Traveling to Antarctica from New Zealand

travel to Antarctica from New Zealand

When most people think of Antarctica, they think of it exclusively as terrain for scientific research stations, or as an ideal location for a National Geographic photo shoot, not as a top tourist destination. However, almost 45,000 tourists from around the world visited Antarctica in 2017 alone, drawn to the white continent for its stunning natural landscapes and varied wildlife including king and emperor penguins.

New Zealand is one of the closest countries to Antarctica, at 4,989 kilometers of distance, and it is an ideal place to stop over on the way to the southernmost continent in the world. As Antarctica is not governed by a single country, it is not necessary to obtain a visa waiver to visit the continent, although it is necessary to obtain permission. Those traveling on an Antarctica cruise from New Zealand will have their permits for Antarctica arranged by the operator of the cruise.

However, those who are transiting through New Zealand to Antarctica will be required to obtain a travel document in order to pass through New Zealand.

All foreign cruise passengers entering New Zealand must obtain an NZeTA in order to be allowed into the country. Those who transit through Auckland International Airport and hold an eligible passport can also obtain an Electronic Travel Authority for New Zealand. This visa waiver for New Zealand can be requested online in minutes by completing a simple application form.

In order to submit an eTA NZ application, it is also necessary to complete a few security-related questions, and pay the eTA fee with a valid debit or credit card. Visitors transiting through New Zealand on their way to Antarctica are not required to pay the Tourism Tax Conservation IVL for NZ that is normally charged along with the eTA application.

The IVL is a small tourist tax which has been introduced to allow travelers to help contribute to protecting the natural environment and infrastructure they enjoy during their stay in New Zealand.

Getting to Antarctica from New Zealand

The majority of tourists who choose to visit Antarctica get there by cruise ship. Most cruises to Antarctica leave from South America, especially Ushuaia in the far south of Argentina. However, there is an increasing number of cruises traveling to Antarctica from New Zealand, which depart from either Invercargill or Lyttleton in the east and south of the South Island and cross to Antarctica via the Ross Sea.

When preparing to travel to Antarctica from New Zealand, it is essential to pack suitable clothing to withstand icy conditions and the low Antarctic temperatures, especially if visiting in the winter months. It is suggested that travelers:

  • Pack a warm hat, thick scarf, and plenty of thick socks
  • Wear many layers, with breathable inner layers and waterproof outer layers. A durable hooded parka and thermal pants are suggested good practice for outerwear
  • Wear waterproof pants outside of boots to prevent water from getting in
  • Protect hands with thick waterproof gloves
  • Pack sunscreen and sunglasses to beat the often intense glare off the ice and snow.

It is also necessary to obtain travel insurance to cover the trip before departing New Zealand for Antarctica, whether traveling by cruise ship or by air.

Antarctica cruise from New Zealand

Although it is possible to travel to Antarctica from New Zealand by air, the majority of tourists choose to reach the continent by cruise ship, as any permits required to enter the territory are organized by the cruise operators on behalf of the passengers. However, those transiting through New Zealand by ship on the way to Antarctica will be required to obtain their own eTA New Zealand for a cruise before departing for the trip.

An Antarctica cruise from New Zealand takes around 7 days to reach the white continent and 7 days to get back. Both journeys are broken up by stopovers on Macquarie Island, a wildlife-rich UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as on the Auckland Islands, Snares Islands, and Campbell Island, which all have their own unique ecosystems.

Although they may wish to undertake an Antarctica from New Zealand cruise as a family, travelers are advised not to bring children under 12 years old on the trip, as the journey can be long and conditions can be hard for minors under this age.

Antarctica from New Zealand by air

Getting to Antarctica from New Zealand by air is rather more complicated than by cruise ship, as all travelers will need to organize their own permits to travel to Antarctica. This can be done by contacting an embassy of their home country at least 3 months in advance of the planned arrival date. It will also be necessary to obtain the necessary travel entry document for New Zealand in order to transit through the country (for example, an eTA for visa waiver citizens).

What’s more, those hoping to take a flight over Antarctica from New Zealand and see everything from the air are likely to be dissapointed, as commercial airlines rarely fly over the continent due to strict rules regarding safety and political concerns.

However, it is possible to take a charter flight from New Zealand to Antarctica, with options for inland flights, scenic flights, or flights to King George Island, 120 kilometers off the coast of mainland Antarctica. Flights depart from Christchurch in the east of New Zealand’s South Island, and take around 5-7 hours to reach Antarctica.

The Best time to travel from New Zealand to Antarctica

When choosing the best time to visit Antarctica from New Zealand, it’s important to bear in mind that the continent experiences a southern hemisphere summer, and is therefore most accessible between the months of October to March. The cheapest prices for cruises tend to be found around the beginning and end of the season, as the weather can be unpredictable.

Visitors who want to go whale-watching should visit during February and March, considered the middle season in Antarctica. Those dying to catch a glimpse of the aurora australis or the southern lights should consider visiting during the low season between April and October, although they should be warned that temperatures hit an extreme low and night lasts for months at a time.

Those who want to visit during the warmest temperatures should consider visiting during January and December, when the sun shines for around 20 hours a day and baby penguins regularly pop out of their eggs. However, some of the highest prices of the year also tend to be found around Christmas and New Year, so those traveling on a budget may want to consider visiting Antarctica from New Zealand during November instead.