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Tourism in Antarctica

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Tourism in Antarctica

A party of skiers arrives after traversing overland to the South Pole, December 2009

Tourism in Antarctica started with sea tourism in the 1960s. Air overflights of Antarctica started in the 1970s with sightseeing flights by airliners from Australia and New Zealand, and were resumed in the 1990s. Private yacht trips started in the late 1960s. The (summer) tour season lasts from November to March. Most of the estimated 14,762 visitors to Antarctica in 1999-2000 were on sea cruises.[1] During the 2009 to 2010 tourist season, over 37,000 people visited Antarctica.

Landing in Antarctica

Tourism companies are required by the Antarctic Treaty to have a permit to visit Antarctica.[2] Many sea cruises by cruise ships include a landing by RIB (Zodiac) or helicopter. Some land visits may include mountaineering, skiing or even a visit to the South Pole.[3]

Sea cruises

The expedition ship National Geographic Explorer

During the 1920s, a Falkland Islands mail ship, the SS Fleurus, made annual trips to the South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands to serve whaling and sealing stations there. It carried a small number of commercial passengers, and marketed round-trip "tourist tickets"; these were probably the first commercial tourists to sail to Antarctica.[4]

Modern expedition cruising was pioneered by Lars-Eric Lindblad; in 1969, he launched the MS Lindblad Explorer, a purpose-built liner.[5] Many of the sea cruises leave from Ushuaia in Argentina. Costs can range from $3,000 to $30,000 depending on the route and tour operator chosen.

There are limited sea cruises to the Ross Sea and East Antarctic (Commonwealth Bay) regions of Antarctica. The New Zealand expedition travel company Heritage Expeditions operates its own ice-strengthened polar research vessel the 'Spirit of Enderby' to these regions several times a year.

Scenic flights

A Basler BT-67 owned by Antarctic Logistics Centre International and used for tourist flights in Antarctica, at the South Pole in December 2009

Scenic flights from Australia and New Zealand in 1977-1979 flew to the Antarctic mainland without landing and returned to the departure airport. Flights resumed from Australia in 1994. These flights were regarded as domestic not international, although Air New Zealand flights had an international (TE) prefix for logistical reasons. Qantas flights were all charter flights, organized by groups like the Scouts for fund-raising. Some Air NZ flights were charter flights, and others were non-scheduled services with tickets sold by the airline and agents. Tour packages were sold in Japan, and flights with Sir Edmund Hillary as commentator were popular. Flights take 12 to 14 hours, with up to four hours over the continent.

[6] Flights from Australia stopped about 1980 but resumed in 1994, chartered by Antarctica Flights who operate numerous sightseeing flights out of Australia every year..

Air New Zealand flights started on 15 February 1977. There were six in 1977, four in 1978, and four in 1979. The last flight was Air New Zealand Flight 901 of 28 November 1979 which crashed into Mount Erebus. The DC-10 flights flew from Auckland to McMurdo Sound, with later flights flying down the middle of the sound and over Scott Base rather than over Ross Island and near Mount Erebus. Many descended low over McMurdo Sound for the view, but could not go particularly slow as wing flaps could not be used to slow the aircraft in case they could not be retracted.[7]

There were earlier scenic overflights, such as from Chile in 1958.[8]


There were private yacht voyages in the Southern Ocean from the late 1960s, with some circumnavigations of Antarctica e.g. by David Henry Lewis in 1972.[9]

There are now about 30 yachts each year visiting the Antarctic Peninsula, which is in the warmer “banana belt.” Many four-day cruises leave from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, others from Ushuaia or Stanley.

Land Activities

There are many things to do like camping, snowshoeing, hiking, cross country skiing and many more activities. These activities have become popular especially in recent times. This is accountable to the large amount of tourists that come to visit Antarctica.


The Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty does not specifically address tourism, but its provisions go some way to minimising the adverse impacts of tourists because, once ratified, the protocol is legally binding over all visitors to the Antarctic, whether on government or private trips.

In 1994 the Treaty countries made further recommendations on tourism and non-government activities. This "Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic" is intended to help visitors become aware of their responsibilities under the treaty and protocol. The document concerns the protection of Antarctic wildlife and protected areas, the respecting of scientific research, personal safety and impact on the environment. Guidelines have also been written for the organisers of tourist and private ventures - these require prior notification of the trip to the organiser's national authority (e.g. Antarctica NZ), assessment of potential environmental impacts, the ability to cope with environmental emergencies such as oil spills, self-sufficiency, the proper disposal of wastes and respect for the Antarctic environment and research activities. The guidelines outline detailed procedures to be followed during the planning of the trip, when in the Antarctic Treaty area and on completion of the trip.

Tourist operators in Antarctica have organised an association (the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) to promote safety and environmental responsibility amongst cruise operators. The members of this association carry the majority of tourists to Antarctica.

Individual countries have also introduced measures to minimise effects of tourists. Chile requires all captains of ships that go to Antarctica to attend a month-long school in Antarctic navigation. New Zealand sends a government representative on all ships visiting the Ross Dependency to supervise visits to the historic huts and Scott Base and to observe how well the provisions of the treaty and protocol are adhered to.

Even with reduced impact per visitor, the increasing number of visitors could still have a considerable effect on the environment. Monitoring of impacts at specific sites can be used to determine whether tourists should be allowed to continue to visit a particular area. Although visits are usually short, they are concentrated into a small number of landing sites and have the potential to destroy parts of a unique environment and to jeopardize scientific research.

See also


  1. ^ Trewby page 188
  2. ^ Rubin page 338
  3. ^ Trewby page 188
  4. ^ Hart, Ian B. (2006). Whaling in the Falkland Islands dependencies 1904-1931 : a history of shore and bay-based whaling in the Antarctic. Newton St. Margarets, Herefordshire: Pequena. pp. 220–1, 343.  
  5. ^ Trewby page 187
  6. ^ Hickson page 165
  7. ^ Macfarlane pp 155-156
  8. ^ Trewby page 187
  9. ^ Rubin page 81

Antarctica (2nd edition). Readers Digest. 1990. Explore Antarctica. L. Crossley. 1995. Cambridge University Press. State of the Ice. Greenpeace. 1994. (last 3 were for Regulations)


Yachting references

  • The Antarctic Pilot (2004) by Hydrographer of the Navy, Britain.
  • Sailing Directions (Planning Guide & Enroute) for Antarctica (2007) by US National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
  • Poncet, Sally & Jerome (2007) [1991]. Southern Ocean Cruising. Environmental Research and Assessment.  Publishers website

External links

  • Website of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators)
  • Antarctic Treaty Secretariat website
  • from Antarctica New Zealand websitePrivate Visits
  • Antarctica Flights
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