Antarctica cruise: Why it's worth crossing the world's roughest ocean to see the icy continent

It's breakfast time on the first morning of my APT Antarctica cruise and I'm clutching the sides of the dining table, trying to think stable thoughts. You are Uluru, I tell myself. You are a giant gum, rooted to the earth.

It's not working. I look out the tall windows beside me, frothy waves crashing up against them, feeling like a banana in a blender. Just then, an announcement comes over the ship's PA system from our French-accented captain: "You must deserve your paradise!" Curse him, I think, while trying to avoid having to re-swallow the eggs I've just eaten.

I hadn't expected the Drake Passage crossing to be easy. I knew full well this body of water, where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans converge between South America's Cape Horn and Antarctica's South Shetland Islands, was reputed to be one of roughest in the world.

I'd watched the gut-churning videos on Youtube. I'd spoken to people who, despite having dreamt of travelling to the white continent all their lives, decided not to because they just couldn't hack the petrifying 48-hour crossing. I guess I'd just hoped for the "Drake Lake" that some lucky travellers experience, rather than the "Drake Shake" I'm actually getting.

After attempting a fascinating lecture on whales by one of the on-board naturalists, but feeling on the verge of eruption the whole time, I decide to surrender; to take myself back to bed, to lie down and do absolutely nothing.

A trip to Antarctica isn't just another holiday, I realise, as I lie there letting my mind unfold. It's one of the most exhilarating adventures a traveller can hope to undertake on this planet. For the Antarctic ride, this rocking and rolling is the price of entry. And besides, as Theodore Roosevelt once famously put it, "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty."

Having given myself this pep talk, I throw myself fully into this Antarctic version of the fly-and-flop holiday. I soak up the luxury of my spacious cabin, a calming space with white walls, sumptuous bedding, glass doors leading to a private balcony and – most thrilling of all – a glass panel in the bathroom so you can look out to the sea (and, eventually, the icebergs) as you shower.

I watch an on-demand movie, order a gourmet burger from room service, raid the complimentary mini bar for some soothing ginger ale, then  allow myself to be rocked to sleep by the waves rolling by the balcony doors.

Later, I lurch up to the light-filled lounge bar on deck six where I lie on the couch leafing through coffee table books, in a vegetative state I feel I haven't indulged in for years. I sip tea, watch gigantic albatrosses wheeling by the side of the ship and, with no Wi-Fi available on this stretch of the cruise, have a real-life chat with some fellow passengers, one of whom turns out to be quite the Drake Passage connoisseur.


This roughly 1000-kilometre stretch of water, she says, was first sailed in the early 1500s by Spanish marine explorer Francisco de Hoces. Half a century later, the famous British explorer Sir Francis Drake lost a ship while sailing South America's west coast, leading him to verify the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in this area, and hence have the passage named after him.

Given how rattled the Drake Passage has us, even in this state-of-the-art APT ship with its ice-strengthened hull, we marvel at the courage of these men. Just thinking about them ups my Antarctic anticipation levels, my stomach fluttering at the thought of what we're about to see at the end of the earth.

By the time we finally reach the majestic stillness, at a place called Diamond Bay where we hear the first ice growling by the side of the ship, I'm grateful for having gone through this Antarctic rite of passage. I feel tougher, somehow, and more mentally prepared for what we're about to see. And I think I finally agree with our captain: like all great things in life, our paradise will be all the sweeter for having worked for it.

Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of APT.




Air New Zealand flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Buenos Aires via Auckland. From there it's a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Ushuaia, where ships depart for Antarctica. See


APT's 15-day Classic Antarctica tour starts from $16,490 a person (prestige deck 4 balcony, estate room) plus a $500 air credit per person. Upgrade to a deck 6 suite from $28,490, including a Fly Free offer. See