Category Archives: Experience

Voyage to Antarctica: Part II

The adventure of a lifetime

Juliet Symes had the time of her life on her sea voyage over ten days to Antarctica. If you missed her talking about her very close encounter with a humpback whale and crossing the Drake passage, make sure to check it out. Otherwise, continue reading to learn about penguins, camping and glacier calvings.

BT: What was the most magical sight you saw?

JS: There’s too many! A couple, both completely different from each other…

First of all, Neko Harbour is renowned for its regular glacier calvings. And we saw a fair few! You hear this deep rolling sound like thunder then suddenly a giant chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the ocean, sometimes causing a mini tsunami. It was incredible to see. And hear!

 

Also at Neko Harbour, watching penguin chicks catch snowflakes was wonderful. Neko Harbour is essentially a ‘penguin creche’, and when it snows the penguin chicks all try to catch snowflakes with their mouths, supposedly to help keep them cool (it was about 0ºC that day). It was adorable, I could have watched them all day!

BT: Speaking of penguins, what was it like to see them in the wild? What other wildlife did you see?

JS: Well, almost everyday there was a penguin colony visit involved in our excursions. I went in mid February so there were plenty of penguin chicks around!  We saw three species of them – Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap. They’re completely unfazed by people, and although you’re not allowed to get within five metres of them and the ‘penguin highways’, penguins themselves often break this rule and will walk right by your feet.

I always thought penguins were cute but oh my goodness, in real life they exceeded all my cuteness expectations! They chat, they hop, they waddle around with their ‘wings’ behind them as if they’re moving really fast. They enter the ocean by dipping their head in first then splash about a bit before zipping off at surprising speed. Then when they come back ashore, they make a quick and almost dramatic entrance onto dry land.

 

We also saw many sea birds, several species of albatross and petrel. We saw a lot of crabeater seals, lying around on icebergs snoozing, drooling and scratching their bellies. Fur seals and leopard seals too but less often. Plus, of course, whales! We witnessed humpback whales bubble net feeding and some minke whales too. You can usually see killer whales but we didn’t this time.

There’s a rule allowing only 100 people per vessel ashore on Antarctica at a time, so being on a smaller vessel like the Ioffe allows all the passengers to disembark together giving us twice the excursion opportunities (and twice the penguin colony visits!)

BT: Is there one story from your Antarctic expedition that you think you will be repeating for years to come? What is it?

JS: Besides my whale encounter?! Probably camping on the ice. Camping is an optional excursion and weather-dependent. About 40 of us left the ship after dinner one night, put on ALL our warm layers and headed back to Dorian Bay where we had visited a penguin colony earlier that afternoon. We were given a mat, sleeping bag and bivvy bag. We headed up the hill to find a good spot with a penguin view and dug a shallow ditch in the snow to lie our bivvy bag in. We were surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains and just the purest of landscapes. I found it drew my thoughts away from all worldly things, away from the thousand mechanical details of my life back home. I was so struck with awe that it was impossible to worry about anything or even give a moment’s attention to anything outside of what I was seeing.

Yes, it was cold. Yes, there was a private portable ‘toilet’ (we left NOTHING behind). And yes, I held on until I got back to the ship. But no, there was no beautiful, serene silence one would expect out there… penguins are noisy! They do not shut up. But it was absolutely magical.

BT: And finally, how cold was it?

JS: Antarctic cruises only run in the summer (Nov-Mar) so the coldest it got for us was -4ºC and the warmest maybe 1ºC, so a little brisk but you are provided with warm outer gear to leave the ship.


If Juliet’s story has inspired you to pursue your own adventurous dreams on the great southern continent, make sure to check out our many Antarctic sea voyages on offer.

Voyage to Antarctica: Part I

The adventure of a lifetime

When Juliet booked in her Antarctic adventure through Bentours, she’d already spent a fair amount of time living in cold parts of the world. She’d read all the books, she’d done all the research, she’d bought all the gear – but nothing would prepare her for the amazing experience she was to have. From seeing eye to eye with a whale to toasting to adventure with fellow guests on board, Juliet’s ten day voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula onboard the Akademik Ioffe was the once-in-a-lifetime experience she had been dreaming of. We chatted with her about her most memorable experiences and asked any advice she might have for future travellers to the Great Frozen Continent.

