Tuesday 4 May 2010

Cruise Weekly: Enquiring Minds go Adventure Cruising

Sir George Hubert Wilkins in his later years

by Roderick Eime

It’s not uncommon for cruise ships of all shapes and sizes to carry with them lecturers and demonstrators on all manner of subjects from history, geography, anthropology, winemaking, yoga and oil painting to crochet.

Adventure and expedition cruise vessels traditionally take the learning and enrichment angle very seriously. Instead of flower arranging and tantric diets, you can expect to learn about the exploits of early explorers and adventurers, the migration patterns of early the lapita civilization in Melanesia and how to tell a dorid nudibranch from a common sea slug.

William Mills, the late keeper of collections at Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University (SPRI), once berated me on behalf of all Australians.

“You Aussies are fixated on (British-born) Mawson and completely overlook one of the most accomplished explorers of the 20th Century,” he admonished. Aboard a Quark vessel, William proceeded to enlighten me on the outrageous career of Sir Hubert Wilkins, a modest country boy from South Australia, who was the first person to successfully deploy an aircraft in Antarctica, first to fly across the Arctic, first to take a submarine beneath the polar ice cap and first to comprehensively study the flora, fauna and indigenous people of outback Australia. Hubert who? Exactly!

My understanding of the complexities and subtleties of Melanesian culture was considerably enhanced by the vivacious Dr Nancy Sullivan, a US-born, Madang-based anthropologist whose ebullient descriptions of the convoluted Kula trading patterns of the Milne Bay region had the entire passenger and crew complement of Oceanic Discoverer transfixed. A vocal advocate for responsible tourism in her beloved PNG, Nancy defends the perceived intrusion of tourists.

“(Responsible) Tourism is good for Papua New Guinea,” she repeats almost as a mantra. “It brings much-needed funds to remote communities, encourages them to maintain traditional culture and prevents the young men, in particular, from seeking work in the cities where they’re exposed to many dangerous influences.”
Mick Fogg

Aboard Orion, Mick Fogg, carefully unrolls his vast knowledge in a way everyone can understand and appreciate. I can’t remember his specific specialty, but he can orate with the best on such varied scientific topics as marine biology, zoology, vulcanology and geology.

“People [aboard expedition ships] are looking for a full experience behind their travels,” Mick told me. “They want the whole story, not just another photo for their album. They’re asking questions and filling in gaps in their own understanding and often sharing their knowledge – just don’t ask me about global warming!”

Okay, I didn’t, but clearly lots of people do, and that’s okay because learning, discovery and understanding is what expedition cruising is all about. Our Earth is a tiny but fascinating planet in this vast cosmos and anyone who has ever been glued to their TV screen watching a David Attenborough documentary is a prime candidate for this type of mind-expanding travel.

Next time you are flicking through the pages of a travel brochure, consider the wider cruising options available. Are you an adventurer? Check out www.adventurecruiseguide.com for more ideas.

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