An Introduction to Antarctica

An Introduction to Antarctica
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[email protected]
The immense ice-shrouded
wilderness of Antarctica
is a winter wonderland
which defies our senses.
Remote, inaccessible and harsh, yet utterly beguiling, long has Antarctica’s
incomparable scenery, exotic cast of wildlife and rich history beckoned the
intrepid traveller.
Antarctica is said to be the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth,
but this does an injustice to its compelling draw cards for the visitor,
while ignoring the ability to experience this extraordinary region from the
comfort of an ice strengthened expeditionary boat.
Steppes Travel was one of the first UK Tour Operators to offer holidays
to Antarctica nearly ten years ago. Since then we’ve built an impressive
reputation based on detailed first-hand knowledge and forged longstanding partnerships with all the leading small ship boat operators. Our
main Antarctic specialists have over 20 years of Antarctic experience
between them and have both visited the Peninsula.
From the spectacular ice-choked channels of the Antarctic Peninsula,
to the stark beauty and historic huts of The Ross Sea, whether you want
an express ‘Fly & Cruise’ or an extended voyage to cross the intangible
Antarctic Circle, we have one of the broadest ranges of Antarctic cruises
Why Book with Steppes?
With 20 years experience of offering polar trips, we provide unparalleled first-hand knowledge, including tips and useful pointers you simply won’t find in any guidebook or website:
Friendly, helpful and objective advice, backed up by many years of experience
Unrivalled in-depth knowledge of the boats, many we’ve either sailed on or personally inspected
Invaluable advice on which are the best cabins and which to be avoided on each ship
Adept at cutting through the bewildering maze of options and matching you to the right boat and cabin
Booking with Steppes Travel you can be assured your money is safe; we offer a fully inclusive service with flights and pre and post
voyage accommodation, which will give you full ATOL protection. All our flight options also include complimentary airline failure
All the boats we offer are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and have agreed to
abide by one of tourism’s most conscientious codes of conduct.
Antarctica map
What is Expeditionary Cruising?
If you think cruising is only about huge ships docking in small ports and disgorging thousands
of passengers, then think again.
Expeditionary voyages are everything traditional cruising is not:
We offer a comprehensive range
of smaller sized ice-strengthened
boats, which accommodate between
20 – 128 passengers providing a
very intimate, personalised Arctic
All landings are accompanied by
your expeditionary staff, and if time
permits they will also offer a variety
of lectures, providing a strong
educational dimension to the whole
Active - Daily landings by zodiac
allowing you to really experience the
Arctic. Typically includes plenty of
opportunity to spend time exploring
the tundra with walks to suit all
The more adventurous may wish
to consider exploring sea kayak or
diving which are offered on select
departures along with a specialist led
photographic cruise.
When to Go?
The Antarctic summer season is quite short, running from late October through to mid March. There are seasonal nuances and the
timing of your trip may be influenced by what you are hoping to see:
Early in the season you are likely to encounter larger amounts of snow and icebergs will be at their most spectacular. This is the time of
year when courtship is in full swing and in the penguin rookeries you will see birds displaying and nest building. In South Georgia and the
Falklands, the spring flowers bloom and the fur seals will also be courting. This is the ideal time to be visiting the Sub-Antarctic Islands
for bird watching.
This is when Antarctica is at its warmest and wildlife at their most active; you will also have the advantage of up to 24 hours of daylight.
The penguin chicks in the more northerly latitudes hatch first with those on the peninsula mainly hatching around mid December. This
is the height of the season and coincides with the highest cabin fares. Expeditions from Australasia to the Ross Sea and East Antarctica
depart during this season.
These two months are traditionally known as the best for those interested in whale watching as they are likely to be seen in their most
prolific numbers. The penguin rookeries will be busy with adult birds bringing in krill for their fast growing chicks, most of which will
fledge in late February to early March. Leopard seal pups provide drama as they cut their teeth and hone hunting skills. By late summer
the sea ice will have broken up making navigation further south easier, while the soft, low light can be ideal for photography.
Life on board
There is no average day onboard an expeditionary boat as the day’s activities will be very much
determined by the prevailing weather conditions, ice and the wildlife encountered. Flexibility
here is the key. If you are looking for a strict and structured itinerary then this is not the
destination for you!
