Tuesday, August 30, 2011

East Antarctica: Frozen Folly

A trip to East Antarctica is anything but a walk in the park. Our Adventure Cruise Guide editor follows gingerly in the footsteps of Sir Douglas Mawson. Words & Photos: Roderick Eime

“Beyond the Roaring Forties there are the Furious Fifties and Shrieking Sixties, for the storms that ravage these regions become more and more severe as one proceeds further south.” – Herbert Ponting, 1921

Who in their right mind would willingly subject themself to this kind of discomfort? And to call a voyage to Antarctica a ‘cruise’– especially if you’re venturing beyond 70 degrees south – is a serious misrepresentation.

If your idea of a cruise is sitting on a deckchair beside a pool with a pina colada in one hand and a Jackie Collins potboiler in the other, read no further. Deep Antarctica is one of those places, like the moon, that is just so distant and unreachable that to travel there is almost the stuff of fiction.

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Rod travelled with Heritage Expeditions

SMH: In Memory of Mawson

On parade ... the MV Orion approaches the Antarctic continent.
On parade ... the MV Orion approaches the Antarctic continent.
Photo: Louise Southerden
A century after the explorer embarked on his expedition, Louise Southerden steps ashore on Australia's Antarctica.

You've spent days crossing the Southern Ocean from New Zealand, found your way through pack ice, seen your first house-sized berg. Now, here it is: the Antarctic continent, a wall of ice with a sloping brow, filling the southern horizon.

Nothing prepares you for that first glimpse of this alien land and the simple vastness of it. The South Pole is still, incredibly, 2630 kilometres further south, across all that ice, some of it four kilometres thick. All you can do is stand and stare.

Then, out of the whiteness, a rocky point appears: Cape Denison, on Commonwealth Bay. This is one of the few places in east Antarctica, due south of Australia, where the largest ice sheet on the planet kneels down to meet the sea, allowing you to step ashore. It's also where a timber hut built by Douglas Mawson and his men in January 1912 still stands.