small ship Samoan war dance, Aggie Greyâ€™s
Traditional Tongan wedding attire
MS Hanseatic tied up at Huahine, French Polynesia
Rarely visited and quirky: Palmerston Atoll, Cook Islands
Pacific words: roderick eime Photos: roderick eime & hAPAG-LLOYD CRUISES
Expedition-type cruises on five-star ships have long been a specialty of German line HapagLloyd. Discover a new perspective on an old favourite, the South Pacific, aboard MS Hanseatic. 66
In the world
Underwater wonders: moray eel, Tonga
of ocean cruising there are the mass-market Americans, the proud and traditional Brits and the sometimes aloof French. Often overlooked, however, are the industrious and creative Germans, who lifted the bar on luxury more than a century ago. Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (Hapag) began in the mid-19th century and drew criticism from its rivals for procuring business with lavish facilities aboard its fleet of passenger-focused ‘packet’ vessels. Imagine that? By the beginning of the 20th century the proud and competitive Germans were producing class-leading ocean liners such as the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm and SS Deutschland. The enterprising Germans also began commercial ‘expedition’ cruising in the late 1920s, though this foray resulted in the loss of the ship Monte Cervantes when she struck rocks near Ushuaia in 1930. Today, the tradition of exquisite, impeccably run ships is the domain of Hapag-Lloyd (HL), which was formed in 1970 but has roots that go back to the original Hapag of 1847. Perhaps best known for its sizeable freight and container business, HL also operates a small fleet of cruise and expedition ships that are consistently rated as best in class by the Berlitz guide. The expedition fleet comprises two ships, MS Hanseatic and MS Bremen – names that are historically significant for the company. MS Hanseatic is the fourth ship to carry this name and is rated the world’s only five-star expedition cruise ship, according to Berlitz. It’s easy to see why; though this Finnish-built, 1A Super ice-rated vessel is approaching her 20th birthday, she is still in better condition than some ships half her age. Continuously modernised with fancy comforts such as the new in-cabin entertainment and email system, she maintains an ‘as new’ feel. Her most recent upgrade took place in June 2011 and I sailed the ‘Expedition Südsee (South Seas)’ itinerary from Tahiti to Fiji with her in March to April this year.
Enrichment at sea: bird-watching
The cuisine and its presentation are masterful and truly fine dining. Five or six courses in the single-seating Marco Polo Restaurant is de rigueur, or you can make a reservation in the more convivial Bistro Lemaire, where ‘ethnic’ dishes are rotated to reflect the international flavour of the itineraries. In the cabin minibar, soft drinks, beer, water and juice are included; curiously, water (€1.50) and wine (€3.50) incur a charge in the restaurants. Coffee, tea and gourmet snacks are available all day, and the coffee is good. The onboard facilities are what you’d expect from a much larger ship – gym, boutique, salon, pool, cabin service and so on – and reflect a most practical combination of the luxury elements of the line’s premier vessel, MS Europa, and the capabilities of a smaller expedition ship. As expected, there is a dedicated lecture hall. Most front-line staff are Germans who are fluent in English. Shipboard attire is ‘casual elegant’, though a sequined frock and smart suit will come in handy for the traditional captain’s dinner. I did get a couple of disapproving glares from some of the older guests when transiting the pool deck bar in shorts and a T-shirt, but otherwise it’s not a bourgeois climate at all.
cruise region focus Marco Polo Restaurant
The cabins exist across eight categories on four of the six decks and all are outside, but none has a private balcony. Two cabins are disabled-friendly. Eight cabins and four suites on the top deck enjoy butler service. My delightful cabin attendants kept me stocked with drinks, snacks and the occasional in-cabin meal, so I’m not sure what I would have done with a butler.
Explore ashore Shore excursions are conducted with a combination of tie-ups at wharves and tendering by either Zodiac or enclosed lifeboats as appropriate for the destination’s facilities. The standard of the passenger safety procedures is as high as I’ve ever seen and transfers are executed with typical German efficiency. Organised tours, if you choose them, are typically €50–70 per person, or you can save a pfennig and do your own thing, but prior research is advised if you’re the independent type. While ashore in the larger ports, you can expect excursions similar to those offered by the big ships, including tours of museums and art galleries and cultural performances. We spent a full day in Apia, the capital of Samoa. However, in true expedition style, we made landfall at tiny ports such as Aitutaki (Cook Islands) and Huahine (French Polynesia), where we were the highlight of the day. One memorable landing was on the tiny atoll of Palmerston (Cook Islands), where the isolated community might only see two ships a year. Final impressions? As with any expedition vessel, this type of cruising will not suit everyone. The main language on board is German, and while all staff are fluent in English, not all are familiar with the subtleties of the language, let alone offbeat Australian humour. Some voyages, such as this one, are advertised as bilingual, so announcements, some lectures and documentation are also available in English. All cruise consultants trained to sell HL Cruises will point out these factors to prospective clients. Having said all that, my dear octogenarian mother, who wouldn’t know Angela Merkel from a leberwurst, is a diehard fan of HL.
