THROUGH WIND & WAVES
Ushuaia, on the southernmost tip of Argentina, is the point of departure for most Antarctic expeditions. Traversing the infamous Drake Passage can be turbulent. Good food and interesting talks mean there is no time for boredom during the two days at sea. Those who suffer from seasickness have a reward at the end of it all: “Crossing the Drake Passage is the price of entry for going to the Antarctic”, is a favourite saying of expedition leaders.
THE SERENGETI OF THE POLAR REGION
There are plenty of good reasons to head towards South Georgia en route to Antarctica. Inhabited by only a few people all year round, this inhospitable and rugged outpost of Great Britain offers some incredible natural spectacles: Its beaches are the breeding ground for tens of thousands of King Penguins, while heavyweight elephant seals battle it out for mates, with the Wandering Albatros, the largest bird in the world, hovering up in the skies above it all.
WADDLING & HOOTING
Thought Antarctica was nothing but snow and ice? Think again! Jutting up out of the mist, Brown Bluff is a steep wall of reddish-brown volcanic tuff, forming a flat-topped ‘Tuya’ that’s around a million years old. Inflatable boats bring travellers for a tête-à-tête with the button-eyed Adélie and Gentoo Penguins. These local residents aren’t phased, continuing their waddling and hooting, cleaning and preening. It’s a routine that hasn’t changed in millennia.
TRAIL THROUGH PENGUIN PARADISE
Shaped like a half moon, this island 120 kilometres off the Antarctic mainland is a popular stop-off point and deservedly so. To the south, a 2,000 m hiking trail reveals an animal kingdom that includes colonies of chinstrap penguins against the incredible mountain backdrop of the surrounding islands, and humpback whales casually coming up for air. Photography enthusiasts will be in their element!
ICE-COLD TEST OF COURAGE
Nothing deceiving here: This island is in fact the crater rim of an active volcano. The last time it erupted, in 1969, it destroyed two research bases. The world’s most southerly whaling station was in operation here, in Whaler’s Bay, from 1910 to 1931. Its ghostly ruins now make for a fascinating photo opportunity. Things take a lively turn on the beach, at the polar plunge: Jumping into the icy Antarctic waters is a popular dare for travellers.
FIRST KAYAK, THEN CAMPING
Ice-encrusted peaks, mighty glaciers, and vast expanses of snow form the panorama to accompany an expedition by kayak. It’s perhaps the most intimate way to succumb to the magic of Antarctica: Utter silence and timelessness right up until you head back on board. Explorers then spend the night in biwak sleeping bags under the starry sky. They might wake with cold feet, but with a warm feeling inside.
HIGHLIGHT OF HIGHLIGHTS
6 km in length, 720 m wide at its narrowest point, and surrounded by towering 1,000 m high glaciers: The passage through this slender stretch of water is a photographer’s dream even by Antarctic standards – especially when the sun is shining and the blue ocean becomes a mirror for the glaciers and clouds.
VODKA ON ICE
Of course, serious work is carried out by day at the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base, including the monitoring of the Ozone Layer. The scientists are also proud though of laying claim to the “southernmost bar in the world”. Furnished inside just like a traditional English pub, it was originally built by the former British occupation. The speciality on the drinks menu? Home-made vodka.
BEYOND THE MAGICAL FRONTIER
For many expeditions to this region, the Antarctic Circle is the most southerly point before turning back, but some vessels venture even further south. Stonington Island is the end of the road for them too though: Those who venture a few hundred metres up the glacier will see the ship down below and the occasional landslide of ice crashing down into the sea. High time to turn back!
PHOTO OP AT 90° SOUTH
Crazy idea or the ultimate adventure? It’s now possible for anyone to visit the South Pole. That said, the costs involved are not to be underestimated. The trip begins by plane, embarking from a base camp via Antarctica. Then it’s on to Ceremonial South Pole, the southernmost point on earth, then a brief detour to the Amundsen-Scott Station, before setting off on the return journey back to civilization.