Fancy an uber cool holiday? Well, it doesn’t get cooler than Antarctica. A raft of Antarctic cruise companies caters for all tastes, but if you prefer channelling your inner Sir David Attenborough on a proper expedition ship, Hurtigruten’s MS Fram is the perfect choice.
Throughout Antarctica’s summer (our winter) MS Fram offers an itinerary comprising The Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.
Just grab a camera and pack your thermals: it’s time to go polar.
Named after the ship used by Roald Amundsen during his successful 1911 South Pole expedition, the recently refurbished MS Fram combines practical, high-tech amenities with home comforts.
Scandi-style interiors include cosy cabins, a lounge bar featuring panoramic views – ideal for observing wheeling albatross and breaching whales – and a restaurant offering fine dining.
Wellbeing fans will welcome a gym, sauna and hot tubs but the emphasis of this voyage is on exploration and learning. In the Science Centre (or live streamed to your cabin), Fram’s enthusiastic, knowledgeable expedition team give daily talks on wildlife, geology and history; ideal preparation for exploring nature up close and personal via Fram’s fleet of rigid inflatable Zodiacs. At all times Fram’s crew prioritise safety but man, those Zodiacs are fun.
GET PALLY WITH PENGUINS
Two days after leaving the Chilean port of Puerto Arenas, Fram makes landfall in The Falkland Islands. An archipelago comprising some 700 islands over which Britain fought Argentina four decades ago, is a haven for wildlife.
On Saunders Island, countless penguins resembling a Charlie Chaplin impersonators convention huddle and waddle across a pristine Caribbean-esque beach.
On West Point Island’s craggy cliffs, black-browed albatrosses breed alongside rockhopper penguins in a mutually advantageous creche system. With punk hairdos, wacky orange eyebrows and clumsy comedy gait, you’ll want to take one home. But remember, you mustn’t p-p-p-pick up a penguin! (I’m sorry.)
TAKE TEA WITH FALKLAND ISLANDERS
Sheep farmer Rob McGill and his wife Lorraine have lived on the otherwise uninhabited Carcass Island for more than 30 years. Little wonder they enjoy welcoming visitors to tea and homemade cakes in their cosy clapboard house.
After a bracing trek across the island, you may be tempted to share a scone with inquisitive caracaras (imagine an endearing crow) which also call this beautiful island home.
FEEL PATRIOTIC IN PORT STANLEY
Wondering where Falkland Islanders buy their baking ingredients? That’ll be Port Stanley’s Waitrose – possibly the last thing you’d expect 8,000 miles outside London.
Once the centre of the Falklands conflict, Port Stanley has everything you could want - except a pub accepting credit cards. It’s cash only at the Globe Tavern but this traditional British boozer (complete with armaments display) serves locally brewed beer and excellent fish and chips.
With red phone boxes, fluttering Union Jacks and a remarkably unvandalised statue of Margaret Thatcher, this must be the UK’s most patriotic outpost. A visit to the Museum explains why: in a 2013 referendum, islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a British Overseas Territory.
FOLLOW IN SHACKLETON’S FROSTBITTEN FOOTSTEPS
From the Falklands, Fram heads for South Georgia and a tale of audacious heroism. In 1916, after Ernest Shackleton’s ship, The Endurance, sank during an ill-fated polar expedition, he and his crew hauled three rowing boats across hostile terrain before establishing camp on Elephant Island. From here Shackleton and a party of men spent 17 days rowing the James Caird, through atrocious conditions to seek help in South Georgia. Having landed at Peggotty Bluff in King Haakon Bay, Shackleton trekked with two men across the island’s unexplored mountainous interior to seek help at Stromness Whaling Station. Thanks to Shackleton’s determination, every crew member was ultimately rescued.
