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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Journey To Antarctica

The massive frozen continent offers photo opportunities of glaciers, otherworldly coastlines, massive mountain peaks and, of course, incredible wildlife

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While it's by no means easy, getting to Antarctica for a photo expedition has become much more doable over the past decade. It's likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip that gives you a glimpse of landscapes and wildlife that simply doesn't exist anywhere else. Above: Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) on an iceberg.

For most of us in North America, Antarctica seems very far away. Even if you know which pole it is (South), you may not know that it's actually a fairly accessible and totally photogenic destination. Working for National Geographic, world-class nature photographer Frans Lanting has spent many months in the Antarctic region, which encompasses wildlife-filled islands such as South Georgia, Macquarie and Campbell. He shares his insights to help Outdoor Photographer readers plan their own once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic trips.

"This part of the world has become very accessible in the last 20 years," Lanting says. "In fact, it's become quite popular. I did a private expedition to South Georgia 25 years ago, when I chartered a sailboat and we did what I believe was the second circumnavigation of the island in history. For three months we didn't see another ship; it was all remote wilderness. When I went back a couple of years ago as part of a cruise, I was told that summer 65 vessels called on South Georgia. There's been a huge change in 25 years; it's much more accessible for photographers who want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to visit one of the most extreme environments on the planet at a time when things are changing very quickly because of global warming."

Black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) nesting, South Georgia Island.
Lanting says that not only is Antarctica a tremendous destination for interesting wildlife (such as penguins, seals and albatross) and landscapes (featuring towering icebergs and untouched rocky coastlines), but it's also important because of its status as a barometer for the world as a whole.

"It's the most extreme environment on the planet at a time of great change and great accessibility," Lanting says. "And it's just breathtakingly beautiful. It has a complete otherworldly beauty and a stark feeling of isolation."

Because the Antarctic has become so popular, there are many possible itineraries, catering to everyone from pauper to prince. All of them are seafaring. Departing from South America—Argentina or Chile—after a few days at sea, a vessel will put you ashore on the Antarctic Peninsula, the most popular destination for travelers from the Americas. The typical trip, whether booked aboard a ship with 300 people or a smaller vessel carrying fewer than 100, will remain boat-based for the duration, with day trips ashore for photographic and sightseeing excursions.


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