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Antarctica is Earth's southernmost continent. This fascinating white land is home to the South Pole and is in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere. This massive island is almost twice the size of Australia and is a place of peace and science that has inspired fascination in many...travel to Antarctica to see if your yourself!
It is home to spectacular sights including; impressive glacial lagoons, massive icebergs, beautiful and vast areas of remote wilderness, breaching whales, inquisitive seals and of course the endemic and charismatic Emperor penguin, the tallest and heaviest of all penguin species.
WHY WE LOVE
For many years Antarctica has filled our imagination with tales of expeditions and famous explorers breaking records and or wrecking ships. The best seller Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage provides the perfect example of this, as does the movie Antarctica which recounts the incredible story of two sled dogs who survived Antarctica’s harsh conditions despite being stranded for over a year. Antarctica is famously known for its isolation, its infamous Drake Passage, which only heightens the continent’s inaccessibly. This is one of the many reasons why we love to travel to Antarctica, it makes us feel like true explorers, or scientists, because it is the most severe and fascinating piece of land that earth has to offer.
Antarctica is a remarkable continent of peace hosting people from all over the world and a place to concentrate solely on science and the wilderness. Antarctic Peninsula is remote, almost uninhabited, and hostile despite its peaceful Antarctic Treaty. The harsh weather conditions are not only fascinating, because they are so different than what we are normally used to, they are imperative to understanding the way our Earth works and how it is changing. Antarctica is considered a treasure to scientist and travellers alike because it is so unique and important, for its profound effect on the Earth's climate and ocean systems.
Travel to Antarctica because it is a place that draws on the power of ice. It has the capacity to humble us humans and remind us that extraordinary adventure doesn’t require groups or distractions, sometimes the adventure lies in just being in a place and soaking it all in. Such is true for Antarctica, which is known for being one of the most pristine locations left on Earth. Most of the continent is untouched and unsettled by humans. Therefore, it is a place where animals walk around with little to no fear of humans, granting us inside access to the world of fascinating wildlife like the Emperor penguin or the crabeater seal.
Antarctica’s beauty is breathtaking for many reasons.
The sheer amount of ice and snow is so dramatic, it leaves a lasting impression, as our eyes are not accustomed to so much white and light. This continent combines elegance and danger. It’s constant light in the summer (darkness in the winter) provides an exceptional brightness that is stimulating and magical. The sun's light causes exciting occurrences like when water particles instantly condense and form instant ice crystals that sparkle and later shower you with natural glitter otherwise known as diamond dust. Travel to Antarctica to witness summer days filled with illumination and afternoons with rose-coloured skies! This desert continent forces you to face magnificent beauty as well as unparalleled isolation. Such a place inevitably leads to personal reflection.
"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would Shakespeare. And yet it is something even; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." - Andrew Denton
Did you know…?
- Female British explorer and meteorologist, Felicity Aston, was the first person ever to manually ski across Antarctica. She travelled 1,084 miles or 1,744 kilometres in less than 60 days.
- There are no trees or shrubs on Antarctica, and only two species of flowering plants and several types of grass, moss and lichen.
- Antarctica is, on average, the windiest place on Earth. Winds up to 200 mph, or 322kph, have been reported.
- The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 128.56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 89.2 degrees Celsius). This temperature was registered on July 21, 1983, at Vostok station in Antarctica.
- The Antarctic Ice Sheet is the largest single mass of ice on Earth.
- Ninety-nine percent of Antarctica is covered by ice.
- There’s a fascinating waterfall that oozes a blood red liquid, called Blood Falls, in East Antarctica.
- No single government and or country controls Antarctica; therefore, you do not need a passport to travel there.
- There is no time zone in Antarctica.
Antarctica travel guide
When to go
Deciding when to visit Antarctica depends on what it is you’d like to see and or do during your trip. Are you interested in any particular type of wildlife sightings? Would you like to be present for mating season? Are you interested in witnessing penguins hatch? Are weather and or icescape circumstances you’d like to be there for?
