Travelling to Antarctica is undoubtedly a holiday of a lifetime. The legendary wildlife, history and natural landscapes will captivate every traveller. There are a range of excellent options for Antarctic travel, with expedition cruises departing from southern Argentina, Chile, Australia or New Zealand. There are also flights to and from King George Island, where an Antarctic fly cruise can be boarded. Cruising to Antarctica you will also discover the South Shetland Islands, Falkland Islands and South Georgia depending on your expedition.
See below our suggested itineraries designed by our specialist team. Choose one of these or contact us to discuss your polar expedition. We are Australia's leading travel company to Antarctica - your Antarctica one-stop-shop.
Click here for more detailed information about travel in Antarctica including advice about the best time to travel.
Some Interesting Facts
Around 90% of the Earth’s ice is found in Antarctica. An ice sheet covers 98% of Antarctica's 14 million square kilometres.
The maximum known thickness is 4,776m and the average thickness is 2,160m.
The largest of Antarctica's ice shelves is the Ross Ice Shelf, which measures 510,680 square kilometres (3.7% of the total area of Antarctica).
The coldest recorded temperature on Earth occurred at Vostok Station in 1983, measuring −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F).
In March 2000, the largest iceberg ever measured (named B-15), 270kms in length by 40kms wide, broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf.
Lake Vostok is a pristine freshwater lake buried beneath 3.7kms of solid ice.
The highest point on Antarctica is the Vinson Massif at 4,987m.
The Transantarctic Mountains that divide the continent into East and West sections is one of the longest mountain ranges on Earth (3,500kms).
Mount Erebus is the southernmost active volcano on the planet.
The most abundant land animal on Antarctica is the nematode worm.
Deep Lake stays liquid at temperatures down to - 20°C due to its salt content.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed on Dec 1, 1959 after more than a year of negotiations by 12 countries.
A Brief History
It was about 40 million years ago that Antarctica made its final detachment from the Australian continent to settle into its polar position. Captain James Cook was the first person to navigate across the Antarctic Circle and circumnavigate the Antarctic continent in 1773, but it was not until 1820 that the first confirmed sighting of Antarctica was made by Fabian Gottlieb von Bell-Ingshausen (a captain in the Russian Imperial Navy). The first documented landing on Antarctica was made by the American sealer John Davis in 1821, but this is disputed by some historians. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the status of Antarctica was confirmed as a continent by several expeditions that sailed around the coastline. In 1841, James Clark Ross sailed through the Ross Sea and discovered Ross Island. Mount Erebus and Mount Terror were named after two of his expedition ships. The first confirmed landing on Antarctica was in 1895 at Cape Adair.
In 1901, Scott and his team, which included Shackleton and Wilson, set sail from England on his first Antarctic expedition to try to reach the South Pole but they were forced to turn back having reached 82º south. Ernest Shackleton led the Nimrod Expedition in 1907, reaching 88º south before having to turn back. During the same expedition, Douglas Mawson led the party that were the first to reach the South Magnetic Pole and was in the group that first climbed Mount Erebus. 1911 saw Norwegian Amundsen leading the first expedition to reach the geographic South Pole, beating Scott’s party by a month. Mawson returned to the Antarctic in 1911 and it was in 1913 that he survived his solo trek back to base after the death of his two companions. Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 was an attempt to complete the first crossing of Antarctica via the pole. The expedition ship Endurance became trapped in pack ice and crushed. The expedition made its way to Elephant Island and finally South Georgia.
1928 saw the first flight over Antarctica by Australian Wilkins and America Eielson. Between 1929 and 1931 Mawson led an expedition to explore and map the coastline of what became the Australian Antarctic Territory in 1936. Norwegian Caroline Mikkelson was the first woman to step foot on Antarctica in 1935. The first successful land crossing via the South Pole took place in 1958 led by Vivian Fuchs with Edmund Hillary leading the back-up party. This was over 40 years after Shackleton’s failed attempt.
1959 saw the signing of the Antarctic Treaty by 12 countries and in 1998 the Madrid Protocol prohibited mining in Antarctica.
