Antarctica enthusiasts and bucket-listers are lining up for White Desert’s first full season of exclusive small group tours to Antartica since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Highlights from the new season include top-end, expedition-style experiences, a second luxury overnight camp, Wolf’s Fang, (the first camp is “Whichaway”), and the use of an Airbus A340 aircraft to support the brand’s passenger and cargo transfer service.
The season is from mid November 2021 until the start of February 2022.
All customers must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to join any tour (click here for details of White Desert’s Covid-19 protocols: https://white-desert.com/covid-19-update/). Group sizes are limited to 12 pax.
All of White Desert’s scheduled trips to Antarctica depart ex-CapeTown. It’s a five-hour flight, which is included in the rate.
White Desert’s new camp, Wolf’s Fang, is named after an iconic mountain peak in the area, rising 1 000m vertically from the icecap amongst pillars of rock, and visible from 100km away on a cloudless day. Wolf’s Fang mountain was first seen by a flying expedition funded by the Nazi Government in the late 1930s. Since that day, the area has largely been closed to tourists with only Norwegian scientists and a handful of elite alpinists braving the summits. Wolf’s Fang camp features six state-of-the-art tents that are individually heated and sleep two pax each. The original camp, Whichaway, has six sleeping pods. All accommodation includes five-star cuisine and boast luxury interiors and “a light environmental touch”.
Packages of five and seven nights are fully inclusive of all meals, drinks, activities and flights to and within Antartica. Customers must allow two extra days in Cape Town either side of their departure date in case of schedule changes due to poor weather conditions. Connecting flights to Cape Town are for customers’ own account. Travel insurance is also separate.
For those with less time or budget, a one-day, whirlwind tour, “Greatest Day,” allows for three to four hours on the ground in Antartica - plenty of time for a trek on the ice, and lavish Explorer’s Champagne Brunch/Picnic, according to the company’s Head of Sales, Kayleigh Woodman.
In addition to White Desert’s tourist operation, the company provides support and takes care of logistics for Antartica’s scientific community, private expeditions and film crews. Woodman said the decision to add an A340 for the season was based on sustainability and practical reasons. In addition to the A340, passenger transfers are also operated using a luxury Gulfstream jet. Private jet landings, bespoke expeditions and photographic safaris can also be arranged.
Travellers should prepare for temperatures of -5˚C at camp and around - 28˚C at the Geographic South Pole. White Desert provides special down jackets and boots for its visits to the South Pole, and there are other loan items available if customers aren’t totally equipped.
The camps have also been designed to offer all the warmth and creature comforts one could want or expect in such remote wilderness, including heated accommodation, fresh coffee and warm bread. There’s also an ice bar, which serves cocktails made from glacial ice.
Guests can opt to do as much, or as little, as they like on non-travelling days, Woodman said. Activities include a mix of hiking, abseiling and ice climbing, safari drives in 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles, and, of course, the 24 hours of continuous sunshine mean the days are literally endless.
One of the major highlights of the five-night itinerary is a visit to an Emperor Penguin colony at Atka Bay, which is home to more than 28 000 adult penguins and their chicks. Guests spending seven nights or more in Antartica get to see both the penguins and the South Pole. “It’s about being able to be there long enough to see those two major highlights,” Woodman explained.
All packaged rates are commissionable for travel agents – contact the tour operator directly for more details on this. Rates start from US$14 500 (approximately R227 729) for the Greatest Day day-trip, and from US$45 000 (R706 747) to US$96 000 (R1 507 728) for the five- and seven-night options respectively.
Also on the bill for 2021/22 is an ‘Exclusive 24-day Ultimate Antartica trip’ for 12 guests. Guests on this trip will experience the interior of Antartica and a cruise on an expedition yacht along the Antarctic Peninsula. The trip carries a price tag of US$2,965m (approximately R46,6m).
Putting the pricing for these unusual trips into perspective, Woodman said White Desert has calculated that it costs around US$38 (R600) to get just one can of Coca-Cola to one of its camps.
Prime time for adventure tourism
Woodman said there were around 240 customers booked onto the five- and seven-night longer-stay trips already, and 24 confirmed bookings for 2021/22 Greatest Day departures. Those numbers mean camps are at around 70% occupancy. “That is massive demand, if you think about what the rest of the industry is looking like. We are still seeing lots of interest, which is fantastic.”
White Desert was founded in 2005 by Patrick and Robyn Woodhead, a UK husband and South African wife duo, who are both decorated polar adventurers. The business expanded to its current model around 2007, according to Woodman. Although the company is registered in the UK, most members of its team operate from Cape Town.
White Desert has been carbon-neutral since 2007, and the company works months in advance to prepare for each new season. For example, it plans to deliver the fuel it requires for each new tourist season up to 12 months ahead. Woodman remarked: “We didn’t operate guest trips during Covid, but we did send out some of our team to do maintenance. One of the most amazing things is that the logistics for the trips start a year in advance.”