BT: Why Antarctica? Has this been somewhere you have wanted to go for a while?

JS: Visiting Antarctica has been on my bucket list for a good 20 years – but in brackets, meaning it would be ideal to check it off but no shame should it not be possible. I used to think that the continent, historically, was pretty much a testing ground for men with frozen beards to see how easily they could kill themselves, so I was desperate to figure out the lure of Antarctica myself. Plus, I’ve always been drawn to cold remote places off the beaten track.

BT: What was the most exciting experience of your voyage?

JS: Without a doubt, coming face to face with a humpback whale. Down in the Antarctic Peninsula, you’ll often see humpback, minke and killer whales. The plan was to sail to Wilhelmina Bay, an area where you will easily spot a lot of whales (or as I like to call it – Whalemina Bay!) However, on our way through the Gerlache Strait we came across a couple of humpbacks just snoozing so we grabbed our cameras, got suited and booted and boarded the Zodiacs to get a closer look.

The expedition team on the Ioffe are always cautious never to interfere with the wildlife, watching each whale for a maximum of 30 minutes before moving on and never following them – humpbacks are more likely to follow us anyway!

This day though, instead of us whale-watching, the whale decided to people-watch and investigate us! We quietly approached the big guy, careful not to surround him. He gently came up to each boat, sticking his head out of the water to check us out and blew bubbles at us. He swam between the boats, underneath them and rolled over onto his back with his white pectoral fins extended out.

Then he moved onto the next boat and did the same. Before I know it, with my GoPro dangling in the water, his face appears out of the water a foot away from my face, getting a good look at me. He was so curious and playful and my heart melted into the sea! The staff said they had rarely experienced this behaviour before so they were just as excited as the rest of us.

BT: Is there one thing that stood out as making this holiday different to any other? (Apart from curious whales!)

JS: It’s really a once in a lifetime trip. Antarctica is a destination very few people have experienced and that made it even more special. With no culture or people, the attraction and experiences are purely based on the environment itself which is quite rare. It’s a world stripped of clutter, people and culture. What made it for me though was how much I learnt along the way. Everyday there are talks onboard about Antarctic wildlife, polar history, photography tips and tricks amongst other topics. I learnt so much!

The expedition guides came ashore with us and taught us about the wildlife and nature we saw around us. We even had whale researchers hitching a ride with us, so we got to see first hand how they tag and track whales. Guests and expedition leaders would all sit together at meals and talk about the day’s sightings. I had done a lot of reading up about the continent before the trip so it was great to pick the brains of experts and get that intimate knowledge. I felt like I was learning something new everyday and came away from the trip with a whole new appreciation for the planet and the incredible continent.

BT: The Drake Passage is known the world over for being a very rough body of water to cross – how did you find it? Do you have any advice for the crossing?

JS: Let’s just say there’s a reason they call it the ‘Drake Lake’ or the ‘Drake Shake’. With the often-violent convergence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and inherent unpredictability, it can be your worst nightmare or sometimes, if you’re lucky, it can be eerily calm. The vessel I was on, the Akademik Loffe and her sister ship the Akadmik Vavilov, were built for polar waters and are some of the most stable ships to be on for the Drake crossing so we were in safe hands. I’m not good on the water at all so I certainly anticipated some trouble with the Drake. But we got lucky – there and back again!

When we boarded the ship, the staff told us that they had just come through a horrendous storm the previous night with 30ft waves in the Drake. This made me feel apprehensive to say the least, but in reality it meant that we were treated to a calm crossing.

I took some prescribed Ondansetron but that didn’t seem to work for me. So the next 24 hours were spent lying down. I found as long as I maintained a horizontal position everything was ok. I got dressed lying down, brushed my teeth lying down and ate marmite toast lying down. When the staff noticed I wasn’t at meals they kindly brought crackers and ginger ale to the pity party I was throwing in my cabin. There’s a doctor onboard who I decided to pay a visit to. He gave me a patch and an injection and it worked a treat! Don’t let that put you off – I get seasick, airsick and carsick,  and coupled with my fear of being out on the open ocean, I battled the war on sickness.

