DESTINATION ANTARCTICA: Why (and how)

Three weeks ago on a long haul flight from London to LA, I was reading through one of my favourite magazines, National Geographic Traveller, when I realised two things:

–          When I am able to make a big decision within minutes, it’s always the right one

–          Identifying what makes you happy and recognising the benefit of hard work are key to making your dreams come true

I was reading an article by Ben Lerwill who had returned from ‘Destination Antarctica’ earlier in the year and before I reached the last page I felt the little butterflies of excitement in my stomach that I now recognise as the prelude to ‘a big, impulsive decision’.  By the time I finished the article, I had decided I was going to Antarctica this year.

Decisions that appear ‘impulsive’ on the outside have always been the best decisions I’ve made in life.  I’m not talking about the decision to buy the expensive dress that has only been worn by the hanger in my closet since, or the ‘one drink after work’ that became the first of many and resulted losing one day of my weekend to a hangover, or even the purchase of that chocolate bar that meant I had to re-start my diet the next day (again)!

I’m talking about the decisions I’ve been able to make in a split second and then plan and execute over a period of time without a moment of regret:  re-locating from Australia to London, buying an apartment, taking a year-long career break, extending my career-break by an additional five months whilst on the road, and taking up the new and expensive hobby of photography when I returned to London with no money.

So why does the decision to Antarctica fall into that category?

A trip to Antarctica is not like deciding to head to Paris for a long weekend.  It’s expensive – ridiculously expensive.  It’s literally at the bottom of the world – remote and cold.  And there is no escape if you change your mind – once you are on the ship there is no turning back.

So why was it such an easy decision?

I have often dreamed of visiting Antarctica and this feeling was recently heightened when I came across BBC’s incredible Frozen Planet documentary.  But I never really thought it was an option – it felt a permanent item on my ‘to do’ list.  At the very least, I thought it was something I might be able to do when I was older, when I had the opportunity to save more money, a retirement holiday as such.

What changed?

It was as simple as asking myself one question – why was I waiting to ‘get older’ to do something I had the funds, health and time to do today?  I didn’t have an adequate answer.  I asked myself a second question (just to be sure)!  Why was I working in a stressful job that I wasn’t passionate about, feeling suffocated by the routine of an office environment, enduring long hours, more recently commuting between LA and London each month and putting my body through an unhealthy state of permanent jetlag?  I had been down this path already, my career break in 2009/2010 had ‘shown me the light’ that it was more important to ‘work to live’ than ‘live to work’, and yet here I was again – losing my footing on the uneven scale of work/life balance.  I had taken a contractor/consulting role in the attempt to avoid falling back into the same traps that had plagued me BCB (‘before career break’) – but it wasn’t working.

Again the answer was simple.    Life doesn’t hand out dreams on a silver platter.  If you want something, you work hard and make sacrifices.  Of course that doesn’t mean sacrificing your sanity and health, but that’s for a different blog post!  But if I was going to see this project role through to the end, I needed a goal and I need something that made it worthwhile.

So the decision was made:  DESTINATION ANTARCTICA.

Why Antarctica?

Antarctica has a different appeal to different people.  I am most excited about turning off my phone, ignoring the internet, and indulging in the great outdoors – the grandfather ‘great outdoors’ of all of the ‘great outdoors’!  I am giddy with excitement at the photographic opportunities this destination will bring and I am already researching ‘photography advice’ to ensure I pack adequately and avoid a repeat of my ‘see if my camera can swim in a glacier lagoon’ experience in Iceland.  The remoteness and uniqueness of the Antarctic landscape and wildlife creates a sense of adventure that both inspires and energises me.

I have read some comments from travellers who have already experienced this destination and the one that has resonates with me most is “it’s like visiting another planet without leaving this one”.  I can’t wait to find out how true that is!

(I’ve only ever taken a photo penguin at the London Zoo – I look forward to updating this with the ‘real thing’)

HOW?

So that is WHY I am going to Antarctica.  But HOW am I going to do it?

When planning a travel adventure, I often start by asking myself a few questions:

  • Will I travel independently, use local guides or join an organised tour?
  • Will I stay in basic accommodation (campsites, hostels, guesthouse or basic hotel) or will I treat myself to something a bit more comfortable?
  • How will I get around when I arrive?  Local transport, tourist transport?
  • What type of clothes do I need to take?

