Antarctica: The inspiration behind Wally the Warm-Weather Penguin

People often ask what inspired me to write Wally the Warm-Weather Penguin. So I thought I’d share the story. I had the opportunity to travel for a year and within three months visited two very remote places, Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands. Surprisingly, to me at least, there were penguins in both places and it made me wonder why Emperor Penguins never migrated somewhere with warmer weather. I recently went back to look at my notes from the trip to Antarctica and thought how this incredible experience 10 years ago made such a lasting impression.

Antarctica Cruise
The last frontier – two weeks on a Russian icebreaker, through the windy Drake Passage to the pristine landscape of Antarctica.


When I tell people about my trip to Antarctica and I get past the penguins (which never happens when anyone under 10 is in the room), I usually get asked about the Drake Passage, so let’s just get that out of the way up front – it’s windy. It’s very windy, and when you choose to go to Antarctica on an icebreaker (and I wouldn’t do it any other way), then you need to understand that there is no hull which means there is nothing to stabilize the ship. The bottom of an icebreaker is smooth and round which is why it can slide up on thick ice or break through thinner ice which allows you to get deeper into Antarctica than traditional ships. But it is also why the ship rocks, a lot, when you are going through the Drake Passage where the water circles around Antarctica, which is why almost everyone on the ship takes motion-sickness pills for the 36 hours it takes to get through it, each way, and why you sometimes need to wear a seatbelt, or two, when you sleep. That said, it really isn’t that bad. The boat rocks, but other than some difficulty keeping your teacup on the table, it’s smooth sailing for the rest of the trip. So, let’s get back to the “pristine scenery” part…

Antarctica offers pristine scenery everywhere you look. First the ice that surrounds you ranges from crystal clear to snow white to icy blue. And ice here is categorized, much like clouds, because there are so many different types. There is pancake ice which is just what it sounds like – an endless array of thin, white disks of ice across the top of the water. There are plateaus of ice. There are sheets of ice that fall into the ocean just as you are taking a photo. And there are glaciers that continue on their way leaving their mark as they go.


The two weeks we spent on the Kapitan Khlebnikov, a Russian ice breaker, were comfortable, educational, entertaining and the most adventurous travel we have ever done. Each day we were briefed on the days activities, usually two, sometimes three off-ship excursions by Zodiac, helicopter or foot. Small groups, less than 10, took Zodiacs to shore or on sightseeing tours that allowed us to view everything from wildlife to ice caves up close. Two helicopters were carried on board but disassembled during transit and put together each time we needed them. There is nothing like flying off the deck of a ship, over untouched snow in search of a colony of Emperor Penguins and finding them! But, the “on foot” excursions might have been the best of all. An icebreaker has jets that move in different directions helping to get the ship out of thick ice when needed. They can launch the ship on and off of giant plates of ice, so after finding the colony of penguins, the ship “docked” on the ice, we suited up and walked off the ship and out to explore Antarctica.

The highlight for many, including myself, was seeing thousands of Emperor Penguins in their natural home. Initially, I was a bit afraid of a giant (up to four feet tall) bird waddling right up to me to figure out what I was and why I was there. But they instantly melted my heart and I was blown away at how innocent and curious these creatures are. I felt a welcome guest in their presence. I hope that Wally, as adventurous and brave as he is, still conveys the warmth and curious nature of these amazing animals.

Steph in Antarctica with Wally

P.S. This post was part of a vacation-themed Blog Tour in July. Visit these sites for unique takes on “vacation” during the Genre Specific Review Group Blog Tour:
The Consulting Writer
Author Susan Day
Michelle Abbott’s Blog
Author George Thomas Clark
Marilyn Peake’s Blog
Author Jo Grafford
Plain Talk BM
Author Domino Finn
Author Stephanie Ward
Author Melinda Brasher
Author K. Chrisbacher
Author Tim Stead
Author Jayne Blue
The Consulting Writer
Author Alexis Donkin

One thought on “Antarctica: The inspiration behind Wally the Warm-Weather Penguin

  1. Pingback: Where Did We Vacation? (a GSRG blog hop summary) | The Consulting Writer

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