Frozen moments

Frozen moments

Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen…
In the early 1900s, these were the men who attempted to find a route from the Antarctic coastline to the South Pole. In 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first to make it. He called his camp Polheim and claimed the land around it for King Haakon VII of Norway. Thirty-four days later, unaware of Amundsen’s expedition, Robert Scott and four companions arrived at the South Pole. All five of them died of extreme cold and malnutrition on their way back.

Sailing ship Bark Europa was built in 1911, at about the same time as these pioneers gave their lives to explore this unknown continent. Photographer René Koster, fascinated by their stories, set out on the vintage ship for a three-week journey across the Drake Passage and through the ice-filled Antarctic landscape capturing what he saw.

Unlike the photographers who travelled with the explorers to report back on an uncharted land, Koster decided to work in colour to allow the landscape of grey to enhance the vivid blue of the ice surrounding him. Each of the images was an attempt to capture the desolation and stillness he observed.

Photography by René Koster

Connect to nature (and wine)

There are FOUR (count em, four!) world class wine regions within a 50 kilometre radius of Sequoia Lodge.

This means that even if the lodge was a broken tent, it would still have its merits as a place to stay due to its location.

The good news is that it isn’t a broken tent, and is in fact a beautiful sanctuary with an authentic connection to nature. There’s sunrise yoga, artesian hot pools and star gazing for guests to indulge in, as well as wildlife experiences.

The lodge is perched high above the Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills on the edge of the aptly named Mount Lofty.

What does Sequoia mean? We don’t know but there IS an eye-catching 150-year-old Sequoia tree out the front of the hotel that might have something to do with it.

Hurtigruten Expeditions to protect Antarctica’s whales

Hurtigruten Expeditions has joined forces with California Ocean Alliance (COA), a research and conservation organisation, to study and protect the whales of Antarctica.

To coincide with the restart of Hurtigruten Expeditions’ 2021/2022 Antarctica season, several COA scientists will be sailing onboard the MS Roald Amundsen (the world’s first hybrid electric-powered expedition cruise ship) to collect data and study ambient noise conditions.

In particular, the team will focus on the myriad sounds that marine animals make, and the influence of human presence on the soundscape. They will also collect skin and blubber biopsy samples to evaluate individual health, population growth rates and stress levels.

And by observing how different whales behave near humans, it will allow Hurtigruten Expeditions to adapt and minimise their interference with these majestic marine creatures, while still giving guests the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them up close.

Guests will be encouraged to get involved with the research during their expedition cruise, and can chat to the scientists, attend lectures and demonstrations, and visit the state-of-the-art Science Centre, which features museum-style exhibits and is overseen by the cruise industry’s only Chief Scientist, Dr Verena Meraldi.

Nucleur Odyssey to the North Pole

Strap yourself in for a voyage to one of the earth’s most remote frontiers aboard a nuclear-powered Russian icebreaker. Hear metres of ice explode around you and feel the deck tremble as the ship closes in on the North Pole.

This voyage operates twice a year in the northern summer, when the icebreaker is temporarily relived of duties clearing Russian shipping lanes. Powered by two nuclear reactors, the 50 Years of Victory can go where few boats would dare. The ship is the world’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker and is capable of crunching through ice up to three metres thick. Not that its atomic might has compromised the experience on board, which is replete with a dining room, bar, library, gym and swimming pool.

Travel is always more about the journey than the destination, but a voyage to the North Pole is possibly the exception. After eight days ploughing through ice-encrusted seas you arrive at latitude 90 degrees north. Here you can literally stand on top of the world and walk cross every time zone.

The 50 Years of Victory cruise departs from Finland each June and includes scenic helicopter flights and Zodiac landings for up-close encounters with polar bears and other wildlife.

Best of all, it comes with serious bragging rights. Who else do you know who has been to the North Pole?

Cruise into the frozen frontier

Experience the raw beauty of untamed Antarctica, up close and personal with an 11-day cruise through this otherworldly polar region that remains one of the most sought after travel destinations in the world.

Despite Antarctica’s inaccessibility, this cruise takes you into the heart of one of the most inhospitable and desolate continents to experience the wonder of earth’s last great frontier.

You’ll want to have your winter woollies on as the tour embarks from Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America and traverses the often turbulent Drake Passage on the comfortable and spacious polar expedition vessel, Ocean Endeavour. Your destination is South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Surrounded by monstrous tabular icebergs and a never-ending ice sheet, the harsh Antarctic surroundings can be explored safely and comfortably thanks to the small zodiac boats.

