Vicki Kembery of Travel 195 ticks Antarctica off her bucket list.
When and why did you choose to visit Antarctica?
It’s always been on my bucket list of places I wanted to visit, and early last year some great deals came out with some pretty good savings on cruises to Antarctica, so I decided it was too good to pass up.
I think for most people Antarctica is the last frontier, and over the last few years the cost has become much more affordable to the average traveller. The season for cruising the Antarctic goes from late November through to March; because of work, I thought late November, early December was the best time for me to get some time off.
Who travelled with you?
I went with an old friend from the UK. Carol and I met over 25 years ago when I was working as a journalist in northern England and even though we only worked together for 1 year and I came back to Australia the following year, and we really only see each other every couple of years (mainly when I go back to the UK to visit Neal’s family), we have just kept in touch all this time. People are quite surprised when we tell them we’ve known each other for 25 years but have really only seen each other about 5 times in that period! Anyway, I asked her if she fancied a holiday with penguins, and she said yes!
Why didn’t your hubby, Neal, go with you?
Because I didn’t ask him! Not really. The one drawback of running your own business with your husband as your business partner is that it can be difficult getting time off together. Also, for Neal’s side of the business, late November and December is peak time leading into Christmas, so it’s even harder for him to get away at that time – and that’s the season to cruise Antarctica. I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet, but hopefully he will get there sometime (and maybe I’ll get to go again).
How did you get there?
Depending on who you talk to, getting down to the Antarctic is half the fun! I flew over to Buenos Aires and had a few days there before flying down to Ushuaia, which is right at the bottom of South America, and this is where most of the cruise ships that go to Antarctica leave from. From Ushuaia you cruise down the Beagle Channel and then spend 2 days crossing Drakes Passage, before hitting Antarctica – and it’s crossing the Passage that can be very testing, as sometimes it can be incredibly rough. Luckily for me, it was pretty smooth going over, although coming back we had 70 km winds and the swell was 4.5 m, so it was a bit like riding a bucking cow! With the crossing taking 2 days in each direction, you really do have to be very patient when travelling to the Antarctic, and if you are prone to motion sickness, definitely take something to combat it.
What were the highlights of the trip?
Everything! It’s one of those places that you can’t really describe, and your photos don’t really do it justice. It’s just so vast and silent (except when the penguins decide to have a chat with each other). So apart from how big it is, I guess the highlights were the wildlife – the seals, whales and penguins. My favourites were the penguins, because they really are cute and you can sit and watch them for hours as they waddle, flap, fall over, dive and swim. I also spent one night camping on the ice in a tent, which means I can now say that I have slept on every continent in the world, so that’s pretty special.
How do tourist organisations ensure that they are not harming the environment?
The cruise companies that travel to Antarctica are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, and its members have to secure authorisation from the members of the Antarctic Treaty to operate there. There are a number of rules and regulations they have to adhere to; for instance, ships carrying more than 500 passengers cannot make any landings. The ships co-ordinate with each other to ensure that no more than one vessel is at a landing site at any one time, and that not more than 100 passengers are ashore at any one time at a landing site.
We were given a pretty comprehensive lecture on what we could and couldn’t do before our first landing – we weren’t allowed to get closer than 5 m to a penguin (unless they walked up to you); we weren’t allowed to take any food with us when we were onshore, and we had to walk through a sanitising bath to wash our boots before and after each landing.
As well, over the past 8 years, the cruise companies and their passengers have contributed over $2.5 million in donations to Antarctica-related charitable causes, and the cruise companies will often carry research scientists to and from Antarctica free of charge.
What else is on your travel bucket list?
Probably too many to mention – but I think I’d definitely now like to go to the other end of the world and visit the north pole, because I’d still like to see the northern lights and see a polar bear. But if anyone is thinking of heading south to Antarctica, drop in and see me at Travel 195 and I’ll help you organise your trip. And Neal can help you with your gear – but he probably won’t talk to you about your holiday, because he’ll still be too jealous!
This article was published in issue 69 of New England Focus