By Ben Aspinall |
Hear Ben's story of his 30 day experience through World Travel Professionals Antarctica Expeditions...
My wife and I have recently returned from a 30 day voyage to the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic Islands aboard the "Spirit of Enderby".
We went on the January, 2015 "In the Wake of Scott and Shackelton" expedition operated by Heritage Expeditions, New Zealand's expedition travel company. I can only try to sum up this once in a life time experience with the words privileged, humbled, exhilarated and strangely peaceful. We have seen the very best and most beautiful that this Earth has to offer. The focus of this voyage is nature and its conservation.
For the past 30 years, Heritage Expeditions has pioneered conservation-driven voyages to some of the most wild, least-explored and biologically rich regions on the planet. Our voyage, or expedition, lived up to this reputation. On our first day aboard we were told to prepare for an adventure, where adventure means " an unknown outcome....". Ominous, but thankfully, true. We were expecting great things, but were not prepared for the boundless wildlife diversity, the breath-taking beauty in the colours of the ice and sea, the combined serenity and strength of mother nature, the generosity, caring and humour of our staff and crew, and the emotions evoked by the human history of exploration of the white continent. We were told at the beginning to expect to come away "changed" by what lay ahead. It was true. We are both better people for it, with a greater respect and regard for this beautiful planet, the oceans and all of the forms of life that we share this world with. It sounds very cliche, but it is true.
Our expedition left from Invercargill, the Southern most town of New Zealand. 50 passengers set forth, with 8 experienced cruise staff and 22 Russian crew aboard the 72 m "Spirit of Enderby" (Professor Cromov - registered name). The first week was spent making our way south into the Southern Ocean, stopping at the Snare's Islands, Enderby Island, Auckland Island and Macquarie Island. We spent time either cruising the coast on Zodiac boats, getting up close to nature, and exploring cliffs, and sea caves or walking on the islands among the spectacular Rata forests and flowering megaherbs interacting with the ever present penguins, sea lions, seals, and sea birds of endless names and species. Strangely we began to recognise the different albatross, petrels, gulls and terns within the first few days. By the end of it all we could identify and name the 7 species of penguin we saw.
After the sub antarctic islands, we headed south, spotting our first iceberg at 61 degrees south, and crossing the Antarctic Circle with due ceremony and a Polar blast for Antarctic virgins to appease King Neptune (at 2 am on the fore deck with 5 degrees ocean water ... it was voluntary - but hey I am only ever going to do this once).
Then we pushed for three days through pack ice into the Ross sea, witnessing some of the most pretty hues of blue in the ice that you will ever see anywhere, and increasing our count of penguin, seal and sea bird species. A sunset zodiak cruise among the ice, and a photogenic Emperor Penguin provided excellent photo opportunities.
Then we began 10 days of landings on the continent, in 24 hour daylight. There are 10-12 possible landing opportunities that they can do, but usually weather and ice conditions limits these to just a few. Neptune and mother nature were kind to us and we got 9 landings. We went ashore on some of the most remote islands and beaches you can imagine, steeped in history, vibrant with hues of brown and white, and alive with.... penguins.
We explored an island who's name sums up the barren-ness and isolation. Inexpressible Island. Then we visited three research bases (German, Italian, South Korean) in Terra Nova Bay. I never thought I would cruise along something called the Drygalski Ice Tongue, but we did.
Then on down to the southern Ross Sea, stopping on Franklin Island with 10000 Adelie Penguins, and reaching our southern most destination, Ross Island. Beneath the omnipresent flanks of 4000m high Mt Erebus we explored this area for 4 days, visiting the pristine, preserved huts of explorers Scott and Shackleton, and walking the volcanic shores.
The expedition highlight for most was the several hours cruising the ice edge aboard the Zodiacs beneath a beautiful blue sky, with bright sunlight and the towering sentinel of Erebus keeping watch over us, while a large pod of Minke Whales swam and fed around us. David Attenborough would have been Jealous. To top it off on our way back to the mother ship we explored a bay full of exquisitely carved icebergs glistening like icing on wedding cakes, and displaying yet more hues of fluorescent blue that, unbelievably, we had not seen yet.
The penultimate day came when we reached our southern most latitude, 77 degrees 44 minutes South, in McMudo sound where we celebrated first with drinks on the deck in the warm sunshine, then later with dessert and hot chocolate on the ice shelf, a game of soccer on the ice with the Russian crew, and the Polar Plunge (a quick swim in the -0.2 degree Ross Sea from the edge of the ice.), just after we had watched large pods of Orca nearby.