Early morning call is normally around 07:00 with an update on
the weather conditions and the morning’s anticipated excursion
(landing). However the start of the day can be earlier, with an
excited call of “whales spotted on the starboard bow” or something
similarly enticing. Always be prepared to change quickly and have
your camera ready for these occasions and you will be rewarded,
no one will notice morning hair or odd socks pulled on in a hurry!
Breakfast is typically a buffet affair with a range of cereals, fresh
fruit, breads and a cooked option. There will be a briefing regarding
the morning excursion: what the options are, how long the zodiac
cruise is likely to be and what the team hope you will encounter.
Standing at the top of the gangplank for the first time can be
daunting, but you will soon learn to always keep one hand to rail,
the sailors grip and the step, step, sit shuffle, shuffle for a safe and
quick entry into your zodiac.
Once in your zodiac you may find yourself cruising along the
front of a magnificent glacier with birds swirling above your head
and rafts of penguins porpoiseing alongside. Watch penguins, the
clowns of Antarctica, gather on the ice edge plucking up courage
to jump into the abyss, knowing there is a leopard seal patrolling
below. When the penguins return, they gather under the surface
before rocketing to the surface like little torpedo’s and hurling
themselves onto the rocks and ice, often landing in a comical
ungainly heap.
On land, you may find yourself climbing up a steep snowy bank
where you will be rewarded with a view far into the distance, over
glaciers to snow capped peaks, while out at sea you watch a group
of curious humpbacks as they circle your ship, wondering who
these aliens are. Perhaps you will prefer to sit quietly on the edge
of a penguin rookery and watch daily life unfold; they are never
quiet with constant bickering and stone stealing for their nests
going on.
Reluctantly, you return to the mothership by zodiac in time
for a warming lunch. While you eat, the captain will be skilfully
manoeuvring the ship to your next destination, ready for the
afternoon’s excursion. While the ship is repositioning, spend
time out on the deck watching the elegant pintados glide on the
updrafts created by your wake, or go to the bridge, which is often
one of the best places to spot whales, where you can look at the
nautical charts or just watch as the ship weaves between towering
What will this afternoon’s excursion bring? An inquisitive Minke
whale diving beneath your zodiac or encounter a crabeater or
leopard seal relaxing on a slab of ice?
Maybe you will be lucky enough to see an iceberg calving, one
moment calm then the next with a great whoosh turning and
rebalancing itself, exposing the beautifully ridged and rippled
underside in blue hues you never knew existed. Alternatively you
may encounter one of the Antarctic deep fogs, with icebergs
looming out of the mist evoking thoughts of those who explored
this region before Gortex and fleeces; many of the bays, glaciers
and mountains around you are named after them.
After a good hearty three course meal, most passengers are ready
to head for their cabins for an early night, while the hardier may
have opportunity to forsake their cabin to camp out for a night on
this great continent. An unforgettable experience!
What Wildlife will I see?
These inquisitive, endearing birds can be found in huge numbers across the Antarctic
continent and where you go will determine what species you will see. The Antarctic
Peninsula harbours Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo in great numbers and Macaroni’s
in smaller numbers. Some of the penguin colonies number into the hundreds of
thousands. You will have plenty of opportunity to visit these colonies and watch
their clownish antics during the course of your voyage. In South Georgia and the
Falkland Islands, you will encounter vast colonies of King Penguins, along with gaudy
Rock Hoppers. If you visit some of the Sub Antarctic Islands you can see a number
of endemic species including the Snares Crested, Erect Crested and Royal Penguin.
All whale species found in Antarctic waters migrate long distances to feed in the
cold, nutrient-rich Southern Oceans during the austral summer before heading to
warmer northern waters to breed and give birth to their young during the winter
months. If you visit the Antarctic Peninsula you can expect frequent encounters
with Humpbacks and Minke whales as they are often very curious of the main ship
and also the zodiacs. You may also encounter Orcas (Killer Whales) that patrol the
waters hunting seal pups and penguins. Southern Right Whales and Sperm Whales
are visitors to the region, migrating south from Latin America and South Africa. On
voyages with long sea crossing you may encounter Fin and Sei whales, and if you are
very privileged a rare sighting of the largest species of all, the Blue Whale.
Of the six Antarctic seal species, four are ice habitat specialists, breeding on the sea ice
in spring. Leopard and Ross seals tend to be solitary, whereas Weddell and Crabeater
seals form loose breeding aggregations. The Leopard Seal is Antarctica’s top penguin
predator, growing up to just over 3 meters. Antarctic fur seals and elephant seals are both
found north of the pack-ice zone and breed in dense colonies on beaches. Here dominant
males (bulls) maintain harems of females (cows) in territories. In constantly defending
these, bulls will not forage at sea, relying instead on blubber reserves laid down in the
previous winter. All seals breed annually and the timing of pup production and associated
behaviour is linked to habitat and ecology. Mating occurs after pupping, though a
fertilised egg will not implant in the uterus until later in the year.
For birders, other than the obvious penguins colonies, the islands
around Antarctica offer some spectacular opportunities to get close to
many species. The Wandering Albatross is the largest of seabirds, with
a staggering wing span reaching 3 metres and a body mass of 8 –12 kg.
They arrive in South Georgia in November to breed in loose colonies
on flat grasslands. The chicks hatch in April and are reared throughout
the winter, and then they fledge during November and December. The
Falkland Islands are home to 65% of the world’s Black-browed Albatross
population, while South Georgia hosts Grey-Headed and the LightMantled Sooty Albatross.
How cold will it be?
Probably not as cold as you imagine as you will be travelling during the austral summer. There is very little change in temperature
between day and night, which usually hovers around 0 – 5 degrees. The wind chill however can make this feel considerably cooler! For
land based expeditions and South Pole trips the temperatures will be much colder, we will advise on the specific requirements for each
Do I need to purchase specialist equipment or clothing?
The good news is that you don’t need to spend lots of money on specialist equipment, but a good set of thermals will be a worthwhile
investment. A good quality outer jacket and waterproof over trousers are also essential. On some voyages it’s possible to hire jackets, and
wellington boots are generally available on loan. Some vessels provide you with a complimentary expedition equipment, we will advise on
the specific requirements for each expedition.
How fit do I need to be?
This is an active voyage involving walking excursions (not necessarily long, but over broken ground) and zodiac cruises. To be able to get
the most out of your voyage you should be in good general health. In order to join the excursions, you must be able to get in and out of
the zodiacs. Please note that none of these ships have an internal lift system between decks and stairs on ships tend to be steep. Each
ship has a dedicated doctor on board who accompanies all excursions and is available on call. You will be required to complete a medical
questionnaire, this is not designed to stop you from travelling simply provide accurate information to the resident Dr.
Please be aware that in the case of a medical emergency, due to its geographical remoteness, helicopter rescue from Antarctica is not
available. In an emergency, the ship would head directly for the nearest port, which could be up to 2 days sail away, from where a hospital
transfer will be arranged.
Am I too old?
The simple answer is ‘No’, there is no maximum age restriction, your health and general outlook on life being far more relevant criteria.
Many of our clients over the years have been well into their seventies and eighties.
Is Antarctica suitable for children/families?
Antarctica will undoubtedly make a lasting impression on a child; however we would discourage travellers under the age of 12. These
voyages simply don’t cater for children and don’t offer any specific activities for children, child minding services, a child friendly food
menu or smaller life preservers.
Will I suffer for Sea Sickness?
As you will possibly be crossing the Drake Passage twice you should anticipate potentially rough seas at some stage on the voyage.
Should you be prone to motion or sea sickness, we suggest consulting your local pharmacy or GP for advice on anti-seasickness
medication. ‘How rough is the Drake Passage?’ is an often asked question for many potential Antarctica travellers. It’s a tricky one as
the crossings can be anything from a millpond to a force eleven hurricane, the latter being the less common, around 1 in 10 crossings are
stormy. Ultimately it’s down to a little luck, but most people find that their own experience wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. We
can certainly help to hopefully reduce concern by recommending boats known for their stability. For those still worried, it’s possible to
avoid sailing the Drake Passage altogether by taking a 2 hour flight rather than undertaking a 2-day seas journey, see the Fly & Cruise
option for details.
Single travellers
As these voyages offer a collective experience in the company of like-minded people, they’re very well suited for single travellers. You
have the option to either share a triple or twin same sex or to cover the supplement to secure your own cabin. If sharing, a cabin mate will
be allocated to you by the boat operator.
Do I need to pack a jacket & tie/cocktail dress?
Dress code on board the boat is very informal and leans strongly towards the practical. When not undertaking excursions, people dress
casually, even for dinner in the evenings. You may want a smarter shirt for the captain’s dinner on the final night. The boat itself is always
warm inside.
Can I contact the outside world?
One of the great bonuses of travelling in this region is there is no mobile phone signal. If necessary it is possible to make outgoing calls
by satellite phone and you can send and receive emails via the ship’s email address, all of which is charged to your tab. Rejoice in the
If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call, we would be delighted to
help and assist you in making the right decisions.
What are my choices?
Below is a brief overview of some of our Antarctic voyages, for more detailed itineraries
please contact us:
Classic Antarctica & South Shetlands
A fantastic adventure encompassing the highlights of the Antarctica Peninsula, the most accessible
part of the White Continent, which offers the best of Antarctica’s dramatic landscape and wildlife in
microcosm. Be warned you may be hooked by this trip & want to return.
Fly & Cruise Antarctica
Access Antarctica in just over 1.5 hours by plane from the toe of Chile, and avoid the +2 days by
ship across the infamous Drake Passage - ideal for those either short of time or poor sailors! Options
include a trip heading south into the Antarctic Circle
Crossing The Antarctic Circle
Of all the Peninsular trips we offer this expedition spends the most time exploring the Antarctic
Peninsula itself. The extra time gives you even more chance to explore by zodiac and on foot. Be one
of only a small handful of people each year to cross the Antarctic Circle.
Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands & South Georgia
One of the world’s greatest voyages combining the history and variety of The Falklands, the
extraordinary density of wildlife of South Georgia, finishing with Antarctica itself as the ‘jewel in
the crown’. This is our most popular departure
South Georgia
Fly into the Falklands Islands and visit the Rock Hopper colonies. Then sail across the Scotia Sea
to South Georgia for an in-depth exploration. Spend seven full days with zodiac cruises and landings at St Andrews Bay and Grytviken to name just a few
Falklands & Antarctica
An alternative fly & cruise option combining the history and King Penguins on the Falklands with
the classic highlights of the Antarctic Peninsula and no sailing across the Drake Passage, fly into
the Falklands & back from Antarctica
Weddell Sea Voyages
Voyage by ice breaker deep into the icepack in and the Weddell Sea, where huge icebergs become
trapped like Shackleton & his men. There is a chance to helicopter into the Emperor Penguin
colonies on Snow Hill Island.
Ross Sea
The remote Ross Sea region of Antarctica is inaccessible but for two months every year when the
ice thaws allowing access to five historic huts of some of the greatest polar explorers. On route
you can explore the Sub-Antarctic islands and their endemic species.
Sailing around Antarctica, the Falkland Islands &
South Georgia
An epic voyage that takes you onwards from the Antarctic Peninsula continuing on through the
Bellinghausen and Amundsen Sea’s to the Ross Sea region where you can visit the historic huts
and onboard helicopters allow for indepth exploration of the interior and it’s Emperor Penguin
Land based adventures
If you don’t fancy an expedition cruise then we can offer a selection of fly in and land based
• Visit the South Pole Base
• Ski the last degree
• Combine the Weddell Sea Snow Hill Emperor Penguin colonies with the South Pole
Mountaineering in Antarctica Footsteps of Amundsen
We are always on the lookout for new and
interesting voyages & expeditions to this vast
region so this is not a comprehensive list of your
options, call us for the most up to date
The Vessels
Spirit of Enderby
Capacity 50 passengers
Small and nimble, capable of reaching places many larger ships cannot
Staffed by extremely knowledgeable personnel
Offers a very authentic and personalised expeditionary voyage
Strong naturalist and birding emphasis
Polar Pioneer
Capacity 54 passengers
A robust, homely vessel small enough to explore places beyond the reach of bigger ships
Authentic, expeditionary ship with ice strengthened capabilities
Choice of 5 different cabins types from shared triples to the captain’s suites, with choice of
private or shared bathroom
Ocean Nova
Capacity 78 passengers
Offers a dedicated single cabin
All cabins have twin lower berths with en suite bathrooms
Spacious observation deck and communal areas
Zodiac platform at water level for easy transfer in and out of the zodiacs
Capacity 84 passengers
A comfortable expedition ship with Argentinean flair
A range of cabins from semi shared to private facilities
Lounge and bar area with large picture windows
Airy dining room/ observation deck & dedicated lecture theatre
Wellington boots are provided to all passengers
Akademik Sergey Vavilov
Capacity 92 passengers
Exceptionally stable, quiet and manoeuvrable, expeditionary ship
Choice of 6 different cabins types from shared triple to suite, with choice of private or
shared bathroom
Spacious public areas and generous deck space
Akademik Ioffe
Capacity 96, passengers although designed to carry 112
Exceptionally stable, quiet and manoeuvrable with a fast cruising speed of 14.5 knots makes
her a good option for less confident sailors
Authentic, expeditionary ship offering a high level of customer service
A wide choice cabins types from shared triple to suites,
A range of adventurous activities on offer, with camping included
Sea Explorer
Capacity of 111 passengers
Offers comfort and adventure
Includes a wide variety of adventure activities including kayaking on all voyages and
mountaineering on selected departures
All cabins are suites with sea views
High ratio of zodiacs and guides
Capacity of 116 passengers
Completely re-built & refurbished in 2009
Spacious observation deck with bar on deck 5 offering panoramic views
Choice of cabins from shared quad to superior, all with private bathroom
Two starboard gangways for swift zodiac logistics
Capacity 116 passengers
Fully refurbished in 2005 and cabins upgraded in 2010
Wide choice of cabin types from quads, triples and twins to a suite offering options for all
Wellington boots are provided for all clients
Voyage Extensions
For those travellers wishing to make more of their time in South America or New Zealand (Ross
Sea and East Antarctica), we offer a full range of tailor-made extensions. Please find a few
suggestions below:
Iguazu Falls, arguably the world’s most impressive waterfall
Trekking in Patagonia amongst the granite spires of Fitzroy
Explore the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires
Experience the mountains of Argentina’s forgotten North
Trekking in Chile’s Torres Del Paine National Park
Visit Santiago’s museums and Chile’s wineland’s
Easter Island, a land of mythical Moai
Visit another great desert the Atacama in Chile’s far north
New Zealand &
Pacific Islands
Ultimate Wildlife Combos
Self drive around the spectacular south island
Take in one of the many classic multi day hikes
Chill out on one of the Pacific Island
The Galapagos Islands with more playful, inquisitive seals
and penguins
Baja California a whale watching mecca for another seven
Feel the buzz of Rio de Janeiro
Chill out on one of Brazil’s many beautiful beaches
Visit the wildlife spectacles of the Pantanal & the Amazon
Contact Us
Sue Grimwood
Having spent the best part of 5 years on my ‘gap year’
working in travel seemed the natural progression. Most
recently returning from South Georgia and the Antarctic
Peninsula I love exploring the remote polar regions. I have
been lucky enough to visit many of the polar regions including
Spitsbergen, Alaska, the Canadian High Arctic, and Russia’s
Wrangel & Herald Islands. Occasionally I travel to warmer
climes where a voyage down the Amazon and whale watching
in Baja California would rank amongst the highlights.
With a life-long passion for wildlife I love to get up close either
by kayak or on foot and learn the local bushcraft skills.
Phone: +44 (0)1285 885 333
Email: [email protected]
John Faithfull
It was on a 1991 jaunt through Ecuador that I first fell for the
allure of Latin America, bumping from A to B on chicken
buses and high-Andean railways (more often than not on the
roof). I’ve partied with penguins in Antarctica and over the
past couple of decades, broadened my experience throughout
Central America, discovering more comfortable modes of
transportation and enjoying stays at some of the region’s
luxury small boutique hotels and lodges. I still thoroughly
enjoy running up volcanoes, clambering through caves strewn
with Mayan relics and snorkelling whenever the opportunity
arises. Neighbouring Caribbean also holds huge appeal for
me and if you can detach yourself from its beaches, there’s
an exciting world of historic, scenic, cultural, culinary and
environmental interests to be explored….not to mention a
great selection of rums.
Phone: +44 (0)1285 885 333
Email: [email protected]
James Armitage
The opportunity to discover new places, cultures and different
people. The amazing experiences, sights and remote places
I have been to and more importantly the people I have
encountered, will remain in my memory for ever. I love
travelling ‘off piste’ and some of great places I have visited
include – travelling across the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia,
trekking in the high Paramo of Venezuela, diving with sea
lions and exploring the underwater world of the Galapagos,
incredible wildlife in the Serengeti, Orang-utan encounters in
Malaysia Borneo and the ultimate remote Antarctica.
Phone: +44 (0)1285 885 333
Email: [email protected]