Heather has been a travel specialist at Contours Travel since 2007 and has visited every corner of South and Central America. And in 2016, she was fortunate enough to travel to Antarctica onboard the Akademik Ioffe. She journeyed on their early-season Off the Beaten Track voyage. This unique itinerary offers special experiences like snowshoeing, skiing and overnight kayaking/camping trips.
Heather tells us…
Travel to Antarctica at the start of the season, around November, to enjoy heaps of ice, pristine snow and enormous icebergs. Although I had never worn snowshoes before, they were fantastic for hiking longer distances. So we were able to reach some incredible viewpoints that would have been a real slog, otherwise. Early season also allows for skiing! And while it is only available to experienced skiers, it was amazing just to watch the ski group hurtling down pristine slopes!
The crew were absolutely amazing and came from a really broad range of experience. There was a lady who worked on the legal framework for the Antarctic Treaty (and had a glacier named after her!). Not to mention, an avalanche rescue expert, and a historian who worked on the film Happy Feet! Each night, one of the crew would host a “fireside chat”, either an informal lecture or sharing hair-raising adventures.
On the trip, I was able to witness some incredible David Attenborough moments! We watch a leopard seal stalk, catch & kill a gentoo penguin. And early season is the time to catch penguins nesting. We spent hours watching them cheekily stealing each others rocks and seeming to argue over nest placement.
We had beautiful and incredibly long Antarctic sunsets where the surrounding snow-capped peaks turn from fiery red to pink. On the way down to Antarctica, we experienced 6-metre swells across the Drake Passage! As you can imagine, I was very happy to have stocked up on sea sickness tablets. But really, it was not as bad as I had imagined and the crew looked after everyone very well. However, on the return, I was very happy to have the Drake Lake instead!
Not sure which Antarctic cruise to choose? Go for a smaller vessel to maximise the amount of time you spend onshore. Antarctic regulations state that only 100 passengers can go ashore at a time. All the ships we recommend are expedition vessels with a strong focus on time spent off the boat. While many vessels offer a high level of comfort and amenities, in our opinion, luxury-liners are not cut out for Antarctic exploration.
The Akademik Ioffe is not sailing in Antarctica anymore, but we have a range of other small-sized, expedition vessels that we are happy to recommend.
Since 1975, Contours Travel has focused exclusively on Latin America and Antarctica. We are deeply passionate about this stunning region and want to share it with you! But be warned, our passion is contagious! Our team of travel specialists have unsurpassed destination knowledge. We’ve travelled extensively across Latin America and Antarctica and all of our recommendations come from first-hand experiences.