EP05 – Graham Charles: Achieving ‘world firsts’ + helping professionalize the polar guiding industry

On this episode of AntArctic Stories, we speak with Graham Charles, one of New Zealand’s most versatile outdoor professionals, with over thirty years of professional outdoor experience and qualifications to the highest levels. He is also the founder and President of the Polar Tourism Guides Association.

Graham shares with us his experiences of being part of the first team to kayak the length of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2001, unsupported and without anything to communicate with other than a handheld VHF radio. He also gives us a glimpse of what it was like to be on the first team to circumnavigate the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia in 2005 by kayak.


These “world’s first” expeditions along with his long career in guiding and contributing to professional qualification development led to Graham spearheading the first standardizing body for polar guides, which we discuss in the second half of this episode.

In-field medical training exercises


2:30 – Part one: Graham tells us about his record-breaking kayak trip down the length of the Antarctic Peninsula

9:10 – Limited tech for communicating (no satellite phone back in 2001)

10:30 – Graham and team get caught nude sunbathing

12:40 – Part two: South Georgia – Graham shares what it was like to be the first to circumnavigate this remote island

21:00 – What is the PTGA & how did it all start?

25:30 – What spurred Graham to start the PTGA independently

31:45 – Who is behind the PTGA?

32:30 – Graham talks about the difference between company-specific guide training programs and the PTGA’s approach to competency measurement

34:40 – The advantage of the PTGA not being mandatory, but rather a program that invites guides to willingly get measured and be proud of the PTGA designation

36:50 – How to become an individual member

38:00 – What about the corporate members?

39:20 – We hear about PTGA performance measurement

40:45 – How many assessors does the PTGA have?

43:10 – How to get assessed & the reason behind a workplace-based assessment model

45:00 – How guides can learn more about PTGA accreditation


Polar Tourism Guides Association

Graham Charles’ website


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