Antarctica is one of the last true wildernesses left on earth. A pristine, freezing desert of snow and ice, it is home to the world’s greatest concentration of wildlife. Here, amongst a breathtakingly beautiful landscape that has changed little since the first polar explorers arrived here in the 19th century, you can find vast colonies of Antarctic fur seals and penguins, breaching humpback whales and graceful wandering albatrosses.
Covering an area of some 14 million square kilometres, the ‘Great White Continent’ is the world’s fifth largest landmass, much of it blanketed in a permanent ice sheet some 2,000 metres thick. Whilst the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands remain the most accessible areas of the continent, there are ice shelves, seas and islands spreading as far as South America and Australia. Amongst the less visited waters of the Weddell Sea you can find icebergs and penguins in their thousands, whilst the remote bays and valleys that fringe the Ross Sea still echo back to the pioneering days of Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and the golden age of exploration. Little can prepare you for the majesty of this remarkable place, but the impression it will leave behind will last a lifetime.
Antarctic Cruising Beginning and ending at the southern tip of the South American continent, you’ll venture into some of the most sublime landscapes on earth. Most of the trips depart and end in Ushuaia, from where you’ll negotiate the waters of the Beagle Channel and cross the infamous Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula and on to the Antarctic Circle. During the long austral summer, large parts of the Peninsula are ice-free, allowing for easier exploration and some truly spectacular photo opportunities. As you might expect, the journeys are very much dictated by the conditions of the sea, ice and weather, which adds to the real sense of adventure as no two voyages may actually be the same. Each day is a new adventure though, one that very few travellers get to experience. You’ll join an exclusive group, one that is following in the traditions of the polar explorers of old.
Life on Board Specifically designed and adapted for the Polar conditions, all of the boats are fully equipped for the comfort and safety of the passengers and crew. The experienced crew are always on hand to offer advice and information and regular shore excursions by Zodiacs get you closer to the action. There will also be daily on board lectures and educational presentations from Polar specialists. Relatively small and spacious, the boats are equipped with an array of amenities including observation decks, a bar, comfortable lounges, outside facing cabins with private facilities and, in many cases, a fitness centre/sauna. There will be plenty of opportunity to enjoy the passing landscapes from the deck of the ship and the regular shore excursions will always be accompanied by experienced crew and experts guides. All safety equipment will also be supplied and on board dining ensures a regular supply of freshly cooked and delicious cuisine.
Antarctic Wildlife Whilst there are few terrestrial vertebrates living in Antarctica, the continent is nonetheless amply supplied with a rich array of marine and bird species. The vast Southern Ocean is an important source of food and Antarctic sea life includes staggering numbers of penguins, as well as Weddell seals, leopard seals, humpbacks, minkes and squid. Bird life is equally well represented, with wandering albatrosses, skuas and terns being regularly sighted, whilst the snowy petrel is one of only three species specific to this region. The four seal species that inhabit this region make up 50% of the total biomass of the world’s seal populations, whilst, of the ten species of cetaceans that regularly migrate through these waters, by far the largest is the blue whale, which weighs in at some 84 tonnes. It is the seven species of penguin who are the real stars of Antarctica though.
Although the ships have physicians and medicines on board, be sure to take some strong seasickness tablets just in case.