After a year of being locked down, it’s understandable that people may want to double up on their bucket list trips to make up for lost time. But Africa and Antarctica in the same trip? That seems a stretch.
When I first learned that two tour operators, Wilderness Safaris and White Desert, joined forces to offer two trips that combine an African safari with an Antarctic expedition, my reaction was that the combination was incongruous at best. In my mind, they seemed to be two separate worlds, almost like two opposite poles of experience. But, when I looked closer, I found that it makes perfect sense.
A New Model
My first reaction was based on my own experience. When I traveled to Antarctica with Abercrombie & Kent some years ago, I took the standard route via South America. It was a straight shot south from New York to Santiago, Chile, and then another flight to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southern tip of South America. From there, I boarded an icebreaker ship and crossed the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula.
That’s the basic plan of almost all the Antarctic trips taken by civilian travelers since the mid-1960s, when Lars-Eric Lindblad designed the first trip to take paying passengers, as opposed to scientists or military personnel, to the southernmost continent.
Lindblad was the innovative genius who first realized the possibility of taking civilians to Antarctica. The ship carried a small fleet of Zodiacs, a landing craft invented by Jacques Cousteau, constructed with inflated rubber tubes with floors built into the middle. Using the Zodiacs, passengers could make excursions from the ship to the shores of the Antarctic Peninsula, a string of islands extending to about 600 miles from the southern tip of South America.
The shore excursions were led by naturalist guides, who also gave lectures on board the ship, shedding insight on what passengers would see on their shore excursions.
The Lindblad model was adopted by a number of expedition companies and it became the standard way for tourists to experience Antarctica. Some cruise lines have offered sail-by experiences, but almost all tourists who have made landings in Antarctica have done it on programs that followed the Lindblad model.
Coming from that orientation, adding an African safari to the traditional Antarctic voyage would add a 4,000-mile trip between the African safari and South America, the departure point to Antarctica. It seemed a long way out of the way.
Out of Africa
But now, a half century after the first Lindblad trips, there is a new way to travel to Antarctica. It departs out of Cape Town, South Africa, and travels by air to the side of Antarctica that faces Africa.
Yes, of course. Why hadn’t I seen it right away? Antarctica is at the “bottom” of the earth, as we conceive it, where all the lines of longitude on the globe converge. From the vantage point of the South Pole, all directions are north. The terms “east” and “west” lose their meaning, or are at least highly modified.
Traveling southward from any point on the globe will eventually take you to the South Pole. Antarctica is accessible from the southern tip of Africa as well as from South America.
It’s just a different side of Antarctica. White Desert has built two camps on that side, Whichaway Camp near the coast, and now the new Wolf’s Fang Camp, inland near the runway that receives White Desert’s private jets.
Antarctica changes your orientation to the earth. Trips to Antarctica take place during the Austral summer, from November through January. At that time of year there are days when the sun never sets. It only goes near the horizon, then seems to head upward again. Night never comes.
Experiencing days without nights is a strange, but wonderful, experience. It does a number on the internal biological clock that regulates your circadian rhythms. It’s all part of how an Antarctic expedition is a consciousness-altering experience.
Making it Possible
White Desert Ltd. is a British tour operator founded by Patrick Woodhead, an acclaimed adventurer, polar explorer and author, and his wife Robyn.
The company was founded to “take the hardship out of exploration.” It provides trips to Antarctica by private jet. A five-hour flight on a Gulfstream G550 takes a maximum of 12 guests to Antarctica to land on the Wolf’s Fang Runway and, from there, they are transported to one of White Desert’s two camps. The trips will take place in November and December of this year.
The trips created in partnership with Wilderness Safaris will use the new Wolf’s Fang Camp, opening this year.
The first trip combines Antarctica with a safari in Botswana. It’s a 15-day trip starting Nov. 22.
After two nights in Cape Town the group will depart for Antarctica for a four-night stay at the Wolf’s Fang Camp. While in Antarctica, guests will take a two and a half-hour flight to Atka Bay to observe the Emperor Penguins during birthing season. They will also have opportunities for various activities, such as hiking, climbing, exploring, wildlife viewing, fat biking and skidooing.
Antarctica’s First Accommodations
Wolf’s Fang Camp is named for a black rock peak nearby that juts 3,000 feet out of the icy ground and dominates the landscape.
The camp is comprised of six luxury sleeping tents accommodating two guests each, with washrooms. There are two-shared shower facilities and a communal lounge and dining area.
After the four nights in Antarctica, the group will return to Cape Town, then proceed to Botswana and the Okavango Delta, with three nights at Vumbura Plains Camp, then three nights at DumaTau in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve.
The second of the trips is a 19-day Wild Desert Adventure that combines Antarctica and Namibia. Departing Dec. 27, this trip is similar to the other, but incorporates a longer, six-night stay in Antarctica and includes an overnight excursion to the actual South Pole, which few people have ever done. And instead of Botswana, the African part of the trip is in Namibia.
After the six days without night in Antarctica, the trip returns to Cape Town for two nights before heading off to experience the Namib Desert and the Sossusvlei Dunes while staying at Wilderness Safaris’ Little Kulala lodge in Namibia. Then it proceeds to Namibia’s northwest corner to experience Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp in the Hoanib Valley, and Serra Cafema to visit the Himba people.
Antarctica by Air
White Desert claims to have taken the hardship out of traveling to Antarctica—and it’s hard to deny that a private jet trip is gentler than a seafaring crossing of the perilous Drake Passage—the turbulent stretch where the South Atlantic meets the Antarctic Ocean, which has a reputation of being one of the roughest patches of sea in the world.
Depending on the day, it can be extremely rough, but it can also be quite smooth. I experienced it both ways. On the trip down, the sea was so turbulent the tables and chairs in the dining room were chained together, and it still didn’t keep them upright. The horizon was a line that zipped rapidly up and down across the view from the windows as the ship rocked. At one point, the ship lurched so much that it threw me sideways and knocked over my chair and the two seats to my left. Some crew members that day experienced seasickness for the first time in their lives.
On the return trip across the Drake, I braced myself, but the trip was smooth and effortless.
A five-hour plane trip will surely be easier than crossing the Drake, though perhaps less adventurous. Cruising around on the ship in Antarctica was a great experience. But this is another way to go.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.