Tour leader interview with Paul Goldstein - Antarctic wildlife photography holiday

Mini boat
On a boat, photo by Paul Goldstein

Learn more about this Antarctic wildlife photography holiday, led by Chris Packham, Mark Carwardine & Paul Goldstein

Arctic and Antarctic aficionado Paul Goldstein organises some of the most fabled polar wildlife expeditions in the world. Along with world renowned photographer and zoologist Mark Carwardine as well as award winning BBC wildlife presenter, Chris Packham, they travel as an inimitable trio to Antarctica on an expedition that is all about photography, wildlife and allowing yourself to really immerse yourselves in the wonders of the great White Continent. If you are looking for a run of the mill cruise, look elsewhere. The C word is banned in this team’s world. Wildlife and photography is what this expedition is all about. Paul chats candidly with one of our travel writers, Catherine Mack about why this trio’s trip is triumphant.

How is this Antarctic expedition with yourself, Mark Carwardine and Chris Packham different than other trips to Antarctica?
I am proud of our pedigree on these expeditions – I’ve led 19 charters, several of them with Mark and Chris. A sole use charter enables us to really focus on a few subjects properly. I don’t really subscribe to rigid itineraries on any of my wildlife trips. Mark Carwardine and Chris Packham feel exactly the same way. The main subjects for us are wildlife and photography, and the great Antarctic wilderness of course. And then there is our team. I’m proud of them too.

Photo by Paul Goldstein
It is an impressive team, for sure. Tell me more about working with Mark and Chris
The three of us are all very different but we complement each other well. Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, probably the world’s number one whale expert, author, an astonishing photographer and guide with a huge wildlife following. He has been on the BBC a lot and did an incredible programme called Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry. He has worked with the Duke of Edinburgh and is the real deal heavyweight when it comes to wildlife.

Chris Packham is extraordinary of course. An award winning BBC wildlife presenter, leading conservationist, Vice President of the RSPB and all round great man. He can divide opinion, but this is a great asset and believe me, I know a little of Marmite. You may have seen his BBC Asperger’s and Me programme. He sees things through different eyes than we do and is able to correlate and disgorge facts at a level of eloquence of no one else I know. Everyone gets the benefit from this. During recording, he has never ever used autocue in his life. It is an extraordinary thing to watch and listen to him. This has also been a very uplifting thing for many people with the same condition, one that is mired by myopia more than anything else.

Can we reassure people that there is nothing of the ‘celebrity cruise’ vibe about this trip?
I never use the ‘C’ word, Catherine! And no, there is absolutely no hubris or conceit with either of these two. Ever. They are both very aware that they have been invited on board and work terrifically hard to merit that invitation. Every night in the bar, for example, they put something on, completely off the cuff. A talk, or photography workshop, whatever feels right, much like our itinerary, it is neither structured nor rehearsed. They also realise that people are paying an eye watering amount and we all do our utmost to utterly maximise the time, night and day.

So there is no fixed itinerary at all on this trip?
No, none of us subscribes to this. We have an expedition leader on board, but it’s our choice of what we do and when we do it. Whether it is teaching someone about camera software, going on watch on the bridge for several hours or speaking after dinner, we do it all really alongside a whole faculty of other experts on board.

“Everything Mark does he does well. Whether it is photographing, writing, lecturing or spotting, he is the complete package.”

Presumably this flexible approach to wildlife watching is par for the course for Chris and Mark?
Mark Carwardine always says that I never give him any rest at all on these trips and I frequently walk into his cabin at 4am and shout ‘polar bear!’ which might be about four miles away. And he says ‘Paul, it will take us an hour to get there, why couldn’t you let me sleep?’ and I say ‘no, if I am up, why the hell should you not be?!’ We always say that with Mark and myself, it is a bit like good cop, bad cop, and he is very much good cop. Everything Mark does he does well. Whether it is photographing, writing, lecturing or spotting, he is the complete package. He is one of the most driven people I have ever met.

With Chris Packham it is a different vibe because he is a wildlife oracle, blisteringly funny and sees things differently from us. Sometimes it is difficult to get him back on schedule at all. I remember being on a beach in Antarctica with him and he refused to leave. Point blank. And I said, ‘what do you want me to do, pick you up next year?’ and he just said ‘yes!’ He just didn’t want to go, and I didn’t blame him. We are going there again this year. It’s a place called Paulet Island, down the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s a mile across and there are 100,000 Adélie penguins there, some of them hatching, and it’s surrounded by all this ice. Mind you, we had been ashore for seven hours, so I wasn’t feeling too bad making him go back on board!

Photo by Paul Goldstein
What is the expedition leader’s role?
He has technical responsibility. So if we suddenly want to go into a particular inlet, for example, he will say ‘Paul we don’t have the draft to go in there, there is no way’, and that is his final decision. It is a very responsible job and I have worked with many great ones.

