Antarctica with West Travel Club and Aurora Expeditions

Headshot of Stephen Scourfield
Stephen ScourfieldThe West Australian
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A gentoo penguin in Antarctica.
Camera IconA gentoo penguin in Antarctica. Credit: Grafissimo/Getty Images

Sure it’s snowy. Sure it’s icy.

But, after all, these are penguins.

They live here, in Antarctica — they, of all creatures, should be used to this.

But they come slipping and sliding down the snowy hill, tumble over forwards, pick themselves up, and then slip over again.

Is there anything funnier than penguins falling over in the snow? (Clumsy me has at least an excuse, coming from Perth.)

I am in appropriately named Paradise Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula and these are mostly gentoo penguins — the species of penguin mostly commonly seen here, though the crabeater seal is the most abundant marine mammal on the planet — there are many millions of them.

There are about 300,000 breeding pairs of gentoos on the peninsula, with more than 30,000 of them on Cuverville Island, just off the west coast.

They incubate their eggs, which hatch around late November or early December (my favourite time to be here is just at the start of the hatching), and by March (when I have also been here), the chicks are big but still demanding food and birds are moulting.

They sit, a fluffy mess surrounded by fallen feathers.

Gentoos have a bright orange beard and white flash over the top of their black heads, and on the South Shetland Islands, I spend a bit of time with chinstrap penguins, which have a narrow black band under their heads that makes them look rather like they are wearing a helmet.

Both live mainly on crustaceans, and primarily krill, but also small fish.

The International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators has strict guidelines.

People are not to approach closer than 5m to penguins.

But no one told these little chaps. I sit in the snow, and they just come bowling up.

Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) - stock photo
Camera IconGentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) - stock photo Credit: Getty Images

I’LL TAKE YOU TO ANTARCTICA IN 2022

We have partnered with Aurora Expeditions to take a West Travel Club group to Antarctica. Stephen Scourfield will lead the group throughout the trip.

The 12-day voyage across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula departs from Ushuaia on November 17, 2022.

There are two options:

THE FULL EXPERIENCE

For those joining us for the full West Travel Club experience, a broader and deeper picture of travel to Antarctica.

We will first fly to Auckland with Air New Zealand.

We will stay there for two days, with the purpose of thinking about and exploring Australian and New Zealand aspects of Antarctica. We will include a special dinner event, at which some of this story will be told.

There will also be a guided visit to Antarctic Ice Adventure, to continue setting the scene for our own Antarctic adventure. We’ll have a guided visit to Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium in Auckland, and see penguins and the replica of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic hut, with authentic memorabilia.

We will then fly on together, from Auckland to Ushuaia with LATAM, staying a night at the Alvear Hotel in Buenos Aires.

One of the many viewing spots on the ship is this hydraulic viewing platform.
Camera IconOne of the many viewing spots on the ship is this hydraulic viewing platform. Credit: Aurora Expeditions

JUST THE VOYAGE

Travellers can just join us in Ushuaia, making their own flight and pre and post cruise arrangements. They will be included in all our pre-departure events, and be very much part of our adventure family, of course.

USHUAIA TO THE PENINSULA

Cup the palm of your hand skyward, fingers together and stick your thumb in the air.

This is pretty much how Antarctica is; the bowl at the bottom of the planet.

And your thumb is the Antarctic Peninsula.

The peninsula is the most northerly point of the Antarctic mass, meaning it gets summer first, and it lasts longest there. It is sort-of an extension of the spine of the Andes, heading south down South America and ducking under the Drake Passage, meaning it is good for 300,000 breeding pairs of gentoo penguins, and chinstraps, and Adelies.

And that’s why I’m convinced that voyaging from Ushuaia, at the southern tip of South America, to the peninsula is the best experience for those who will visit Antarctica once. For whom it will be the trip of a lifetime.

Besides, I like the two-day voyage south across the Drake Passage. I like seeing the albatrosses fly, the first penguins flying in arcs over the surface, and my first iceberg. I like earning the privilege of arriving in Antarctica.

And all of that will be rather different to my many previous visits to Antarctica, as I (with my reader-companions) will be aboard Aurora’s new ship Sylvia Earle, which is due to launch this year. The ship is built for just such expeditions, and its distinctive Ulstein X-BOW will help cross the Drake more comfortably and efficiently. The bow cuts through swell and makes quicker transits through waves, giving fewer vibrations and disturbances. It also helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 60 per cent compared with previous ships. The ship has amazing observation decks, and a beautiful interior. I’m looking forward to the Glass Atrium Lounge inside the bow, with its huge windows.

Adelie penguin. South of Lemaire Channel. Antarctica voyage on National Geographic Explorer with Lindblad.
Camera IconAdelie penguin. South of Lemaire Channel. Antarctica voyage on National Geographic Explorer with Lindblad. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

EXPLORING THE ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

After crossing the Drake Passage, we will explore the coast, bays and islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. We plan to arrive at the peninsula through the South Shetland Islands (where we may make our first landing), but after that the itinerary will depend on conditions. We may get to Paradise Bay, Mikkelsen Harbour or Wilhelmina Bay — all places I’d like to see again. Maybe the Lemaire Channel.

But we can say we aim to make landings or Zodiac excursions twice a day, so there will be plenty of exciting outings. I love the Zodiacs — cruising along ice cliffs or through fields of icebergs, seeing the whales and seals from pretty much water level.

BEFORE WE GO

It’s a big adventure to look forward to — and we’ll be enjoying the build-up from September 8, 2022, when I’ll host a morning tea for all the expeditioners booked through West Travel Club.

On Saturday October 1, 2022, I’ll have a full gear briefing and preparation session, as we’ll be about six weeks before the trip. I’ll bring examples of clothing, bags and other gear.

For those interested in photography, I’ll help prepare for that, suggesting suitable equipment. And before we leave, I’ll offer a photographic workshop, covering the basic photography principles that make for good pictures in Antarctica.

On Saturday, October 29, 2022, I’ll do a final bag check, for those who want it, because it will be just two weeks until we go. So, we’ll be very ready for our big adventure.

And, of course, I’ll travel with the group from Perth and lead throughout.

The Sylvia Earle will be sister ship to Aurora's Greg Mortimer.
Camera IconThe Sylvia Earle will be sister ship to Aurora's Greg Mortimer. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

All of our guests will book direct with them, whether joining us for just the voyage, or the full experience. Aurora have designated a senior and experienced person ready to help.

It means our whole group will be dealt with by one person. One point of contact.

The Full Experience package starts from $22,093 per person, twin share, including all flights and the accommodation, events and visits in Auckland where we’ll stay for two nights at Four Points by Sheraton. There will be an event dinner and drinks as well as an Auckland city tour, and a guided tour at Sea Life, with a focus on all-things Antarctic. It also includes one night at the Alvear Hotel in Buenos Aires (one of my personal favourites).

Expedition-only prices start from $17,675 per person, but the full option includes flights and our Auckland nights.

After our initial quota of cabins at these prices are booked, the next will cost more.

All our guests will receive $US100 onboard credit.

Phone 1800 637 688 or email info@auroraexpeditions.com.au.

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