Fram’s captain will welcome you to Grytviken with a tot of aquavit to toast Shackleton’s memory. In 1922, during his fourth expedition, he suffered a fatal heart attack and was buried in Grytviken’s cemetery. Snoozing elephant seals may prevent you from visiting his grave, but his story comes to life in this former whaling station’s Nordic church and museum. Among fascinating exhibits are expedition photographs and a replica of the James Caird. The restored original can be viewed at Shackleton’s alma mater, Dulwich College.
You can follow in Shackleton’s footsteps by retracing the last leg of his epic journey across South Georgia. En route, Fram’s guides punctuate the trek from Fortuna Bay to Stromness with illuminating readings from ‘South’, Shackleton’s harrowing memoir.
HAVE A WHALE OF A TIME
Waters around South Georgia’s whaling stations once ran red with the blood of slaughtered whales. Now, rusting machinery employed in their destruction has been colonised by seals, penguins and abundant bird life.
The South Georgia Heritage Trust is dedicated to exterminating vermin which prey on indigenous species and maintaining bio security (serious boot cleaning is required every time you step ashore). Now a beacon of hope and a model of regeneration, the islands’ eco systems are in recovery and, as you’ll see while cruising these waters, whale numbers are increasing.
ANTARCTIC ART WORK
When you wake up and see an iceberg the size of St Paul’s drifting past your porthole, you know you’re approaching Antarctica. Penguins scramble up their vertiginous architecture and lazy seals treat them like floating sofas. Some resemble Henry Moore sculptures, others the City’s ‘Walkie-Talkie.’ Like giant diamonds shot through with electric blues and emerald greens, icebergs are like Antarctica’s very own art installation.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
Bonkers but exhilarating, try wild swimming in cardiac-arrest cold Antarctic waters. Deception Island’s black shoreline, steamy geothermal springs and sulphurous smell are evidence that this harbour is the caldera of a still active volcano. With the wreckage of a former whaling station and wonky wooden crucifixes as a backdrop, this could be the planet’s most forbidding place to take the plunge.
CHECK OUT THE DATING SCENE
When landing on the Antarctic Peninsula’s Tay Head, you’ll possibly pick your way through a carpet of fur seals. Having mated on South Georgia, they head to Antarctica for R&R leaving females behind to rear the young.
While seals lounge around looking smug, excitable male adélie penguins flap about selecting pebbles to impress mates with their nest building skills. On Danko Island downy grey penguin chicks are proof that ‘Hey ladies, check out my stones,’ is a valid polar chat-up line.
KAYAK WITH WHALES
Who knew whale fluke patterns are distinctive as fingerprints? From a kayak you might experience this phenomenon from a penguin’s-eye perspective. So ungainly on land, penguins and seals swim silk sleek beneath your kayak before popping up to stare you out. Sea ice resembling an explosion in a polystyrene factory will test your kayaking skills but what better way to inspect a humpback whale’s fingerprint.
GET A SEAL OF APPROVAL
Camping fans can spend the night beneath canvas in a snow-clad bay. You may be kept awake by noisy seals sounding like they’re playing video games at full volume, but a champagne breakfast will make it all worthwhile.
PLAY ANTARCTICA’S SOUNDTRACK
Before Fram navigates back across Drake’s Passage and the awe-inspiring Chilean fjords, one final Zodiac excursion defines Antarctica. Surrounded by glaciers and snow-clad peaks, Hidden Bay’s natural amphitheatre echoes with nature’s music. Hear orca whales exhaling while groaning glaciers calve and crash into crystalline waters.
Then, with the outboard engine silenced, experience an intense tranquillity and reverence for the monumental natural wonder that is Antarctica.
Now, how cool is that?
Expedition Duration: 23 days | Ship: MS Fram | Prices start from £11,565pp – based on two guests sharing a Polar Outside Cabin on November 2, 2023. Itinerary includes onboard dining and selected beverages, domestic economy flights, hotel stay and transfers. Subject to availability, terms and conditions apply. To find out more or to book visit hurtigruten.co.uk