Movie Quest 2005
The 10 films that are inspiring us to travel--and how you can re-create the best moments yourself
It's the year's big success story--and there's a new star on the adventure travel circuit
There was no such thing as a blockbuster documentary before Fahrenheit 9/11 came out in 2004. Now there's another, and it couldn't be more different. French director Luc Jacquet and his crew spent 13 months deep within Antarctica filming March of the Penguins. It has grossed $73 million, and forever anthropomorphized everyone's favorite formally dressed bird.
Each year, thousands of emperor penguins abandon the ocean waters and waddle hundreds of miles inland. Once at their breeding ground, they find a partner to monogamously mate with. When the female lays an egg, it's passed to the father, who cares for it (amid 100-mph winds and in temperatures 70 degrees below zero) while the mother makes the brutal walk home, returning two months later with food stored in her belly for her chick. The father, by then starving and cold, heads back to the water and waits to be reunited with the mother and their baby, who follow soon after.
Spotting emperor penguins in person is wildly expensive, since the majority live inside the Antarctic Circle, far from the peninsula where the bulk of tour operators go. "Mating occurs in the most remote and inaccessible place on earth," says Denise Landau, executive director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. "Plus it happens at the beginning of the Antarctic winter, thereby assuring the penguins' privacy." TravelWild Expeditions' 15-day tour goes to where the emperors are, but it starts at $12,000 per person.
Catching a glimpse of other penguin species is much easier. Canadian outfitter G.A.P Adventures runs a 19-day cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands, for $6,470 per person (it departs from Ushuaia, Argentina, and the price does not include airfare; 800/708-7761, gapadventures.com). You get a shared triple cabin aboard the 108-passenger Explorer, all meals, visits to scientific research stations, shore excursions, and stunning views of king, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins (as well as seals and orcas and other whales). The next two departures are December 11, 2006, and January 16, 2007.
To see penguins without the bitter cold--and the expense--visit Australia's Phillip Island Nature Park, 75 miles south of Melbourne. The two-hour, ranger-led Ultimate Penguin Tour leaves at sunset with no more than 15 visitors in a group (011-61-3/5951-2800, penguins.org.au, $45). You go to protected Summerland Beach, where the aptly named "little" penguins--at 13 inches tall, they're the smallest of all 17 species (adult emperors are more than four feet tall)--pass in front of you en route to their burrows. Once the sun sets, you watch them with infrared binoculars. You must not touch them, of course, and photography is forbidden. But the photos in the gift shop benefit penguin conservation--and unlike the March of the Penguins crew, you don't have to worry about frostbite.