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    Beginner's Guide to Antarctica

    Beginner's Guide to Antarctica

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    Welcome to Antarctica, the most remote and least-known continent on earth. You’ll see icebergs larger than Luxembourg, spectacular mountains of rock 140 million years old and wildlife thriving in some of the most severe conditions on Earth. Exploring here with your personal travel manager, you’ll see why Antarctica holds a special place in our imagination. It’s a transforming experience.

    Discover the wonders of Antarctica

    No photos, books or documentaries could ever come close to preparing you for the breathtaking experience in the last true untouched wilderness…

    The mysterious White Continent, with its multi-coloured ice caps, glistening glaciers and towering snow-capped mountains, offers unparalleled scenery and photographic opportunities. Enormous numbers of penguins, whales, seals, and seabirds congregate in the food-rich waters along the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic shores.

    Natural Wonders

    The Ross Sea is one of the most remote regions and is only accessible for two months each year when the ice thaws. It is the historic gateway, discovered by Sir James Clark Ross in 1842. It was to the Ross Sea region that many of the most famous explorers and adventurers came. The Ross Sea region is the breeding ground for millions of Adelie and Emperor penguins.

    The Antarctic Peninsula, the most accessible part of the White Continent offers you the most dramatic scenery and greatest variety of wildlife in Antarctica. In the southern summer, large ice-free areas provide breeding grounds for very large numbers of seabirds and seals. The narrow and spectacular Lemaire Channel is surrounded by mountains and glaciers and is a popular passage for several species of whales journeying up and down the sheltered Antarctic Peninsula waterways. Minke whales and ferocious-looking leopard seals are common.

    The island of South Georgia is one of the remotest of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories. Huge numbers of seabirds and marine mammals breed along its tussac fringed shores. The island is virtually unspoiled by man and offers unique opportunities to observe the wildlife and scenery of this most beautiful part of the Southern Ocean. The Falklands are a paradise for photographers and birdwatchers.

    Wildlife Wonders

    Antarctica is very cold, very dry, and very windy. These three qualities inhibit life to a great extent. The harsh climate tends to freeze living organisms, dry them and blow them away. However, animal life abounds in the seas surrounding Antarctica, and migratory seabirds and marine mammals are found in tremendous numbers around the coastal areas from late October to early March and on the sea ice during the rest of the year. Unlikely as it may seem, the biological productivity in Antarctic waters is the highest in the world.


    The most obvious and commonly seen animals of Antarctica are the birds. The species diversity is very low. Although many more occur, only 43 species of birds breed south of the Antarctic Convergence, nearly all of them seabirds. Many ornithologists believe that Wilson’s Storm-petrel, which breeds by the millions in Antarctica, may be the most numerous bird in the world.


    Penguins epitomize Antarctica. Surprisingly, of the 17 species found in the southern hemisphere, most of them live north of the Antarctica Convergence, the biological boundary that separates the Antarctic from the rest of the world. Of all the penguins, only the Emperor and Adelie are restricted to Antarctic habitats. Gentoo, Chinstrap, King, Macaroni, Rockhopper, and Magellanic Penguins are some of the additional species that may be encountered in Antarctica or the subantarctic islands.


    Seals belong to the group of marine mammals called Pinnipeds. Pinnipeds are well adapted to life in the sea. They have an enormous amount of blood in relation to their body size (about twice the amount found in a comparably sized human) The southern elephant seal has a large circumpolar range which includes most of the subantarctic islands as well as a few continental coasts. It is the largest species of seal in the world, surpassing the walrus in size. The Weddell seal is the most southerly seal and indeed the most southerly of all mammals breeding as far south as 78S. Crabeater seals are the most abundant seal in the world. Despite its name, the seal lives almost entirely on krill. Antarctica’s leopard seal is a predator, the only Antarctic seal to regularly consume warm-blooded prey. 


    Antarctic baleen whales have a distinct annual cycle of breeding in the warm waters at low altitudes in winter and feeding in the cold Antarctic waters in the austral summer. The southern right whale was greatly over-exploited by whalers, almost disappearing by the end of the 19th century. Now totally protected, it is making a gradual recovery. The humpback whale is the easiest great whale to identify. Humpbacks often leap completely out of the water to land on their backs with a tremendous splash. Besides breaching, the humpback whale waves and slaps its enormous flippers on the surface of the water to make a loud sound rather like a gunshot. This species is amazingly acrobatic and energetic and never fails to create excitement among visitors lucky enough to encounter one.

    When to go

    Antarctica is at its most accessible and spectacular November through to March. Each month has its own special highlights.

    November is early summer. The most adventurous and awe-inspiring time to visit.
    Huge volumes of ice and pristine snow.
    Incredible courtship displays in the penguin colonies.
    Scientists at research stations welcome the first visitors of the season
    Active fur seal courtship most noticeable on South Georgia
    Spring flowers bloom on the Falkland Islands.

    December to January is full summer. The warmest months when wildlife activities are in full swing.
    Longer days, more daylight, stunning photos at midnight.
    A rare opportunity to spend an unforgettable holiday season in Antarctica.
    The first penguin chicks hatch on South Georgia and the Falkland islands – followed in mid-December by the first chicks hatching in Antarctica.
    Seal pups are visible on South Georgia.

    February to March is late summer. The best time for whale watching.
    Ice allows exploration further south along the Peninsula.
    Best whale watching of the season.
    Penguin colonies at their busiest with adult birds fetching krill and feeding their chicks.
    Fur seals most common during the Antarctic Peninsula and young fur seals at their most playful on South Georgia.
    Penguin chicks begin to fledge.

    Getting there

    Nearly everyone who visits Antarctica arrives by ship from Ushuaia, the most southern town in the world sitting right at the bottom of Argentina. Regular flights service Australia to Chile and Argentina where connecting flights can be made to Ushuaia. Many travellers choose to combine a visit to Antarctica with South America.

    Fast Facts

    The US dollar is the standard of currency on board most vessels.
    You should anticipate rough seas. Ask your GP about effective medications.
    Carry a video or still camera and a pair of binoculars.
    Be prepared for rapid weather changes.

    Plan the trip of a lifetime with your local, personal travel manager.


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