Wondering how long it takes to reach Antarctica from Australia? We give you the lowdown on all your options, outline the time-frames involved, and include tips on what you should consider before planning your unforgettable adventure to the end of the world.
When planning a trip from Australia to Antarctica, it helps to have an overall idea of how much time one should set aside for such a considerable venture. Technically speaking, it would take less than a week to reach the southernmost continent on earth from Australia although that won’t really help you understand just how much you’ll need to plan your return trip.
First up, you’ll need to decide how you’ll want to visit Antarctica and then what you’ll want to do once you get there. Given that an Antarctica expedition comes with considerable spending and quite a bit of planning effort, many travellers will invariably choose to add more to their journey to make it an even more rewarding journey.
Side-trips notwithstanding, we recommend planning for a minimum of three weeks when heading to Antarctica.
Read on to find out why!
How to reach Antarctica from Australia
There are three ways you can get to Antarctica from Australia:
- Join an Antarctica cruise departing directly from Australia (Tasmania) or New Zealand
- Fly to South America and join a cruise to Antarctica from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the continent OR
- Fly to the Antarctic islands of the South Shetlands from Punta Arenas (southern Chile) and cruise the Antarctic Peninsula from there. Below, we’ll explain why this may be a good option if you’re not an adventurous cruise fanatic
Cruising to Antarctica from Australia
A cruise from Australia to Antarctica is an endeavour of majestic proportions, one that is ideal for discerning adventurers who dream of cruising on the open seas and feeling like old-world explorers. While this is the most expensive option from Australia – unless you manage to score an early bird deal – it is also one of the most unique expedition ship journeys on offer, anywhere in the world.
A return journey from Australia to Antarctica takes about 21 days, and this includes about a week spent on the eastern Antarctic region and several stops on enticingly remote islands along the way. On your journey, you’ll usually see the first icebergs on day 6, and will land on the White Continent on day 7. During your week-long sojourn in Antarctica, you’ll head off on daily excursions and wildlife encounters, before having to embark on the return journey home. This three-week journey is spent entirely on the expedition ship and you’ll spend about 12 days cruising on the open seas.
Insider tip: The most important thing to keep in mind is that Antarctica cruises which depart from Australia offer a vastly different experience to those departing from Ushuaia. When setting off from Hobart, you’ll visit the remote and lesser visited eastern side of Antarctica (often dubbed the most isolated landmass on earth), have a much ‘wilder’ and more rugged cruising experience, see far bigger icebergs and hopefully encounter the elusive Emperor Penguin, something of a rare sight on the main Antarctic Peninsula visited by Ushuaia cruise ships.
Fly from Australia to South America and then cruise to Antarctica
Ushuaia, the departure point for Antarctica cruises from the South American continent, is one of Argentina’s most delightful towns. Dubbed ‘the city at the end of the world’, perched at the mouth of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is not only a springboard for Antarctic adventures, but also a great base from where to explore incredible Patagonia highlights like the Chilean Fjords, El Chalten and El Calafate, with their respective revered glaciers and dramatic snow-capped mountains.
Patagonia is a hard-to-reach and relatively expensive destination for Australians, so it makes complete sense to add a side trip to your Antarctica cruise if travelling to Ushuaia.
Reaching Antarctica from Ushuaia by expedition cruise ship takes only three days: icebergs are spotted on day 2 and landing is made on day 4. Return cruises from Ushuaia range in duration from 10 to 26 days. This includes a crossing of the infamously memorable Drake Passage.
How to reach Ushuaia from Australia – The best way to reach Ushuaia from Australia is to take a flight to Buenos Aires via Auckland with Air New Zealand (16 hours from Sydney) and, from there, catch an internal flight to Ushuaia (3.5 hours). When choosing this option, it is advisable to include at least 2 nights in Buenos Aires (not exactly a chore, mind you) and to factor in a day’s rest and sightseeing in Ushuaia before and after the start of your cruise.
All of the above is the reason why even the shortest Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia would still necessitate a 3-week timeframe, as a minimum. The cruise may be shorter, but your travel, transfer and ‘free days’ will amount to 20 or so days anyway.
How to seamlessly add more adventurous to your journey – If choosing this option, you could also include trips elsewhere in South America because, if you’ve come this far from Australia, why not squeeze the most of your journey and expense?
Popular destinations from Ushuaia and Buenos Aires include breathtaking Iguazu Falls, the wine region of Mendoza and the stellar outdoor sports mecca of Bariloche, to name but a few. Suddenly, planning a month off to indulge in that 10-day Antarctica cruise from Ushuaia doesn’t seem so crazy, after all!
It should be obvious by now that when planning an Antarctica cruise from Australia, you should consider more than just your time availability. Cruising directly from our shores will be truly epic but it will also include a lot of days at sea and will necessitate a much more adventurous spirit. Cruises from Ushuaia are shorter and ideal if your sea legs aren’t all that stable and if you want to incorporate a longer tour of South or Central America whilst there.
Fly Directly to Antarctica From Punta Arenas
The South Shetland are a dramatic group of islands floating just north of the Antarctic Peninsula. If coming from Ushuaia on a cruise ship, they are the first port of call after the Drake Passage and offer a fantastic ‘intro’ into the spectacular adventures to come. A hub of polar scientific research and base of many polar explorations for decades, the archipelago of the South Shetlands actually boasts an airport. If a 2-day crossing of the Drake Passage sounds a little too adventurous for your tastes, you can fly directly to King George Island and join a cruise from there. You can choose to fly only one-way (because the Drake is something everyone should experience at least once!) or, if you fancy, fly there and back, skipping the pesky Drake altogether.
Flights to King George depart from Punta Arenas in southern Chile, a popular Antarctica cruise port for Antarctica expeditions which also include the Falklands and South Georgia, the latter being the most revered Antarctic wildlife hotspot of all.
Fly+cruise expeditions to Antarctica tend to be the more expensive option although if you categorically do not want to cruise the Drake this is about the only way to still have a phenomenal Antarctica experience. The islands themselves are astonishing, with working research stations, remnants of the old whaling industry and an abundance of wildlife hot-spots to explore. Moreover, the flight across will barely take a couple of hours, so you can easily shave off four days to your cruise itinerary and your overall journey if you opt for a return flight.
Whichever way you choose to reach Antarctica from Australia, keep that three-week minimum timeframe in mind and you won’t risk feeling as if your once-in-a-lifetime experienced whizzes past you in a mad rush.
For more information on Planning a trip to Antarctica or even learning about the wildlife visit our Antarctica Hub for a comprehensive guide on all things Antarctica. If you still can’t make heads or tails of it and wish for a more personalised recommendation, feel free to contact us: together, we’ll find an Antarctica cruise that will tick all your boxes.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”