To the Ends of the Earth…MV Orion

MV Orion

Ok, here’s remote: this continent only allows 100 people to be on it at one time – and that includes the dozen or so odd lots that live there on and off.

It’s not a hard riddle to answer but it is a steep challenge to become one of those 100.

Antarctica is closer than most people think – 4,152 miles from Chile, but only 3,394 miles from New Zealand as the crow flies. And that takes you to the shelf’s more isolated reaches of Cape Denison, the site of Sir Douglas Mawson’s untouched hut from the historic 1911-1913 expedition.

“It’s not just that this place is inaccessible,” says marine biologist Mick Fogg. “The fact is that more people have been to the top of Everest than have visited this historic hut and once you get there it’s like the explorers never left. Everything is exactly as it was a hundred years ago!”

Fogg is just one of the guiding lights aboard the MV Orion, an 106-passenger expedition yacht that plies the seas in search of the earth’s most remote places. It spends most of its time moving around the South Pacific – from Australia’s top end to Indonesia and Borneo to Papua New Guinea and south to New Zealand, Antarctica and the islands in between. It’s a zodiac-carrying vessel that drops anchor when an intriguing island is in sight and sends the rafts out to the beaches for exploration. It’s a green kind of trip that brings needed cargo to remote villages and islands along the way and allows passengers to get an intimate view of rarely seen cultures.

But it is also a luxurious vessel that passengers return to at the end of a hot and grueling day climbing through canyons in Arnhem Land in search of 15,000-year-old graffiti; or wandering still rainforests in search of endangered primates in Borneo; or seeking out the secrets of sake and vodka in Japan and the Russian Far East.

The Orion is a purpose built ship able to take on the earth and its challenges, but keeping a standard of luxury in place at all times. Only about 50 couples (and some rooms and suites can accommodate families) come aboard for the seven- to 21-night cruises. Rooms have ocean views, marble bathrooms, complimentary 24-hour room service, flat screen TVs, DVD/CD players, internet connectivity, a personal safe, hairdryer and a mini-refrigerator continuously stocked with bottled water. Even the smallest stateroom (175 square feet) has a view.

Ships sale with a cadre of specialists and natural history buffs on board, and seminars, both on and off the ship, are in constant activity. For its size, the ship still fits it all in – the gym, the spa, the library, the boutique, the salon, the bars, the restaurants, the observation lounges and the lecture hall. No, there is no Vegas-style show on this trip. Just the dry stuff of scholars and travelers. Also, not everything is included with the tariff. Many excursions are, and many are not. Similarly, spirits and fine wines can be purchased on board. Massage treatments start at around $70. Internet runs around $30 an hour.

Excursion rates tend to run on the high side, starting at around $10,000 per couple for the bottom category stateroom on a seven-night expedition through the Great Barrier Reef, for example. But inventory sells out quickly and the company is launching a sister ship next May: the all-suite Orion II, which will make its maiden voyage on a 24-day cruise from Vancouver to Japan before making a home in Southeast Asia and focusing on Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan’s Inland Sea and Indonesia.



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