Aristotle first posited the existence of Anarktikos (“opposite of the bear”) as a geo-counterbalance to the northern polar landmasses. Two millennia later, a Russian naval officer confirmed the existence of the continent, and subsequent superhuman explorers have planted their respective national flags in the ice. Despite its vouched-for reality, there remains something abstract and surreal about this otherworldly white desert. Name an extreme and Antarctica can probably lay claim to it: It is the continent with the lowest temperatures, strongest wind speeds, driest desert, thickest ice covering, least population, largest penguins.
The historic Antarctic Treaty, signed by dozens of countries to date, prohibits military and mineral exploration activity and preserves the continent for scientific research. Several thousand scientists spend months-long stints here studying the unique marine ecosystems and atmospheres. Traveling to the white continent takes considerable time and money; nonetheless, tens of thousands of tourists come to see this mind-boggling frozen expanse, often cruising by on ice-breaker tour ships or looking down from above – commercial “flyover” tours, with accompanying lectures and videos, depart regularly from Melbourne and Sydney. Private yacht is the other preferred mode of Antarctica visitation, with excursions by Zodiac raft allowing more intimate excursions among the icebergs.