Standing in the freezing cold, my hands turning a blue-ish shade of red, the cold air climbing into my uniformed limbs, I was wondering for a few seconds why I chose to go to work wearing my skirt on this day. Funny how, even during moments like this, we can be so foolish and spoiled. I put my camera down and just stared at them: emperor penguins.
People always ask about my favorite destination during my nearly four years at sea. Usually, I answer that everything is so great. But that is only because I don’t want to be the person to constantly bring up “those times I went to Antarctica”.
But here is the honest truth – the place that had the biggest impact on me, that influenced my heart most, and that I dream of returning to time after time, is Antarctica. When I close my eyes, I can still recall the cold touch of the wind, the grainy texture of the icy snow, and millions of shades of blue surrounding the White Continent.
Here are seven reasons why I absolutely love the White Continent – seven reasons why you too should add this incredible destination to your bucket list.
1. Blue Everywhere
On a sunny, clear day in Antarctica, you feel like you are living in a world of blue and white. The skies are the most beautiful bright blue, contrasted by the deep blue shades of the ocean. Against the ice, you’ll see light touches of turquoise. You can find a different shade of blue, everywhere you look.
2. The Vastness of it All
Imagine being surrounded by ocean and ice. Imagine sailing past an iceberg that is four times the size of your ship. Imagine seeing an ice shelf that runs as far as you can see. This is Antarctica. Nothing is small. Nothing can be described as “a little bit of” or a “short distance”. It’s all so big, and it reminds me of how small we, as humans, actually are in this world. You see a drone image of this huge ship, looking like it’s toy-sized next to the ice, and it catches your breath.
3. Animal Life
Some of the animals you see in the Antarctic, you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world (outside of zoos). Emperor penguins (the ones from Happy Feet) are endemic to Antarctica, while its smaller cousin, the king penguin, breeds on the sub-antarctic islands, located just north of Antarctica. What else will you see here? Blue whales, orcas, colossal squids, fur seals, elephant seals, Weddell seals, leopard seals, Adélie penguins, chinstrap penguins, gentoo penguins, southern rockhopper penguins… point made, right?
4. Aurora Australis
Unless you’re one of the hardcore scientists who spend a winter in Antarctica, you won’t actually get to see the Aurora while you are there. This is because there isn’t really darkness during the Antarctic summer – the sun sets at around 11 pm and rises about four hours later. But as you are sailing down south, or back north again, you stand a wonderful chance of seeing the Aurora (southern lights – twin sister to the northern lights). Nothing compares to seeing the dark sky light up in dancing rays of green, white, and sometimes even pink (more about my Aurora experience HERE).
5. Eternal Daylight
In the words of a non-expert, i.e. me, “during the Antarctic summer, there are a few weeks when the sun doesn’t actually set”. This is true. It means that you get to see the glorious light of day all the time. And when the sun does start to set again, you get to witness gorgeous sunsets, with pink reflections dancing over the white snow and ice.
6. The Rush of an Antarctic Plunge
I have actually gone for a swim in Antarctica. FACT. Let me explain – some expeditions (including the ones I worked on) do Antarctic plunges, allowing you to jump into the freezing cold water for a quick swim. In my case, they tied a rope around your waist in order to pull you to safety after you jump. Doing this gave me the same rush as sky-diving did. It’s freezing cold, some days more so than others, you have no idea what else is swimming in the dark water, it feels like a thousand needles are pricking at your skin at once. But, you climb out of the water saying “yeah, I went swimming in Antarctica”. I did this three times. The last time being the coldest swim of my entire life. And I will do it again!
7. No Humans!
The amount of researchers working around the stations on the continent varies from around 1000 people during winter to 4000 people during summer. Such a small amount of people on a continent that is near twice the size of Australia means that there are almost no people living here. And you can tell by things like clean air, no garbage lying around, no noise other than the wind and the birds, and animals that don’t run away from two-legged creatures (that’s us – humans!). The continent is virtually untouched, and in a world where tourism is being more and more commercialized, this is a fresh breeze. Pun intended. Environmental groups work very hard to keep it that way. A major victory came in 2016 when more than 1.5 million square kilometers (600,000 square miles) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea were declared a marine wilderness, making it the largest protected area on the planet.