Antarctica is the southernmost continent in the world, surrounded by the Southern Ocean and largely south of the Antarctic Circle. The continent is divided in two by the Transantarctic Mountains - East and West Antarctica. Approximately 98% of Antarctica is covered by the Antarctic ice sheet averaging 2.16km in thickness. The remaining 2% is barren rock with average elevations between 2,000 and 4,000m and mountain ranges up to 5,000m. West Antarctica is the smaller part of the continent and includes the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea and the Filchner-Ronne and Ross ice shelves. East Antarctica includes the South Magnetic Pole, the geographic South Pole, the Ross, Scotia and Weddell Seas and the Shackleton ice shelf.
Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent and it has the highest average elevation of all the continents. It is considered a desert with an annual rainfall of only 200mm along the coast, with far less inland. The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was −89.2 °C at Vostok Station, Antarctica. Temperatures in the summer generally reach a maximum of between 5 and 15°C near the coast. East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica due to its higher elevation. Heavy snowfalls are common on the coast of Antarctica. Wind speeds are generally moderate in the interior but on the continent’s edge they often reach storm force due to the strong katabatic winds off the polar plateau. Due to its latitude, Antarctica experiences long periods of constant darkness in the winter months with long periods of constant sunlight during the summer.
The highest point in Antarctica is Vinson Massif (4,892m). Mount Erebus on Ross Island is the world’s southernmost active volcano. There are more than 70 sub glacial lakes on Antarctica, Lake Vostok being the largest.
Natural resources include iron ore, chromium, copper, gold, nickel, platinum and other minerals. Coal and hydrocarbons have been found in small quantities.
Although there are no indigenous inhabitants on Antarctica and no permanent human residents, anywhere between 1,000 (winter) and 4,500 (summer) people reside throughout the year at both permanent and seasonal (summer) staffed research stations scattered across the continent. These people are involved in either scientific research or with managing and protecting the Antarctic region. In addition, approximately 1,000 people are present in the waters of the treaty region including scientists doing on board research and ship’s crew.
The first semi-permanent inhabitants of Antarctica from 1786 onwards were British and American sealers who used to spend a year or sometimes longer on South Georgia. The whaling era lasted until 1966 and the population on South Georgia varied from 200 in the winter to between 1,000 and 2,000 in the summer. The majority of the whalers were Norwegian and the settlements included Grytviken, Stromness, Godthul and Leith Harbour. The first baby to be born in the southern polar region was born at Grytviken in 1913, and the first to be born on the Antarctic mainland was in 1978 at Base Esperanza on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Eight families had been sent there by the Argentinian government to determine if family life was suitable on Antarctica. Several bases now include schools attended by children of families living there.
Antarctica’s limited economic activity includes fishing off the coast and small-scale tourism, both based outside Antarctica. Antarctic fisheries target 3 main species - Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, mackerel icefish and krill. Unregulated fishing, in particular of Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass) is a serious problem.
Tourism has existed since 1957 and is subject to the Antarctic Treaty and Environmental Protocol and self-regulated by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Due to the concern of the potential adverse effect on the environment and ecosystems caused by the influx of tourists, there are now strict landing limits and closed or restricted zones on the more frequently visited sites.
Around 30 countries maintain 40 permanent and 30 seasonal (summer) research stations in Antarctica, with up to 4,500 personnel in the summer.
Coal, hydrocarbons, iron ore, platinum, copper, chromium, nickel, gold and other minerals have all been found on Antarctica but not in large enough quantities to exploit. In 1998 an agreement was reached placing an indefinite ban on mining, to be reviewed in 2048.
Antarctica has no government and is considered politically neutral but it is governed by a system known as the Antarctic Treaty System and administered through annual meetings. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings include consultative and non-consultative member nations as well as observer and expert organizations and decisions from these meetings are carried out by member nations. The Treaty establishes Antarctica as a peaceful and cooperative international research zone.
The Treaty, signed in 1959 and coming into effect in 1961, prohibits mineral mining, military activities, nuclear explosions, disposal of nuclear waste or other pollutants, the removal of native mammals and birds and the introduction of non-indigenous flora and fauna. It supports scientific research and protects the continent’s ecozone. It forms a legal framework for the activities of the various countries on the continent that have established year-round and seasonal stations for scientific research. Seven of these countries have made territorial claims but the Treaty neither denies nor gives recognition to existing claims.
Famous Antarctic Explorers
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton