Things to do in Antarctica & the Arctic


Our top activities in the polar regions

Wildlife

You won’t be sure if you’re the hunter or the hunted during your polar cruise. In the Arctic, surprisingly large walruses wield their tusks beside your kayak – and the threat of a polar bear encounter looms around every icy corner. Antarctica’s most fearsome predators are the shark-mouthed leopard seals – at 3m long, you’ll see them hunting penguins. Even better, many of the creatures are unafraid of humans.

Sarah Wightman, from our supplier Pura Aventura: “I don’t think that many people know that the Antarctic wildlife – like in the Galapagos – is completely fearless. They ask if they’ll see penguins. Actually, you’ll be sick of them, and they stink! You’ll be stepping over them trying not to stand on them – they’re everywhere! All the wildlife is everywhere, you don’t need to go looking for it and it’s fearless – the seals as well. The rule is that they can’t approach them – they have to come to you. But they will – if you sit on a rock the penguins will come and sit on your knee!”

Shore excursions

Kayaking, snowshoeing, diving and dog sledding are some of the optional daily activities; plus you can go dog sledding and climb mountains in the Arctic, and even camp on the Antarctic Peninsula.

You’ll discover the parts of the Polar Regions hidden to ships – docking where they can’t, paddling along coastlines out of bounds to large vessels. You can also visit polar research stations to chat with those who spend half their year living on the tips of the world.

Culture – past & present

Even in the most desolate and inhospitable regions of the planet, humans have left their mark. Antarctica has never been permanently been inhabited, yet there are abandoned whaling stations filled with bones and the huts – and graves – of great explorers including Shackleton.

The Arctic has its own tales to tell of the brave expeditions that carved their way through the Northwest Passage, and the remains left by those who made their fortunes hunting seals, whales and mining the land. Even further back, ancient Thule people – ancestors of the Inuit – left traces across Greenland and Canada, thrilling insights into the Arctic past. But even more fascinating is a visit to a modern Inuit village. The Inuit have lived in some of the earth’s most stunning locations and wild conditions for centuries, yet not only do they manage to survive between ice and Arctic water, they have a warm, rich culture, with ancient folklore and a thriving art scene. Cruise to Baffin Island, Hudson Bay or the shores and islands of Greenland to meet the Inuit, see their finely woven textiles and hear the local folklore. Be prepared for evidence of hunting, though – this is a subsistence culture and every part of the animal will be used.

Lectures

Antarctic lecture programmes take your mind off the rolling ocean of the Drake Passage and prepare you for reaching the Peninsula. You’ll learn about iceberg formations, hardy wildlife and early explorers. In the Arctic, there may be polar bear researchers and Inuit experts. In both regions you’ll learn about the crucial need to conserve the world’s ice caps – and see how the ice has shifted in just a few short decades.
Photo credits: [Seal: liam Quinn] [Going ashore: Polar cruises] [Innuit: Polar Cruises] [Lectures: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre]
Written by Vicki Brown
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