ANTARC­TICA

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White Desert’s luxe ex­plorer camp in­vites you dis­cover the sev­enth con­ti­nent in un­par­al­leled style

Antarc­tica rep­re­sents the ul­ti­mate ad­ven­ture. As a des­ti­na­tion for ex­plor­ers and sci­en­tists, ‘ex­trav­a­gance’ is a word few would as­so­ciate with its icy ex­panse, but that’s a per­cep­tion White Desert has sub­verted, as founder Pa­trick Wood­head tells Tracey Porter.

Trav­ellers who have vis­ited Antarc­tica say it is a trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. Some see shades of blue they never knew ex­isted; oth­ers feel they have sam­pled what it might be like to live on Mars. While there are more than 35,000 pas­sen­gers cruis­ing the Antarc­tic Penin­sula each year, the in­te­rior re­mains the pre­serve of just 300 in­trepid ad­ven­tur­ers. To see its won­ders and com­mune with the re­search sci­en­tists there is one of the world’s great­est priv­i­leges.

White Desert in­vites you to dis­cover the sev­enth con­ti­nent in the sump­tu­ous style of a 19th-cen­tury sa­fari, com­plete with freeflow­ing cham­pagne and in­dul­gent camp ac­com­mo­da­tion. Nes­tled in a lu­nar-like land­scape be­tween a frozen lake and tow­er­ing walls of ice, its six state-of-the-art fi­bre­glass sleep­ing pods rep­re­sent the finest lux­ury to be found in Antarc­tica. Each one fea­tures heat­ing, Saari­nen chairs, fur throws, an­i­mal-skin pil­lows and cut-crys­tal tooth­brush hold­ers in the en­suites. A lounge pod with li­brary was added dur­ing the 10th-an­niver­sary ren­o­va­tions in 2016, along with a din­ing room of fur-lined chairs, where guests en­joy three-course gourmet meals.

Each sea­son, be­tween Novem­ber and Fe­bru­ary, small groups of no more than 12 guests board a Gulf­stream G550 de­part­ing White Desert’s Cape Town base. Fly­ing in over the South­ern Ocean, the jet lands on a blue-ice run­way be­fore guests are trans­ported to the camp.

The duo be­hind it all Such an am­bi­tious ini­tia­tive could only have come from the minds of true po­lar ex­plor­ers. Co-founders Pa­trick and Robyn Wood­head first con­ceived the con­cept for a camp for dis­cern­ing trav­ellers in 2003 when they found them­selves stuck in a tent while travers­ing the South Pole. At the height of a four-day storm, the pair be­gan to ques­tion why only ex­plor­ers and sci­en­tists

were found in Antarc­tica’s for­got­ten in­te­rior. Why not ‘nor­mal tourists’ too?

Start­ing in 2006 from a base of just three staff – Pa­trick, Robyn and a chef – to­day White Desert has 56 per­son­nel. De­spite the fact that it aims to re­strict numbers at just a dozen guests per ro­ta­tion, the camp has now hosted over 800 guests with past res­i­dents in­clud­ing Prince Harry and Bear Grylls.

Wood­head says guests who have at­tended the camp come in all shapes and sizes with the youngest be­ing “a very ad­ven­tur­ous” 12-year-old and the old­est be­ing as­tro­naut Buzz Aldrin, who com­pleted the sa­fari at 87.

While they are not ex­pected to have po­lar ex­plo­ration cre­den­tials, guests are re­quired to have at least a ba­sic level of fit­ness to make the most of the ex­cur­sions, the likes of which in­clude a climb up nearby Nu­natak moun­tain to see the view over the ice waves and a sauna at the nearby science sta­tion.

“Due to the fact that our group size is very small, we are able to split up each day into dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties, with

“There are vis­its to science bases, 4WD ex­cur­sions and pic­nics in scenic lo­ca­tions, or ex­plor­ing the ice tun­nels near camp.”

dif­fer­ent ef­fort lev­els. For those after lots of ar­du­ous treks and adren­a­line, we can cater for this, but the ma­jor­ity of our clients are look­ing for some­thing much less stren­u­ous and we adapt the ac­tiv­i­ties ac­cord­ingly. There are vis­its to science bases, 4WD ex­cur­sions and pic­nics in scenic lo­ca­tions, or ex­plor­ing the ice tun­nels near camp.”

Choose your ad­ven­ture

There are cur­rently three ad­ven­tures guests can choose from, with prices start­ing from AU$9000 per per­son. An en­try-level ad­ven­ture, ‘Great­est Day’, in­vites guests to ex­pe­ri­ence the Antarc­tic in­te­rior in 24 hours, start­ing at Cape Town and cul­mi­nat­ing in an ad­ven­turer’s pic­nic at the base of nearby Nu­natak be­fore head­ing back to the heat of Africa.

At the other end of the scale is an eight-day trip cost­ing $104,200 per per­son that com­bines em­peror pen­guins with a flight to the low­est point on Earth: the Ge­o­graphic South Pole. Only those who make the jour­ney are el­i­gi­ble to pur­chase one of the be­spoke Bre­mont watches that fea­ture a map of Antarc­tica, 90-de­gree dial, South Pole des­ti­na­tion timer and an en­grav­ing of the date they ar­rived at the pole.

The third tour, re­ferred to as the ‘Ice and Moun­tains’ sa­fari, costs $44,000 per head and of­fers a four-day ad­ven­ture tak­ing in the dra­matic Wolf’s Fang (Ul­ve­tanna) peak.

Due to ex­treme weather con­di­tions, itin­er­ar­ies of­ten re­quire a de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity. Wood­head de­scribes the South Pole as a “com­plex flight that is weather de­pen­dent”.

“Get­ting to the em­peror pen­guins is less of a chal­lenge, as they are closer, but still we want clients to have enough days to ex­pe­ri­ence th­ese mag­nif­i­cent an­i­mals, while also hav­ing enough time to en­joy our camp and all its in­cred­i­ble ac­tiv­i­ties,” he says.

Wood­head con­cedes his small but ex­pe­ri­enced team is well ac­cus­tomed to dis­play­ing pli­ancy when it comes to the unique re­quests of camp pa­trons.

“Our clien­tele is var­ied, but one thing that uni­fies them is that they are of­ten ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing peo­ple. There is an ob­vi­ous price tag at­tached to our ex­pe­ri­ence, but more than just be­ing high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als, we seem to at­tract cu­ri­ous and ad­ven­tur­ous peo­ple look­ing for some­thing en­tirely unique,” Wood­head says.

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01 Pen­guins galore 02 Ice waves © Marko Prezelj 03 The din­ing room 04 The camp’s unique lo­ca­tion © Marko Prezelj 05 Ar­rive by jet. All im­ages © White Desert

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