Visiting Antarctica from New Zealand

By Leanne Dunhill

Over the past few years I have been very privileged to visit Antarctica not once, but twice. Once from Bluff in the south of New Zealand and more recently from Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina. Since I returned from the Antarctic Peninsula in December I’ve been asked on a number of occasions which expedition I enjoyed best, why I would recommend one destination over the other or why I would recommend a longer expedition, for example over a shorter expedition. In reality a few factors assist you to make your decision regardless of whether you realise it or not.

For example:

How do you fare at sea?
How long would you like to be away for?
What sort of expedition are you wanting to experience?
Will you already be in New Zealand?
What is your desired budget/level of luxury?
What would you like to see? Historic huts, particular wildlife?

From New Zealand, trip durations are around 30 days, whereas from South America it is possible to join a fly-cruise from as little as six days in duration. Due to the length of trips departing from New Zealand, and also the distance away from the Antarctic continent, the crossing of the Southern Ocean is quite a lot longer than you would be experiencing departing from Ushuaia where getting to the Antarctic Peninsula takes about two days.

Enderby Island

Departing from New Zealand or Australia and heading non-stop to Cape Adare (first landing point in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica) will take around five days. However!! the added bonus of these longer expeditions is that they visit the Sub-Antarctic Islands giving you the chance to experience the different ecosystems, weather, scenery and wildlife the ‘Subs’ offer.

From my experience crossing both the Southern Ocean and the Drake Passage, it does get a little choppy in places. It’s to be expected. If you are not a great seafarer like me, but are really wanting to join a longer expedition I would definitely recommend visiting your GP to stock up on sea-sickness medication so you are prepared just in case. There is also a doctor on board these trips who will be available should you need more assistance. My other recommendation would be to book a centrally located, lower deck cabin which will reduce your movement. I wouldn’t take the chance of sea-sickness impacting your experience of this amazing destination.

The style of vessel I travelled on to the Ross Sea region of Antarctic was of a comfort standard. Clean, tidy, and more of an expedition style of trip rather than a cruise as such. Nowadays there a more operators visiting this region that offer a higher level of comfort if you prefer to travel with a little bit of luxury. The overall experience, knowledge of the expedition team, friendliness of the crew will be of high standards regardless of level of comfort you choose to book.

If time permits I would recommend a longer trip. What’s the chance you will return to this area again? Why not see as much as possible. An expedition to the white continent is on a lot of bucket lists and I say if you get to visit this ‘must see’ destination then why not enjoy some time in New Zealand, and in particular the Sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand and Australia. This can be done as either a shorter trip purely visiting the Sub-Antarctic islands or as a longer trip heading towards Antarctica. There is also the option to join a semi-circumnavigation trip which commences in New Zealand, visits the Sub-Antarctic Islands and Antarctica and finishes in Argentina, South America (or vice versa). This itinerary would give you the opportunity to explore both New Zealand and South America making this into the ultimate holiday!

How did the wildlife vary between the trips? Immensely!

Macquarie Island

While on the shorter ten-day expedition from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula we saw thousands of penguins, some of which I hadn’t seen before – like the chinstrap penguin. We also saw breaching humpback whales, Orcas and a variety of different seals. The scenery on this trip was more dramatic with towering mountains reaching to the sky.

The 30-day expedition I joined in February 2017 was more varied due to the inclusion of the Sub-Antarctic Islands and the length of time spent in Antarctica. On this trip again we saw lots of seals we also saw millions of penguins including the King Penguin on Macquarie Island and Emperor Penguins on ice floe as well as Blue, Orca, Minke and Humpback whales as well as terns, yellow-eyed penguins, Southern Royal Albatross, snares crested penguins and humongous elephant seals. The landscape in the Sub-Antarctic islands is windswept, green and lush with the noise of singing birds, whereas in Antarctica there was glassy sparkling blue water, ice covered mountains, a smoking Mount Erebus, the historic huts from the heroic era and silence.

Whether you choose to embark on your Antarctic adventure from NZ or Ushuaia, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. There is no better time to visit your back yard!! (see subs blog)

Expeditions to Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic Islands operate in the southern hemisphere summer months between November and March. For further information please see our expeditions we offer here.