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Hobart is home to both Australian and French Antarctic Research and supply ships. Both “Aurora Australis” and “L’Astrolabe” are bright orange/red ice breaker ships, which we regularly see entering and leaving the city during the summer months.


Hobart is a natural deep water port, and when you head out into the Southern Ocean, the next stop is Antarctica, 2,500 km away.

One of the highlights of last weekend’s Antarctic Festival was public tours of the two ships. Tickets sold out quickly but we managed to go on board the French Ship. With a crew of 12 and up to 50 scientists, the ship takes five days or more to get to the Antarctic coast, depending on the sea ice. It has a helipad and space in the cargo deck for two helicopters.

The tour around the inside of the ship was fascinating, with current scientists and crew talking about aspects of their work during a trip south. A volunteer spoke about the year he spent on Macquarie Island back in the 1950’s researching the wildlife there.

None of today’s communications, just a telegram from home every three months. They took a cow with them on their trip, to get fresh milk, but had to take food for her, as no grass down there. They pegged out an area and counted the number of penguins within the area, to them estimate the size of the colony around them. They estimated over half a million birds, who they could walk amongst when the females weren’t nesting. We could have listened to him for hours, unfortunately each tour was carefully timed.

“Aurora Australis” is four times bigger than “L’Astrolabe” but have similar facilities and cover similar work. Both ships are approaching thirty years of age and are soon to be decommissioned.

Here are 2 photos from a festival brochure.