|Tourism in Antarctica
- What will I do and what will I see?
of all you will cross some of the most excitable seas that there
are, The Drake Passage. This
may happen in the night and you may be blissfully unaware of it.
It may happen during the day time when you are very aware of it.
Make the most of the experience, it's like a rite of passage,
earning you your place in the South. Alternatively there is now
an opportunity to fly across the
Drake's passage in one or both directions if you want to
save time or can't face the potential sea state.
You will cross the Antarctic convergence, an area
of upwelling sea water where deep water flowing north from the edge
of the Antarctic continent meets deep south-flowing water. This
is a circumpolar barrier that moves backwards and forwards, but
is very real and stable in the long term. So much so that virtually
no fish species have managed to travel in either direction in the
25 million years since it arose. The convergence has also acted
as a barrier to Decapod Crustaceans - crabs, crayfish, lobsters
etc. These abound elsewhere in the world's seas, but are not
found at all in the Antarctic.
South of this you are in the "Southern"
or "Antarctic" ocean, this is where Antarctica starts.
You will see ice-bergs in quantity, and other types of ice too with
a multitude of names, pack-ice, brash-ice, bergy bits and growlers
to name but a few.
Albatrosses, seals, penguins, myriad other birds
and if you're lucky - whales, will follow the ship for a while
or just come for a look.
You will see some of the most beautiful
scenery that the planet has to offer, seascapes, icescapes and landscapes
that you only dream about. Except there you are - part of it all.
You will go on visits ashore generally of short
duration (around 3 hours), of moderate intensity (less than 100
people), and of a frequency that depends on your tour operator.
Typically there are 1-2 landings per day. Landings are made using
Zodiacs (rubber inflatable boats) or if the ship is so equipped
also by helicopter. Other activities by visitors to Antarctica include
mountain climbing, camping, kayaking and scuba diving from tourist
vessels, there is even the occasional Antarctic marathon (yes honestly!).
Tour operators usually co-ordinate their itineraries
so that ships do not see each other or shore parties
from different ships overlap, this helps to keep the "wilderness
On your trips ashore you will see
Antarctic wildlife up close and personal.
You can expect to see;
- Colonies of Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins
that vary between large and huge. You will probably also
see King, and Macaroni penguins if you visit sub-Antarctic
islands such as South Georgia. If you go far enough
south you may even see Emperor penguins.
- Seals - Crabeater, Southern Elephant, Leopard and
Weddell seals are to be found here, chilling out in
the ocean, floating around on ice-floes or relaxing on rocky
- Whales - humpback whales and killer whales
are present and may pose for visitors, if you are lucky
you may see other whale species, even the blue whale,
the largest animal that has ever lived.
- Other birds such as albatrosses,
the "bird which made the wind to blow" with the largest
wingspan of any bird. Antarctic
skuas, snow petrels, blue eyed shags, American sheathbills,
cape pigeons, giant petrels etc.
Just remember that unlike in a zoo, you're
in the cage and in an environment where you don't belong. This
was the animals home long before we realised that it even existed.
Popular places to visit.
- Deception Island - a collapsed volcano that forms
a natural harbour. It is situated among the South Shetland
Islands at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The main
attraction for tourists is the thermally heated water of
Pendulum Cove. There are also the remains of scientific
bases abandoned after a volcanic eruption in 1969.
- Lemaire Channel - this used to be known as the 'Kodak Gap' because
of its popularity with tourists and usage of
photographic film that resulted here in a different era
now. The Lemaire Channel is
a narrow waterway formed between the cliffs of the Antarctic
Peninsula and Booth Island.
- Paradise Harbour - Spectacular glaciers and scenery
- once you've been, the name will make obvious sense.
When your feet are cold, cover
your head. - Inuit saying.
As your trip
will be in the Antarctic summer, you won't need to take any
real extreme cold weather gear. Temperatures on many or most
days will hover around freezing point, maybe dropping to an extreme
of -10°C (20F) or rising to +10°C (50F). Obviously people adapt
to the cold in different ways and I've seen some tourists in
the Antarctic in light-weight clothing while others are wrapped
up like the Michelin man in the same conditions. Layering is
the key, then you can be flexible according to conditions.
Rain wear is the best bet, even though
you probably won't get any rain, you may well get some not especially
cold (and therefore quite wet) snow and will almost certainly get
splashed significantly by sea water at some point while riding on the zodiac,
you'll probably have to sit in a wet zodiac too at some time.
Boots are very
important and should be of the neoprene-topped super-welly type.
