Introduction to Antarctica
“Don't be fooled by all the ice: Antarctica is a desert”. Expect to hear that phrase more than once if you plan on embarking on a trip to the world's least visited but most intriging continent. Giant sheets, shelves, and packs of ice cover practically the entire landmass - there is little snowfall here, and even less rain. Visitors to Antarctica generally must brave rough sea crossings aboard ice-strengthened vessels, but those who do are rewarded with amazing scenery and tremendous and unique wildlife.
Snow, ice, water, rock – a simple haiku to describe a very complex landmass. Powerful forces, ice and weather rule the schedule of travel here. No one ‘owns’ Antarctica - an international treaty signed by 46 countries governs the continent and ensures Antarctica remains a peaceful, free and demilitarised place. The continent has never had a native population – even today, scientists and other staff members at research stations are only temporary residents – making Antarctic wildlife a rare breed that is unafraid of people. Human encounters with seals and penguins usually bring out no more than unperturbed yawns from seals and puzzled looks from penguins focused getting on with life in these harsh conditions.
Antarctica’s most pressing issue is its environment and how best to protect it. The major impacts on the Antarctic environment are caused by people who have never even visited it (cue global warming debate). The fifth largest continent in the world, Antarctica is the coldest and driest continent on Earth and has the highest average elevation – it’s also home to the South Pole.
Private travel to Antarctica generally takes one of 3 forms: commercial sea voyages with shore visits are most popular, then there’s land expeditions for the brave and fit such as trekking to the South Pole, or check it all out from 9,000 metres above from the comfort of an airplane.