It may be the world’s largest continent, but so much is unknown about remote, mountainous Antarctica. A land of mystery, intrigue and adventure, it’s no wonder this icy destination features high on many traveller’s bucket lists. The Flying Kangaroo took me even further down under with this one day sightseeing tour to Antarctica. There are two main ways to see the continent; the most popular being a summer sightseeing fly-over from Australia on board a chartered Qantas 747-400ER aircraft. Another great way to visit is an expedition cruise by sea departing from various locations across Australia, New Zealand and South America. Our chartered Qantas 747-400ER was waiting in the early morning light for her precious cargo. Arriving early at the departure gate for check-in, we were greeted by an over-sized penguin and friendly staff from Antarctica Flights. We gathered our boarding passes and headed to the departure gate. In the boarding area were two film crews reporting on the day’s events which added to the atmosphere. Our scheduled departure was 0630 with an estimated arrival time back into Adelaide of 1900 – with a total flight time of 13 hours and 10 minutes. This was going to be a long day, but no one seemed to mind. With my new Nikon camera in tow and everyone safely on board, a palpable buzz filled the cabin. I was almost sure on takeoff a spontaneous outbreak of applause was going to erupt.
Our flight route had us heading directly towards the South Magnetic Pole. Most people, understandably, think the magnetic pole is in the middle of Antarctica. To our surprise the pole is actually located 250km off shore, in the ocean. Past the pole we tracked towards the French base of Dumont Dúrville; after the famous explorer of the same name. From here the flight continued east, past Commonwealth Bay to Cape Adare and over the mountains, lakes, inlets and icebergs below. After four and half hours beautiful low level flying and lots of sharp banks for maximum viewing pleasure, it was time to head back. Throughout the flight two Antarctic scientists provided expert commentary. While over the ice, commentary was given from the cockpit pointing out particular landmarks and sightings. Another scientist was located in the cabin fielding questions from passengers.
Shortly after we broke land a live-to-air interview between aircraft and ground commenced where we heard from Casey Station communications officer Narelle, who explained to us conditions on the ground. Part of her duties include clearing air space for aircraft and ensuring safe passage for all travellers on land, sea and air. “It’s currently a bright summer’s day and -3.6 degrees on land which is considered mild,” explained Narelle. “Fairly strong winds today, but we do have sunlight all summer long. By end of February we will start to see a small sunrise. But winter will see it dark 24 hours. The Base has up to 120 people at a time during its peak from many nations but this drops to around 22 people during winter months which tend to be harsh. What do we do for fun though? We have a small cinema and library to keep us busy. Outdoor activities include skiing, iceberg cruises and penguin colony spotting Sea ice can be around one metre thick, and land ice can be up to 150 metres thick.”
As Narelle spoke we flew over Casey Station where she could easily spot the aircraft from our low altitude. With a tip of the wings solute we steered back onto the scheduled flight path. The sheer size and extreme landscapes of Antarctica surprised me. I was expecting a rather flat piece of land stretching as far as the eyes could see. While there was certainly areas like that, there were more mountains, lakes (who knew?), inlets and icebergs than I anticipated.
Antarctica In A Day: Five Things To Know
1. Service onboard
Breakfast and dinner were served during the flight along with a choice of meals and snacks in-between. The bar service included complimentary wine and champagne. The meals on board are part of the new Qantas international economy menu which boasts 25% larger meals.
2. Seat rotation
The economy cabin layout on the grand 747 is 3x4x3. A unique seat rotation that takes place half way through the flight. Aisle seats move to the window and adjacent middle seat for viewing on the last half of the sightseeing tour. The lowest priced seats in the middle of the middle section do not rotate.
3. Middle seats
I was told this flight has a unique atmosphere and people mingle throughout the cabin allowing the middle seat ticket holders a chance for optimal viewing. I was surprised at the comradely on board. The aisles were filled most of the flight and every window seat guest was generous with their space.
4. Economy seat prices
Economy Class Middle – $1,199* (no rotation) Economy Class Standard (over wing view) – $1,999* Economy Class Superior (rear cabin, full view) – $2,999*
5. The pointy end of the plane
Premium Economy Class (over wing view) – $3,299* Business Class Centre (no rotation) – $4,299* Business Class Deluxe (window seats) – $7,499* Ice Class (small cabin in nose of aircraft) – $7,999* *Prices are person person and subject to availability. Valid for travel 31 Dec 15 and 14 Feb 16 from Melbourne, 7 Feb 16 from Sydney and 26 Jan 17 from Perth.