Anyone who has already visited the ice desert that is the Antarctic will also know that this wilderness is one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems – hence the reason why the Antarctic has been assigned special ecological protection. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is an active member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) – a voluntary union of Antarctic tour operators that has agreed to promote ecologically sustainable tourism in the Antarctic continent while benefiting from the experience of the other members.

NATURE’S INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

A voyage into the Antarctic is a trip like no other. As the cruiseship eases its way slowly through pack ice, it passes ice-blue, turquoise and even reddish icebergs. Passengers in big red parkas line the ship’s railings to observe the impressive backdrop. A murmur passes through the group as a whale surfaces close to the ship and greets the spectators with a powerful flick of its tail.

“The Antarctic’s natural wonders can be particularly well observed on board small ships suitable for passing through ice.”

More fascinating encounters with nature occur an hour later during the trip ashore. About 98% of the Antarctic is covered with ice and, incredibly, the place is teeming with life. There are penguins huddled together in huge colonies to keep warm, elephant seals warming their stomachs in the polar sun, and a whole range of bird species busy looking after their broods.

The Antarctic summer, which runs from December to March, is the perfect time to discover such extraordinary spectacles, for a cruise into the eternal ice is only possible during this time. Temperatures then are around freezing point.

The Antarctic’s natural wonders can be particularly well observed on board small ships suitable for passing through ice. In contrast to the bigger cruiseships, they can access more remote regions, such as the caldera on Deception Island, passing safely through all parts of the Antarctic Circle.

Such ships include Hapag-Lloyd’s five-star MS Hanseatic and the four-star MS Bremen. These have a low draught and were specifically built for the polar region. Modern technology and environmental protection systems were combined to ensure that the ships were certified according to the highest ice class. This allows them to pass through pack ice easily, and even to cross the Antarctic Circle. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

An Antarctic cruise starts off in Ushuaia in Argentina and heads for the Antarctic peninsula and South Shetland islands. The small group of at most 184 passengers are guaranteed a feeling of discovery. Famous expedition leaders, such as Sylvia Stevens or David Fletcher, and accompanying scientific experts, including biologists, geologists and glaciologists, bring guests a little closer to the fascinating world of the Antarctic.

Landing on King George Island is one of the highlights of an Antarctic cruise. A large number of research stations await the passengers, who can get a direct insight into the work of the researchers and find out, for example, the effects the Antarctic ice has on the world’s climate.

During a visit to Paradise Bay with Zodiacs – motorised rubber dinghies – passengers pass glaciers and bizarre ice sculptures before setting foot on the Antarctic mainland. A swimming costume is also recommended for the visit to Deception Island as the warm springs of the volcanic island tempt visitors to take a dip in the midst of the icy wilderness.

Other Antarctic highlights include:

• Zodiac tour in Paradise Bay, landing on the Antarctic mainland
• Landings in colonies of penguins
• Bathing in Deception Island’s springs
• Whale watching in the Gerlache Strait
• Trip with the ice-strengthened Hanseatic through the pack ice; circumnavigation of huge tabular icebergs
• Trip through the spectacular Lemaire and Neumayer channels
• Visit to a scientific station
• Landing on Cape Horn

NATURAL RESPONSIBILITY

A cruise to the Antarctic is an adventure, but one where the correct conduct serves to protect the nature of the eternal ice – the region is almost untouched and is unique as a polar region. The climatic circumstances provided by the ice create a special type of habitat. Even the coastal areas, rarely free of ice, and the offshore islands are of particular interest, despite making up just 2% of the area.

“The number of tourists visiting the region has quadrupled in the last ten years, and over 27,000 visitors are expected for the coming 2006/07 season.”

Here, birds breed, penguins and seals live and form particular symbioses. The sea is rich in animal and plant life, and is the main attraction for birds, whales and seals. The ice-free zones are also interesting and worthy of conservation.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is following the development of tourism in the Antarctic carefully. The number of tourists visiting the region has quadrupled in the last ten years, and over 27,000 visitors are expected for the coming 2006/07 season. An increasing number of large cruiseships with 2,000 or more passengers are setting course for this region. According to the IAATO, such ships are not permitted to land and let passengers disembark.

Now there are trips to the Antarctic that involve adventure sports. These aspects are all highly debatable from an ecological point of view. With such activities, more room is required and the impact on the environment increases. Anyone who goes climbing, camping, walking or skiing heads into remote areas, and are potentially causing damage to untouched scenery. The safest and most environmentally friendly solution is to allow small groups to land and simply observe nature.

The Antarctic is not a continent for mass tourism. It is imperative to use a tour operator that is well informed and encourages guests to conduct themselves properly. Many are inspired by such a trip to do their bit to help conserve this unique wilderness. This effectively turns tourists into environmental protection ambassadors.

Hapag-Lloyd’s aim is to keep the highly sensitive ecosystems of the Antarctic in their unspoiled state. The visits on land always take place in small groups of 20 people – no more than 100 passengers are allowed to go ashore at the same time – and are conducted under the guidance of experienced expedition leaders, who provide guests with information on conduct.

As an active member of the IAATO, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises carries out all trips in accordance with the agreed conduct guidelines. The code of conduct is passed on to the officers, crew and passengers. Its expedition ships are equipped with the latest environmental protection technology, are powered using diesel oil instead of heavy oil, and have a new, non-toxic underwater coat.

But while the cruise line does its best to protect the natural havens of the Antarctic, it also relies on the cooperation of its guests, an effort that everyone will benefit from.