I am standing on ice a mile deep. In front of me is a penguin highway stretching to the pinnacle of a hill, where dozens of birds are waiting impatiently. Their cries fill the air.

On the beach below, their partners are struggling through the snow with precious pebbles in their beaks. Occasionally, they simply fall on their bellies for a rest.

But they must hurry. There is no time to lose. It’s November, and the breeding season starts in just a few short weeks. The pebbles are to make a nest for their eggs.

When we got back to the ship, we discovered something amazing: we were the first humans to set foot on this island. No wonder the penguins looked puzzled and came to look at their strange visitors.

Welcome to Antarctica, the world’s seventh continent, the coldest place on the planet – and a place I never thought I would see.

Then I signed up for an expedition cruise.

This is life-changing stuff. It’s where bucket dreams are fulfilled. But perhaps what surprised me most was it was so easy to do.

What I love most about adventure and expedition cruising is the sense of purpose. Our expedition leader told us we’d be ambassadors for sustainability and preservation by the time we got home, and he was right.

But adventure and expedition cruises aren’t just about the ice. That same sense of purpose can be found in the Galapagos, the islands around New Zealand and in our very own and much-loved Kimberley region.

Blue footed boobies in the Galapagos.
Blue footed boobies in the Galapagos.

It is becoming hugely popular, driven both by cashed-up baby boomers and millennials. There are 90 ships visiting the Antarctic this year, and Kimberley is experiencing its biggest ever season. So much so that there are now moves to control the number of vessels so visitors continue to feel its remoteness.

So what can you expect from adventure and expedition? Firstly, forget the pith helmets and native guides. Today, ships are superbly built for what this kind of holiday is all about: unique experiences and learning. 

Expect guest lectures and experts in marine and mammal biology and science – ships like those of Hurtigruten and Ponant are built to take researchers. And guests can take part in citizen science while they are on board.

Does it mean much? Yes, it does. Imagine an army of guests sending results back to universities so researchers get real-time data on bird and sea life. That’s what is happening right now, and you can be part of it.

Shore excursions attain a new purpose once you sign up for these. And they are both great learning experiences and fun.

So where can you go? The icy polar regions are hot favourites, along with Scandinavia, Iceland, Alaska and Northern Britain.

Closer to home, our coastline is fast gaining a following – particularly in Western Australia. The Pacific, with areas like the Solomons and Vanuatu, is also featured. And in Asia, Indonesia’s many islands are a new adventure domain.

And you don’t have to give up any of the creature comforts. Luxury lines such as Scenic with its world-first discovery yachts Eclipse I and II and Ponant will show you this amazing secret world and reveal its wonders over a glass of Champagne, with specialty dining and spa treatments.

You can be as active as you like. Some go just to see these wonders from the ship. Others can’t wait to dive into the Zodiacs. The choice is yours.

You will get lots of training, and the safety aboard these vessels is second to none. Sometimes, you will be visiting hazardous regions where the nearest help is days away. So travel insurance including medical evacuation is a must.

You will come home with a bag full of memories, sights you never thought you’d see and pictures that will live with you forever.

A warm island welcome for Paul Gauguin cruisers.
A warm island welcome.

The toys of adventure and expedition

Science on board: Hearing about our planet and taking part in real scientific research to help preserve remote regions is life-changing, and many vessels now have working science labs so they can pass data back to universities on weather and wildlife

Zodiacs: These military-grade, fast rubber inflatables are the transport workhorses of adventure – and you’ll get lessons on how to get in and out. Even “wet landings” will become fun trust me – it’s not as daunting as it looks from your lounge room).

Submarines: Relative newcomers aboard ships like Scenic Eclipse, these amazing undersea vehicles give a whole new breadth to visiting regions like Antarctica, where giant jellyfish vie with seals and penguins to show you how they love the water.

Helicopters: Scenic has the ability to take you above the remote regions, where authorities allow, or carry you to places even Eclipse cannot go.

Kayaks: Dressed in your dry suit, some relish the opportunity of seeing the land up close but a little more personal. And nothing beats a seal bobbing up to take a look at how you are doing.

Are you an adventure or expedition cruiser? If this sounds like you, then it’s time to book on an expedition ship.

  1. You believe travel should broaden your mind.
  2. You yearn to discover places that few have visited.
  3. You want to see for yourself how our planet really works.
  4. You enjoy learning and listening.
  5. You love wildlife, remote regions and distant lands.
A Ponant expedititioner looks over the terrain.
Ponant expedition team member looks over the ocean.