Air Travel and Over Flights to Antarctica
Following on from my introduction to Antarctic tourism I'd like to tell you about air travel options to Antarctica.
For many years each year I got to go on a flight to Antarctica and I never got tired of the view. First there is the southern ocean, then the expanse of sea ice as we approach the coast. After crossing the coast there is the mountains and their massive glaciers snaking down between them from the plateau. It's an amazing sight. And anyone can do this as easy as buying a airline ticket. Qantas in conjunction with Croydon Travel has regular Antarctica flights each southern summer.
A couple of these flights went over Casey while I was there. On station we usually made the most of the day, having a BBQ in front of the Red Shed, and setting off some flares (out of date, and for training purposes) as the flight flew over. There are a number of experienced guides on the flight who talk about their Antarctic experiences. When they flew over Casey we talked to the flight on VHF radio. Passengers were able to ask us question via the guides. Flights going over a station are the exception as these have less time over mountain scenery. The seating arrangement is quite complex and you should look at their web site to see what I mean. Most seats rotate to windows for set periods of time. From talking to guides who have been on these flights, it sounds like passengers enjoy the trip very much.
Fly to the South Pole
Want to do something completely different? ANI (Adventure Network International) will fly you to the South Pole for a flying visit. This is not a light hearted trip. From Chile ANI will fly you to their Patriot Hills camp where they have a blue ice runway. Here you will wait for perfect weather conditions for your flight to the South Pole, usually in a Twin Otter. The trip to Patriot Hills would be impressive in itself.
I've met many people at the Pole on this trip. Most look totally overwhelmed. Is it from the excitement of completing some great goal in their lives, or the altitude and cold? Probably both. However I would say almost all of the people I have met were surprised (maybe a nice way of putting it) about how cold it is, and the effect of the altitude (they fly from sea level). On your trip to the Pole you will get to take hero shots at the various Pole markers and flags, get a tour of the station, and get to buy some souvenirs at the shop. I think you get to spend some time in the galley and have a hot drink.
Relations between the station and tourists have been up and down. They are very much up at the moment. You will be moved around fairly quickly but not rushed. If you go off by yourself use common sense. There is a lot of machinery (yeh, I know, how disappointing is that) moving around. Stay out of the way, and unless the driver clearly indicates he has seen you, assume they haven't and stay well clear. Stay out of work areas, which will be well marked. But do talk to people. Say hello, and explain you are there for a short visit. Ask what they do. Most people will be excited to talk to you and want to know what your experience is like, as much as you might to know about their experience. If they seem busy, and rushed (which is common), say nice meeting you and move on to your next adventure.
Quite a few years back an ANI DC-3 was stuck at Pole for over a week. The people had to stay in tents, and had very limited access to station resources. This was back in the days of bad official relations with the station. However I found the visitors very interesting and at some point gave them a very detailed tour of the science areas of the station. I had been told not to do this, and the ANI guides were clearly uncomfortable with this activity. But I did this on my own time, and was sure to follow all the rules that applied to anyone working at Pole. There will always be people like me at Pole who are friendly and are as excited to meet you as you are to meet them.
Photo credits: Darryn Schneider.