The continent of Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest and iciest place on Earth. Here you can walk among penguins, kayak through icebergs or just sit and listen to the symphony of sounds this amazing landscape has to offer.
Antarctica is roughly 5 million square miles, but its size varies due to changing ice shelves. The continent makes up 8.9 percent of Earth's land, and the Antarctic ice cap holds 70 percent of our planet's fresh water. Almost 98 percent of Antarctica is solid ice. In fact, much of Antarctica's land mass lies beneath more than a mile of ice and snow. The highest point in Antarctica is Vinson Massif, a towering 16,066 feet.
The continent makes up 8.9 percent of Earth's land, and the Antarctic ice cap holds 70 percent of our planet's fresh water.
Antarctica has numerous penguin species: adelie, chinstrap, gentoo, king, emperor and macaroni. The emperor, the largest, stands over three feet tall and can weigh up to 80 pounds. Ten whale species can be found in the Antarctic Ocean including: humpback, blue, minke, sperm, right, sei, pilot and finback. The blue whale, the largest creature on earth, exceeds 100 feet in length and weighs over 125 tons. Six seal species are found here including: crabeater, weddell, leopard, fur, ross and elephant. Huge male elephant seals can weigh over 4 tons. Over forty species of seabirds can be seen including: albatross, petrels, skuas and terns.
Antarctica Human History
In 1522 Ferdinand Magellan ventured to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. A half-century later, Francis Drake made it between Cape Horn and the South Shetlands. In 1772 Captain James Cook's ship, Resolution, reached all the way to 71 degrees south, just shy of the Antarctic shore. The 19th century brought seal hunters and whalers. The 20th century brought on the race for the South Pole between Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Robert Scott. Amundsen's party reached the Pole in December 1912. Scott's party arrived a month later; however, Scott and all four of his men died of hunger on the way back. In 1914 British captain Ernest Shackleton was on his third Antarctic expedition when his ship, the Endurance, was trapped in the ice and sunk. The crew salvaged supplies, climbed onto the pack ice and floated to Elephant Island. Faced with no chance of rescue, Shackleton set out with five of his best men in an open rowboat and crossed 800 miles of some of the world's roughest waters to South Georgia. They then made a difficult trek over the snow-covered mountains to reach a whaling station on the other side. Shackleton returned to Elephant Island to rescue his crew. Throughout this entire ordeal, not one life was lost. Today, research stations are set up and scientific studies include geology, biology and ice-core and weather analysis.
What Is Antarctic Expedition Cruising?
Typical Antarctic vessels are ice-reinforced and range in size from 50 - 150 passengers. Expedition cruising differs from typical cruising in that a great deal of your time will be spent off the ship. Zodiacs, rubberized landing crafts, enable passengers to journey away from the ship and land virtually anywhere. Naturalists accompany travelers and offer a wealth of knowledge when interpreting the destinations and wildlife. These trips are very casual, with open seating in the dining area and simple yet comfortable accommodations.
Choosing the Right Trip
All short-duration trips visit the Antarctic Peninsula. This area has abundant wildlife, towering granite mountains and immense icebergs. Longer trips also visit the Sub-Antarctic Islands, notably the Falklands and South Georgia. These islands are ice-free in the winter and are subsequently a year-round haven for numerous wildlife species. Tens of thousands of king penguins, stunning scenery, immense jagged mountains, pristine beaches and whaling stations (of Shackleton fame) allow South Georgia to offer visitors an entirely different experience than the Antarctic Peninsula alone.
Antarctic expeditions have small vessels, a limited season and extreme popularity. You should consider planning ahead and reserving your dream Antarctica journey at least 9 months in advance. Contact AdventureSmith, and we can help you realize that dream!