Oceans of Options
Words Carrie Hampton
‘South Africans love cruising just for the sake of it, European and American clientele like to be occupied with port excursions and on-board entertainment’
Cruising the southern hemisphere means bobbing about on great expanses of ocean. A small island may be the only landmark punctuating vast stretches of water. Seafaring journeys to places such as St Helena, Antarctica and across the Pacific take you into waters sailors undertake with trepidation, yet you can visit them in luxury.
Antarctica—Like No Other Place on Earth
Almost exactly 100 years ago, Shackleton undertook an expedition to one of the harshest places on the planet—Antarctica. The fact that we can reach this once almost impossible destination with the likes of Silversea and Crystal Cruises—and do so in utter luxury—is in stark contrast to Shackleton’s explorations of 1914-1916. Stuck firmly in ice, the Endeavour’s crew abandoned ship and lived on floating ice while Shackleton set off to find help. Amazingly, not one member of the expedition died.
Naturalists and marine experts Chris and Monique Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions in Cape Town, say Antarctica is their favourite place on earth. They’ve returned from guest lecturing on the 18-day Amazing Antarctic Crystal Symphony positively glowing from the experience. “The enormity of the place is difficult to describe,” says Monique, “it’s an out-of-this-world landscape where scenery and wildlife provide constant stimulation.” Chris shares his in-depth knowledge of great white sharks and illustrates talks on Antarctic wildlife with his photographs.
You must be prepared to travel through monstrous seas to get to Antarctica and notch up some formidable points on the map, such as Cape Horn, the Falkland Islands and Drake Passage. But once you get to the deep south, you are rewarded with the sight of massive icebergs and huge mountains up to 3 000 metres high. It ticks all the boxes for passionate wildlife enthusiasts, penguin lovers, intrepid travellers, adventure history buffs and those wanting to clock up a new continent on their record of world travels.
Pre-cruise reading has to include Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing—the definitive account of this audacious expedition. And The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford, examining the great South Pole race of 1912 between Britain’s Robert Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen. On the return trip Scott dies along with four of his men, and only 11 miles from his next cache of supplies, while Amundsen completes the race, returns alive and remains largely forgotten.
Britain’s Last Colonial Outposts
Another distant journey attracting like-minded, but somewhat more frivolous passengers, is the 17-night return trip from Cape Town to St Helena and Ascension Island on RMS St Helena. This Royal Mail Ship, with room for just 150 passengers, visits these islands to deliver mail and cargo to what’s left of Britain’s colonial outposts. It also transports islanders and curious travellers seeking unusual stamps in their passports. Ascension has long been a strategic military base in the middle of the South Atlantic, reachable by air and en-route—but not exactly anywhere near—to the disputed Falkland Islands. The other dot far off the African west coast is St Helena, accessible only by sea, until now. This little volcanic island, that serves as the first stop for sailors from Cape Town en route to Brazil, is about to jump into the 21st century with an air strip and a 4-star hotel, both due to open in 2016. Tristan da Cunha—the third island in this territorial grouping of British protectorates—is no longer visited by RMS St Helena. But don’t let that stop you from reaching the world’s most isolated community and obtaining one of the rarest passport stamps on the globe. You can still take the six-day sea voyage from Cape Town on a cargo or fishing vessel with other eccentric travellers and some grungy fishermen.
Flirting with the Tropic of Capricorn
But let’s talk of warmer climes and tropical islands. Cruises out of Durban to Maputo, Inhaca and Portuguese Islands of Mozambique - flirting with the waters of the Tropic of Capricorn - account for most of MSC’s 44 departures during the forthcoming South African summer season. MSC Cruises have cornered the South African market with their discounted prices and family specials, achieving an astounding 99.9 per cent average occupancy for MSC Opera’s final season here.
Come November 2016, the Sinfonia will replace the Opera and cruise from Genoa down through the Panama Canal, along the Gulf into the Indian Ocean to Durban via Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion. A sensational 25-night trip. But she won’t be the same Sinfonia we’ve known in the past. She’s undergoing a most extraordinary re-design at a shipyard in Palermo, Italy. The 13-deck vessel is being split into two halves and a new 24-metre long entire mid-section is being added. It all seems quite impossible.
This is all because South Africans can’t get enough of this previously inaccessible style of holiday and are queuing up to book the extra 193 cabins with more balconies, extended public areas, additional restaurants and new clubs and play areas for youngsters.
Are You a Pollywog or a Shellback?
How about starting your cruise mid-ocean among the atolls of the Maldives on Silversea’s Silver Discoverer? You quickly sail south passing the invisible equator—a significant event, which should be marked. Perhaps not quite in Navy style with King Neptune presiding over some messy rituals, like cracking a raw egg over your head. Such rites act as the precursor for Pollywogs (those who have yet to cross the equator at sea) to achieve the status of Shellback (those that have crossed the equator). Once across the equator, it’s full steam ahead to several ports in the Seychelles, then hitting the coast of Africa at Mozambique and taking a northerly amble up to Zanzibar.
Paradise in the Pacific
If it’s islands you love then Fiji has 333 of them, with only 110 inhabited. Fiji is paradise in the Pacific and visited by Princess Cruises on an 11-night round trip from Sydney or Brisbane. When Captain Cook first met the Fijians in the late-1700s, he described them as “formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals, builders of the finest vessels in the Pacific, but not great sailors.” Today, Fijians aren’t known for eating their neighbours in Tonga or Samoa, but for big smiles and a rich culture infused with mythology and folklore. Their prowess at fire walking is no myth and you may get to see this extraordinary feat. Would you ever try it yourself?
While South Africans love cruising just for the sake of it, European and American clientele like to be occupied with port excursions and on-board entertainment. You may have thought cruising is about peace and quiet, but you can’t help but watch every cabaret show, burn the midnight oil at blackjack tables and re-live your youth in the disco. Late night feasts expand the waistline, which grows ever bigger even though you visit the gym, dance with the hosts, sample Nordic walking and take lessons in yoga, pilates, salsa and golf. You’ve put on a few kilos but don’t make any excuses; you’ve over-indulged and had a flipping good time doing it.
Antarctica Photography Tips from Chris & Monique Fallows
• Wake up early in the morning—be first on deck
• Overexpose for the snow/white conditions
• Use a polarizer
• Stay up late to get softer colours
• Protect your gear from sea spray
• If you are going ashore, shorter lenses are more practical than big, long lenses: 16-35 mm, 70-200 mm, 100-400 mm
• Learn how to take star trail images because the night sky is incredible
Source - Good Taste