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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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Coming ashore from the base vessel to photograph wildlife gives photographers incredible access and opportunities.
"Typically, the trips take in a couple of the islands," Lanting explains, "such as the Falklands, which aren't quite Antarctic, but they're very convenient, and there's lots of wildlife there; they're quite photogenic. If I could go to Antarctica only once in my life, I would consider an itinerary that takes in the Falkland Islands because it's a gentle way to become familiar with seabirds and marine mammals onshore, and then go to South Georgia Island, which is really raw. The ultimate wildlife experience in the Antarctic region, without a doubt, is South Georgia Island. Think of it as Switzerland thrown into the middle of the ocean. It has over 100 tidewater glaciers and over 50 million seabirds, including millions and millions of penguins, and millions of elephant seals and fur seals—it's spectacular beyond belief.

"There are other options, as well," Lanting continues. "You can also approach Antarctica from Australia or New Zealand. Then you can take in other islands, such as Macquarie or Campbell Island—which are the Australian equivalent to South Georgia—and you land on a stretch of Antarctic coastline that's very different from the Antarctic Peninsula. There are even some really remote expeditions that take in some of the islands in the Indian Ocean, but then you really need to have a lot of spare change and a lot of time."

Lanting says that the best way to keep costs down on an Antarctic voyage is to stick with a fairly large vessel, anywhere from 100 to 300 people. These ships are convenient and affordable, but because you'll have so many traveling companions, it leads to inevitable crowding onshore. Most operators do a good job of crowd control which, coupled with strict rules about human activities on the continent, means even on a large ship you can still have a pretty special experience.
It's the most extreme environment on the planet at a time of great change and great accessibility, Lanting says.
"If I were a serious photographer," Lanting says, "I would look for an outfitter and an itinerary and a ship that would have fewer than 100 people onboard, and ideally something like 50. There are a number of those vessels; there are converted Russian research vessels that were built for doing work in sea ice in the Arctic that have been converted for tourism. At the smaller end of the spectrum are any number of private vessels, yachts, that make themselves available for charters. That's where you can expect a very exclusive experience, but that can also get pretty rough because the sailing time is pretty significant and the sea conditions can get pretty rough."

Lanting actually has been dropped off, alone, in a force 10 gale at an abandoned Antarctic whaling station, but most travelers will have to work a little more to find their own bit of Antarctic isolation.


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