The Final Frontier: What To Expect On An Antarctic Expedition

14 September 2016

Where can you go to truly get off the grid? Away from the rat race, without text message or email interruptions and where you don’t have to deal with traffic? There is one last real frontier on the planet: Antarctica.

The once untouchable continent is today more accessible than ever before. Aeons away from city lights and holiday destinations of sandy beaches and tropical surf breaks, Antarctica offers a new kind of getaway for travellers. One dictated by spectacular scenery and shorelines, yes, but populated by penguins and fur seals in place of sunbathers and surf lifesavers.

Antarctica brings visions of soaring icebergs perched on glassy waters, killer whales and leopard seals, icy winds and isolation. So what can you really expect from an Antarctic voyage?

 ship cruising infront of snow-capped cliffs Cruising the untouched wilderness of Antarctica. Image: Getty.

A True Escape Into The Wild

Reachable only in the southern summer between November and March, Antarctica may be increasingly accessible, but is still by no means a common destination. Floating between icebergs, or hiking along a glacier, stillness and silence engulf the air, broken only by the breaking of a wave or arrival at a raucous group of elephant seals basking in the sun. Most Antarctic expeditions leave from Argentina, and the shortest journeys are 10 or 12 days. There is no fast-tracked way to reach Antarctica; this is one holiday equally about the journey as the destination.

 An explorer walking on an iceberg Exploring a uniquely shaped iceberg. Image: Getty.

Unexpected Surprises At Sea

From Argentina, cruises must pass through the Drake Passage, named after English explorer Sir Frances Drake. Crossing this sea isn’t quite as smooth as a cruise on the Mediterranean, so travellers should be prepared for rough seas, and take sea sickness precautions. Once across, summer in Antarctica can reward you with days of sunshine and smooth sailing. But being a truly isolated continent, weather can be unpredictable, with summer rain and sleet suddenly sweeping in borne by powerful winds.

Surprises in Antarctica don’t stop with the weather. You may also be shocked to learn that you can in fact swim in thermal pools on Deception Island, one of the Southern Shetland Islands. Or if bravery is a strong trait, why not take the plunge into icy waters in Neko Harbour.

There is also one unexpected animal you can come face to face with on an Antarctic journey: reindeer. Introduced to South Georgia by Norwegian whalers in the early 20th century, reindeer roam freely around the island.

 An iceberg visible from the deck of a ship Large icebergs can make navigating these waters difficult for ships. Image: Getty.

A Journey Down Memory Lane

Antarctica holds many keys and clues to the origins of our planet, and is a real time case study of how the Earth is changing. About 4,000 scientists call this continent home in summer, studying rapidly rising temperatures, shifts in sea ice and patterns in fragmenting ice shelves. Most Antarctic cruises have expert naturalists and Antarctic historians on board. These experts give talks and often lead shore expeditions and Zodiac cruises to give travellers an understanding of and connection to this vast icy continent and how the scenery is shifting. Many expedition ships also have a comprehensive library with natural history and Antarctic exploration books. Learn about destinations and explorers’ fortuitous and failed journeys before heading off on excursions to experience the fabled landscapes and iceberg-ridden waters.

 a small explorer boat  infront of a large ice shelf A zodiac tour gets close to a fragmenting ice shelf. Image: Getty.

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To Use Your Camera And Binoculars ALOT

So take the best of each that you can afford, and be sure to invest in a waterproof case or bag for both. Zodiac tours, which have you weaving between icebergs on small boats, take you up close to wildlife like seals, penguins and even whales, where your camera will certainly get a workout. Not to mention the spectacular vistas of the Lemaire Channel and stunning natural amphitheatre at Baily’s Head, home to a colony of Chinstrap penguins. Remember, too, that camera batteries run out much faster in cold environments, so be sure to take extra batteries with you, and don’t forget your charger.

a group of penguins singing in antarctica A group of Antarctic penguins. Image: Getty.

How To Get There

Antarctic expeditions are run by a host of different tour companies. Flight Centre favourite, Peregrine, have Antarctica cruises on sale now until end of September 2016.

For more information and to book, speak with your Flight Centre Travel Consultant today, call 131 600 or visit flightcentre.com.au.

Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.