Enjoy unparalleled wildlife viewing, as you wander through colonies of curious penguins, encounter basking seals, watch a frenzy of feeding birds and perhaps see a whale breaching the ocean’s surface.

Desert of a different kind

What do you get when you swap sand for snow and dunes for glaciers? A white desert. That’s right, deserts aren’t strictly characterised by hot, hostile conditions and sand as far as the eye can see. With an icy, largely uninhabitable landscape devoid of vegetation, Antarctica qualifies too. Which is why we couldn’t have a list of awesome yet desolate experiences and not include White Desert, a once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic journey. The voyage begins in Cape Town, where you board the private White Desert jet bound for the exclusive six-pod Whichaway Camp, your base for the duration of your stay in Antarctica.

While the pods look more like a settlement on Mars than luxury lodgings, inside you’ll find pleasant rooms adorned with plush throws, timber furnishings and rich textures. The expeditions, which range from a one-day, fly-in fly-out tour to an incredible eight-day trip, give you the opportunity to venture where very few humans get the chance to tread. We’re talking getting up close and personal with a 6000-strong emperor penguin colony, wandering through glowing neon blue ice caves or travelling to the lowest point on earth, the South Pole.

Sustainable Travel in Antarctica

This is the cruise voyage of the future. This newest addition to the Nat Geo fleet is still being built, but when it hits the oceans it will be the world’s first hybrid-electric polar exploration ship. Powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and electric generators, this ship has been designed to minimise the environmental impact of travel and its carbon footprint.

National Geographic and Ponant’s  first two voyages in Antarctica on Le Commandant Charcot, named after French polar scientist Jean-Baptiste Charcot, are Expedition to Charcot & Peter l Islands and The Weddell Sea & Larsen Ice Shelf, both of which depart in January 2022.

These expeditions go further into the Antarctic Circle than Nat Geo Expeditions has ever gone before, travelling along the Antarctic peninsula to some of the world’s most seldom-visited places. Peter I Island is a small volcanic island covered by a glacier looming in the Bellingshausen Sea. It is inaccessible most of the year due to pack ice, and its only inhabitants are seabirds, penguins and seals. You could be one of the very few people on the planet to go there.

The voyages also visit Detaille Island, which was briefly used as a research base by the British Antarctica Survey before it was abandoned due to bad weather conditions. You’ll be able to explore the base where it remains frozen in time, complete with items such as skis, magazines, training books and electrical items left exactly as they were in 1959.

Then, of course, there’s the Larsen Ice Shelf. An extension of the ice sheet into the sea, this white giant is equally disturbing and fascinating, if only due to its colossal dimensions and the impressive tabletop icebergs, which are among the largest ever seen.

Journey Into Antarctica’s Other World

They say birth is an unpleasant experience that culminates in absolute joy and wonder for all involved. Having witnessed the birth of my own daughter recently, I can concur.

It was terrifying, nauseating, painful (even to watch) and went on for far too long, but exhilarating with the knowledge that eventually once we made it through there would be this perfect gift of innocence and beauty. It reminded very much of crossing the Drake Passage heading to the Antarctic Peninsula. Three days and two nights of labour, only to emerge wide-eyed in a new world so clean, so pure and of seemingly endless innocence.

A flotilla of seafaring vessels are docked in the salt-stained port of Ushuaia, Argentina’s (and the world’s) most southern town and main departure point for Antarctica. An old schooner, a luxury liner and rusting cargo ships await their crew. Tucked among them is the Polar Pioneer, Aurora Expeditions’ Russian ship, complete with ‘St Petersburg’ emblazoned across her stern and a crew light on English. We are briefed on the bridge and introduced to Captain Sergey. With a hard seafarer’s face and strong Russian accent, he looks like he’s straight out of a Tom Clancy spy novel. Later in the trip he is spotted early one morning sitting at the stern, pipe in one hand, fishing line in the other, pulling in cod. Captain Sergey is the real deal.

We head down the calm waters of the Beagle Channel; the snow-capped mountains framing Ushuaia disappear into the distance. On board, a merry mix of passengers get acquainted with each other and the Polar Pioneer. Some are here to climb untouched peaks. Others are kayakers excited to glide through clear waters. There’s a group of ‘birders’, lists in hand, ready to check off species they’re yet to spot. The rest of us are just as wide-eyed with excitement to experience a continent few have. Some head for the bar for a cold Quilmes (Argentina’s local beer), others gather on the bridge with Captain Sergey and some even wander outside on the bow to breathe in the early evening air. It’s been a long trip from Australia, so I’m quick to my bunk and drift off to sleep wondering what lies ahead.

