Rare view of Mt Erebus highlight of subantarctic island cruise

The 'Le Soleal' cruise ship docked in Antarctica, with some penguins in the foreground. PHOTO:...
The 'Le Soleal' cruise ship docked in Antarctica, with some penguins in the foreground. PHOTO: GRAEME THOMPSON
A trip of a lifetime to the subantarctic islands was made even better thanks to perfect weather conditions and pure luck.

On mid-February, Graeme Thompson was one of 155 passengers and 169 crew members aboard the expedition cruise ship Le Soleal who spent 21 days travelling to many of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands and spent a week in Antarctica crossing the isolated Ross Sea.

Mr Thompson said it was just an unbelievable experience, made even better by the collection of Antarctic experts on board teaching passengers all about what they were seeing.

"It was basically a lecture tour really. We were very well looked after."

Some of the spots the expedition went to included the Auckland Islands, Enderby Island, Campbell Islands, Balleny Islands, Macquarie Island, the Ross Sea and the Snares.

The group also got a rare unencumbered view of Mt Erebus while it was letting off smoke plumes. The volcano is Antarctica’s second-highest and nine times out of 10 is obscured by the wild weather.

"The weather was amazingly good for the Antarctic, so we got the chance to get off the ship at most places."

The good weather also gave the group a fantastic view of the Ross Ice Shelf, which was made even better with a lecture by on-board experts, giving the group fun facts to talk about.

"The frontal area of the Ross Ice shelf is 800km wide and it goes inland for about 600km — it was incredibly spectacular with the good weather we struck."

The group also followed in the footsteps of previous polar explorers by stopping and seeing many of the huts people of the past lived in.

"We went around to Cape Royd, where we went on foot to the Shackleton Hut and went inside," Mr Thompson said.

"Everything was perfectly preserved and as it was — even the beds were as they were. When we went to Scott’s Hut by Cape Evans, Robert Scott’s bedding was still unmade — he never made it back, of course.

"It was quite a moving experience," Mr Thompson said.

The group saw huge numbers of penguins on the islands all the way down to the Ross Sea, as well as many different species of albatross at various islands.

"We saw a massive number of emperor penguins when we parked up by the ice shelf by McMurdo Sound.

"They are the creme de la creme of the penguin world — beautiful birds."

In total the passengers and crew travelled 8400km before ending the excursion in Dunedin.