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Antarctica ultimate travel guide: 10 highlights

Imagine penguins and icebergs photo-bombing your wedding pictures. This is exactly what some adventurous couples are hoping for during their destination wedding on the frozen continent. Earlier this year, Aussie couple Tanya Conole and Bill Davidson cruised out of Ushuaia, Argentina aboard the Chimu Adventures-chartered small expedition ship, Ocean Endeavour. On the Antarctic Peninsula, rugby legend John Eales led their ceremony where the bride wore her best white puffer jacket. A Chimu Adventures’ spokesperson said that given plenty of notice, the company can help Antarctica-bound couples organise a marriage or commitment ceremony, which can be conducted by their own celebrant, the captain or an expedition member. See chimuadventures.com

Sail to the deepest south aboard a tall ship

Sail to the far south on the tall ship Bark Europa.

Sail to the far south on the tall ship Bark Europa.

If you’re up to tackling extremely challenging nautical miles in the infamous Southern Ocean and you are physically fit, this might be your ultimate Antarctic adventure. Passengers are expected to muck in and help the permanent crew sail the Bark Europa, a three-masted barque, as she plies the Southern Ocean. Next season, there are three 22-day journeys, book-ended by a 42-day adventure incorporating South Georgia and an epic 52-day expedition that will travel from Antarctica to Cape Town, South Africa. See barkeuropa.com

Want ice with that?

It feels ridiculously decadent, we know, but there’s nothing quite like clinking drinks with fellow passengers while soaking in a hot tub as Antarctica slides past. HX’s near identical twin ships, the Roald Amundsen and the Fridtjof Nansen, both feature bubbling hot tubs on their aft decks – the perfect place from which to absorb the frosted landscape and vivid twilight skies. You can also warm up in HX’s Scandi-style saunas featuring full-length picture windows. Albatros Expeditions’ Ocean Victory also features Insta-worthy jacuzzis on its midnight sun pool deck. See HXexpeditions.com; albatros-expeditions.com

Scramble for the toy box

Seabourn guests can go exploring in a luxury submarine.

It’s no longer enough to simply schlep around in snowshoes or to snap the awesome polar wildlife. Antarctica is now an adrenaline junkie’s playground, thanks to the high-tech toys and extreme adventures offered by some expedition lines. Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris each carry two six-passenger yellow submarines with revolving seats affording 270-degree views. Seabourn Pursuit and Seabourn Venture’s subs feature a champagne chiller and Bluetooth stereo system. Scenic Eclipse I and II can take you both up and down, thanks to onboard submarines and helicopters. Divers with appropriate experience can also scuba-dive the icy Antarctic waters on some Aurora Expeditions departures. See vikingcruises.com.au; seabourn.com; scenic.com.au; auroraexpeditions.com.au

Put your shut-eye on ice

Amp up your Antarctica adventure and sleep under canvas on the frozen continent. HX is offering overnight camping slots to just 30 passengers, so cross your fingers that you might be selected as one of the lucky few (even if you’re not, complete the mandatory safety briefing in case someone gets cold feet at the last minute). You might not enjoy much sleep, especially if you’re paired with a stranger in your tent, but you’ll have a front-row view to glacier calving action, floating icebergs and the passing wildlife. With Aurora, you’ll be camping sans tent but staying warm (hopefully) thanks to a camping mat and thermal sleeping bag. See HXexpeditions.com; auroraexpeditions.com.au

Nerd alert: become a citizen scientist

Never heard of a Secchi disk? You’ll be all over the ridiculously simple water-transparency measurement tool if you head out on a Zodiac for a touch of citizen science. HX offers Zodiac outings in which you can contribute data to researchers’ ongoing projects, collect water specimens and inspect them for phytoplankton at the on-board Science Centre. Passengers are also encouraged to submit their whale images to Happywhale, a project that identifies individual marine mammals and tracks their travels through the world’s oceans. See happywhale.com

Dodge the Drake Mistake

Keen to skip the Drake Shake? The famously temperamental ocean crossing to the Antarctic Peninsula, which takes two days each way from the tail end of South America, has been known to dispatch the toughest adventurers to their beds. Now you can skip the oceanic gamble (when it plays nice, the passage is known as the Drake Lake). Quark offers a fly-cruise option, in which you fly from Chile’s Punta Arenas to King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, to start your adventure from there. See quarkexpeditions.com

Pop the cork on a frozen picnic

An icy champagne picnic with White Desert.

If money’s absolutely no object, explore Antarctica’s remote interior in complete luxury at ground (ice?) level. With White Desert, fly from Cape Town to see, for instance, emperor penguin chicks as they’re “taking their first steps off their parents’ feet”. This five to six-day private charter, which includes accommodation at one of the company’s two luxury Antarctica camps, will set you back a cool $US68,500-plus ($104,000) per person twin-share. You can also set off from South Africa on an Antarctic day trip. After a five-hour flight, spend three hours on ice hiking to a nunatak (glacial island) for a champagne picnic at $US15,950 ($24,000) a person. See white-desert.com

Q+A: Antarctica

Anthony Laver, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

I love Antarctica because … there is no pristine place on Earth like it. It has some of the most unique wildlife and grand ice-scapes, it makes you feel like you’ve travelled to another planet.

For me, the hottest new bucket list experience in Antarctica is … taking a Scenic Eclipse [luxury expedition cruise ship] flightseeing excursion on one of two on board helicopters. You can see Antarctica from a perspective that few people will ever get to experience.

The one classic bucket list destination for Antarctica is … Penguin Island, where up to 300,000 pairs of nesting penguins create a “black and white″⁣ landscape with one of the most amazing breeding colonies in the region.

The one big issue for travellers when visiting Antarctica is to avoid disturbing the fragile seabeds and ice with ship anchors and activities.

You can deal with that by … carefully selecting the route to minimise the use of anchors and preserve this fragile environment. On Scenic Eclipse, the ships use azipods, for maximum manoeuvrability and the avoidance of using anchors, allowing the ship access places where other ships can’t reach.

You can be a better traveller to Antarctica by making sure that you … choose an operator who carefully adheres to the IAATO protocols and stays within required limits of wildlife, in order not to impact this precious ecosystem.

My one big travel tip for Antarctica is … take a Scenic Eclipse heli or submarine excursion, or experience the icy water via the zodiacs, kayaks, or stand-up paddleboards, to experience the incredible wildlife from a different perspective.

See scenic.com.au

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