The following two days are hell. There’s no point glossing over it. Seasickness is a horrific affliction, and with the Polar Pioneer dancing the tango with the Drake Passage, I am thankful for Doctor Giles and his endless supply of assistance. Late on day three, I finally arise. Peering through my porthole at the calming sea my stomach turns with delight for the first time in 48 hours. “It’s an iceberg!” I yell out to no one. It passes quickly and I see another in the distance. I head to the dining room, embarrassed by my two-day absence, only to discover I haven’t been the only one. No one is sour though. The sight of an iceberg has us all buzzing. The waters have stilled and we all know we’re close. Even the birders are strutting, with a couple of new sightings ticked off their list. I can’t remember which because I’m watching another iceberg drift past as they explain.

The next week is a constant flurry of activity and excitement. We’re incredibly lucky that the weather provides perfect blue skies, contrasting the pure white landscape and deep black sea. This is not a cruise. There is no leisurely gazing out windows sipping champagne. We’re up early with a hearty breakfast and quickly into Zodiacs to explore the surrounds. The older passengers amaze me as they climb aboard – one slip and you’re into the freezing black below, but they persevere with bravery beyond their years. If seeing an iceberg through a porthole was a buzz, motoring within a meter of one is exhilarating. The top of an iceberg is only 30 per cent of its size, and being so close with such clear water you can watch its base disappear below in a maze of blue hues. We circle a bright blue iceberg that bobs in the ocean sea. It stands out from the rest. Its old ice seems electric. Memory cards are filled.

We first step foot on the seventh continent at Mikkelson Harbour. Gentoo penguins abound. They are everywhere. Like ants, they all seem busy, stealing pebbles from rival nests in a never-ending battle for supremacy. The climbers head to a nearby snowy peak, and, as they glide by, I envy the kayakers’ intrepid natures. For me, on this first day, it is enough just to sit on a rock surrounded by deep snow and penguins, taking in this amazing place. Sue, one of the expedition leaders, says visiting Antarctica is like visiting another planet. She is not wrong. I feel so far removed from the rest of the world I might as well be on Mars.

And so we explore along the coast of Antarctica, through the Gerlache Strait and down towards Port Lockroy, where we visit a tourist shop and museum managed by four girls all in their twenties – each of them living in Antarctica for a year. With queries of cabin fever and thoughts of them turning on each other in solitude-driven insanity, I’m surprised to hear they have a boat through every two days. I’m even more surprised to find a Lonely Planet guide to Antarctica for sale in their store.

It’s a great example of Lonely Planet, like me, growing up. I can only hope that it isn’t a sign of things to come. As we head out of Port Lockroy, a humpback whale breaches in the distance. The sun is trying to set – it never really does down here – and Captain Sergey steers the Polar Pioneer towards our new friend. The ship almost lurches to the side as we all lean over to watch the performance.

Every day down here is a highlight, but it is hard to top cruising through the Lumiere Channel. The bow is full and silent as we take in the view of snow-capped peaks rising steeply on either side. The sun is warm on our smiling faces, chilling us only as it falls behind the peaks. The biting wind has dropped. A leopard seal dozing on a drifting iceberg looks up sleepily as we motor past. A quick glance and he’s back to sleep in the afternoon sun among thousands of ice islands.

The Lumiere Channel is a funnel for drifting icebergs. Emerging from the channel, they a laze around Pleneau Island, stranded as the sun melts them away. It is extraordinary. We pass an iceberg with a circle, square and triangle of ice sculpted by the sun. It seems as though it cannot be natural, yet it is. If you tire of the sculptures, a lion seal lazing on ice splattered with penguin blood from its recent feed is just as captivating. We’re in Zodiacs and our guides are as excited as us. We are visiting nature’s gallery featuring abstract sculptures that would make even Dalí envious.

That night, we have the opportunity to camp out on the ice and I’m surprised by the turnout. Digging a small ice bed and finding an exposed rock, a group of us plunge a couple of bottles of vodka into the surrounding ice and promptly pronounce our new discovery the southernmost bar in the world. With only a few customers, we try to drink the sun down. Unfortunately, down here it never sets and too many vodkas later I crawl into my sleeping bag. A trail of penguins wander past, only metres from my dug-out snow bed. Is it the vodka or are they real? The following morning my memory card confirms they were real. I must have looked like a giant blue elephant seal.

