT’s guests have experienced the spectacle of nature, with the opportunity to see emperor penguin chicks born last July. For many, it has been the journey of a lifetime. The visit to Snow Hill was operated in line with guidelines from IAATO and Antarctic Treaty members, which are designed to ensure the environment and the fauna are protected at all times.

Wildlife photographer Cindy Miller Hopkins summed it up, saying “All I can say is WOW WOW WOW today has to be rated in my top three all-time wildlife experiences.”

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“We visited Snow Hill and the emperor penguins, and we reached the colony and the CHICKS! Almost a 2-hour hike in deep snow (one way!) to get there but worth every step. My legs are screaming…but my heart is singing. We enjoyed absolutely perfect weather,” Miller Hopkins said of the outing.

The first visit took place on 21 November 2022 under the captaincy of Stanislas Devorsine and the second was on 3 December with Captain Etienne Garcia, with the Expedition Team led by Ryo Ijichi as Expedition Leader on both occasions.

Located east of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea, Snow Hill Island is not only renowned for its emperor penguin rookery, but also for being a notoriously difficult destination to reach, as it is surrounded both by ecologically critical fast ice and dense pack ice, which usually allows only limited access by helicopter. With her unique technical features and specialist ice navigation systems, and thanks to the expertise of both captains and the expedition team onboard, Le Commandant Charcot was able to find a route through the pack ice, reaching the edge of the fast ice, where the guests landed.

Le Commandant Charcot‘s expedition team led a 2 nautical mile (approximately 5 kilometre) hike from the ship to reach the rookery. While maintaining respect for the IAATO guidelines, the guests were able to witness something quite incredible, encountering more than 10,000 pairs of emperor penguins and their chicks.

“With Le Commandant Charcot, PONANT is able to take the guests to the colony without the need to fly there in helicopters, while respecting safety regulations implemented in this area…this is a game changer both in terms of exploration, guest experience and of a more sustainable tourism,” said Ryo Ijichi, Expedition Leader at PONANT.

Australian photographer Jason Charles Hill also shared his experience at Snow Hill Island with Le Commandant Charcot on social media, as seen right.

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