The coldest, windiest, and driest landmass on Earth rests at the southernmost tip of the planet, where the fifth-largest continent stretches its icy expanse over five million square miles, all within the Antarctic Circle, and the site of the true South Pole.
Antarctica is the only continent without a native human population, yet it is home to 4,000 visiting scientists spread across 80 research stations each summer, with the numbers dropping to around 1,000 in winter. Of the endemic Antarctic animals, the best-known are the whales, seals, albatross, and seabirds — and particularly the much-loved king and emperor penguins. Temperatures in Antarctica are consistently below zero throughout the year, and 98% of its land is permanently covered by ice.
Getting to the White Continent isn’t easy; the 500-mile Drake Passage, or Mar de Hoces, between Cape Horn in Chile and Livingston Island in Antarctica, is the shortest crossing. Passengers have come to dread the route for its rough seas that are known to dislodge furniture, clash with footsteps, and upset the most hardened seaman’s stomach. Even on quieter days, the rolling swells bring new respect to the term wild waters.
Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands was the first land discovered below 60° South Latitude, in 1819. A historic event that marked the end of a centuries-long pursuit of the mythical Terra Australis Incognita – and marked the beginning of the race to the South Pole. On approach, as the waters calm and the mountains of Antarctica become visible in the distance, huge icebergs float past in majestic silence, and you will understand that you have begun one of the most incredible adventures on this planet.
– The discovery of Antarctica was almost simultaneously accomplished by Russians, Brits, and Americans in 1820.
– The first undisputed landing was by a Norwegian expedition on January 24, 1895.
– Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, on December 13, 1911.
– Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton led three early British polar expeditions during the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom were among the original signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, now upheld by almost 40 nations. First signed in 1961, the treaty acts in the interest of all mankind to ensure that Antarctica shall remain protected.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced.