Country at a glance: Antarctica

Snow, ice, water, rock, sky. The stark surroundings of Antarctica and the enormity of its ice shelves and mountain ranges make for an elemental beauty that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Nothing compares and nowhere else on earth can so heighten feelings of humanity’s insignificance and nature’s grandeur.

The wildlife, including emperor penguins, leopard seals and minke whales, are not afraid of humans, allowing for spectacular and surreal close encounters. Governed by 29 nations, this continent/country is primarily dedicated to scientific research but it’s also one of the planet’s regions that’s most visibly affected by global warming; as parts of the continent grow, others melt, leaving scientists to debate what it all actually means.

BEST TIME TO VISIT
November to February for 'summer'

TOP THINGS TO SEE

  • Majestic icebergs and mountain reflections on the water at Paradise Harbour
  • The true grit of Antarctic exploration icily preserved at Shackleton’s expedition hut
  • Dazzling blooms of violet, pink and white in the gardens on Campbell Island
  • Three eerie ghost-filled explorer’s huts on Ross Island
  • A beautiful blue-eyed shag regurgitating a meal to its chick

TOP THINGS TO DO

  • Glide on a zodiac under the morning’s pink skies past basking Weddell seals and noisy gentoo penguins
  • Sail inside the restless volcano at Deception Island
  • Get startled by a loud 'fffff', then be bathed in a fish-scented mist as a whale surfaces next to your boat
  • Experience the bluster of 'Home of the Blizzard', one of the windiest places on earth

GETTING UNDER THE SKIN

  • Read Travelers’ Tales Antarctica: Life on the Ice, a collection of Antarctic tales from the goofy to the harrowing
  • Listen to Rothera Station’s wintering rock band Nunatak – made up of two scientists, two engineers and a field assistant
  • Watch the beautifully restored footage of Shackleton’s men and dogs working on the ice-beset ship Endurance in the 1998 film South
  • Eat an Antarctic barbecue, set up on deck or even on the ice
  • Drink an Antarctic Old Fashion: made from one fifth of 100-proof bourbon, seven packets of multiflavoured Life Savers sweets and just-melted snow

IN A WORD
The A-factor (The local term for the unexpected difficulties caused by the Antarctic environment)

TRADEMARKS

Icebergs; penguins; freezing cold; geologists; explorers; the South Pole; glaciers; seals; 24-hour sunlight, sled dogs; global warming

RANDOM FACT
Antarctica’s ice sheets contain 90% of the world’s ice – 28 million cu km – holding about 70% of the world’s fresh water