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Tasmania’s Stories

Polar adventurer home in Hobart

Edition 194_OlivierHawkins

Hobart is gateway to the Antarctic and home to a passionate group of polar experts. Among their ranks is the intrepid Dr Frederique Olivier – adventurer, scientist and documentary film-maker.

“There really is a strong polar community based here in Hobart that continues to get stronger and stronger as the city’s reputation as an Antarctic hub grows” Dr Olivier said.

“We are in a great position to help people open their eyes to what is happening down there in Antarctica.”

Brand Tasmania was introduced to Dr Olivier while filming a story about the Tasmanian Polar Network: a dedicated cast of scientists, logistics experts and local suppliers all committed to the Antarctic cause.

As filming progressed, it became very clear that despite the French accent, Dr Olivier is a proud ‘adopted Tasmanian’.

The 42-year-old marine scientist was drawn here 17 years ago by our reputation for Antarctic excellence, making the move to undertake a PhD with the world-renowned Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Hobart.

Dr Olivier now calls a bush block south of the city – home.

It’s a long way from France, where she was born and raised, and where she developed her love for the ocean along the windswept beaches of Normandy.

“Tasmania is very similar to the area of western France that I grew up in along the Atlantic Coast,” she explained.

“The strong winds and wild oceans are so familiar.”

Meantime, trying to categorise Dr Olivier is not easy: she is at various times a scientist, adventurer, documentary film-maker, photographer, expedition guide, or yacht skipper.

An even bigger problem is trying to pin her down.

The morning we met for a chat, Dr Olivier had recently returned from her 27th Antarctic expedition on-board Aurora Australis – where she was also voyage manager – but as soon the boat docked, she was off on a recreational hike: 10 days along The South Coast Track.

She then only had a few days in Hobart, before heading to the stormy North Atlantic Ocean for some ‘high latitude sailing’ with a yacht delivery from Canada to Norway.

After that, it is onto the Red Desert of Utah and a photographic assignment.

“I am not good at being a tourist; I would get bored lying around relaxing,” she said.

That is an understatement!

However, even with all these different adventures, it is Dr Olivier’s passion for the icy continent that reigns supreme.

She has been there 27 times over the past 18 years. Some trips last weeks, others months.

In almost all cases Dr Olivier manages to combine scientific research with cinematography and has filmed documentaries that have been viewed around the world, including on the BBC’s prestigious Planet Earth.

“It is a magical place; the emptiness, the peace, and the light which is really special,” she said.

“Antarctica is very exciting, not only because of its remoteness and its beauty, but especially because it is a very challenging environment to work in.”

When asked about her most memorable Antarctic adventure, Dr Olivier is quick to respond: two year-long ‘overwintering’ expeditions to research and film emperor penguins which she described as, “the most amazing thing I have ever done.”

As part of that research, Dr Olivier spent eight months in 2005 living in a tiny hut – 60km from Mawson Station – with just one other person.

 “Surviving there in sub-zero temperatures takes an amazing level of resilience,” she said.

“There were blizzards, with winds of more than 150km an hour, and temperatures routinely dropping to minus 25 degrees Celsius.

“In our little hut, minus 5 degrees was about as warm as it ever got.”

Then in 2012, Dr Olivier ‘overwintered’ at the French station of Dumont d’Urville, where the penguins were closer but the temperatures and winds far more extreme.

During both expeditions Dr Olivier filmed a fascinating ritual where female penguins headed out to sea for months on end in search of food leaving the males to incubate the just-laid eggs.

On the females' return, the newly hatched chicks are transferred from father to mother. A highly intricate operation where one false move can mean instant frozen death for a young chick.

Capturing these magical moments often required Dr Olivier to remain in one spot – motionless – for hours on end in freezing temperatures: “If you managed to get that special shot, in the end all the suffering was worth it,” she said.

But what of the dangers?

“It is not dangerous if you are properly prepared to deal with the environment you are about to face,” Dr Olivier explained.

“But you do need to be very mindful the whole time, as weather can change dramatically in a very short time.

“Everything down there is big forces, big storms, big winds.

“You need to consider every step very carefully as accidents have to be avoided by all means because of the extreme isolation of the place.”

There is no doubt that the work of Dr Olivier, and the rest of our polar community, is helping to further cement Hobart’s role as ‘Antarctic Gateway’.

It is also helping to increase our understanding of this remote and pristine land through scientific research and stunning imagery.

“I am hopeful that my work is contributing to help broaden people’s horizons and make them much more aware of environmental issues that our planet faces, through exposure to the amazing Antarctic environment,” Dr Olivier said.

Image Courtesy of Catherine Hawkins

View our video on the Tasmanian Polar Network and Dr Frederique Olivier below:

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Watch video on YouTube

8 May 2018, Edition 194

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

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