House of Travel Newmarket’s Fernando de Rito recently spent 10 days exploring Antarctica onboard a specialised South Pole cruise ship. We asked him tell us all about it.
1 | What made you want to travel to Antarctica?
Being from Argentina which is the closest country in the world to Antarctica, I always wanted to go there (only to end up going all the way from NZ). I guess the lack of inhabitants and the amazing wildlife was the biggest attraction, plus no one lives permanently in Antarctica, there are no commercial industries, no town or cities, no permanent residents.
2 | What is it actually like down there?
It is by far the most pristine place I have been on earth, still very much untouched by humans and it is massive — almost two times the size of Australia! Antarctica is basically a desert covered in snow and it almost never rains there. It is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent. You really get the feeling you are at the end of the world and very isolated.
3 | Antarctica is described as a Bucket List destination. Why do you think that is?
The landscape and the wildlife is what makes Antarctica unique, particularly the size of the icebergs — some of them are two times the size of Auckland! It is a unique experience to cruise along those massive icebergs trying to spot some of the most elusive wildlife on earth, like the Emperor Penguin for example.
4 | What can potential explorers expect to see?
There is no place like it (not even the Arctic) so expect huge icebergs, snow covered mountains, ice everywhere and the most fantastic wildlife encounters with penguins, birds, whales and seals!
5 | What was your favourite Antarctica moment?
Seeing an Emperor Penguin was definitely a highlight, they live close to the South Pole so they're very difficult to see (even though some of them are 1.5 metres tall)! Last time the ship crew had seen one was 15 years ago. Every wildlife encounter was a favourite moment of mine and there were plenty, especially the whales which are quite hard to see in November (when I was there) as the whale season is around February and March.
6 | We've heard the Drake Passage is pretty rough? How did you 'survive' it?
On each Antarctica ship there is a doctor, so we got a medication from him and that got me through those 48 hours crossing the Drake. I was quite lucky with the weather, but yes it can get really rough.
I also had my Scopolamine patch placed on the skin behind my ear. You apply it to a clean, dry, hairless area behind the ear. The patch should be applied at least four hours before it'll be needed. Each patch is good for three days.
7 | It's got to be cold down there! How did you pack for this?
Definitely gloves and warm socks, you are only out of the ship for around two hours in the morning and two hours at noon, that was enough for me to pretty much freeze! The average temperature was -5ºC and when it was windy it could get down to -30ºc within minutes. Most ships will provide you with a jacket but you need to take your own snow gloves and socks. Keeping your hands and feet warm is critical. When the sun shines you'll burn even easier as it reflects off the snow. Definitely take a high factor sunscreen and apply regularly.
8 | What kinds of adventures and activities are offered?
Some cruises specialise in skiing in Antarctica so that could be an option. Kayaking and overnight camping on the ice are both popular add-on options.
9 | What advice would you give a customer interested in an Antarctic cruise?
Definitely do it! A very low percentage of the world population has been to Antarctica so it's pretty cool to be one of them. Other than that, it is so unique that it's quite hard to put into words; there is no experience like it, and you need to be up for the adventure. It's certainly not a walk in the park, but I can guarantee you won’t regret it.
Even though it is a very controlled area in terms of number of ships and tourists, the number of people visiting Antarctica is predicted to grow fast, so now's the time to go!