It's hard to imagine that there’s anyone on the planet that isn’t at least a little bit curious to explore Antarctica. Even those who hate traveling or can’t stand the cold must have fleeting moments of expressing at least an if-only scenario or two—if only I’m wearing 20 layers and still walk, if only I’m constantly fed a hot cocoa diet, if only I could teleport there so I could pet a penguin and then teleport back to bed.
Well, if you’re curious about the coolest and most luxurious way to explore Antarctica (that actually exists), it’s called White Desert Antarctica and it’s amazing.
Words by Richard Godden of White Desert Antarctica
Seriously, are you ready to go from mundane existence to owning every dinner party conversation indefinitely? White Desert Antarctica wants you to have the greatest adventure of your life, and they know somewhere as foreign as the South Pole can end up seeming restricted to only the really epic outdoorsy type. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The people behind White Desert Antartica warmly welcome travelers looking to move far and away beyond their comfort zone. They aren’t asking for years of training before stepping food onto the largely untouched continent at the bottom of the world. You can visit the lowest point on the planet and behold an Emperor Penguin colony, all while seeing for miles atop rocky and snowy mountain ranges and strolling inside the very core of Antarctica. Different single-day or 8-day trips offer the spread of what there is to see and do and how much it requires of a person.
Meet the Expedition Crew
With an experienced team led by Patrick and Robyn Woodhead—the former a member of the youngest and fastest team to ever reach the South Pole, and the latter having skied the last degree of the North Pole that came after an expedition to Antarctica—guest travelers have to marvel at each turn of such a thrilling, unique experience. Aided and encouraged by field guides, camp assistants, camp hostesses, and a dedicated driver, newly christened explorers remain safe and comfortable as they traverse the wild, even in what has to be the craziest surroundings a person ever find themselves among. Plus, thanks to Chef Justine Lindsay, whose former culinary gig was with the traveling F1 circus, everyone’s fed exceptionally well and right on schedule.
Tell us about your venue and the experiences that you offer.
Richard: To give you a brief synopsis - White Desert is the first and only luxury camp in the interior of Antarctica. It is located near to the Shirmacher Oasis. To get to the camp clients fly from Cape Town to an ice runway and then transfer to camp on a short journey using specialised 4x4 vehicles. We have been operating for 10 years and have been fully booked for the last 5 years. The camp itself has 6 sleeping pods with a maximum capacity of 12 guests, while dining room, lounge and library have just had a spectacular refurbishment. The six fibreglass pods were recently upgraded with luxury fabric headboards, Saarinen chairs, fur throws, and extended en suite bathrooms stocked with sustainable toiletries, created by friend and fellow Polar explorer David de Rothschild’s Lost Explorer brand. Previous guests include Saudi & Jordanian royals, TV presenter Bear Grylls and even Prince Harry.
We offer two itineraries; South Pole & Emperors or Emperors and Mountains, the former being the most popular. The price point for the 2016 season is 64,000 euros per person.
To explain how things work on the ice, we have have 11 staff for only 12 guests on any one departure. So, we are very used to tailoring each trip to the individual and designing an itinerary that exactly suits our guests. There is also an enormous amount activities that are just a few minutes walk from our camp. Again, if you have a second, please see the ice tunnels movie on the ‘gallery' section of our website as its nothing short of surreal! Other activities can be more strenuous, such as climbing, skiing, or even kite-skiing (if they are particularly adventurous!).
What are some of the sites and wildlife that adventurers will experience when visiting the camp?
Richard: In terms of wildlife, clients can see weddell seals, adele penguins, a 6,000 strong Emperor penguin colony and a few species of seabirds including albatrosses, petrels, skuas, gulls and terns. When visiting the Emperor penguin colony, clients are amazed at the sheer numbers of penguins and their seeing lack of concern for the human presence.
What is your favorite part about the Emperors + South Pole Adventure?
Richard: The best part of the Emperors & South Pole itinerary is arriving at the South Pole in the knowledge that there is no longer a south, west, or east! There is only north from the south pole!
Tell us a little about the Greatest Day Adventure.
Richard: The greatest day adventure is a day trip that offers people who are tight on time, or less inclined to spend a week on the ice, a chance to visit the continent and take some interesting tours to the nearby mountains, ice tunnels and views of the huge expanses of ice. The cost of a day trip is also more affordable than the longer trips which makes it accessible to more people.
These have to be the coolest dome homes we've ever seen! What was the inspiration behind the design? Who came up with a colony of domes idea?
Richard: The idea for a luxury camp was born during a record-breaking expedition in Antarctica where our founder and CEO, Patrick Woodhead, and some fellow polar explorers, sheltering from a storm in their tented camp, dreamt about the idea of creating a more luxurious accommodation that would make travel to the interior of Antarctica more accessible to the discerning traveller. They wanted to create a lost explorer style experience in the spirit of the legendary Ernest Shackleton. The pods were designed by a colleague or ours who still goes into the ice each year to construct the temporary / semi-permanent structures. He went on to create his own company that specialise in building pods for remote locations.
We would love to get the inside scoop on the food prepared here! Tell us about your menu!
Richard: Our food is prepared by our chef in Cape Town and then flown over to Antarctica where the on ice chefs do an incredible job of creating high standard meals in an environment where there is no quick fit or a shop to pop out to when something runs out. We work with the same chef who used to work for the Mercedes AMG Petronas formula 1 team and is also the private chef to Lewis Hamilton.
When choosing the Greatest Day Adventure guests get to stay in the cozy guest house... Tell us about the features.
Richard: Whilst the guest house is not quite as luxurious as the White Desert Whichaway Camp, it is a comfortable accommodation which is far superior to the idea of camping in a tent.
Antarctica's Only Luxury Camp
Wandering around an icy alien-like landscape may suggest strange notions, but people don’t seem to realize how comfortable such a bold and one-in-a-lifetime adventure can be. What's most impressive is that you indeed spent the day inside glaciers and atop mountains, but you wind down in the evening at a camp that’s somewhere between a bed and breakfast and a luxury resort. Guests sleep in dome-shaped and heated cabin-pods that operate as a home away from home with all the comforts of a hotel room.
Photography: White Desert Antartica
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