If you’re interested in witness Antarctica in its most undisturbed form we suggest visiting in November. The cold temperatures offer impressive icescapes, untouched snow blankets and breathtaking scenery. Although, you should keep in mind that this month is usually calmer regarding animal sightings. It is however a good time to observe penguins mating and by the end of November there will be many opportunities to see nests filled with eggs!
If you’re looking for sunlight than you should visit from December, January, up to early February. These are the months with the most light (up to 20 hours a day) and warmest temperatures. Temperatures can average 34 Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) in mid-January. This season is also when penguins begin hatching and your likelihood of seeing penguin chicks is highest.
Late summer in Antarctica, February and early March, is the best time to spot whales. Although, we warn you, if you travel during these months you are running the risk of missing out on other wildlife that may already be gone out to sea, such as orcas. There are however, many opportunities to see land animals. By March, the penguin chicks are quite large. This is the time of year in which they begin to fledge. This time of year, also grants you better access to the southern region of the continent because of the lack of snow. Keep in mind that these months do not offer snow. You will likely be walking on rocks and muddy landings, as well as ice of course.
How to get there/around
There are two ways to get to Antarctica, by cruise or by airplane. Most people take cruises which involves departing from Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina (or Punta Arenas in Chile) and sailing across the Drake Passage. There are very few companies that offer flights into Antarctica and it takes approximately two hours (if the weather conditions are good). If you are planning to fly to the white continent, you must first fly to Ushuaia in Argentina or Punta Arenas in Chile. You will depart from there before arriving at Antarctica.
Once you arrive to Antarctica your transportation options will include; inflatable boats, quad bikes (which we do not recommend because of the threat they pose to the environment), skidoos, Hagglunds all-terrain vehicles, helicopters, light propeller aeroplanes, or your feet.
What to see & do
Go see some wildlife like; whales, penguins, and or seals. Go birdwatching and keep an eye out for the avifauna of Antarctica including a total of 45 species, of which only 1 is endemic. Kayak between icebergs, walk with king penguins, hike incredible glaciers, and of course visit a Research Station.
Everyone in Antarctica is either here for one of two things, tourism or research. Therefore, it should come of no surprise to find that Antarctica is home to several international research stations. Work ranges from meteorological studies to environmental research and even medical experiments, what an incredible opportunity to get behind the scenes.
Don’t forget to take the polar plunge! This term is used to describe a quick dip in one of the planet’s most extreme destinations and coldest waters. We promise we’re not crazy, thousands of people have done it and it is definitely something that will get your heart pumping.
We also suggest you take some time to just, be. Sit with a pen and some paper and reflect on your experience. Antarctica is a magical place where most people only get to visit once in their life, if they’re lucky. Don’t forget to embrace the moment and soak it up. Be present and try to find joy in simply enjoying. Bask in the isolation and desolation.
What to pack
Make sure to pack a fleecy neck warmer, warm gloves, glove liners (for those who plan on taking a lot of pictures), two pairs of thermals, t-shirt, fleece and waterproof/windproof jacket plus trousers. Also make sure to have appropriate head and footwear. Walking and or hiking boots should be waterproof.
Some travel insights from our experts about Australia
Most preservation and wildlife rules revolve around staying away from the animals and letting them be in their natural environment, except one rule…If you see a whale in distress whether it be by getting caught in fishing equipment or other factors, don’t try to detangle him or her but do try to get a clear picture of the animal in need, write down your coordinates and report back to your tour operator. This might seem like a small intervention but it gets help to the animal and aids in maintaining a record that can serve to avoid similar situations from happening in the future.
Keep in mind that although sea ice looks like it’s not moving and or changing, it is. These figures appear static because they are so big, majestic, and peaceful looking but they are in fact violently active. It can change quickly, pieces can fall off, and they move quickly as well. Sea ice can reach speeds up to 5-10 knots, so remember to keep your distance and to make smart decisions if and when you find yourself around it.
Remember that everyone reacts to extreme conditions differently. It is important to pace yourself and not ask too much of your body, especially if you are visiting during the Antarctic winter. Harsh temperatures combined with the world’s driest air can sometimes make even the climbing of a set of stairs a cumbersome task.
