Anarctica is Earth’s southernmost continent and surrounds the South Pole. It is made of 98% ice at least one mile in thickness and has no permanent residents. At any given time there may be 1000-5000 researchers on the continent.
A Journey to the End of the Earth
Antarctica may not spring immediately to many people’s minds when planning a holiday. However, the icy continent is a fascinating and rewarding place to visit, with much more to interest the visitor than you might think. Antarctica is effectively a huge nature reserve, home to a small international community of scientists and a much larger community of wildlife. Tourism is well-established, having begun in the 1950s, but is limited. Antarctica is unlike anywhere else in the world: it has never suffered from war, urbanisation or other human damage. It is nature in its purest form.
Tourism in Antarctica is necessarily regulated, to protect the delicate and unique Antarctic environment. The majority of the companies which operate tours to Antarctica are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, a group which aims to conduct trips to the continent which do not upset the delicate natural balance there or damage it in any way. Many of these are specialist operators, often providing flight and cruise packages which involve flying to Argentina or Chile, and starting a cruise from there. Antarctica can only be visited during the Southern Hemisphere summer, from around November to March. However, we’ll come straight out and say it – even if you take advantage of deals, it’ll still set you back many thousands to get there (not forgetting the funds needed to procure essential equipment and clothing).
What to Expect
A trip to the Antarctic is a real adventure, unlike any other holiday. What you’ll see and experience will depend partly on what time of year you go, and on the tour operator you use. Because of the harshness of the environment, pretty much all trips are cruises, but normally with plenty of options to explore beyond the ship too. The ships used are specially designed to withstand the conditions, with icebreaker hulls.
On a trip to Antarctica, you’ll sail past enormous glaciers, watch whales as they leap from the ocean, see huge masses of waddling penguins, and become entranced by the endless light and colour in the sky. In the height of summer, the sun does not set over Antarctica. Different creatures and sights tend to be more prevalent in certain months. Among those you can expect to see at certain times of year are are:
November to December:
• The winter pack ice starting to break up into smaller lumps and fast-flows.
• Seals exploring their summer environment and preparing breeding grounds.
• The beautiful sight of penguins and other sea-birds courting each other as they get ready to breed too.
December to January:
• Long days with fantastic light quality and midnight sun.
• Seal pups being born and penguin chicks starting to hatch.
February to March:
• Young seals beginning to explore their environment.
• Penguin chicks learning to swim.
• Whales swimming as the sea-ice is at its lowest extent.
All these things can be easily seen from the deck of a cruise ship, although you should take the opportunity to try out some activities too. Some of the most common are:
• Kayaking and Canoeing.
Leave the safety of the big ship and propel yourself across the Antarctic sea yourself. You’ll get a close-up view of the wildlife that you simply cannot from the deck of a boat.
From short forays on-shore, to longer treks where you’ll stay in tents: trekking away from your ship is a wonderful way to get to know the white continent. An experienced guide will be able to keep you safe and keep you informed.
• Scuba Diving
If you are a trained and experienced diver, you may have the opportunity to dive. Of course, the cold conditions mean that you need to be careful and wear dry suites and have appropriate equipment. While it may be difficult to dive in the Antarctic, when compared to warmer climes, it is incredibly rewarding.
Trips to Antarctica really are trips of a lifetime. Arriving by cruise ship after a long journey across choppy waters, you’ll never forget the icebergs looming, the first seals you see playing in the ice-flows, the penguins waddling and chattering. You can make a trip to Antarctica as relaxed or active as you want: just choose a tour operator that offers the extras and home comforts that you want. Even if you never leave you ship, you will be touched forever by the sights you see.
hile other places in the world (such as remote jungles and empty deserts) offer isolation and wilderness, the sheer scale of Antarctica and the qualities of its landscape make it special.
Article by Isabella Woods