At the far south of the Arctic Circle is the highest, dryest, windiest place on earth: Antarctica. A harsh land that experiences summer during the months opposite the northern hemisphere. Because during winter there is far less daylight, there is a diminished wildlife presence which is no fun for most sightseers. If you’re in the mood for a darkened icy tundra by all means visit during the winter.
Wildlife isn't the only reason to visit Antarctica, its skies have been known to erupt into green flame known as Aurora Australis. Very similar, if not identical to Aurora Borealis which appears in the North Pole, Aurora Australis appears above Antarctica as it is home to the South Pole.
Various Modes of Transportation
Cost is obviously an issue when you’re working your way to the end of the earth. An average fee for a two-week circuit is $5000, which departs from Australia. The only flights into Antarctica are from Australia as well, and airfare from North America to Australia can range from $3500 to $6000 depending on flight class.
Credit: JkboxheroA number of cruise ship options are available, from basic wildlife viewing of roughly one week and costing on average $10,000 to a month-long voyage, which can cost up to $35000. That’s right, three zeroes.
If you were hoping to get some face time with the southernmost continent, expeditions take you anywhere from cross-country skiing to at the top of Vinson Massif, prices ranging from $20000 to $26000.
There is even a South-Pole tour in the $25000 range.
Prepare for Decontamination
Over a decade ago the local tourism industry began addressing the issue of alien life forms being introduced into the Antarctic eco system.
Taking a hint from the disastrous introduction of rabbits to Antarctica’s similarly isolated island-continent, Australia, emphasis is on not repeating that mistake. Due to risk of contamination, travelers must thoroughly clean the bottoms of their shoes and all clothing to remove any foreign contaminants.
Passengers should expect to inspect all backpacks, tripods and carrying cases for any stowaway soil residue. These initial precautions are so strict; visitors are even advised to cleanse Velcro-straps of any excess debris. This is because Velcro has a tendency to carry and send unwanted seeds. This slight but powerful action could have devastating effects on Antarctica, and added to that, the entire world.
Credit: Jason AuchIn an effort to make sure all required cleansing is properly done, tourists should expect to have their clothing and baggage inspected. Encase you thought that wasn’t enough, you will also need to make use of a “Boot washing station” consisting of a watery tub and rough-bristled brush. Washing stations can typically be found either on deck, or at the head of the pier when boarding and disembarking from the ship.
Crew members supervise the entire process of washing, to make sure that water used is properly drained from the ship. Water used for cleaning is at a high-pressure with a rough brush, and then a cleansing rinse with disinfectant.
Visitors, once off the boat must avoid stepping in any organic substances such as seabird excrement, or seal placenta! It is possible that you'll be exposed to these dangers as these regions known for spectacular birdwatching. Scavenger birds such as the Skuas are known to feed off biological wastes the seals leave behind.
Credit: ArcticRaftingThough not known for its vegetation, Antarctic seeds are resilient and could very easily attach themselves in clothing or exposed Velcro. Guides may go as far as vacuuming the insides of your pockets to make sure no life forms slip by. It is also common to repeat the decontamination process of scrubbing off excess grit, and rinsing in disinfectant.
Guides recommend the disinfectant not be rinsed, but be permitted to dry between land visits. This is because in order for some microorganisms to effectively be neutralized they need dehydration. You may think you’re off the hook at this point, and you’re right the hard part’s over, but keep in mind you’ll be required to decontaminate once you arrive at your next destination.
What to Bring
It’s important to keep the decontamination process in mind when considering what you’re taking with you on your journey. Since Velcro is more of a liability than a convenience, limit its use.
Coats and sweaters that zip or use buttons or snaps work better than those featuring Velcro.Inspect all pieces of clothing before electing to bring them with, to assess how difficult it would be passing it through decontamination again and again.Credit: Sheitan
Dressing in layers is the smartest way to go, and it's not a bad idea to bring a supply of sunscreen.
As ozone depletion persists over Antarctica, high levels of harmful Ultraviolet-B (UV-B) rays are possible. These damaging rays lead to increased levels of skin cancer in one of the few populated regions anywhere near Antarctica: Chile.
Of course you’re not going to want to forget binoculars, and your best digital camera but chances are you’ll have your phone with you and that’s eerily similar to the next best thing these days. Whatever electronics you bring, make sure they’ll be able to tolerate abnormally low temperatures common in Antarctica. Batteries have a habit of losing longevity in particularly chilly environments so you may also want to bring a spare or two if you'll be hiking or engaging in any kind of extended hiking.
Is Your Body Ready?
Don’t be fooled by the word summer, because in Antarctica it’s unlike any other, and you shouldn’t expect temperatures to rise above 40-50°F. No matter what you read, you've likely never been anywhere with a greater elevation (at its greatest height, Antarctica is roughly 1.5 miles above sea-level!), also contributing to its icy chill.Credit: Aconcagua
There are no required vaccinations for visiting Australia, but general health is an excellent prerequisite. Obviously no one wants to travel while ill, but Antarctica is host to many adventure tourists who may not heed their bodies need for rest. Medical resources are also limited, and staff will be continually occupied ensuring all guests adjust well to the challenging climate.
Temperatures reach devastating lows, as do moisture levels. Although covered in snow and ice, Antarctica is an arid continent. Travelers must use caution around open flames and flammable substances, as the lack of moisture is a fire hazard. Wind may elevate risk of an open flame, and dry clothing or other fabrics are more readily flammable than you may expect.
That said, hopefully your knowledge on the near-vacant continent with 14 kilometers of coastline has grown, as well as your interest in one day visiting, responsibly of course.
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"Boot, Clothing and Equipment Decontamination Guidelines for Small Boat Operations."International Association Antarctica Tour Operators. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2013.
Abarca, Jaime F., and Claudio C. Casiccia. "Skin cancer and ultravioletâ€B radiation under the Antarctic ozone hole: southern Chile, 1987–2000."Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine 18.6 (2002): 294-302.
"26 May 2013." Ozone Hole Watch: Latest Status of Antarctic Ozone. NASA Ozone Watch, n.d. Web. 29 May 2013.
"Money & Costs - Antarctica Online Travel Guide - Antarctic Connection." Money & Costs - Antarctica Online Travel Guide - Antarctic Connection. Antarctic Connection, n.d. Web. 29 May 2013.
"About Antarctica." Antarctic Wildlife. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 May 2013.