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Antarctica travel

Once considered to be an impossible destination, Antarctica now promises to be a dazzling adventure. Alleged to be the windiest, the highest and the coldest place on the planet, vast stretches of ice, fjords, wildlife and unimaginable vistas keep visitors astonished.

Despite its rugged reputation, each year over 30 000 tourists visit the frozen continent. It is no wonder the numbers are increasing, modern cruises and scenic flights make it a far cry from the Antarctic Captain Scott would have known. It is not uncommon for cruise ships to glide past mammoth icebergs and majestic cliffs while Humpback whales and seals feign indifference. Tens of thousands of penguins lounge about in rookeries, white and blue-tinted icebergs glint in the sun, numbingly cold clear water and belching sea lions are sweet rewards for braving the freezing Antarctic conditions. Although the click click of cameras and the gasps of fellow passengers is clearly audible you’ll be impressed at the talkative penguins as they rush over to greet you.

Weather permitting, passengers on Antarctic expeditions are often given the chance to hike, explore, swim the polar waters, study wildlife, mountain climb, camp, kayak, scuba dive and enjoy the twenty or so hours of daylight.

The five or so months open for travel promise a kaleidoscope of changing scenery. From November to early December, the winter ice is beginning to melt and the mantra of winter is disappearing. Penguins and seabirds begin their courting routines and elephant and fur seals set up new breeding grounds. From mid-December to January, the light is constant until midnight - these are Antarctica’s warmest months. Chicks are hatching and the fur seals are breeding. The ice is gently receding making it easier to explore. February to March is considered late summer, fur seals are abound around the peninsular area. These are the last of the summer expeditions for another year.


Antarctica travel

Popular Antarctica destinations

Nearly every stop off has something unique to offer, but depending on the route taken there are firm favourites.

Located among the South Shetland Islands, Deception Island is a natural harbour formed from a collapsed volcano. The thermally heated water of Pendulum Cove offers travellers the chance to swim. Also on the South Shetland Islands, Half Moon Island is the home of an impressive Chinstrap penguin rookery and was the location for the stranding of 21 tourists from the Lapataia in 1967.  Beneath the shadows of stunning mountains, cruise ship passengers often report sightings of whales patrolling the shores.

The Lemaire Channel is a narrow waterway formed between the enormous sheer cliffs of the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island. Often called 'Kodak Gap' because of its extreme picturesque qualities, the channel is a must see in Antarctica.

Another popular stop off is Paradise Harbour, boasting spectacular glaciers and scenery, the harbour is well known for breaking ice chunks that dramatically crash into the sea.

King George Cove boasts the fascinating ex-whaling station Grytviken. Declared an ‘Area of Special Tourist Interest’, tourists usually visit Shackleton's grave and the small museum located in part of the former whaling station.

Previously a 19th century sealing centre, Livingston Island and the Byers Peninsula is protected as a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ under the Antarctic Treaty. It contains the   greatest concentration of 19th-century historical sites in Antarctica. Hannah Point is one of the most popular cruise ship stops as it boasts incredible wildlife. Livingston Island is also the summer home for the Spanish station and the Bulgarian base.

Aitcho Island near Greenwich Island is among the most popular destinations frequented by  cruise ships. It offers walks amidst spectacular scenery and amazing   wildlife.

The craggy subantarctic Auckland Islands, final resting place for several shipwrecks, a re home to many species of plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world. Over 120 species of bird have been observed on or around the islands.

Getting there

If you thought that being in the Antarctic would be the challenge, then you haven’t heard of the old saying ‘getting there is half the fun’.

There is an ever growing array of cruise ships, expedition ships, sail boat adventures and scenic flights that encompass the spectacular scenery Antarctica has to offer. Although some places are prohibited to land in, and some are just impossible, cruises and ice-strengthened ships provide Zodiac access (rubber inflated dinghy’s) that take passengers close to the breathtaking white continent. One thing to take note of is, only 100 passengers may land in any one place in Antarctica.  Cruise ships with less than 100 passengers have the chance to go ashore every time. There are between one to three stops per day at many varied destinations, so everybody has the chance to go ashore, although some people prefer to stay aboard ship. V oyages on icebreakers can access coasts and points that often an ice-strengthened ship can't.

For people departing from North America the most common journey is via South America. Usually departing from the world’s most southern town, Ushuaia, the trip encompasses the Beagle Channel, Drake Passage, the Antarctic Convergence, the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, Crystal Sound, Marguerite Bay, Anvers and Brabant Islands and home via Cape Horn in Chile. Passengers should be aware that all destinations and excursions are subject to ice conditions and favourable weather.

For people departing from Australasia, the journey is usually via the South Island of New Zealand. These journeys are surprisingly much longer crossings than their South American counterparts and are usually focused on Eastern Antarctica. Commonly used ports are Hobart in Australia, Invercargill or Lyttelton/Christchurch in New Zealand.

Christchurch or Invercargill are the key departure destinations and frequently include stops at subantarctic islands along the way. Snares Island, does not actually permit landings, but passengers do get to experience close encounters with an estimated sixty million birdlife. Continuing on, Enderby and Macquarie   Island boast one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern Hemisphere and it is possible to explore them by Zodiac.

Journeys ex-New Zealand tend to focus on the remote East Antarctic coastline. Cape Denison, affectionately known as “Home of the Blizzard”, Campbell Island, t he McMurdo Sound and the Ross Ice Shelf are firm favourites on most itineraries.

There are other ways to explore the Antarctic, s ailing cruises on specially built steel yachts sail to Antarctica, South Georgia and Cape Horn. These often provide wonderful and intimate itineraries as the maximum passenger size is much smaller, but sometimes have no landing permission. On the plus side independent yachts can visit tiny coves and shallow anchorages where larger vessels cannot go.

For people short on time, the other possibility of experiencing the Antarctic is a scenic flight. Croydon Travel in conjunction with Qantas offers flights from Victoria, Australia to the frozen continent. Of particular interest are the ‘ New Year’s Eve Midnight Sun Party Flights’. Passengers are the first to see the sun as they fly over the ice and dance in the aisles to a live jazz band. There are no scheduled stops aboard the scenic flight but the bird’s eye views are spectacular and the journey duration is only 12 hours in total. Four hours are spent over Antarctica, the remaining eight hours in travel.

Antarctica travel information

The tourist season in Antarctica runs in its summer from November to March as safe passage is determined by weather and ice. Most trips take from 10 days to 3 weeks depending on the start and finish points.

No documentation or visas are formally required to visit Antarctica. If your cruise ship stops off at other countries en route, visas and documentation may be required.

The  International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has international specifications for parties visiting the Antarctic. To protect the fragile environment and surrounds ensure that your tour company is IAATO affiliated.

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