A calm Drake Passage (L); the Akademik Ioffe has an open bridge policy so you’re allowed up there any time of the day or night (R)

There is no happier person than one who has been through seasickness hell and come back from the brink. My advice? Get seasickness medication prescribed by your doctor and take it BEFORE you hit the Drake. And travel on a ship built for these kinds of crossings with stablisers.

Click through to read the rest of Juliet’s interview.

 

Thoughts on Geirangerfjord

Sailing the Norwegian coast is bit like navigating a big box of chocolates. There are tasty bites everywhere. But for many, the Geirangerfjord is the best of the lot.

Out on deck, way back on the stern of MS Finnmarken, Brendan Lacey from Australia, stands, serene and cool, along the railing. He sips a coffee that could’ve come from a hip cafe in Oslo´s Grünerløkka neighbourhood but Brendan says he’s never had a coffee in such a cool place before.

”These are the most incredible surroundings I have ever seen,” says the awed Aussie. He relates the story of how he ended up here.

”I’m backpacking in Scandinavia this summer, and a few days ago, at a hostel in Oslo, I mentioned that I wanted to see Geiranger, which I’d heard was the world´s most beautiful fjord. They said I should take Hurtigruten because it’s as close as you can get. I thanked them for the tip, boarded a bus for Ålesund, and here I am,” he says.

”Man, they were right about close as you can get. Are those waterfalls The Seven Sisters? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Yep, seven in a row. Indescribably beautiful!”

Brendan says the Australian coast has its own natural magic, but Norway surpasses it many times over.

“This is fresher and more spectacular. I mean, Wow! I called my girlfriend 15 minutes ago and said we have to come here together. This ship also visits the Lofoten Islands. I don’t know if they were kidding, but someone said the Lofotens are even more amazing than Geiranger. If that’s true, and I find it hard to believe, I’m moving there. For real.”

Also on board is Ylva, a ten year old Norwegian girl, excitedly clinging to the decks rail as she peers around her.

“I’m only 10 years old, but I feel like I´m already an explorer. That’s why I was so excited when Daddy told us we were sailing from Ålesund to Svolvær on Hurtigruten. I got extra butterflies when he said we would visit the world famous Geirangerfjord,” she chatters.

“I was so excited when Daddy told us we were sailing from Ålesund. I got extra butterflies when he said we would visit Geirangerfjord, because we talked about it at school,” she chatters.

“Right before we got here, I went up on deck with Daddy and my little sister.  It’s amazing! The view is like magic. The mountains, the shiny water reflecting the sun. You can see tiny farms on the mountainsides, way up from the water. I got goosebumps and my tummy even rumbled. I wonder who actually lives on farms way up there?”

She points towards the falls that Brendan had just been so amazed by.

“I knew they must be The Seven Sisters that Daddy told us about,” Ylva tells me rather smugly, then looks down to her sister. The younger child is following her sister’s gaze and staring up at the waterfalls. As I go to talk to other passangers, I see Ylva tightly grip her sister’s hand in the wind and the sudden gust blows her whispered words over to me.

“I won’t let you go.”


Are you interested in seeing Geirangerfjord for yourself? Hurtigruten’s coastal voyage is the perfect way to see Geiranger and many other incredible sights along the way. Contact us today for more information!

An Interview with a Norwegian Craft Brewer

Whether a small tour through the ice-floes of Svalbard or sharing some spirits and reindeer jerky around the campfire, there are so many amazing local experiences out there, just waiting to be discovered.

So when our CEO Damian Perry met a young local Norwegian man named Gards Kindle in the Mack Brewery in Tromsø, a friendship was born, based on one of the best things this world has going for it: beer.

Gards works at Mack, is a student, beer maker and craft beer enthusiast – in fact, that very night he took Damian along to the university building where students keep the beer that they self-brew. In a town such as Tromsø, where a good chunk of the year is cloaked in darkness, people need to find something to occupy their indoor time in the long winter months. And that something for Gards and many of his fellow residents is perfecting the home-brewed beer.

