Featured Person: Antarctica in a Wheelchair with Fiona Given

Updated: Apr 13

My name is Fiona Given. I completed my Arts/Law degree at Macquarie University in 2003. I sit as a general member on the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and give lectures on AAC and related topics. Travel is one of my great passions.

1. How much in advance did you book your itinerary?

About 12 months.

2. Would a manual wheelchair user without any outside assistance be able to manage this trip?

I seriously don't think so.

3. How much should wheelchair users’ budget for a trip like Antarctica?

We flew from Sydney, Australia to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We spent a few days in Buenos Aires. We then flew to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the ship to go down to the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is quite expensive, especially if you need to bring support workers as in my case. I would budget for around $30000 [Australian dollars].

4. Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

I had wanted to go since I was nine. I guess it is the last frontier.

5. What special preparations did you have to make as a person who uses a power wheelchair?

I did a fair bit of training to build up my strength. I mostly focused on climbing stairs as the ship did not have a lift.

6. How was the journey to getting there? What would you have done differently to have it go more smoothly?

Crossing the Drake Passage was extremely rough. My support workers got seasick but I didn’t. I don’t think I could have done anything differently.

7. How was Antarctica once you got there? Was it what you expected?

Stunningly beautiful. It exceeded all expectations. Seeing it on TV is nothing like seeing in real life.

8. What did you see? What did you do? How long did you stay on land?

I saw wildlife, spectacular icebergs and landscapes. I did landings on Zodiacs. I stayed on the ship but went on to land most days.

9. Did you bring everything you needed or were there some things you wish you would’ve brought?

I brought everything I needed. Maybe some all-terrain tires would have helped.

10. How did you get around once you got on land in Antarctica?

I stayed on land a couple of hours each day. The crew (aka the expedition staff) was extremely helpful. Sometimes the crew carried me and sometimes they pushed me in my wheelchair.

11. Were the tourist and staff helpful as well? Did they offer to assist you at all?

The other tourists and the staff were extremely helpful - couldn't have done it without them.

12. How was the trip back to your home country?

The trip home was difficult because we were all exhausted!

13. How long was your Antarctica trip overall?

We were away a month in total 11 nights in Antarctica.

14. Was the trip worth it? What were the highlights?

The trip was one of the best things I have done it my life. One highlight that comes to mind is sitting up on the ship’s bridge one afternoon admiring the spectacle of nature.

15. What would you have done differently? What did you wish you would’ve brought or not brought? What would you say to other wheelchair users who are scared to go on a trip like this?

I would not have done anything differently. I would say to other wheelchair users to go because you will never regret it.

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