PA C IF IC O C EA N
Pacific Cruises 2013 MS Hanseatic Manila to Fiji (22 days; October 15 to November 6, 2013). Visit www.hl-cruises.com/finder/han1319/. MS Bremen Auckland to Fiji (17 days; March 19 to April 5, 2013). Visit www.hl-cruises.com/finder/bre1305/. MS Europa Tahiti to Auckland (17 days; January 19 to February 6, 2013). Visit www.hl-cruises.com/finder/eur1302/. How to get there: Air New Zealand provides a comprehensive service throughout the Pacific region. For bookings, route map and schedules, call 13 24 76 or visit www.airnewzealand.com.au.
• Immaculate vessel with impeccable staff. • High safety standards. • Well-run excursions. • Superb cuisine.
• More formal atmosphere may not suit everyone. • Scuba divers should make arrangements in advance, as it is not automatically offered. • No private balconies.
Fact file French Polynesia
Bookings To book, call Landmark Travel, the Australian representative for Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, on 02 9977 7100 or visit www.landmarktravel.com.au. For more information visit www.hl-cruises.com.
Cruise line: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Vessel: MS Hanseatic Star rating: 5 Passenger capacity:
184 (double occupancy) Total crew: 125 Passenger decks: 6 GRT: 8,378 tons
Entered service: March 1993 Facilities: Fitness centre and
spa facilities, 2 restaurants, bars, pool (outdoor), library, cinema, 24-hour cabin service, 2 wheelchair-accessible cabins, clinic, boutique, salon, 14 Zodiacs, 4 x 200-seat tenders.
VB Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.9% Food Match: Steak, barbecued meats and hamburgers, casseroles. Victoria Bitter (VB) has long been Australia’s favourite beer, and is specially brewed to deliver full flavour when ice cold. www.vb.com.au
Carlton Draught Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.6% Food Match: Steak, Prawns, Hot Chilli dishes, Vietnamese. Carlton Draught is a traditional, full-strength lager that is renowned for tasting as fresh as it did the day it was brewed. www.carltondraught.com.au
Carlton Cold Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.0% Food Match: Tandoori, Antipasto, Cheese, Indian, Salamis. Carlton Cold Filtered Bitter is a full-bodied beer, soft midpalate with a muted hop finish, which gives exceptional smoothness in the finish.
Peroni Nastro Azzurro Type: Lager Alc/vol: 5.1% Food Match: Pizza, Pasta, Antipasto, Seafood or Risotto. Peroni Nastro Azzurro is the ‘Birra Superiore d’italia dal 1846’. Stylish, crisp, refreshing and perfect for warmer climates. www.peroniitaly.comcom.au
Miller Genuine Draft Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.7% Food Match: Barbecue, Indian, Thai, Latin American, Asian, Cheese, Meat and Shellfish. Miller Genuine Draft is the original easy drinking beer, cold filtered for smooth taste with no additives or preservatives. smoothness in the finish.
Crown Lager Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.9% Food Match: Oysters, antipasto, Asian, Greek, Indian or barbeque meats. Australia’s premium beer with a creamy fruitiness, rich, malty palate, balanced with crisp, clean finish. www.thecrowncompany.com
Fat Yak Type: Ale Alc/vol: 4.7% Food Match: Steak, Tapas, Parma & Chips (not salad!), Chorizo Pizza, Seafood. Golden amber in colour, distinctive hop driven fruity herbaceous aromas, giving passionfruit and melon notes. www.matildabay.com
Pure Blonde Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.6% Food Match: Smoked salmon, Thai fish cakes, Seafood, Wood-fired pizzas. Pure Blonde is a light, crisp, aromatic lager that delivers a superior taste. Nothing artificial and lower in carbohydrates. www.pureblonde.com.au
Carlton Dry Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.5% Food Match: Antipasto, Beef, Fish, Greek, Mexican, Pasta. Exceptional Dry finish achieved through a special brewing process with lower carbohydrates than other full strength beers. www.carltondry.com.au
Cascade Premium Light Type: Lager Alc/vol: 4.6% Food Match: Chicken, Vegetarian, Pork and Fish, Dumplings and Chinese. ‘Full-flavoured’ tends to be overused but is appropriate in this case given the balance in this low alcohol beer. www.cascadebreweryco.com.au
Bulmer’s Original Type: Imported Cider Alc/vol: 4.7% Food Match: Pork dishes such as roast pork, country style pork terrine and pork pie. Has a clean apple character, with good weight of palate, a very crisp clean finish and with noticeable astringency.
