Antarctica… in one day. It’s almost too much to get your head around right? But believe it or not, people have been heading down to the white continent for a special “sight-seeing Antarctica flight” in the comfort of a Boeing 747 for the past 21 years! I had no idea they were so attainable (Antarctica Flights is the only company in the world that does this, AND they only depart from Australia) and my Sunday flight is now etched in my personal history book as one of my all time ‘life’ adventures.
But how can that even be possible when you are ‘stuck’ inside a plane? Wouldn’t you rather go down by ship? Both common questions about this experience.
Having been lucky enough to have done both in my life, my answer is they are two completely different experiences. The Antarctica flight gives incredible perspective on the sheer magnitude of a continent that is double the size of Australia, and above all unveils an entirely different mind-blowing beauty. But more on that in a sec.
It’s hard to believe, but we didn’t even need our passports. We all met at the Qantas Domestic terminal at 7am, ready for take off at 8. The excitement between fellow passengers, who had never met before, was certainly like no other flight I have ever been on. After all, we’re not actually landing. This is purely for fun.
“Are we ready for a flight to Antarctica?” The pilot excitedly announced from the cockpit. It’s not hard to imagine this is one of the most sought after flight routes between pilots.
As soon as we took off, the champagne was flowing while the eager chatter between passengers set an unusual tone for the flight. I think I can speak for all of us and safely say we were praying for clear skies for the best site seeing. However there are 19 different flight routes depending on the weather, so I think you are pretty much guaranteed you WILL see Antarctica.
We headed south over Hobart and out over the Tasman Sea, and we’re told to keep an eye out for ‘bergy’ bits within roughly three to four hours. You can imagine that as we were filming, we were on edge not to miss that ‘first’ shot. But let me tell you there was nothing to worry about. We dropped to about 18,000 thousand metres above sea level, and Mother Nature silenced us all. The vastness of Antarctica is overwhelming. Silencing.
As I sat by my window (Many of the seats in economy had a rotation system so they could share ‘window time’) I had one eye on the camera, and the other eye firmly fixed on the swirling beauty beneath me. With a lump in my throat, I just couldn’t take my eyes of the landscape. It was just beautiful. Really.
It appeared as if glacial mountains emerged out an abyss; gigantic cliff faces covered in ice framed by deep blue ocean; the icebergs were enormous, varied in their colours and shapes to the point that you could even see stretch marks on them.
We cruised and criss-crossed over the icy continent for almost four hours giving us all time to really take it in. I kept reflecting on what our great pioneering explorers like Shackleton, Mawson and Scott would think of this after spending up to 3 years (Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition) battling the harshest of conditions down there, all in the name of exploration (and adventure I am sure). How would it have have capped off their lives to witness the sheer size of this incredible place from the air?
As we cruised, the pilot was joined by two Antarctica experts who gave much valued commentary from the cockpit. Diana Patterson and Rachael Robertson had both spent consecutive years leading expeditions at Australian Antarctic Bases even in winter when its completely dark 24/7. I felt a strong sense of patriotism as they talked of Mawson and Casey, and the incredible work our researchers do in such unforgiving conditions.
From the sky it’s hard to imagine Antarctica is one of the harshest and driest places on earth, for its swirling beauty dominates your view. The sunlight came straight from the heavens and danced across the ice like a painting; there was every shade of blue and white that was possible, and then some.
As we left the continent, I remember taking a lingering look back at the endless mass of ice, wanting to stay that bit longer, blinded by Mother Nature’s magnificence.
Just a few hours from home we all had time to reflect on what we had experienced together. “Speechless” was a common sentiment. There were tears, wonderment and awe. Above all I think we were all humbled to have had the opportunity to witness the most pristine place on our planet.
Our plane touched down at Melbourne airport at 9pm. As I spoke to my partner Jen on the way home from the airport, naturally she asked “how was it?”. Gosh where did I even begin. The word “amazing” just doesn’t really cut it. Sitting in the office the next morning, it felt like it had been one big incredible dream
For anyone ever considering such a trip – it’s one of once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with me forever.