Thursday, December 31, 2009

Antarctic Cruise Guide - 2nd Edition

Professor Craig Franklin from the UQ School of Biological Sciences has recently announced the release of the second edition Antarctica Cruising Guide, believed to be the most comprehensive guide for tourists to the area.

Up to 40,000 tourists visit Antarctica each year and this number is set to increase.

The guide, co-authored with Dr Peter Carey, was written to inform people about Antarctica in a way that would not only enhance their trip south but also raise awareness of threats to Antarctic conservation.

"Sales of the first edition of the book exceeded our expectations so much so that AWA Press wanted to release a second edition," Professor Franklin said.

"We took the opportunity of the second edition to expand the coverage of the highlights of Antarctica and more importantly, to update the threatened species status of key wildlife found in the Southern Ocean.

"It is alarming that more than one-third of the species described in the book are listed as threatened and endangered. In this edition we have been able to devote a chapter to 'Threats to Antarctic Conservation'."

The new edition includes chapters on the Falkland Islands and South Georgia which are now being visited more often by tourists, as well as Ross Island which is being visited by tourists travelling directly from Hobart to Antarctica by sea.

"We have covered most tourist destinations as well as those sites which are of scientific and historical importance. There is no book that gives such a thorough overview of the places that most people are able to visit in Antarctica," Professor Franklin said.

Professor Franklin and Dr Care, have spent four years carrying out scientific work or lecturing on cruise ships in the Antarctic.

"We are well qualified to help more people appreciate and have a greater understanding for the ice," he said.

Antarctica Cruising Guide is available in bookshops and online and is published by AWA Press, New Zealand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mawson's hut team sets up home on the ice

Pauline Askin

Aerial shot of ice cracking on the Cape Denison coastline, East Antarctica

I am now standing on Antarctica, my icy home for the next six weeks and it’s minus five degrees Celsius and majestic. My new address is Commonwealth Bay, Cape Denison, 67 degrees South, East Antarctica.

A group of curious penguins greeted us as we unpacked our gear, but our nearest human neighbours are 200 kms west at the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville.
Commonwealth Bay looks like a tourism postcard. A curved bay with a coastline of ice cliffs. The isolation is stark. Apart from Sir Douglas Mawson’s huts, which we are here to restore, a radio mast and our portacabins, there is nothing but ice. From today we will live and work in close quarters without seeing anyone else until a scheduled cruise ship arrival in mid-January 2010.

It’s 10.24 pm as I write this blog but it is not night. This is a land that never gets dark during summer, which is a little surreal.

I have been awake for nearly 24 hours since l’Astrolabe arrived in Commonwealth Bay in perfect weather, light winds and cloud cover, ending our 2,500 kms journey from Australia. After a quick coffee we started the helicopter shuttle.

It took us two hours and about seven helicopter trips to transfer the 10 members of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation 2009/10 Expedition, laden with polar clothing, survival packs and work equipment. There were also 14 caged pallets of food, scientific equipment, generators, fuel and building materials for the restoration work.

I was fortunate to go back up in the helicopter for about 20 minutes while my colleague Dr. Peter Morse was shooting video footage for a documentary.

Aerial shot of the huts Sir Douglas Mawson and his team lived in during their 1911-13 expedition

I had a bird’s eye view of the Cape Denison coast, where I saw deep cracks in the ice cliffs and my first sight of Mawson’s huts, half buried under snow and ice from the Antarctic winter. With everything firmly planted on the ice, the pilot waved us goodbye as he hovered overhead.

We quickly unpacked equipment so that we could get indoors and get properly clothed as fast as possible, then erected tents, dug a freezer cave for our frozen foods and unpacked pallets. There is still a few days work unpacking the pallets.

By about 9 a.m. we were sitting down to a steaming bowl of Egyptian lentil soup made by one of the team — it was delicious and just what was needed to warm up.
The rest of the day passed very quickly and included a walk to Mawson’s huts. The main hut and workshop are pretty well exposed and there’ll be no problems getting access to restore them, says expedition leader Tony Stewart. Some of the group did a water run to Alga Lake to secure some freshly melted Antarctic snow. Most people have now gone to bed and it’s time for me to join the slumber party. Good night.

Aerial shot of the Astrolabe in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Iceberg a 'once-in-a-lifetime' sighting


A giant iceberg - 19km long - drifting towards Western Australia has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime rarity for both its size and the length of its journey.

The iceberg, known as B17B, is currently 1,700km from Australia's west coast on a lengthy and laborious journey from Antarctica.

