Antarctica is becoming easier for Australians and New Zealanders to cruise to, with a rise in expeditions departing from Hobart and Bluff, New Zealand. Sailing from these ports to East Antarctica avoids the expense and jetlag associated with flying to South America for the more typical Ushuaia departure.
After a drop in expedition voyages to the Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay over the past decade, East Antarctica is making a comeback. Expedition cruising in general is on the rise with more than 30 brand new purpose-built expedition vessels due for delivery between now and 2025.
With newer and more economical vessels, journeys departing from Australia and New Zealand are now more cost-effective. Ben Alexander, Director of iExpedition, Australia’s only dedicated polar expedition cruise agency, is excited about the region’s resurgence as an expedition cruising destination.
“The Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay regions of Antarctica, which lie south of Australia and New Zealand, are steeped in early explorer history. Explorers such as Mawson, Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen all departed from Australia on their famous expeditions. The region is home to many well-preserved huts from this bygone era of heroic exploration.”
While East Antarctica adds some early explorer magic, it is not necessarily for the faint hearted. Affectionately known as the 'Real Antarctica', it is home to more extreme weather and ice conditions and wildlife can be more elusive. However, there is also a significant pay off for those who cruise from Australia or New Zealand to this lesser known Antarctic region.
Most voyages break up the long open ocean crossing with a few days exploring the Subantarctic islands. This collection of islands surrounding the southern tip of New Zealand are often forgotten by Australian cruise travellers, despite being so close. They provide amazing wildlife viewing in wild and isolated landscapes and, in particular, birding opportunities with a number of native and endemic species.
Alexander believes that anyone who finds importance in the journey, as well as the destination, will appreciate an East Antarctica voyage as these are much longer at 20 to 30 days. Seven to 10 of these days are spent in Antarctica.
Currently, the Spirit of Enderby, Ortelius, Silver Explorer and the brand new National Geographic Endurance are exploring the region. Most East Antarctica voyages depart from Bluff in New Zealand, but there are also occasional departures from Hobart.
East Antarctica expeditions focus on uncovering the golden years of exploration, brought to life by Borchgrevink’s Hut at Cape Adare, Scott's Discovery and Terra Nova Huts, Shackleton's Nimrod Hut and of course, Mawson's Hut at Commonwealth Bay.
Ben Alexander considers East Antarctica a must for Australian and New Zealand cruisers. “It has a number of unique features, including the Ross Ice Shelf, 30 metre high ice cliffs, the world’s largest Adelie penguin rookery and body of floating ice in the world, and Antarctica's only active volcano.”
He also likes the fact there is never a dull moment this far south as the mighty Southern Ocean, blizzards, katabatic winds, and fast moving ice may force a change of plans. It is not unusual for the Captain to transform the itinerary mid-journey to provide spontaneous new adventures.
If you want to see the Antarctica you learned about in school and truly feel what it was like for the early polar explorers, East Antarctica is the place to do it.