It may seem strange, but Antarctica is set to be the “next best thing” as far as travel and tourism is concerned.
This intrepid destination made number two in Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Countries 2014, and Antarctica has some of the wildest, most remote spots on earth. As the earths windiest, driest, highest, and coldest continent, visitors can also expect to see outstanding wildlife including seals, whales, dolphins, and penguin colonies.
Antarctica is a place where the desire to see the majesty of the least visited continent clashes with the fear of leaving said continent worse off. Right now an average of 35,000 people visit Antarctica each year, and with an environment as fragile as this one, every footstep of each visitor is causing damage.
The trick is to make sure that each visitor has the smallest possible impact on the environment and eco-system, and the argument for tourism is a good one-only by experiencing Antarctica directly can you truly understand the significance of such an incredible place.
There has recently been a shift to more adventurous activities in Antarctica, and a recent article by the Herald Sun had the following to say:
Antarctic New Zealand’s environment manager Neil Gilbert says more robust monitoring is needed to track tourism’s impacts.
“The Antarctic Peninsula … is one of, if not the most rapidly warming part of the globe,” Gilbert says. “We really don’t know what additional impact that those tourism numbers … are having on what is already a very significantly changing environment.”
There are fears that habitat will be trampled, and that tourists will introduce exotic species or microbes.
Another fear is that a cruise ship carrying thousands of passengers will run into trouble in these ice-clogged, storm-prone and poorly charted waters, creating an environmentally disastrous oil spill and a rescue crisis.
But others say not to worry. A recent stuff.co.nz article took a different approach:
Australia-based adventurer Tim Jarvis sees Antarctic tourists not as a problem, but as part of the solution for a frozen continent where the ice is rapidly retreating.
If more tourists see its wonders and the impacts of climate change, particularly on the Antarctic Peninsula, Jarvis says, the world will become more inclined to protect the continent.
“It’s a pity we live in a world that’s a little bit overregulated in many respects,” he says of the prospect of greater controls on tourism.
Jarvis led a party of six in January and February on a 19-day re-enactment of British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s desperate sea and land journey to a South Georgia Island whaling station in the southern Atlantic Ocean in 1916.
Jarvis and his party spent more than a year applying for five permits from various treaty countries and did detailed risk assessments and environmental impact statements.
They paid for their own back-up boat to rescue them in case anything went wrong.
“My broader message to people is that we all have the potential to do far more in our lives than we feel we’re capable of doing and we should go and explore that … but do it responsibly,” Jarvis says.
So how do you visit Antarctica? Most people cruise from Argentina.This won’t be a cheap trip, in fact you’re looking at upwards of $8,000 per person (excluding your airfare to Argentina) trips can be well over $20,000, so Antarctica is definitely a bucket list experience.
The best time to go is from November to March, and you’ll want to bring seasickness medication for the notorious Drake’s Passage which can take up to 24 hours to cross.
If you’d like more information on traveling to Antarctica, check out the following tour operators:
- Polar Cruises- polarcruises.com
- Lindblad Expeditions-expeditions.com/antarctica
- Abercrombie & Kent- abercrombiekent.com
- Quark Expeditions- quarkexpeditions.com
What do you think? Is Antarctica on your travel list?