Travel Story: Great Antarctic Explorers!

Monday, 14th July 2014

Destination Specialist

antarctica Macquarie Island clients

Intrepid Discover the World clients Karen and Michael Rodger set off on to Antarctica on the Great Explorers Voyage hoping to visit the Historic Huts. Here’s their story…

About five years ago we read an article in the Saturday Telegraph regarding an expedition to Antarctica with Quark aboard the Kapitan Khlebnikov including an attempt to visit the Historic Huts. My husband Michael has always been fascinated by Antarctic exploration during the ‘Heroic Age’ and until then we never realised that expeditions were using ice breakers which could reach the Antarctic mainland carrying ‘ordinary’ passengers.

Upon enquiry Quark informed us that they could not provide the full package we required. We therefore looked on the internet under Antarctic voyages and that is how we found the Discover the World website. When we contacted Discover the World in August 2007, more as a feasibility exercise than anything else, we were very pleasantly surprised by the friendly yet professional manner in which our enquiry was dealt with.

Nothing appeared to be too much trouble and soon a complete tailor made package for Antarctica was offered including a pre-voyage four day stay in Christchurch, New Zealand. We then realised that the expedition we were interested in, The Great Explorers’ Voyage, ended in Hobart, Tasmania – back we went to your colleague, Amanda to see if Discover the World could arrange a two week tour of Tasmania, including car hire and accommodation (we supplied our proposed destinations, Amanda supplied the accommodation in them). Everything – flights, accommodation, insurance, car hire, maps, itineraries and even hints and tips to get the best out of our trip was provided. Nothing was left to chance and everything worked perfectly, even the weather.

Tips for tourists visiting Antarctica can be summed up in three words: head, hands and feet.

  • Head – we found, and fellow passengers were very impressed with, our headgear consisting of a Seal Skinz peaked hat as a base layer worn under a Russian type ‘Ushanka’ hat. The Seal Skinz hat has a wired peak which is excellent for keeping wind, sun and snow/ice out of the eyes. Both have ear flaps and can be secured under the chin. Good wrap round polarised sunglasses, secured with a sports band, are essential.
  • Hands – by trial and error we believe the best hand coverings consist of thin fingered insulated/silk type gloves that you can operate a camera with worn under insulated, wind and waterproof mitts. The mitts can be secured by tabs or tape to the parkas which are provided by Quark (there are so many photo opportunities, the mitts are continually taken off). Nordic type walking poles are also provided by Quark.
  • Feet – Excellent, comfortable, insulated, waterproof boots are provided by Quark – however – order them at least two sizes too big to allow for extra pairs of socks and/or innersoles. As an additional precaution against the cold, chemical hand and foot warmers are very useful, especially when sitting on ice filming penguins for a couple of hours!

The Kapitan Khlebnikov is a working ice breaker – it has a flat bottom and in open ocean it rolls. In rough weather can be said that it rolls quite a lot. The accommodation is basic, though perfectly adequate, comfortable and clean. The cabin staff are unobtrusive, conscientious and very attentive; the hotel staff provides a five star service whose only fault was to keep on presenting us day after day with food that was totally impossible to refuse. The Russian crew were helpful, polite and very professional. The expedition staff were both experienced and knowledgeable in their fields keeping us enthralled and entertained throughout whilst never compromising safety.

Our best experiences

For Michael it has to be the reaching of all the Historic Huts and crowning it with the landing on Inexpressible Island where the Northern Party, six men of Scott’s expedition, wintered in an ice cave in 1911. This landing was not even on the itinerary and no one, not even the Russian crew had been able to land there before as the weather is usually notoriously evil.

For myself – nothing ever prepares you for the reality of Antarctica – the cold, harsh yet absolutely breathtaking beauty of the vastness of this white icy continent had to be seen and felt because television, films and books cannot do it justice.

Karen & Michael Rodger
Great Explorers Voyage, December 2008

Inspired?

The Great Explorers’ Voyage was a special commemorative voyage which no longer operates, however, if you want to follow in the footsteps of the great Ernest Shackleton (a true hero of polar exploration) it’s the centenary of his ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition this season (2014/2015). 

Suggested holiday: Peninsula, Falklands and South Georgia

NOTE: for anyone especially interested in the history of Shackleton’s voyage, the 31 January and 9 March 2015 departures of this holiday will feature an exhibition of photos by Frank Hurley, who was part of Shackleton’s 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The onboard team will be joined by an expert historian on each voyage; Alasdair McGregor, world authority on Frank Hurley, will lead the historical element of The Shackleton Spirit Voyage (9 March departure).

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