by BURNHAM ARLIDGE, Destination Expert, antarcticaguide.com
(highlighted links take you to articles on www.antarcticaguide.com)
Antarctica is a land like no other. Its charm lies in its desolation, its raw beauty and unforgiving climate. The landscape draws you in and touches your heart unlike any other place you’ve been.
No Antarctic traveller can ignore the harsh environment nor the numerous wildlife species that inhabit it. The White Continent is the driest, windiest and coldest place on Earth and you will experience a world that is lost in time. A world of ice, volcanoes, giant sea creatures and bitterly cold waters.
Forget sipping summer cocktails under a beating sun in the Caribbean, a cruise to Antarctica is an adventure expedition. You’ll cross the roughest section of water on Earth and sail past icebergs ten times the size of the Titanic destroyer.
Don’t let this put you off, though – Antarctica is now becoming a popular destination for tourists and there are even some luxury operators who will take you all the way in five-star comfort on stabilised ships. As we approach the 2016/17 Antarctic tourist season, here are top three reasons to take an Antarctic cruise this year.
Probably the number one draw factor to the White Continent, the wildlife is both varied and numerous. There are very few places on Earth where you can photograph a seal from five metres away, watch a penguin waddle under your nose or feel the spray from a whale’s blowhole.
The Antarctic peninsula is home to a wide array of sea birds, seals, penguins and whales. Your ship will make daily shore landings when you’ll take a Zodiac ashore. Once on land your guides will give you several hours to get close to the wildlife so you can get the best shots possible. You’ll also take boats into narrow water channels and shallow bays to search for whales. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a curious minke whale coming up close.
If you decide to take a slightly longer itinerary you can also visit the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. This is a paradise for wildlife and you’ll witness colonies of seals and penguins over a million strong. If you love photography, this is unmissable.
As soon as your first iceberg comes into view you’ll understand why you’ve come on the cruise. The landscape captures you like no other. The first reaction is generally one of awe. The land is best described as otherworldly or alien and you won’t be able to tear your eyes from it.
You’ll sail past icebergs and glaciers 30 storeys high, making your ship look like a small fishing boat. Get ready with your camera as lovely blue-hued icebergs that look like they’ve been sculpted come into shot. White mountains and volcanoes dominate many of the islands and, once ashore, you’ll be able to explore the landscape in more detail.
Depending on what your cruise operator allows and which itinerary you have chosen, you may have the option to go sea kayaking to explore the ice-laden inlets and channels a little more. If you’re feeling very adventurous then try a night ashore camping with a guide.
An Antarctic cruise is an expedition that offers adventure activities, on-board expert lectures – and rough seas.
The daily lectures aim to educate passengers on local biology, history, geology, wildlife and photography. Although this may seem a little too much like learning, the landscape and wildlife really come alive when you know a little more about them.
There are three types of Antarctic cruise ships – research, expedition and luxury. At the cheaper end are research vessels, while the luxury ships aim to take you in complete comfort. Bear in mind, though, that only 100 people are allowed ashore at one time in Antarctica, so look at ship specifications carefully.
Whichever cruise ship you choose, you’ll have to cross the infamous Drake Passage. Considered to be the roughest stretch of water on Earth, you’ll probably experience the ‘Drake Shake’. This is one of the most memorable parts of the cruise and many passengers view it as a ‘rite of passage’ for Antarctic travellers. Don’t worry, though – everyone soon finds their sea legs and the waters around the actual peninsula are generally calm.
Antarctic cruises start from around $5,000 per person for a 10/11 day itinerary. Warm weather gear is a must, however – your operator will often supply you with water boots and an expedition parka.