Australians and New Zealanders aiming for Antarctica can find the cruise quest quite frustrating. "Why am I flying all the way to South America to get to a continent directly south of me?" is a question often asked. The simple answer -- that Antarctica is directly south of everyone -- is unlikely to satisfy. So here's a more comprehensive answer -- and a list of the few voyages that do depart from Australasia including a luxury Antarctica cruise from Hobart and longer Antarctic cruises from Dunedin and Lyttleton, NZ.
Why do most cruises to Antarctica leave from South America?
The statistics are clear: 98 percent of the 56,000+ visitors to Antarctica in the 2018-2019 southern summer experienced the Antarctic Peninsula region by sea after departing from South America. The reasons are numerous and include the length and cost of the voyage, time away from home, scenery, climate, the sea crossing and the number of places to land.
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Advantages and disadvantages of departing from Australia/New Zealand
- Flying time -- it will be a short domestic or trans-Tasman flight for Australians to reach the ship.
- Antarctic Circle and beyond -- most Antarctic Peninsula voyages stop short of the Circle (66.5°) but a voyage to Ross Island will take you past 77°S.
- Subantarctic Islands -- the stopping points on the way to and from the south may include the wildlife wonderlands of Macquarie, Campbell and Enderby islands.
- Heroic Age history -- these voyages strive to reach the huts where explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton lived for several months.
- Ross Ice Shelf -- this dramatic but largely featureless sheet of floating ice covers about the same area as France.
- Emperor penguins -- there are very few places where you can see these remarkable birds but the Ross Sea is one such place.
- The Dry Valleys and Mt Erebus -- some of the most dramatic places on Earth.
- Voyage time -- allow about five days sailing each way to the Antarctic continent, so 10 days of your holiday will be at sea.
- Rough seas -- below the Roaring Forties lie the Furious Fifties and Screaming Sixties, so expect some tempestuous days on very open ocean.
- Cost -- it will be more expensive because the voyage is longer. As the ship is likely to be pushing through waves, the high fuel bill is also factored into the fares.
Antarctic cruises from Australia
Over the past few decades, there were regular cruise departures between Australia and New Zealand via Antarctica throughout the southern summer of November to March. Sadly, these were with Orion Expedition Cruises (no longer operating) and Quark Expeditions' rugged Kapitan Khlebnikov that no longer visits.
There are currently no voyages to Antarctica scheduled to depart from Australia or Hobart. Crystal Endeavor had been scheduled to sail from Hobart to the Ross Sea in early 2021, but those voyages were cancelled by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Crystal currently does not plan to repeat them as of this writing.
Antarctic cruises from New Zealand
New Zealand's Heritage Expeditions has three voyages to the Ross Sea from New Zealand over the 2022 season. The "In the Wake of Scott and Shackleton: Ross Sea Antarctica" voyage runs for 30 days and departs January 10, February 8, or February 10, 2022 aboard either Akademik Shokalskiy or Spirit of Enderby. The voyages sail from Invercargill, NZ and returns to either Invercargill or Christchurch.
There are also a few voyages to and from New Zealand that are semi-circumnavigations of Antarctica. Oceanwide Expedition's Ortelius sails from Ushuaia, Argentina to Bluff, New Zealand and returns on a 33-day journey departing Ushuaia on January 13, 2022; or Bluff, NZ on February 16, 2022. The small, nimble ship also offers onboard helicopters for further exploration of the Ross Sea region.
Lindblad Expeditions' National Geographic Endurance offers a similar 35-day voyage between Argentina and New Zealand, with departure dates in December 2021; January and December 2022; and January 2023. Because of how rare these sailings are, expect them to fill up quickly despite the $50,000 USD ($63,200 AUD) per person price tag.
The Ross Sea is always a major commitment when it comes to time and money. When it works out it's amazing to stand in Shackleton's Hut or to have Emperor penguins as neighbours. However, ice and weather can curtail activities, too. As the Antarctic Peninsula becomes mainstream, East Antarctica really is a destination that few ever see.