Strongbow Original Type: Cider Alc/vol: 5.0% Food Match: Fish & chips, Chinese barbeque pork or ribs or char-grilled pork sausages. Australia’s most popular cider. Fresh and delicious with a hint of acidity for crisp refreshment. www.strongbow.com.au
There’s never been a better time to conquer one of the most famous maritime routes, the Northwest Passage, on Akademik Ioffe. words & Photos: roderick eime
For centuries the convoluted, treacherous sea
route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans has been the bane of navigators and explorers. Now, with changes in our planet’s climate, this Holy Grail of seafarers is almost too easy. Despite this reduced difficulty, the Northwest Passage remains one of the few ‘blue ribbon’ expedition voyages available today to committed adventure cruisers and is steeped in maritime history, Inuit culture and wildlife opportunities. All it takes is a vessel with basic ice capability and a little good fortune. Even so, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers are always on stand-by if you get into any really tricky stuff. Up until the last decade, the Northwest Passage was only achievable, if at all, during a small window of opportunity in the northern summer when favourable winds and currents allowed a narrow corridor through the pack ice. The first person to successfully navigate a vessel through the labyrinth was a brave Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, in 1906 – a feat that took the best part of three years to complete. The numerous disastrous attempts of others included the unmitigated failure of former Tasmanian governor Sir John Franklin, who disappeared along with 128 of his men in about 1850. No-one knows exactly where or when. Today, the itinerary features on the expedition list of most of the top adventure cruise companies, which can comfortably wrap up the 2,000-nautical-mile journey in about a fortnight and still have time to dawdle through fjords, spot polar bears and drop in for muktuk (cured whale blubber) at any of the remote Inuit settlements, such as Pond Inlet or Cambridge Bay. My westward journey was with relative newcomer One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) aboard the 117-metre, 96-passenger Soviet research vessel Akademik Ioffe, a ship well known to many adventurers, having served
with honours for Quark, Peregrine and other expedition operators for almost 20 years. While OOE may be a new brand on the scene, those behind the company are anything but green. Founder and CEO Andrew Prossin has a polar pedigree extending back to the early years of Peregrine with 150 voyages under his belt. Polar program manager Aaron Lawton has similar experience, while the management team together log about 60 years in polar tourism.
Greenland: world’s largest island Starting out from Greenland’s major commercial air hub, the former World War II airfield at Kangerlussuaq, we explored the world’s largest island’s spectacular west coast and its famous glaciers before heading across Baffin Bay to Canada. Ilulissat, to the north, is home to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed icefjord. As the birthplace of most of the icebergs that end up in the North Atlantic, it’s more than likely responsible for the one that collided with the Titanic one hundred years ago. After customs procedures at tiny Pond Inlet at the very tip of Baffin Island, we followed the course of so many intrepid adventurers and explorers into the Passage proper, a journey many never completed and the final resting place of several ships and scores of men. Our first tangible reminder of the treacherous nature of this land came at the historical site on Beechey Island, a rocky appendage to the much larger Devon Island, which serves as northern gatekeeper to the Parry Channel. Here, four graves are the only contemporary memorial to Sir John Franklin’s famous folly. Three of the men were early casualties of that mission, and from forensic examination of the well-preserved bodies in the 1980s it was found they succumbed to a mysterious combination of lung disease and lead poisoning thought to be caused by poorly soldered cans of food.
adventure Seasoned adventurer
Young Inuit, Pond Inlet
Numerous other memorials and a now ruined winter refuge were added in later years. Heading into Prince Regent Inlet along the eastern shore of Somerset Island, Akademik Ioffe made for Bellot Strait, a narrow waterway that had thwarted the efforts of past explorers. Instead of the impenetrable ice that had confronted so many before us, the strait was completely ice-free, punctuated only by a few pathetic bergs grounded along the shore. A dozen passengers completed the transit in a Zodiac, stopping to set foot on the northernmost point of the North American continent, Zenith Point. The long, sunny midsummer days brought out the wildlife and vegetation. Our naturalists kept a record of animals sighted throughout. Apart from the predicted polar bears, myriad seabirds and seals, we were treated to rare sightings of beluga whales, Peary caribou and bowhead whales. I’m not botanically minded, but there were several passengers ogling the delicate saxifrage, goat weed and hemlock making their brief annual appearance.
Meet the crew It’s not often you get to rub shoulders with real polar heroes, but Melbournian Ray McMahon qualifies in every sense. A veteran of Antarctic exploration, Ray is the recipient of the British Polar Medal and even has a mountain named after him. Chronically afflicted with the ‘polar virus’, Ray continues to seek the thrill of mild adventure. “When I first came here [to Beechey Island],” he says, “I was 20 and chasing Soviet submarines aboard a Canadian icebreaker.” A cairn built by his shipmates in September 1956 still stands on the island.