It is one of the biggest icebergs ever seen in that part of the world and has amazed scientists for having maintained its impressive size without breaking apart.

"It's very rare, uncommon, but not unusual," Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Dr Neal Young told AAP on Wednesday.

"Icebergs do come from time to time and they can be very big, but it can be a long time before we spot one - so it's really a once-in-a-lifetime sighting."

Originally three-times its current size, the iceberg broke off Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 along with a slew of others.

The iceberg has since travelled thousands of kilometres and a third of the way around Antarctica thanks to ocean currents and winds.

It stayed completely still in one spot for about five years.

As it makes its way slowly north towards Australia, the iceberg is likely to split into smaller pieces as it gets closer - if it comes this way at all, Dr Young said.

Dr Young originally spotted the iceberg using satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency.

The iceberg is 19km by 8km, equating to an area of 140 square kilometres - roughly double the size of Sydney Harbour.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Zealand fears tourism disaster in Antarctica

New rules are needed for tourist ships visiting Antarctica to prevent a disaster in the world's most isolated region, according to New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.

"I am greatly concerned that unless we take action, there will be a serious maritime casualty involving a tourist vessel in Antarctica, and we will be faced with a humanitarian and environmental disaster," McCully said.

A three-day meeting started in Wellington Wednesday of about 80 experts from the 47 Antarctic Treaty countries, aimed at drawing up new regulations for tourist ships visiting Antarctica.

McCully told the meeting that four tourist ships had run aground in the past three years, and 154 people had to be rescued by a nearby vessel after the Canadian-owned Explorer sank after hitting an iceberg in 2007.

"We were lucky. No one was lost in that incident, but the fact that there have not been more serious consequences owes more to good luck than good management," he said in a speech.

"Clearly, we are on borrowed time."

The number of annual visitors in tourist ships has quadrupled to around 46,000 over the last 15 years, and there are concerns some of the ships are not suitable for the extreme conditions.

The meeting is expected to come up with recommendations on the types of ships that can be used in Antarctic waters, and whether they should be required to sail with another ship nearby for safety's sake.

Other recommendations will be aimed at ensuring the Antarctic environment remains pristine, including whether to ban the use of heavy fuel oil, which if leaked could have a devastating impact on wildlife.

The experts' recommendations will go to a meeting of Antarctic Treaty members in Uruguay in May next year.

Source AAP

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Team hunts for Mawson's historic plane


A heavy duty metal detector is being brought into Antarctica to scan for a plane used by Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

He took the flying machine to Antarctica in 1911 and the Mawson's Huts Foundation wants to find it.

The search for Sir Douglas' plane has captured the imagination of Tony Stewart, who is leading the team of expeditioners who will spend this summer down at Commonwealth Bay.

Full Story

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One Ocean Expeditions secures expedition ship ‘Akademik Ioffe’

ANTARCTICA 2010

Canada-based ONE OCEAN EXPEDITIONS, represented by ACTIVE TRAVEL, has announced a significant coup for the forthcoming 2010 Antarctic season.

Commencing 16 January 2010, ONE OCEAN will operate the well-known Russian research vessel, Akademik Ioffe, formerly chartered by US-based Quark Expeditions.

ONE OCEAN'S CEO and ex-Australian resident, Andrew Prossin, said " Akademik Ioffe has been sold in the Australian market for years. I worked with this vessel for many seasons and in my opinion she is the best-equipped Antarctic expedition vessel in the world. I am delighted to have secured her for the 2009/10 Antarctic season".

The Akademik Ioffe was commissioned by the Soviets in 1989 and was originally designed as high-tech "spy ship". She was never really used for that purpose however her sophisticated ballast systems and ultra-quiet engines make her an ideal vessel for polar exploration. According to Prossin, she is "about as quiet and vibration free as they come".

Andrew Prossin is a veteran of approx 150 voyages in Polar regions and is at the forefront of polar innovation. Some years ago he introduced sea-kayaking options to the Australian market and his 2010 programmes contain a number of creative options. First, he will reduce passenger numbers from 110 to 86, providing the highest staff/client ratio in the industry. Secondly, each voyage includes four 'Adventure Concierges', setting new standards for customer service. Their role is simply to engage with passengers at whatever level is required, to ensure they get the best from their Antarctic adventure.

ONE OCEAN is also unique in the expedition cruise industry by offering a wide variety of options to clients every time they leave the ship. These include sea-kayaking, guided hikes, zodiac cruises, bird-watching programmes – with passengers able to choose their preferred activity each time they go ashore. And an overnight adventure camping option (normally over A$200) is free of charge including all necessary gear.

