The motivations for visiting Antarctica are as varied as the stark white wilderness you encounter on the most remote continent in the world. First of all the diversity of wildlife is astounding—penguins, seals whales and unique seabirds all call Antarctica home. Then there are the world travellers who need to cross off their seventh and final continental visit from their bucket list. Finally there are those who want to experience the thrill of crossing the rough and wild ocean to visit a remote land where people are the visitors and the wildlife are the only native population. The road to Antarctica is hard, expensive and you can’t make it there on your own—you have to travel with a tour group.
The tour season runs from November to March in Antarctica, and every month offers a different highlight. November brings wildlife galore as the spring pack ice begins to break up. Then, come December and January in the height of the austral summer, warmer temperatures bring up to 20 hours of daylight and you can spot newborn penguins being fed by their parents. February and March are the target months for wildlife enthusiasts when the penguin chicks begin to fledge and the whale-watching is at its peak.
While you do have to travel with a group, it’s nice to know that the tour groups are expanding their Antarctica options to create a more customised experience for every traveller. Check out the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. They’re a company that promotes environmentally responsible travel and provides a ton of top-notch resources to help you plan your dream holiday. Plus, by travelling with an IAATO member, you will be travelling with a company who is committed to leaving the region in better shape than they found it.
King penguins call Antarctica home and they represent a “classic” species that is dignified, colourful and handsome birds. Their feathers glisten as they emerge from the water and it is an absolute treat to watch as they work together to raise their chicks, hunt in the chilly waters and avoid predators. You’ll be sure to see baby penguins during your tour of Antarctica as their youngest months occur during the tourist season on the continent. Snap a few photos to keep memories of these bright, active and generally unaggressive animals.
Depending on how your cruise takes you to the continent, you may or may not cross through Drake’s passage, or the Sea of Hoces. It’s a body of water between the southern tip of South America (at Cape Horn in Chile) and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. This portion of the trip is notorious for creating rough waves and unsteady journeys but once you are through this portion of the ocean, it is relatively smooth sailing towards Antarctica. While rough waves may not excite everyone, sailing through Drake’s passage is a memorable experience that inducts you into a select number of people who have made a similar trek to the only uninhabited continent in the world.
There is a place in the western Weddell Sea that holds a very large concentration of icebergs—large, medium and small in size that stretch as far as the eye can see. Watch for the wildlife who hang out on these massive ice flats and maybe catch your first glimpse of a seal, penguin or even whale!
Speaking of whales, one of the highlights of taking your trip of a lifetime to Antarctica is the opportunity to whale watch on a very grand scale. You’ll be amidst the eight species of whales found in Antarctic waves: The Blue, Fin, Humback, Minke, Orca, Sei, Southern Right and Sperm Whales. Perhaps most impressive of the eight is the Blue Whale, who weighs in at over 130 tons and slowly fighting back from the edge of extinction. While the chances of seeing one while cruising through Antarctica are very slim, there are few places in the world where you’d have better chances.
Not to be forgotten, the landscapes in Antarctica are unlike anything you’d find elsewhere in the world. The stark white cliffs of solid ice pierce through the bright blue skies. And, as the sun sets watch as a pink and orange haze captures the sky and creates one of the most memorable sunsets in the world. Keep your cameras handy as you capture the parade of colours that embody Antarctica.
Pick your preference and starting planning your once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Antarctica. Be sure to purchase international travel insurance before you leave as well to protect your investment, your health and your holiday from the unexpected. Cover-More Travel Insurance has your back with 24/7 Emergency Assistance and their experts standing by to help whenever and wherever you may be.
By Dan Moore
Image courtesy of Flickr user Christopher Michel