Planning a trip to Antarctica provides some easy answers to these questions

  • Unless I am a scientist and can live and work on base for the summary (unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a great demand for accountants at base camp!), my only option is to join a pre-booked expedition cruise and there are only a handful to choose from
  • There are no hotels in Antarctica.  My home for 20 days will be a ship.
  • How will I get around?  Again, the decision is made for me.  My ‘base’ will be a ship and I will be in an inflatable landing craft called a Zodiac for transfers ashore and ocean-level cruising.
  • It’s Antarctica, it’s cold, I need warm clothes – end of!

After some research into the different routes and expedition leaders, I have decided to join a 20 day polar cruise with Quark Expeditions that begins and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina that will take me through South Georgia, Falkland Islands and Antarctica.  I’ll have a few days in Buenos Aires at the start, arrive in Ushuaia on Christmas Day, spend the next 20 days at sea, and finish with a visit to Iguazu Falls in Argentina.  This promises to be my coldest, most unique and most memorable Christmas holiday ever!

WHAT NEXT

Five months feels a long time to wait for something I am so excited about, but I always enjoy the planning phase of a travel adventure and this is certainly no exception.  This really feels like THE trip of a lifetime and I want to be prepared – a deviation from my usual travel style where I enjoy arriving at a location with few preconceptions.

What do I know so far?

  • There are no permanent residents of Antarctica.  Around 4,000 scientists live at the base in summer (1,000 in winter) and only 30,000 tourists visit the region each year
  • There are no hotels!  Experiencing Antarctica means living on a ship.  I will be aboard the Ocean Diamond, a modern super-yacht that holds up to 189 people.  It includes a polar library and offers a photography program and on-board presentations from an expert team of polar lecturers, so I’m looking forward to some education in addition to the massage and wellness program on offer.  Whilst it’s possible to pay a single supplement for a private cabin, it’s completely outside my budget, so I’ll be sharing a cabin with a ‘new friend I haven’t met yet’!
  • Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in the world, leaving Australia and Europe as the smallest.  It has an area of approximately 14 million square km and is mostly made up of ice.  When I shared my plans with a colleague at work they asked me if this meant I will have visited all seven continents.  I hadn’t thought about it – but yes, it does!  And that’s quite an exciting thought, not because I can ‘tick’ a box labelled ‘travelled to all the continents in the world’ but because it reminds me I’ve been lucky enough to experience the incredible diversity the world has to offer in landscapes, wildlife, architecture, culture, lifestyles and personalities.
  • We will be passing through the Drake Passage, notorious for being one of the roughest passages of water in the world.  I expect to get seasick!
  • Although I will be visiting Antarctica in ‘summer’ it will be cold, with temperatures likely to range between 0 and -30 degrees Celsius and we may experience the contrast of warm sunshine, snow squalls, fog, whiteouts and up to 20 hours of daylight.  Antarctica has recorded the coldest temperature in the world – minus 89.2 degrees Celsius, recorded one winter at Vostok Station
  • There are no polar bears in Antarctica!  But there are seals, 43 species of birds and 17 species of penguins (penguin chicks will be hatching when I am there).

What will I pack?!

Whilst it’s still a bit early to start packing, I’ve thought about a few things.

  • Quark Expeditions provide everyone with a yellow polar parka and I can even take it home with me!  Once less thing to buy before-hand.  They also provide waterproof boots for shore landings, but apparently I need to give those back before I leave…
  • There are no photography shops in between the icebergs!  I think my recent camera disaster in Iceland was a lesson I needed to learn to avoid a similar scenario later in the year.  At this stage I’m planning to pack my Canon 7D and three lenses (10-22mm, 24-105mm, 100-400mm), as many memory cards as I can realistically take, three batteries, my tripod, a backup body (on the lookout for a reasonably priced used camera), and my Panasonic compact digital.  My small and lightweight netbook will be used to backup photos and for some writing whilst travelling.

Five months to go – I’ve never been so excited about a travel destination before!

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. I love making decisions within minutes, it is like we forget all of the stuff that holds us back and we just choose what we truly want. Congratulations.

    • Kellie Netherwood says:

      Thanks Ayngelina – yes, it’s such a liberating feeling! I think it’s why we all love travel so much, it gives us so many opportunities to do just that and sometimes even forces a sudden decision on us. Happy travels 🙂

  2. I envy you this trip for two reasons; 1. If you’re on a yacht, presumably there will be some sailing with sails and not engines – you will experience the quiet – we didn’t have that on the SA Agulhas. 2. You’ll be getting about in a Zodiac which we also didn’t do. I’ll be following your blog with great interest.

  3. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the Antarctica trip! I’m also excited about the Arctic next year, so it’s great to hear you enjoyed that one as well. Happy travels in 2013!

  4. This is a big trip that’s also on my bucket list. I wish you safe and exciting travels! Happy New Year!

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