Continuing my series of blog entries on Antarctic travel I’d like to tell you about the most common way for people to get to Antarctica, and the most rewarding for someone wanting to take great photos of this amazing continent, by sea. In a future blog entry I will talk about the challenges of photography in Antarctica and what you should take on a trip.
Does being on a large ship reduce the experience of visiting Antarctica? I would say certainly not. Big advantages include a large support staff with a more varied background to give informed guidance to what you are experiencing. There will always be a period while at sea when activities are limited. During this period your guides will give interesting and informed lectures and presentations about Antarctica. The more staff, the more varied these will be. The larger vessels also deal with the swells a bit better, potentially reducing the effects of sea sickness. Of course a smaller vessel has advantages also.
A smaller vessel obviously offers a more intimate experience with closer contact with your guides. The smaller vessel will also give you a better feeling for the true nature of the southern ocean. On both small and large vessels shore trips will be done by small inflatable rubber boats (IRBs).
I know quite a few people who work for the Antarctic tourism industry. I personally would love to have the opportunity to do so. I enjoy the enthusiasm of the tourists I meet while in Antarctica, and appreciate them sharing their excitement with me. But it is clear from these people that all trips are not the same, and as a potential passenger there are things you should consider.
While not many, there are quite a few tourist ships operators in Antarctica. An example is probably best. A highly regarded operator is Quark Expeditions. Looking at their web page it is obvious they have numerous trips each season, with different themes and goals. The first things to ask yourself is do you have a specific Antarctic interest or goal? There are a number of obvious interests. If you have a specific interest, you need to find a voyage that will go to the places, and give you the opportunities you want.
•Antarctic Bird Life
If your interest is in the early historic exploration years of Antarctica, you may have a specific goal of visiting one of the historic huts, such as Mawson's hut at Commonwealth Bay, Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, or Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds. There are other historic places to visit also such as on the sub-antarctic islands, or Cape Adare (a place I personally would love to get to). There are regulations in regard to visitors to these huts, so it is important to use an operator that is experienced and aware of these rules and regulations.
Most people who go to Antarctica would be disappointed if they didn't see a penguin. Penguins have been a highlight of my experiences in Antarctica, so I understand this completely. But being on a ship at sea also gives you the opportunity to see many other sea birds, and sea life such as whales, which is only possible on such a sea trip. Some trips have a specific focus, such as Emporer penguins. If you have a specific interest you need to contact the operators and find out if they have a trip which will help you meet your goals. Whales and sea birds in general are almost guaranteed, but if you have a specific goal, such as seeing a Heard Island Sheath Bill, you need to be on a voyage going to Heard Island at least.
Maybe the most important goal is simply stepping foot on the Antarctic continent. Many voyages only go to islands. If you absolutely have to step on the continent, then make sure this will happen. I've spent months living in a tent or field huts in Antarctica and treasure every single day I got to do this. Some trips offer the opportunity to spend a night in Antarctica in a tent. Maybe this is something you would like to do also? Aurora Expeditions are a well respected operator who is well known for this type of trip.
The final consideration is what I described "Antarctic Experience". With all my experience and years in Antarctica, I would be an average guide in comparison to some of the explorers and adventurers who are guest guides on some of the trips being offered. Some voyages give you the opportunity to get intimate lectures and to talk one on one with true Antarctic explorers, and modern legends. I met Alf Howard at Casey station when he was working on a Quark Expedition cruise. Check carefully and try and learn about the guides on the trips on offer. The legends only do a rare trip. Outside of the Antarctic community their names may not be as well recognized, but they are legends. It could really add something special to a trip to be able to talk to someone who has had a key role in Antarctic history.
Sail to Antarctica
Over the years there have been a number of well known sailors who have taken passengers to Antarctica. Today there are some commercial operators who look like they are becoming more entrenched in this form of travel to Antarctica. In the past this is the one way of getting to Antarctica which I have really wanted to experience. One of the best known regular sailing visitors to Antarctic waters has been Don McIntyre (now owned by different operators) and the Spirit of Sydney.