“After another few hours, the dogs slowed as we finally reached the frozen remains of Scott’s hut – and no one spoke, because there was nothing to say.”
Short of a lunar landing, for sheer otherworldliness nothing matches a bespoke adventure vacation in the original terra incognita: Antarctica. And by that we don’t mean pottering along in a cruise ship within sight of the coast, or occasional forays ashore under the watchful eyes of uniformed gentlemen with whistles. We mean really experiencing Antarctica. Staying on the mainland ice shelf – in surprising comfort – and discovering this vast, empty continent up close, on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles. Or flying deep into the interior, over expanses of stark, relentless beauty where no human has ever walked.
From your first glimpse, you understand why this near-mythical place has drawn so many explorers and adventurers over the centuries. Imagine an endless sea of white interrupted by craggy peaks, vertical cliffs and shadowy crevasses. Picture coastal glaciers breaking into massive icebergs tinged with unreal shades of blue. Feel the bracing winds that swoop down from the mountains and skim across sparkling ice fields, their bite making you wonder how the first travellers here ever survived (and making you appreciate every layer of your high-tech gear). And, less predictably, notice the smell: the crisp air cleaner than any you’ve ever breathed, and then a shift in the breeze that brings the very real, very pungent scent of guano from a few thousand penguins.
Indeed, it’s the penguins – including gentoo, Adélie, chinstrap and, if you’re lucky, the beloved marching emperor – that are your only companions on land. They sit unfazed as you wander through their rookeries, pass you calmly as they waddle or toboggan along well-worn highways to the shore. Overhead, meanwhile, you can spot skuas, petrels, fulmars and the legendary albatross. And among the coastal ice floes are leopard, Ross and crabeater seals, along with fin, humpback, orca and minke whales.
We’ll fly you to the South Pole to experience life in a remote research station – and maybe run in the Antarctic marathon. Or join scientists aboard an icebreaker and dive with a film crew shooting an undersea documentary. Hike into the Patriot Hills for expert-guided climbs (advanced or beginner). Or get your aerial views while in motion – hot-air ballooning or kite skiing or briefly taking flight in a snowmobile race.
However you experience Antarctica, the deeper feeling that predominates is a sense of complete isolation, bleak yet strangely serene, at once acutely outward and entirely within. You recall countless photographs, appropriately black-and-white, of the first people who trudged across this barely hospitable terrain. And you treasure all the more those piercing moments of colour – the vibrant yellow of an emperor’s breast, the vivid turquoise of 10,000-year-old ice – that remind you who you are and how far you’ve journeyed to make this discovery.
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