Penguin on iceberg in Antarctica © Judith Duk
Antarctica can lay claim to several prizes in the continent stakes: it is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on earth, and with an average altitude of 7,382 feet (2,250m), it is also the highest. The extreme frigidity and ferocious winds, as well as its isolation at the bottom of the world, combine to make Antarctica one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, neither inhabited by a native population nor presided over by an indigenous government.
Yet growing numbers of people are compelled to travel to this vast continent, double the size of Australia; a land of pristine whiteness, where its creatures have figured out remarkable ways to survive a life in the freezer. The landscape is as harsh as it is magical. Icebergs of indescribable beauty are carved, etched and polished into fantastic shapes and patterns by the elements, and the roar of calving glaciers echoes between sheer-sided channel walls. Roughly scoured peaks of rock and ice are reflected in the serene waters of protected bays that are frequented by basking seals and inquisitive whales. The coastal shores and sub-Antarctic islands are home to hundreds of penguin rookeries, seal colonies and nesting seabirds; the incessant commotion and comic antics of half a million tuxedoed forms is one of the most characteristic and endearing features of a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Peninsula is the northernmost finger that points to South America, and together with the islands of the Sub-Antarctic, is the most visited region and the best place to view wildlife in Antarctica. Most visits are on organised ship-based expeditions that aim to showcase the scenic highlights of the region as well as to educate visitors about the wildlife, historical sites and active research bases.
Antarctica is not an easy place to get to, nor is it a cheap holiday destination; part and parcel of this quest for adventure will more than likely involve a rough sea crossing, as well as an itinerary at the mercy of changing weather and ice conditions. However, those that choose to journey to the 'end of the world' can be sure of experiencing a voyage incomparable to any other.