By reducing passenger numbers from 110 to 86, there is considerable extra space on board. Each expedition will now include a massage therapist and a new onboard spa will provide a variety of relaxing and therapeutic services at an additional cost. The company has also developed an 'Active Cruising' programme, bringing fitness and adventure together into a unique package. An onboard personal trainer will offer a regular programme of fitness and training sessions so that participants are well prepared for daily activities – and for the delicious meals prepared by the Canadian chef!

Five expeditions are offered next year, including three 10 night cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, a 12 night expedition to the South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula and an 18 night trip to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.

For brochures and further information contact ACTIVE TRAVEL on 02-9264 1231 or visit www.activetravel.com.au.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

FOOD CACHE FOR 1911-14 AUSTRALASIAN ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION FOUND AFTER NEARLY 100 YEARS


A food depot established by the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) led by the legendary Sir Douglas Mawson, has been discovered nearly 100 years later by a small team of explorers led by Greg Mortimer, founder of Aurora Expeditions.

The cache is at Madigan Nunatak (Nunatak is the Antarctic term for a rocky peak surrounded by ice), named after Cecil Madigan, a geologist with Mawson’s AAE who established the food store in case of emergency for sledging parties.

Found this week, it is 70 kms east-south east of Cape Denison which was the AAE’s base for two years and which is now being conserved by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation which currently has a team of eight working on Mawson’s Huts for the next four weeks.

Mortimer, the managing director of Aurora Expeditions and a member of the first Australian team to climb Mt Everest., flew by helicopter from his ship the Marina Svetaeva, which is carrying 100 passengers on an Antarctic cruise to Mawson’s Huts. On board is a grand-daughter of Madigan, Julia Butler.

Attempts to find Madigan Nunatak in the 1980’s failed with ice covering the rocky peak and only a long bamboo pole protruding from the cache sighted in 1985.

“I have been trying to get to Madigan Nunatak for years” said Mortimer from onboard the Marina Svetaeva. “This year we were in the right place at the right time.”

“It was a tiny ridge in the white expanse of the polar plateau about 2400 feet above sea level. We observed a cairn surmounted by a tin consistent in shape and construction with kerosene tins associated with the AAE” he said. “The tin contains at least three calico bags held in place by a rock. One contains white powder, probably flour and the other a brown substance, possibly pemmican (a food mix favoured by the AAE on sledging parties).

The long bamboo pole which marked the spot for the AAE still remains but now lies on the rocks.

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation team which was landed by a Marina Svetaeva eight days ago is carrying out an extensive works programme which includes locating the first aircraft ever taken to the Antarctic and fitting out a special laboratory to conserve the thousands of artefacts left inside the hut when the AAE left for home in December 1913.

Aurora Expeditions Antarctic Adventures 2009/10


Aurora Expeditions 2009/2010 Antarctic season features thirteen expeditions on two ice-strengthened vessels that offer camping, kayaking, climbing and helicopter excursions, as well as unequalled wildlife viewing opportunities on the great white continent.

In its ongoing quest to provide the most extraordinary adventures in Antarctica, Aurora Expeditions is offering thirteen itineraries for the 2009/2010 Antarctic season between November 2009 and March 2010, showcasing the beauty, remoteness, history and wildlife of the frozen south and offering the most comprehensive program of adventure activities of any Antarctic tour operator.

Whether travellers want to see the tallest penguins in the world; paddle a kayak in clear waters dotted with icebergs; scuba dive in the remotest place on earth, or follow in the footsteps of the great explorers, Aurora has an expedition that will match their wildest dreams.

Aurora’s 54 passenger ice-strengthened ship Polar Pioneer will undertake ten voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula during the season; while the 100 passenger ice-strengthened and helicopter equipped Marina Svetaeva will make three voyages to ‘Deep Antarctica’ including Commonwealth Bay and the Ross Sea.

While not luxury vessels, both ships provide simple, comfortable accommodation with meals prepared by Western chefs. All voyages include all meals on board, shore excursions, and an in-depth education program with expert commentary and talks by Aurora’s team of naturalists, historians, geologists, expedition staff and special guest lecturers.

The small group size makes it possible for all passengers to go ashore at every landing, allows the wildlife to be observed without disturbance and makes for more relaxed visits to historic sites and scientific stations. The maneuverability of these smaller vessels, along with a fleet of inflatable Zodiacs, allows travellers to visit places conventional ships cannot reach.

Unlike some other operators, Aurora is not concerned with hairdryers, bathrobes, spa treatments, dress codes or room service – the emphasis of its expeditions are on true exploration and discovery in some of the most extreme wildernesses on the planet.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the warmest and most accessible region of the frozen continent, reached by two days sailing from Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of Argentina. In addition to witnessing the most amazing wildlife spectacle on earth, for intrepid travellers, Aurora offers adventure options in the Antarctic Peninsula such as sea-kayaking, camping overnight on the ice, climbing and scuba diving.

The 12-day ‘Antarctic Peninsula for Climbers and Kayakers’ (7 -18 December 2009) voyage offers the chance to climb icebergs and unclimbed peaks or paddle in pristine waters led by some of the world’s most experienced mountain climbers and guides.

The 12-day ‘Across the Circle’ (16 – 27 February 2010) voyage includes the opportunity to scuba dive amongst glaciers and gigantic icebergs and meet seals and penguins in their element in a once-in-a-lifetime underwater adventure.

The 20-day ‘Shackleton Odyssey’, (27 February – 18 March 2010) voyage retraces the epic journey of the great explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and offers the option for experienced climbers to repeat his alpine crossing on foot from King Haakon Bay to the now deserted whaling station at Stromness.

Voyages will also visit scientific bases and historic sites. Prices for Antarctic Peninsula voyages start at US$5990 (ex-Ushuaia) per person triple share.

‘Deep Antarctica’, the most southerly region accessible by ship, stretches from the Ross Ice Shelf to Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctica. It’s a wild place guarded by pack ice and is reached four days sailing across the Southern Ocean from Australia or New Zealand. This area is the stuff of polar legend, with century-old huts and base camps that are literally frozen in time. Voyages also plan to call in at two or three sub-Antarctic islands – home to millions of royal, king and other penguin species, several species of albatross, snorting elephant seals and frisky fur seals.

The 27-day ‘Mawson’s Antarctica’ (11 December 2009 – 6 January 2010) voyage to Commonwealth Bay departs from Hobart, visiting the wildlife-rich sub-Antarctic islands on route to Cape Denison, site of Mawson’s historic hut, and the French Antarctic base, Dumont D’Urville.

The two 26-day ‘Ross Sea Explorer’ expeditions will depart from Hobart (7 January – 1 February 2010, returning to Bluff New Zealand) and Bluff, New Zealand (2 February – 27 February 2010, returning to Hobart). These expeditions aim to sail to the Ross Ice Shelf, dry valleys, and historic huts of explorers Scott and Shackleton. Helicopter excursions are included on all voyages to Deep Antarctica.

Prices for all three voyages start at US$12,590 per person quad share.

Although suitable for people of all ages and physical abilities, these are not ordinary cruises. Weather and ice, not clocks and calendars, set the schedule for a journey here. In the spirit of exploration, landings and activities will depend on ice, sea and weather conditions and the daily schedule may change in line with the dynamic environment.

Aurora Expeditions is a licensed travel agent who can arrange competitive airfares and pre and post touring options in conjunction with these voyages.

For further information contact Aurora Expeditions on 1800 637 688 or visit www.auroraexpeditions.com.au

Orion expeditions to Sub-Antarctic islands

Immerse yourself in some of our planet's most extraordinary biodiversity. 

Protected by the Southern Ocean, secluded and seldom visited, the Australian and New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands, recognized by UNESCO as one of the worlds' precious regions of unique biodiversity, will be visited by the expedition cruise ship Orion in December, 2009.

Today these remote nature reserves enjoy World Heritage status, recognised for their volcanic and glacial geological formations and extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna - much of which endangered or recovering since being discovered and later plundered in the late 1700's and early 1800's by sealers and whalers.

Home to over half of the world's seabirds, some of which exist nowhere else, this wildlife paradise contains 40% of the world's albatross species and 50% of the world's penguin species including the endangered yellow-eyed penguin, plus hundreds of thousands of other endemic birds - petrels, prions and cormorants. 

The expedition team will include the highly respected British zoologist and naturalist Dr John Sparks, who travelled to Antarctica onboard Orion in 2006.  

At Snares there is every expectation guests will see Sooty Shearwaters, the endemic Snares Crested Penguins, Snares Fernbird and Tomtits.  On Enderby Island expect to see pipits, parakeets and plovers, Hooker's Sea Lions, and perhaps even the Auckland Island Flightless Teal and Sub-Antarctic Snipe. Campbell Island, home to the Southern Royal Albatrosses, has the highest diversity of breeding albatrosses of any island in the world. 

And then there are plant species that have to be seen to be believed, including 5 meter high tree daisies on Snares, giants compared to their relatives in more temperate climates. 

With convenient embarkation in Bluff (Invercargill, New Zealand) or Hobart, Orion will head south to visit (depending on voyage) Macquarie, Campbell, Stewart, Snares and Auckland islands as well as spending time exploring New Zealand's beautiful Fjordlands (including Milford and Doubtful Sounds).  

These two expeditions to the Sub-Antarctic islands are designed for nature lovers and photographers alike. The remnants of the old whaling station on Macquarie Island, the high cliffs and numerous caves and arches formed by marine erosion on Campbell Island and the enormous sea stacks on the southern peninsulas of Snares present dramatic contrast to the prolific bird life, penguins, seals, sea lions and flora in this remote sanctuary. 
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Dr John Sparks has travelled all over the world making wildlife films, including five with Sir David Attenborough; he has written 11 books and visited Antarctica on many occasions. Details available at www.johnsparks.org 
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Orion Fares Guide:

13 night Sub-Antarctic Adventure –departs Hobart 1 December 2009 or Bluff (Invercargill) NZ  14 December 2009. Itineraries vary.

Fares from $10,630 per person twin share for an ocean view Category B stateroom

Suites from $14,660 per person twin share for a Junior Suite

Owners' Suites with French Balcony are $22,265 per person twin share 

Ranked #2 expedition cruise ship in the world in the current Berlitz Cruise Guide, Orion is the world's latest purpose-built luxury expedition cruise ship, featuring an unmatched range of onboard facilities. 

With 75 crew and a maximum of just 106 passengers Orion offers the highest staff to guest ratio and guest to public space ratio of any ship based in Australian waters. 
 
Further information on all Orion Expedition Cruises to Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Asia, New Zealand, the Kimberley and Arnhem Land can be obtained by visiting the website www.orionexpeditions.com  

For reservations or to obtain a brochure call Orion Expedition Cruises: 61-2 9033 8777 (Sydney callers) 1300 361 012 (regional and interstate) or your travel agent. Email: info@orioncruises.com.au 

New Ship for Antarctica


Clelia II
(100 Passengers)

To be re-launched early in 2009 (constructed 1991) for Antarctica expeditions, the all-suite luxury ship Clelia II was extensively refurbished, redecorated and otherwise improved to offer the finest in small-ship cruise travel. This private, yacht-like, ice-strengthened expedition ship accommodates only 100 guests in 50 suites. Each suite provides ocean views, measures 215 square feet or more, and includes a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, spacious closets, air conditioning.

Amenities

Decorated with rich fabrics, handsome wood, polished brass, rare antiquities and fine works of art, the yacht’s public spaces are warm and inviting. These include:

• Library with Internet access
• 2 Lounges with audiovisual facilities
• State-of-the-art gym/spa
• Beauty salon
• Boutique
• Hospital
• Elevator serving all passenger decks
• Dining room
• Two sun decks
• Jacuzzi
• Swimming platform

Clelia II complies with the latest international and U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations and is outfitted with the most current navigational and communications technology as well as with retractable fin stabilizers for smooth sailing, an ice-strengthened hull and a fleet of Zodiacs. Clelia II is staffed by 60 European officers and crew. Taken together with her limited guest capacity, excellence of design, craftsmanship and material, Clelia II's spaciousness and intimate ambience combine to make her ideal for distinctive cultural and expedition voyages.

Specifications:

Length: 290 ft
Beam: 50 ft
Draft: 12 ft
Gross Tonnage: 4200

The Clelia II will be operated by Polar Cruises of Oregon, USA and can be booked in Australia by Cruise Traveller.

Cruise West to Antarctica

Seattle, WA - Continuing to add exciting new destinations to its global offerings, exploration cruise line Cruise West (http://www.cruisewest.com) is pleased to announce that it is adding an exclusive, 19-night Antarctica expedition to its product line-up for 2010.

On board the 114-guest, all-suite Corinthian II, a very select group of guests will have the opportunity to explore the very best that the most remote continent on earth has to offer. Ports of calls and sites include the Falkland, South Georgia and Orkney Islands as well as the Antarctic Peninsula and the myriad of islands that dot its shore.