They say there is nothing better for a hangover than a cool dip. It has been two days exploring 50-storey-high glaciers and outposts manned by maniac explorers. We visit the deserted Argentinian base of Amirante Brown where, apparently, the resident doctor set the place on fire after being told he had to stay another year. The boat returned to the inferno to pick him up and lock him away back home. We anchor off Cuverville Island on a perfectly clear day. There’s a solar rainbow and it is warm enough to wear just a t-shirt as we trek up a nearby point. Penguin colonies abound and the view from the top takes my breath away. The Polar Pioneer is dwarfed in the distance among the surrounding icebergs.

Back on the ship late that afternoon we’re asked who wants to join the Polar Plunge Club. I leap off the middle deck trying to prove my machismo and plunge deeper than expected, almost instantly regretting my arrogance. The chill hits your bones about three seconds after you hit the water. As I flail manically trying to swim back to the boat my muscles start to seize. One of the Russian crew members dives in off the top deck as I shudder up the stairway. My skin is tingling and my two-day hangover is long gone. Back in the sauna as we thaw out, the Russian crew member is laughing and chatting away. I can’t understand a word, but we both smile at each other and what we’ve just done. That evening we raise a toast in the bar to the new members of this exclusive club. Halfway through the toast, orcas are spotted on the port side of the ship so the celebrations end early. We spend the next hour following a family of killer whales as the sun tries to set. You could not have asked for a more perfect end to the day.

I feel we are trespassing in heaven down here. There is an innocence about the Antarctic. No wars have been fought here, no blood spilled, no indigenous inhabitants wiped out. It is untouched and beautiful. Whales breach safely, frolicking in the plankton-rich water. All manner of penguins busily go about their days, wary only of their natural predators. I feel guilty for being here. Am I part of the beginning of the end? How long until we ruin this place?

It isn’t easy to get here and the cost is certainly a deterrent. Let’s hope this keeps the masses at bay. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And having been through a hard labour to get here, I feel I’ve been reborn.

Sleep over with the penguins in Antarctica

The thought of extreme camping in Antarctica’s sub-zero temperatures might send shivers down the spine of some, but for the more adventurous it’s the trip of a lifetime. Add a shot of adrenaline to your expedition with an overnight stay on the ice, sans tent and surrounded by penguins.

With its glistening inlets, rocky cliffs, pebbled beaches and floating ice sculptures, the Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost stretch of land on the seventh continent and a location to which few gain access. So what can you expect when you camp out on the ice?

The extremes will undoubtedly be your main concern, but, according to Quark, they’ll cause you little grief. It is, after all, all part of the mindset anyway. All equipment, including a parka that folds into its hood to create a pillow, is provided and guides will accompany you. It’s all safe as houses, with campers participating in a mandatory safety briefing prior to disembarking.

The most surprising revelation during the briefing is that there is no tent involved – everyone sleeps out under the sky in a super-warm sleeping bag that goes inside a waterproof bivvy (bivouac) bag.

Once on land, each camper stomps out a spot on the ice then puts down a foam mattress for protection against the chill of the snow. Then it’s simply a matter of getting into the sleeping and bivvy bags to settle in beneath the midnight sun. If you can – the penguins like the sound of their own squawks.

Antarctica’s icy splash and dash

It’s something of a rite of passage for those who cruise to Antarctica. Generally, leaving the decks of the ship would mean rugging up and donning a waterproof top layer. But adrenaline junkies on board do the exact opposite when they choose to take the polar plunge.

There’s no dipping your toes to test the temperature. No wetsuits to offer a hint of resistance to the cold. Participants are simply tied to the deck then it’s one, two, three and in for all those who choose to take the polar plunge.

Of course, everyone who has chosen to stay warm(er) and dry gathers on the deck with their cameras, giving the atmosphere a definite buzz.

What to expect? Well, your heart will be pounding in anticipation then seconds after hitting the water you’ll feel as though all the air has been pummelled out of your lungs. Then you’ll be heading straight for the ladder out since the water in these southern parts is usually about –2ºC.

Grab a towel then head straight for the hot spa and contemplate your next icecapade. When the ship arrives at Deception Bay, there’s the chance to leap into this sheltered harbour from the shore.

Now there’s a story to tell the folks back home.