Beer is not only brewed for consumption in Norway but for art… seaweed beer anyone? While this may not sound that appetising (and apparently it isn’t great tasting yet) the challenge of creating a beer from seaweed is currently being conquered by some of Gards’ friends. In his own words, the result so far is “not exactly delicious, but definitely something extremely different”.

Moving away from art projects and to more delectable flavours, we asked Gards a few questions about beer in Norway. After all, this is essential knowledge for any traveller!


BT: What are your favourite beers? Are they Norwegian?

GK: I have a few actually! Out of macro beers I thoroughly enjoy the 1877 by Mack. It is a Czech Pilsner brewed from the first recipe the brewery had. Sweet, bitter and fruity makes it kind of refreshing.

Out of microbrews I have a lot of favourites. There is a Norwegian microbrewery called Lervig Aktiebryggeri. It’s a brewery from Stavanger with the head brewer, Mike Murphy, hailing from the US. They make so many delicious and experimental beers. Strong, sour or hoppy, you name it, they brew it. They make this super cool Pale Ale called Lucky Jack. It’s the kind of beer a lot of homebrewers copy just because it’s so nice.

While I might be kind of partial since I work at Mack, I really, really do like a beer the Mack Micro Brewery makes called Haakon Sr. It’s a version of the Haakon beer, which is a reddish lager pretty popular up north, but brewed stronger and to be more flavourful. Just a cool beer which isn’t the IPA that every single micro seems so taken with.

BT: I’ve read that the trend of microbreweries has really taken off in Norway in the past five to ten years, do you think this is something the younger generation are more interested in?

GK: Well, I wouldn’t say it has everything to do with age. The brewing scene has people of all ages in it. I think it has more to do with individualism and knowing what you consume.

You want to know more about what you eat, what you drink and what you wear. You usually want to see some aspect of your self in that. Beer is probably the easiest product to do that with. It’s easy to see the brewery, to see what they stand for and identify with them.

Today, you are what you consume, and for young people that is a Double IPA handmade by a hairy bohemian.

BT: What makes Norwegian beer special to you?

GK: Well, most Norwegian beer today is the ordinary lager stuff. Some flavourful, some tasting like adulterated water.

However, the thing that drives me with Norwegian traditional beer is how unique it is. We are talking about something that almost no one has had the chance to taste, let alone brew. It’s the cultural heritage of a nation, but still obscure and unknown.

BT: What’s the biggest difference in the end product in your opinion when you are comparing traditional farmhouse style brewed beer to commercially brewed beer? 

GK: Traditionally brewed beer is a beer different from any other. It’s smoky, full bodied and full of orange. It’s tepid with no carbonation, yet still really nice to someone with a modern palate.

The biggest difference is however how local it is. A Norwegian farmhouse ale is fresh, the authentic kind is brewed just a few days before consumption. Alive, it’s a fresh handmade product, not just a sterile thing off a shelf.

Also, every Norwegian farmhouse beer has a strong lineage. My yeast, or kveik as it is called traditionally, comes from Voss. It has been handed from farmer to farmer through the generations. Such is the case with all our ales.

Whether from Muri, Stryn or Voss, all the beers are different and have a singular tradition as their lineage. Back in the day, when one person in the village brewed a sour beer or a beer which they didn’t like, they had to get  kveik from a neighbour. So yeast is not just something to make alcohol with, but it became a community project. People have always shared their kveik and so together they would create a type beer that was unique to their home!


BT: How much would a pint of craft beer cost?

GK: Welcome to Norway, the perfect question to make sure nobody comes here! An ordinary half litre beer is 80-ish Norwegian kroner  [AU$12-13] in a pub or 30NOK in a store. Which is probably why there are so many brewing at home here! And that is only your average shoddy lager. A proper craft brew can cost you much more, depending on the alcohol strength.


Bentours offers a number of tours of Norway – all of which can incorporate some delicious beer tastings along the way! Contact one of our agents today to talk about your next adventure.