There are a lot of exceptional experiences you can have in this world. But seeing Antarctica in one day is probably one of the most unique. I have travelled to Antarctica before, by expedition ship which left from the tip of Argentina. Over eleven days we saw as much of the white continent as we could and stepping foot on the Antarctica Peninsula was extraordinary.
But that trip required a lot of time, a strong stomach (for the seas), some pretty extreme warm weather gear and a trip out of our everyday comfort zone.
So how do you experience the best of the final frontier, in much more comfort and a lot less time? An Antarctica sightseeing flight, that’s how.
Sightseeing flights conjure images of small, propeller planes and just a few passengers. Our ride over Antarctica was a lot bigger. The privately chartered Qantas 747 jumbo jet with Antarctica Flights was going to depart from Melbourne, take us over Antarctica, and return 12 hours later. And we would see more of the continent than is possible on any other trip there. Five times larger than Australia, Antarctica is simply enormous but with around four hours that we would spend circling it in daylight, we would see a huge amount.
I was incredulous about how the experience would unfold. Would we be able to actually see that much in detail? How easy would it be to access a window? Would it be viable to get good pictures? How close to the continent could we get?
I was enjoying the experience in Economy Class where I soon learned about the seat rotation system. Every passenger is allocated two boarding passes at check in, and half way through the flight, the four outer economy seats rotate to give everyone the chance to get a view. But as I discovered during the flight, even the centre seat passengers, who do not rotate, get unbelievable views as the plane dips and circles (the view is out, not down) and passengers are invited to move and share the view out of any available windows.
This mostly came down to the camaraderie on board. Immediately from take-off, this flight was like no other. Full international service on board began and a bar, snack and meal service started the experience off. As there was no final destination, and everyone was here for the flight experience, the anticipation started to build immediately and we began to mingle with our fellow passengers.
We were told to expect to see ‘bergy bits’ (icebergs) within around 3 hours of flying south. In this time, we ate, we drank and we shared the excitement. I met couples who were celebrating anniversary’s, students on a school excursion, and there was more than one birthday on board. But everyone was essentially here for the same reason. A once-in-a-lifetime birds-eye view of the frozen south.
As soon as ice was spotted, we all rushed to the windows for the view. The plane flies in long figure 8’s over points of interest, allowing the view to be seen from both sides of the plane over a period of time. And there was no hesitation from passengers on the outer seats of the plane to allow centre passengers to get a view out of their window.
Over the next four hours we circled over the continent, from around 10,000 feet above sea level. The absolute expanse of ice below us was mesmerising. The clear weather allowed us to see the definition of the glaciers in amazing clarity – I could even see stretch marks.
We flew past Mount Erebus and enjoyed a magnificent view of this southern-most active volcano on earth… She was puffing away nicely to let us know she was alive.
Also on board were several Antarctica experts who travelled on the flight to provide commentary, each one having spent time at the Australian bases on the continent. Even Rachael Robertson, who led an expedition there for over 12 months, was captivated by the view from above. Quite simply, as she puts it, from the ground you only see a tiny fraction of the continent. From the air, you realise how vast and remote it is, and also how extremely beautiful.
For our other on-board expert, Diana, it is the connection that passengers make with the wilderness that is the most visceral out of the experience we are having today. She would be surprised if anyone returns from the flight without it having made an emotional impact on them.
As we left Antarctica for the journey home, emotion was clearly in the air and passengers were swapping emails with promises to exchange photos. I looked at the photos we had taken and was amazed at the results – it is possible to take incredible images out of an airplane window after all!
This truly is a bucket list experience – you can even do it on New Year’s Eve accompanied by a live jazz band when Antarctica is experiencing 24-hour daylight! Better yet, it is only available from Australia so we are incredibly lucky it is on our doorstep.
Antarctica Flights operate one day sightseeing flights over Antarctica departing from Australia every summer. Taking around 12 hours the flights are the easiest way to view this great white Continent. No passports are needed and you are kept warm and safe with a glass in hand while our privately chartered Qantas 747 glides effortlessly over amazing scenery.