These have a good solid rugged sole that can deal with rough terrain,
are waterproof for wet zodiac landings and are close fitting around
the calf so are much warmer than traditional style rubber wellington
boots that pump warmed air out as you walk along. These neoprene
topped boots can be worn with a single pair of socks which will
be enough to keep your sufficiently warm through-out your trip.
We've also found that on return they are ideal for winter dog walking
in the cold and wet back home.
Hire Gear - Many
ships cruising Antarctica will have equipment for hire. You will
need to make your requirements known in advance especially for sizes.
As well as not spending money buying things you may rarely if ever
need again, hiring gear cuts down your luggage weight and bulk considerably
which can be an important factor if you have a charter flight with
a strictly restricted baggage allowance and can be far and away
the more environmentally friendly option.
details on clothing for your Antarctic trip
A moulting Gentoo penguin takes refuge thanks to a passing tourist.
Get a good quality camera, this means digital for most
unless you have a reason to use film in which case you
are probably already an enthusiast. Most people are fine
with a digital camera of about 10-20 MP. This will give
plenty of scope for cropping the pictures later and
allow enlargements up to about A3 size (11" x 14") of
good quality from full frame or a very impressive image
on a screen or projector.
A digital single lens reflex (DSLR) is preferable (but
more expensive) with at least a wide angle to short telephoto
lens, 25-50mm ish, and a short telephoto zoom 50-200mm ish.
Anything over a 300mm lens is an extravagance for Antarctica
that you'll hardly ever use and will be much heavier to
Spare batteries, and
spare spare batteries. Lots of memory cards!
More than you think you'll need.
quality sun-glasses with u.v. protection. It
gets really bright in Antarctica, especially when the sun
reflects off the sea and ice or snow.
High factor sun-cream for the same reason. If you've
never been burnt under your nose from reflections
from snow or sea now's your chance.
Lightweight waterproof backpack to carry your stuff ashore
while leaving arms free to clamber in and out of the Zodiacs.
Around 1500-2000 cu. in. / 25-30L is a useful size.
Full size waterproof liners for your backpack will protect
everything inside from the sea splashing on a bumpy zodiac
ride or in case you drop it in the sea (a rare occurrence
but not entirely unknown).
These may be available to hire from your ship or tour operator,
though they also make ideal carry-on bags for the flight
to your ship, much more flexible and versatile than the
usual carry-on luggage.
Luggage - you'll need something to lug your stuff around in.
Ships cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, so space matters.
Soft bags can be compressed and pushed under beds whereas
large rigid cases can be more troublesome.
a good pair of
binoculars essential if you're an avid wildlife
watcher and also pretty useful if you're not. When that
whale or seal or penguins, or albatross or.... etc. etc.
turns up, you'll be wishing you had your own too!
I prefer a compact pair, mine are 10 x 25 as I'm more likely
to actually have them in my pocket than bigger ones. The
first number is the magnification (8x or 10x is as much
as most people can hand-hold steadily) the second is the
diameter of the front lens which dictates how much you can
see at that magnification, this figure also largely determines
the size and weight of the binoculars. 25 makes for compact
binoculars, 40-50 means you see more but they are much bigger
- Powerpoints in ships cabins are very thin on the ground
and we are increasingly addicted to our gadgets. A lightweight
short cabled powerstrip (preferably with surge protect)
enables you to charge everything up at the same time with
just the one adaptor to plug into the wall. It can be very
frustrating having spent the last 8 hours charging the wrong
device when the battery light on what you are using turns
Questions about trips to
of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)
Tell me more about a trip to Antarctica!
Peninsula, Falklands, South Georgia cruises
10 days from $5,995
Shackleton Centenary Cruise
20 days from $13,195
and Antarctic Peninsula
scuba and kayaking options
over the Drake Passage then join your ship in
Antarctica. Fly both ways or fly one - sail
South Georgia and the Falkland Islands
23 days from $15,995
Fly / sail 11 days, active adventure
scuba and kayaking options
14 days, Luxury Accommodation
Cruise - The Peninsula
Active Adventure -
Fly cruise with Antarctic
9 days from $12,995
12 days from $6,295
Antarctic Circle, Historic Areas
scuba and kayaking options
11 days from $7,100
Antarctic Peninsula, Penguins,
Seals, Whales, Historic sites
days from $11,073
in Eastern Antarctica - Ross Sea Region
in the Wake of Scott and Shackleton
Ross Ice Shelf, McMurdo Sound
days from $19,500
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