Want to partake in a different kind of cruising where you can feel like you’re living a David Attenborough documentary, or perhaps discover the legacy of legendary explorers Scott and Shackleton in Antarctica, or Amundsen in the Arctic? Then adventure cruising at either the North or South Pole, according to Kirsten Ball, will tick those boxes. And while they both provide adventure cruising options and a range of activities, the Arctic and Antarctica really do offer experiences that are poles apart.
Kirsten Ball, a cruising consultant based in Brisbane, has had the wonderful opportunity to cruise at both ends of the world and cannot stress strongly enough that for the wildlife enthusiast – these cruises are a MUST-DO!
No photograph or film footage can really capture the sights, noises, smells, the vast whiteness or sense of space that you get when stepping onto the Antarctic coastline, or cracking through frozen Arctic seas.
Kirsten started her Antarctic journey from the tip of South America, and landing on the continent itself will be one of her most amazing lifetime memories. The remote island of South Georgia was where Kirsten’s inner David Attenborough came to the fore, as she made her way amongst rookeries of up to a hundred thousand pairs of king penguins and thousands of fur and elephant seals.
“The Antarctic cruise was one of those trips that will be hard to top on the wildlife front because you are seeing these animals in the wild, up close and personal. We had curious penguins nudging our boots, whales swimming underneath our zodiac boats and a variety of seal species everywhere we turned!”
Not that you don’t get to see wildlife in the Arctic, although it is quite a different experience with many Arctic mammals nervous about encountering the elusive but powerful predator the polar bear.
Kirsten began her Arctic voyage in Longyearbyen on the remote island of Spitsbergen in northern Norway. The island has an Arctic climate, but with much warmer temperatures than other places at the same latitude, it is a breeding ground for thousands of seabirds, and it also supports polar bears, reindeer and marine mammals.
“Although tour operators can’t 100 percent guarantee a Polar bear sighting, you would have to be quite unlucky to not get at least a glimpse of a polar bear roaming in search of food.
"With the Arctic, the sense of adventure seems to lie more in the anticipation of where you will go and what you will see each day. As with Antarctica, the itinerary really depends on weather and changeable ice conditions.”
With no fixed itinerary, the expedition team is always thinking on their feet – day by day, hour by hour – with certain favourite destinations selected for their historical significance or optimal wildlife viewing.
If you want to get even closer to the ice, the water, and the wildlife, many adventure cruise operators offer sea kayaking as an optional activity in both Antarctica and the Arctic.
With a strong focus on the conservation of these remote regions, cruise operators follow the ‘take only photos, leave only footsteps’ motto, while maximising the wildlife experience for travellers. And there truly is something to suit everyone’s tastes and budgets, with ships ranging from basic comfort to luxury.
“I loved both of the Polar cruises and although providing very different experiences, small ship adventure cruising really provides that opportunity to get off the beaten track and see amazing wildlife in their natural habitats, with the experience usually made even better because you tend to be travelling with like-minded adventurers."