"Cruise West is making a conscientious effort to keep itinerary offerings fresh and intriguing," said President and CEO Dietmar R. Wertanzl. "We are seeking out destinations that complement our core products, create excitement for repeat guests and appeal to new guests - so introducing Antarctica was a natural progression. The Corinthian II is a sister ship to our Spirit of Oceanus, so we know our repeat guests will feel right at home."

Diversity - in cultures, landscape and temperatures - will be one of the hallmarks of this maiden voyage as guests begin their adventure in luxury at the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel in Buenos Aires before departing for the quaint, southernmost city in South America, Ushuaia.

After boarding the Corinthian II, guests will gain fascinating insight on the flora, fauna, history and geology via presentations by an expert staff of eight naturalists. In the tradition of Cruise West's up-close, casual and personal style, guests will have extraordinary opportunities to view Rockhopper penguins in the remote British outpost of the Falkland Islands; thousands of King penguins and nesting grounds of wandering albatross in South Georgia, while simultaneously admiring the water-loving larger species of whales, fur seals, elephant seals and the icebergs and glaciers that surround them.

Antarctica, owned by no country but managed under a 46-country scientific treaty, is the fifth largest continent on the planet while remaining the least populated. Its exotic remoteness combined with legendary stories of exploration and adventure spur on the fantasies of armchair travelers and documentary-watchers all over the globe; for 114 Cruise West guests, the fantasy has now become an attainable reality.

Cruise West's 19-night maiden voyage to Antarctica will depart February 7, 2010. Prices start at $13,899 (US dollars); save $1,000/person, based on double occupancy, by booking and paying in full by May 1, 2009.

To learn more about this itinerary or other Cruise West voyages, consumers are encouraged to attend one of the company's online live presentations - Visit http://www.cruisewest.com/presentations to view the schedule.

More information about advance reservations for this itinerary - as well as Cruise West's other itineraries to destinations as diverse as Alaska, Panama and Costa Rica, Mexico's Sea of Cortes, Japan, Vietnam, the Galapagos, the Pacific Northwest or the romantic rivers of Europe - can be found online at www.cruisewest.com, by calling 1-800-296-8307 or contact a Travel Professional.

www.cruisewest.com

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tourists burn a trail to Australian Antarctic outpost

By Pauline Askin - Reuters Life

An isolated Australian outpost in remote Antarctica has become a popular destination for adventure-seeking tourists, as more tour operators put it on their itinerary for more than just researchers.

The 97-year-old Mawson's Hut, in Cape Denison at Commonwealth Bay, was home to Sir Douglas Mawson and his men during the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

It had more than 300 visitors in December -- a record number -- with another 100 expected on the last ship that arrives around January 23.

"It's becoming a more popular tourist destination, I think, because it's part of an increasing trend in Antarctic tourism," Bruce Hull, senior environment officer at the Australia's Antarctic Division, told Reuters.

"By the time the fifth ship arrives at Cape Denison between the 20th and 23rd of January, I think the numbers will be about 400 visitors for 2008/09," he added.

This compares with about 260 visitors in 2006/07, and about 200 visitors in 2000/01.

The gruelling sea and icy conditions makes the six-day passage across the Southern Ocean attractive to only the most daring type of traveler. Four companies, from Australia, New Zealand and Germany, go down to Cape Denison and Hull said the ships posed no threat to the environment.

"All activities in Antarctica are subject to an environmental assessment and each tourist expedition is subject to that," he said. "On the whole most tourist ventures are assessed as less than minor or transitory."

Mawson dubbed Cape Denison the "Home of Blizzards" because of its severe climate and the area is only accessible for a ten-week period, between mid-December and mid-February, when weather conditions are less inhospitable.

Chris Perkins, sales and marketing manager for Orion Expedition Cruises which runs trips to Cape Denison, said Mawson's Hut was a part of Australian history that had now become slightly more accessible.

"It's becoming more popular because more operators are providing ways to get down there. Five or ten years ago it was very difficult, only research ships went there," he explained.

"It's one of the most exclusive and difficult places on the planet to get to. Mawson's Hut is part of Australian history, it's preserved in ice basically, it's kind of like a time capsule," Perkins said.

The average age of visitors to Mawson's Hut is about 45-55 years old, and travelers need to be certified fit by a doctor to be able to go there.

There are also strict quarantine guidelines -- tourists are required to wash and disinfect their boots before they go ashore and clothes and baggage must be checked for seeds and other agricultural items.

Since the beginning of the modern Antarctic tourism industry in 1969, the number of tourists in Antarctica has grown from a few hundred to more than 30,000 each year, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.