The journey home included cruising along the Ross Ice Shelf under the midnight sun, and our last stop on the continent at Cape Adare, with 100,000 Adelie penguins and another explorer's hut (we now know who George Borchgrevink is!!!).
Five straight days at sea, saw us arrive at our last place of interest, Campbell Island. We did an 8 hour 14 km walk on this very remote island. My wife and I love bush walking, and have done some of the world's greatest walks. This was by far the greatest we have ever seen or done. The flowering mega-herbs covered meadows on the top of a ridge with purples, pinks, white and yellow, all with a back drop of spectacular lime stone cliffs and turquoise blue seas. We could get up close to scores of Southern Royal Albatross nesting, or soaring majestically and peacefully over this remote landscape. Coming face to face with three elephant seals basking on a beach, will be a moment of joy that I will never forget. These beautiful seals are enormous!
Two more days at sea, (and these were the only big seas of the whole trip) saw us return to Invercargill, changed people. I know I am a better and more peaceful person because of this unique and humbling experience.
Whether you’re a birder, photographer, wildlife enthusiast, conservationist, or simply an adventurous spirit, these expeditions offer an unparalleled travel experience.
Heritage Expeditions is one of the best travel companies we have traveled with. I recommend them to anyone. You can see more on their website and find out about their full year's itinerary of expeditions all along the western pacific from Antarctica up to the Arctic.
Finally we have to thank Marion Picot from World Travel Professionals who made this all possible for us, through her professional knowledge, commitment to us and friendly assistance.
- Ben Aspinall
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By Tahnee Wherritt |
Our list of the top ten most beautiful cities to enjoy...
A small city with big beauty. Bruges imitates what life would be like in the late middle ages. With medieval architecture and every little hidden gem is a snap shot of a fairytale. This Photogenic little city even puts the postcards to shame.
2. Florence Known as the birth place of ‘renaissance’ and the ‘Tuscan capital’, this seductive and romantic city is home to some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. The colourful buildings and sunsets in the afternoon will have you wanting to take permit residence in this gorgeous city.
3. Paris The heart of France has a long list of beauty. The art, the culture, the food and the museums. Known as the city of light, your heart will skip a beat when you see the Eiffel tower in all its glory. You will not just visit Paris, you will in fact fall in love with this cobbled street beauty.
4. Lisbon The capital of Portugal is full of contemporary culture. The locals make you feel at home with their easy-going charm. As an all year round destination, Lisbon makes every season more beautiful then the last.
5. Venice ‘The city of water’, ‘The city of bridges’, ‘The floating city’, ‘The city of canals’. There is a never ending list of names for Venice, but one that sums it up perfectly for us.. ‘Undoubtably, the most beautiful city built by man’.
6. Prague When Mirrored off the Vltava river, you get a sense of just how beautiful and magical this city is. The vibrant city full of culture, music art and countless churches, this enchanted city is one not to be missed.
7. Rio De Janeiro Rio De Janerio offers something for everyone. From the breathtaking landscapes, to the laid back beaches. You can relax on the white sands beach or take full advantage of the nightlife, the dancing in the street and the numerous festivals all year round.
8. Amsterdam Known as the Venice of the north, this quaint little city is full of beautiful canals, parks and relaxing charm. Amsterdam has a history of non-conformism and known for its progression. Amsterdam is the perfect place for those who just want to enjoy life without the hustle and bustle.
9. Rome Rome is where you see history at it finest. With the Colosseum, The Vatican, The Pantheon, Sistine Chapel, and for all of those romantics; why not make a wish in the stunning Trevi Fountain. At every turn you can stumble across magnificent piece of history, and great food.
10. Budapest A gorgeous city with a youthful atmosphere. Budapest has a pulsating nightlife. Spending the day walking along the river, and heading to the spas, you can really take in the city’s beauty.
Want more inspiration?
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By Tahnee Wherritt |
Whether you have started writing your very own bucket list, generating one as you go, or thinking about building one, here is another experience we believe should make the cut; Swimming with Whale sharks in Borneo.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. They are slow moving animals and do not fear; they are filter feeding fish and pose no significant danger to humans. They like to swim around the tropical and warm waters. So, whilst enjoying the beauty of the open sea, why not swim next to a fish that can grow to over 12 meters, which is longer then your average bus?
As we understand this may terrify some readers, we have come up with some other examples of things to do in Borneo. If swimming next to a fish that has a mouth span of around 1.5 meters doesn’t float your boat, how about hanging around with some Orangutans? Borneo also offers great trekking trails, bird watching at its finest and the chance to explore caves.