In addition to national antarctic programs conducted by parties to the Antarctic Treaty, non-government expeditions (primarily tourist ships) visit Antarctica on a regular basis. While commercial Antarctic tourism dates back to the late 1960s, there has been rapid growth since the late 1980s. This has led to a wide range of tourist and adventure activities. Antarctica’s surreal remoteness, extreme cold, enormous ice shelves and mountain ranges, and myriad exotic life forms invariably challenge you to embrace life fully. Everyone – scientist, support worker, government official and tourist – who comes to this isolated continent, must ‘earn’ it, whether by sea voyage or flight. Ice and weather, not clocks and calendars, determine the itinerary and the timetable of all travel here. Today, it’s even possible for visitors to climb Antarctic peaks or kayak icy waters. But there is nothing quite like the craggy crevasses of a magnificent glacier or the sheer expanse of the polar ice cap.
Antarctica, or the South Pole of Earth, is the coldest continent and temperatures often drop below -73 degrees Celsius. And while photos often show snow and ice covering its sprawling landscapes, it is a desert where very little snow and rain falls. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has reported its visitor numbers for the 2017-2018 Antarctic season at the start of its annual meeting in Newport, Rhode Island. The upward trend in visitor numbers recorded since 2015-2016 continued in 2017-2018, the group said. Overall, the total number of Antarctic visitors in 2017-2018 was 51,707, an increase of 17% compared to the previous season. All visitor activities follow strict codes of conduct developed by IAATO and through the Antarctic Treaty System.
A sheer cliff towers dark above us, flanked by snow slopes as pure white as the glistening fronts of the little Adelie penguins whose spectacled eyes peer curiously around as they waddle and toboggan about their business just a few feet away.
This is Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula and togged up in layer upon layer of fleece, topped with vivid red wetskins I am all too aware that this is not my habitat.