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Antarctica and New Zealand Sub Antarctic Islands
By independent traveller – Mary
25 days voyage on ‘Akademik Shokalskyy’, with travel companies Heritage Expeditions and Chimu, and involvement of Mawsons Huts Foundation.
‘Remember, one hand for the ship and one hand for you!’ This message came over the ship every time the rolling or pitching resumed. Forty six passengers, those who were not flat on their bunks with seasickness and frustration, grabbed hand rails and held on!
In reality, for the notorious southern Ocean, the seas were quite benign. However, this small, ‘nimble’ vessel did not guarantee smooth sailing as she was built for scientific work not for luxury cruising. The voyage was a rare opportunity, a wonderful privilege, definitely not a typical cruise. Almost all visitors to Antarctica take ships out of Ushuaia at the bottom of South America. Ours was the only voyage this summer from Hobart, adding several more days to the sea voyage to the frozen continent.
With the Mawsons Huts Foundation, the adventure began at Hadley’s Orient hotel, central Hobart. This business had accommodated and been central to many historic Antarctic heroes, notably Sir Douglas Mawson and the Norwegian, Amundsen. Their brave trips to the over a hundred years ago were in our minds the entire time.
Our expedition left in mid December, concluding in Bluff on New Zealand’s south island. Zodiac off-loads were had at Macquarie Island, in Commonwealth Bay Antarctica, then the sub Antarctic Islands Campbell, Enderby and Auckland.
We were in the windiest waters on earth, with pack ice, penguins, whales, snow, ice bergs, katabatic winds, wild seas, gliding albatross, charming Russian crew, wonderful expedition leaders and compatible, informed fellow passengers.
Despite 6 days of determined effort by Captain Igor, we could not land safely at Mawsons Huts, yet could see them on Cape Denison from the ship. At least we reached the S Magnetic Pole, crossing the Antarctic Circle six times in thwarted efforts to get on the elusive, frozen shore!
The 22 crew included Russians, 2 French naturalists, a medical practitioner, two Australian and NZ cooks and experienced expedition leader, Howard Whelan.
The professionalism of the Heritage Expeditions team was impressive, especially the leadership and daily communications from Howard. For the many days at sea there were opportunities to spend hours on the ship’s bridge, in the bar cum library or in the lecture theatre. Daily presentations about history, wild life, ice formations and personalities were informative and appreciated by most passengers. With Christmas and New Year at sea lots of fun was organised too.
If there were any downsides, the smallness of the ship and lack of space for exercise might have bothered some. The food offerings were adequate in quantity but highly variable in appeal. Our delightful Russian stewardesses and deck crew more than made us welcome, comfortable and proficient in a word or two of their own language – ‘spasseba!’