Do: Carry photocopies of your important travel documents. This one is pretty self-explanatory, it’s always important to be able to identify yourself especially when you’re all the way across the world!
Do: Call before. Unannounced visits are not a part of the culture. Please make sure to make appointments and or call when necessary.
Do: Bring your own beer and meat. BBQs are social gatherings in Australia and it is very common for people to bring what they will need for their personal consumption.
Do: Go to the left. Australians drive on the left side of the street, which means that you should also; walk on the left side of the street, bear left while on stairs, and stand to the left whole on escalators.
Do: Put your knife and fork next to each other in the centre of your plate. This indicates that you have finished your meal and that your plate is ready to be cleared.
Don’t: Litter. It might sound like common sense but Antarctica is one of the most if not arguably the most pristine place on the planet…let’s keep it that way.
Don’t: Expose your skin. Covering your skin is essential and you will quickly see why. Harsh conditions require extra preparation, especially if you’re visiting during the winter! Cover your hands, ankles, face, and neck, also keep those areas dry. Warm socks are an absolute must.
Don’t: Take children to the Antarctica. Save it for when they are old enough to appreciate the continent and can stay safe on their own.
Don’t: Touch the wildlife or take anything with you. All of Antarctica’s pieces are precious and all wildlife is meant to be admired and observed. This rule of thumb applies to both land and water and taking anything, even a pebble, is banned. If you find something you like and speaks to you, take a picture and or write about it.
Don’t: Walk on anything other than snow, ice, or mud (if it’s the summer). Antarctica is home to several types of grass, moss and lichen and as you can imagine, this plant life takes an incredibly long time to grow. Although some moss and lichen might not look like much, it is however vital to Antarctica’s ecosystem.
Cuisine delights (3 best dishes)
Antarctica is unique in that it has few (almost zero) permanent residents, it is a peaceful continent in which seven countries share territorial claims. These countries include; Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Antarctica has no industry and or permanent residents therefore, no culinary developments have been made.
Many scientists travel with canned, non-perishable food. Whereas tourists are subject to whatever food is provided by their tour operator or expedition cruise. The people who travel to or live in Antarctica fall into two main groups, those who live and work on scientific research stations or bases, and tourists. No-one lives in Antarctica indefinitely in the way that they do in the rest of the world. It has no commercial industries, no towns or cities, no permanent residents.
CHATTING CORNER – SURVIVAL GUIDE - Antarctica terminology
Antarctica is unique in that it has few (almost zero) permanent residents, it is a peaceful continent in which seven countries share territorial claims. These countries include; Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Therefore, Antarctica has no official language and or government. There are, however, many terms that are specific to Antarctica because of its uniqueness. Below you will find a glossary of terms relevant to Antarctica and its harsh yet striking conditions. All terms were provided by Cool Antarctica. Follow the link, if you’re interested in learning more technical terms and or Antarctician slang phrases.
- Ablation - The removal of material from a glacier, melting, evaporation, or calving (bits dropping off the end into the sea to form icebergs). Opposite of accumulation.
- Black ice - Newly-formed iced over sea water. It is thin enough for the dark water to be visible through it and can be crossed only at speed by a light sledge.
- Climatology - The study of weather conditions over long periods of time.
- Draft - The distance below the water level (sea level), the bottom of an iceberg reaches.
- Extraordinary Katabatic wind - Katabatic wind that is particularly long-lasting (days to even weeks) and remains fairly constant in strength during that time.
- Frost smoke - Condensed water vapour that forms as a mist above any open sea water in very cold weather.
- Glacial erosion - The wearing down of the Earth's surface by glaciers. Rock debris at the bottom of a glacier scrapes and erodes the surface over which the glacier flows like a giant hugely heavy piece of sand paper.
- Glaze - A smooth, clear coat of ice.
- Grounding line - The point a glacier that is flowing into a sea or lake loses contact with its seafloor and begins to float as an ice shelf.
- Hoarfrost - A light, feathery ice coating built up from water particles in the air crystallizing out into tiny ice sculptures (you have to look carefully).