However, our gold-medal wildlife day was certainly the one we spent at Coningham Bay, where a pod of belugas frolicked in the shallow waters, apparently using the rocky bottom to scratch at their moulting skin. Unfortunately, some of the younger ones became stranded and therefore prey for the dozen polar bears we saw patrolling the shore. Life can be brutal in the Arctic.
• Top expedition experience. • Quality staff, lecturers and guides. • Fascinating insight into remote and fragile ecosystems.
• Arctic wildlife can be elusive. Be patient – it’s not Disneyland.
Fact file Cruise line:
One Ocean Expeditions Vessel: Akademik Ioffe Star rating: 3 Passenger Vanuatu capacity:
96 (double occupancy) Total crew: 63 Passenger decks: 4 GRT: 6,450 tons Entered service: 1989; refurbished in 2012
Facilities: Dining room, library, multimedia room with Apple computers, lecture theatre, bar/saloon, satellite communications, elevator, gift shop, infirmary with doctor, sauna, plunge pool, sun/ observation deck. Bookings: Call Active Travel on 1300 783 188 or visit www.activetravel.com.au.
AR C TIC OCEAN
Beechey Island Pond Inlet
VICTORIA ISLAND Cambridge Bay
BAFFIN BAY llulissat
NOR TH ATLANTIC OCEAN
Cruise The Remote High Arctic
Mekong • Ganges • Brahmaputra • Irrawaddy • Chindwin • Nile • Rajang (Borneo) • Hooghly (India)
• Canada’s north-west passage • Baffin Island • East Greenland • The Maritimes • Spitsbergen
Together with One Ocean Expeditions, we specialise in arranging journeys into the remote polar regions. We offer the world’s best expedition ships and the most comprehensive activity and sightseeing programme. All cruises include frequent shore excursions with expert guides and feature copious wildlife, history and fascinating local culture.
To order a brochure, for more information or to speak to a Polar Cruise expert contact:
Tel: 1300 783 188 www.activetravel.com.au
Arctic Expedition Operators 2013
Aurora Expeditions Destinations: Scotland, Norway, Spitsbergen,
‘The Jewels of the Arctic’ expedition (August 5–18 and August 18–31, 2013) takes in Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland and includes tundra walks amid wildlife and dwarf vegetation, Zodiac cruises near calving glacier fronts, mountain hikes and warm welcomes into indigenous communities. While crossing the Greenland Sea, Aurora’s onboard experts share their knowledge of the region’s plants, animals and history. Greenland’s remote east coast shows off the immensity of the icecap, fantastic icebergs and a fairytale landscape of granite spires rising 1,000 metres above exquisite fjords. There’s a good chance you’ll see reindeer, Arctic foxes, musk oxen, countless sea and land birds, walruses, seals, whales and polar bears. Bookings: 02 9252 1033, www.auroraexpeditions.com.au.
Greenland, Iceland Ship: Polar Pioneer Explorers Greg and Margaret Mortimer, veterans of almost three decades of Antarctic research, mountaineering and polar travel, founded Aurora Expeditions in 1992. Greg and Margaret’s aim was simple: to take small groups of travellers on voyages of discovery to regions that inspired them, thereby creating lifelong ambassadors for the preservation and protection of these sacred places. In 2013 Aurora is offering four Arctic voyages departing between June and September, covering the coastlines of Scotland, Norway, Spitsbergen, Greenland and Iceland.
Compagnie du Ponant
Destinations: Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland, North Pole Ships: Ocean Diamond, Sea Adventurer, Sea Spirit, 50 Years of Victory Since 1991 Quark has specialised in polar expeditions. Its ‘base camps’ are ships purpose-built for high-latitude cruising. The company offers unparalleled technical expertise, leadership and passion for polar adventure. Bookings: Quark Expeditions, 1800 812 855, www.quarkexpeditions.com or Peregrine Adventures, 1300 791 485, www.peregrineadventures.com.
Destinations: Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Russian Far East Ships: MS Bremen, MS Hanseatic Both ships are well equipped for travel in difficult waters, holding the highest ice class ranking for passenger vessels (E4). Onboard experts include a team of scientists, expedition leaders and specialists who guide landings and offer guests the rare opportunity to observe plant and animal life up close. Bookings: Landmark Travel, 02 9977 7100, www.landmarktravel.com.au.
Destinations: Spitsbergen, Greenland, Iceland, Canada, Russian Far East Ship: Le Boréal The only French cruise line, Compagnie du Ponant is an integral part of France’s great sailing tradition. It offers an elegant lifestyle aboard its intimate vessels and opportunities for discovery in a range of exceptional around the world. Le Boréal carries a maximum of 264 passengers who are looked after by a crew of 139. Bookings: Travel The World, 1300 804 522, www.traveltheworld.com.au.