“With Mark’s or Chris’s weight of knowledge, it isn’t just your memory cards that are going to be full at the end of this trip.”

Do Mark, Chris or yourself help passengers with their photographic skills?
I suppose that, as well as being a photographer and wildlife expert, I have also worked in travel for 34 years and so I know how these things work technically. I fell this is essential, particularly if something goes awry. And when you go to the extremes of the world, you have to understand it does not always run smoothly.

“One of the great joys, after crossing the Drake Passage is waking up at 5am the next morning in Antarctica moored in an amphitheatre of ice.”

Please say that Chris and Mark do actually get seasick on the Drake Passage like most mortals?
No, sorry, they don’t. Really sorry about that! Nor do I, it is not fair and seasickness is utterly indiscriminate. I must say I have seen a lot of breakfasts, lunches and dinners deposited – in one case, on me. However, I have never met anyone who has said ‘It wasn’t worth it because of sea sickness’, I really haven’t. One of the great joys, after crossing the Drake Passage is waking up at 5am the next morning in Antarctica moored in an amphitheatre of ice. I love to watch polar virgin faces going from slightly bleary eyed to full Billy Graham convention, as the magnitude of what they are seeing is sinking in. Particularly if they have spent a good deal of the last two days confined to their cabin.

It isn’t all serious, silent wildlife watching though is it?
We do appreciate that these are trips of a lifetime and they have to be fun too. If you want to get an idea of Mark’s work, I love the video of when he was working for the BBC trying to spot blue whales. And all day there was nothing. Then he had to do a piece to camera about why they hadn’t found anything, giving any number of excuses, and then this huge Blue just showed up behind him. That video definitely captures him, he is ridiculously knowledgeable yet really thinks on his feet too. And laughs. And has our guests laughing too. A lot.

What is the average age on your expeditions?
Actually it is about fifteen years below industry standard. Our average age is about mid forties and actually this is getting lower all the time. Although it doesn’t really matter how old you are. If you are serious about wildlife and photography, then this is for you.

Can you tell me more about the expedition ship?
We are using the RCGS Resolute, a bigger ship than previously, with a faster speed and better ice rating . It has a maximum capacity of 146 passengers but will be limited to approximately 110 for this special voyage to comply with Antarctic Treaty regulations [this treaty only permits 100 passengers to disembark at any one time].

“The more spiritual and patient you are the better your photographs will be. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a must with wildlife.”

Expedition ship, photo by Paul Goldstein
What are your three top tips for anyone thinking of doing one of these expeditions for the first time?
Research. You will always find a cheaper trip, but then you will probably find the ship has 250 berths instead of 100. Look at the ice and stabilisation capability of the ship, and the flexibility of the itinerary. How many times are you going to be allowed off the ship once you get to a landing? It’s likely that you are not going to do this expedition more than once, although we have plenty who do, so research is critical.

Don’t come with an instruction manual for your camera. You need to know that camera competently before you come, or preferably two cameras as there isn’t a clinic on board to mend them. You will get all levels of advice on board, but the more you know before you embark, the more you can hit the ground running.

You mustn’t look at these places just through a view finder. Two reasons: first, it will be far more indelibly etched on your own memory mainframe if you just watch. Second, the more spiritual and patient you are, the better your photographs will be. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a must with wildlife. The sorts of people who will value this trip are those who want to take stunning photographs, not just record shots.

Do you think it is responsible to travel to Antarctica?
If you are on a ship with a limited number that subscribes fully to the IAATO {the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators] and the Antarctic Treaty, and that is also incredibly sensitive with regards to all ecological aspects, you are leaving barely a footfall. I really believe that our footprint on this trip is neither damaging nor compromising down there.

Can you tell me more about the Antarctic charity programmes that you support?
Over the years we have supported a number. Certainly the Albatross long line one is a huge issue. I just did a fundraiser with Mark about that one and we raised £5,000. What these fishermen’s long lines do to albatross is just hideous, but it is easily solvable. They fling down these long lines and basically the albatross dives down, get hooked and that’s it, they are done. It has left such an imprint on them but thankfully is being remedied. Rat eradication in South Georgia is another project we are involved with. These things matter, they really do. It has been in the press recently about the numbers of king penguins dropping in South Georgia, because there isn’t enough for them to eat. And as we continue to butcher fish stocks, that problem isn’t going to go away.

And your fellow passengers are able to donate, right?
Oh yes, we encourage it. And many of them do, which is wonderful. To be honest, from that moment after they get through the Drake Passage and they see the Antarctic for the first time, they are our most potent, fertile and evangelical Antarctic ambassadors. And remain so for the rest of their lives.

mini boat
Photo by Paul Goldstein

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