From deep glacial valleys and fjords to impressive wildlife and welcoming local communities, the Arctic is an incredibly diverse location. To learn more about what exploring this fascinating region in the ultra-luxury of Scenic Eclipse truly means, we caught up with Getaway presenter Catriona Rowntree.
Keep reading for a closer look into her unforgettable Arctic destinations, 'wow' wildlife moments and the onboard experiences that made this one of her all-time favourite journeys.
What was it like exploring the Arctic in ultra-luxury on board Scenic Eclipse?
The Arctic completely took me by surprise, it ended up being one of my all-time favourite journeys. It was pure serendipity, an unexpected yet wonderful surprise. In my mind, it was all white and physically impenetrable - how wrong I was.
The midnight sun casts a golden glow across everything, literally all the time. I was enthralled by the Norwegian culture, the vast new Opera House in Oslo and the inspiring history of gutsy, inquisitive explorers. Greenland just showed off quite frankly, with its ‘iceberg alleys’, whales whipping into the air, Polar Bears high fiving us from a distance, Walrus... Finally, Iceland was a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma. Tiny, yet exploding with powerful Viking ‘sagas’, volcanoes drawing in tourists as they spurted lava, hot springs filled with rosy-skinned locals, speaking a language they’re fiercely proud of that even inspired the great J R. R. Tolkien to learn and then create The Hobbit.
What did you enjoy the most about travelling on an ultra-luxury expedition cruise?
Let me give you an example of a joy-filled moment. As I was chatting to the Captain (remember, you are welcome to explore ‘the bridge’) I spotted clear as a bell a whale fluking in the distance, and he said ‘let’s go’ - turned the discovery yacht starboard and off we went to get up close and personal with a Humpback. I’ve never experienced that before. To have the ability to move that swiftly, to be able to hover at certain locations and not drop anchor, all the ‘toys’ that are nestled within Scenic Eclipse – the Zodiacs, helicopters and submarine - and come out to play when we want to go exploring.
What were your impressions of your suite, and how was it to have butler service?
My suite was warm, comforting, a treat to return to. They’re all soundproof, have a balcony, and blackout blinds, it’s basically your place of peace. I’d wander out onto my balcony at 4 am (remember we had the midnight sun) just to watch the world glide by. I was so happy. Sometimes I’d be joined by a Puffin, or a sweet seal would smile back at me… We filmed every day for Getaway, so each morning my butler would bring me this perfect coffee, a yummy omelette and fresh fruit. Then we’d talk about his home, my family, I’d ask his opinion on what to wear, I just loved this interaction so much.
What were your favourite experiences filming Getaway on the Arctic?
Who knew my favourite part of the day would be gathering for Critter Club. I didn’t even know what that was before The Arctic, but down we’d go to the Lounge at 6pm, my fellow geeks and I to swap notes on all the Arctic animals, flora and fauna we’d spotted that day. Best of all was listening to the expert Discovery Team sharing their knowledge about our surroundings - we’d be upping each other on ‘did you knows?’. Each day I learned so much, I was active, excited, and I truly found my tribe at Critter Club.
Tell us about your Scenic Discovery experiences, how was it to go kayaking in such a unique place?
I was spoilt with my kayak and all other discovery experiences. I loved that every day I could be active, then would recharge back in my suite. Getting up close and personal with a crunching, rolling, shotgun-sounding glacier baby was a heart-in-mouth moment. Our guide was a legend, and it all felt like this special experience our group shared and will remember forever. The Discovery Team are the rockstars of the entire fleet, their knowledge is astounding, they truly inspired me.
What can you tell us about the helicopter experience?
I’m learning how to fly myself, so you can say I'm addicted to seeing the world from this angle. The pilot appreciated my admiration and genuine interest, and I loved how he was just as in awe of what we were seeing as me. As we rose above the mountain tops, we were surprised to see a massive Musk Ox drinking from a natural pool of water, it was so surreal, and the pilot said we were probably flying across an area no one had ever been before. I appreciated it and will treasure this flight for the rest of my life.
And how was the polar plunge – is it really as cold as it seems?
You’re going to feel so good at the end of this split second, once-in-a-lifetime, experience. Trust me, the cold plunge is so exhilarating, the shared experience with your fellow giggling Arctic Plungers is so joyful and the hot drink as you emerge is so restorative… It’s so worth it, an unmissable opportunity.
Are there any particular Scenic Eclipse restaurants or experience you enjoyed the most?
Some of my favourite moments were the ones when I got to connect with fellow guests, like making friends over lunch. The Azure Bar & Cafe is hugely popular for just getting your hot drink and then chat away with whoever sits near you. Sushi @ Koko's was also a delicious experience, so fresh. The Getaway crew and I like to stay healthy when we travel, so we'd congregate around the gym, do a little Pilates class, and maybe have an infrared sauna followed by a cold plunge - I must say I miss this healthy routine dearly now. You never feel crowded, and I loved having so many options for what to do on board.
Can you tell us about meeting the remote communities in the Arctic?
I am drawn towards cultural experiences, I want to learn from and chat with the locals, and I want it to be authentic. My experience was just that. Laughing with the local children, learning from a local mum that when living in such a small community you just have to get along, and that her challenge with her children was to not let them run off unaccompanied, or a polar bear could get them. It was illuminating. I have this unusual image to share - seeing the skin of a bear and Musk Ox drying on a roof top (the Ox wool is incredibly warm) while chatting to a beautiful German lady who had fallen in love with a local and was spinning wool in the local church. Just to talk, to listen and learn - that's what I love doing when I'm travelling.
What wildlife moment stood out for you?
On the first trip out, we saw reindeer frolicking right by us; then learned to adjust our eyes to spot the camouflaged Arctic Fox whose coat changes colour in summer, racing across the rocks. The Arctic Turn had me in awe with their tiny size yet humongous flight ability; I weirdly connected with a Walrus who eyeballed me whilst showing me his big tusk and I cooed ‘hello darling’ back. Every day we were offered a wildlife treat.
Any advice for future travellers on what to pack for an Arctic cruise?
Layer up, wear your wool, take some old black ski pants and remember you'll get an amazing complimentary Scenic expedition parka on board. I wore my urban ski boots happily each day, so I would recommend leaving high heels and anything that needs ironing at home.
In your opinion, what makes a Scenic Eclipse voyage in the Arctic so unique?
Think about full access to such a remote and beautiful region. Roll it up in a luxurious gift box and throw in a daily epic adventure. That’s Scenic Eclipse, and it makes me feel incredibly proud that it is an Australian company leading the charge and setting the trends for the rest of the world to follow. It's a small and intimate cruise, you remember everyone's names, and get to see this amazing ever-changing scenario from your own suite. Scenic also has a commitment to respecting the environment and local communities throughout the whole journey, so it’s immersive and forward-thinking, just wonderful.
Having travelled to the Chilean Fjords on board Scenic Eclipse, how do you compare these voyages?
Scenic offers a complete package with each experience, you just have to be receptive. For me, the point of difference is the Arctic's people, the culture and how it has inspired a source of creativity that has shaped our culture across the world - from Edvard Gieg and Munch to JRR Tolkien and Bjork, these are the mountains, the air, the colours, the language that set their minds and turned the world’s hearts on fire.
Which 3 words would you use to summarise your Scenic Eclipse experience in the Arctic?
Serendipitous, enlightening and thrilling.
Watch Catriona Rowntree on board Scenic Eclipse in the Arctic on Saturday, 20 October, at 5:30pm on Channel 9.
Learn more about Scenic Eclipse Expedition Voyages in the Arctic here
or request your brochure.