The Mediterranean and Caribbean have long been the destinations of choice for the superyacht set. But charterers yearning to venture beyond these common cruising grounds will have their sense of adventure satisfied and then some in Antarctica. Read on to discover what makes a yachting vacation to the world's most isolated continent an experience like no other.
Never is the phrase ‘off the beaten track’ more fitting then when it’s used to describe Antarctica. The Great White Continent is hands down the most unexplored place on the planet, but with the rise of the explorer yacht, its accessibility among the world’s most elite travellers is on the up.
Despite this, rolling oceans, glaring ice and chill winds still have to be endured. With the right gear, however, these hostile conditions can be embraced and, rather than a barren, frozen wilderness, the region will reveal itself to be packed full of shifting sights, from penguins and seals to the fluctuations of light and freshly carved ice.
Charterers who want to venture this far south can only do so in the austral summer, between November and March. At the start of the season, the ice begins to break, allowing a clearer passage for yachts, and temperatures start to climb, although they are not likely to exceed 0°C.
During these months, vast snow-covered stretches and soaring peaks interspersed with rocky terrain and flourishes of wildflowers can be expected and, in December, 24-hour sunlight is guaranteed. This natural phenomenon is perfect for wildlife viewings, which vary as the season progresses.
Travelling to Antarctica is no easy feat. It takes a couple of days to reach the peninsula by expedition yacht from Chilli’s Cape Horn and involves crossing the notoriously rough Drake Passage.
The alternative is to catch a plane from southern Chilli to King George Island in the South Shetlands, the island-chain where most Antarctic superyacht vacations take place. Flying may be the better option for the time-poor, but it does mean missing out on a number of spectacular sights most will probably never get the chance to return to.
These include remote destinations such as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, an island in the Southern Ocean which leaves visitors gobsmacked by its icy beauty and bounteous wildlife. It's also significant for being home to the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the ground-breaking polar explorer who died just off the coast in 1922.
Throughout an Antarctica yacht charter, it’s not only the scenery that will leave you in awe but the reminders along the way of the great explorers who first traversed these unforgiving lands. And, as few have ventured here, it means those who do can become part of the continent’s fascinating story.
As mentioned above, superyacht charters in the region centre on the South Shetland Islands, which stretch across 540 kilometres of ocean, 120 kilometres north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The first stop is likely to be King George Island, the most populated place on the continent due to it being the base for research stations headed up by more than 10 different countries.
Departing from the island, the population drops dramatically but the number of sublime sights only increase. For example, next up on the itinerary could be Deception Island, one of the only places in the world where yachts can cruise into the crater of a live volcano.
Next up on the itinerary could be Deception Island, one of the only places in the world where yachts can cruise into the crater of a live volcano
It’s also home to an abandoned whaling station, lava streams and hot springs, where travellers can bathe in a volcanic bath while donning just a swimsuit and soaking up the snowy scenery.
Another highlight is the gorge-like Lemaire Channel, which carves its way between the mountains of Booth Island and the mainland for a spectacular 11 kilometres. The icebergs, glaciers and sheer cliffs that loom above the mirror-like waters are so photogenic it’s earned the nickname ‘Kodak Gap’.
Other stop-offs include Paulet Island, unmissable due to its distinctive 353-metre-high volcanic cone, iceberg-clad Cierva Cove and Paradise Harbour, so-called because of the ethereal beauty of the glaciated mountains and ice cliffs that surround it.
As the intrepid venture through the archipelago, some of the most memorable moments will be coming face to face with the awe-inspiring animals that call the continent home.
Witness humpback whales breaching the icy waters and majestic orcas hunting in the channels while a rare sighting of the elusive blue whale will leave all spellbound.
Get up close to cute Atlantic fur seals in South Georgia and watch as noisy Weddell seals and more ferocious leopard seals flop across the ice and dive beneath the water across the peninsula.
There are then ample opportunities for penguin sightings. Six species can be found throughout the continent, from the adélie, gentoo and macaroni to the king, emperor and chinstrap.
The wildlife on hand will depend on the time of year. Penguins return south in November to build nests and mate, then chicks start to hatch in mid to late December. Come January, they will be feeding and beginning to fledge. Seal pups can also be seen at the start of the year while early March is the best time to spot whales.
With a mix of untouched landscapes extending as far as the eye can see, Antarctica is the stuff of dreams for outdoor enthusiasts and those travelling by expedition yacht will have all the equipment needed to undertake an array of adventurous activities, with an expert crew on hand too.
Exhilarating Zodiac expeditions or slower-paced kayaking tours can transport charterers within even closer reach of glaciers, wildlife and icy coves, while scuba divers will love discovering the unique marine life and topography hidden beneath the water’s glassy surface.
On land, novices can try their hand at snowshoeing while keen hikers can put on crampers for ice-treks up snow-clad mountains and across expansive glaciers. Ice-climbing and abseiling are also possible and the Lemaire Channel abounds with rock-climbing opportunities.
Antarctica superyacht itineraries can incorporate a visit to a research station, where resident scientists will be keen to share their latest findings on topics such as the continent’s wildlife, climate, geology and flora.
Or, extra cabins on board expedition yachts can be used to accommodate experts such as historians, biologists, geographers and photographers, allowing charterers to have their very own expert accompanying them on their yachting vacation.
Both these options will enable travellers to gain a much better understanding and, therefore, appreciation of their surrounds. So although it may at first sound dull to add an educational element into a yacht charter, for many, it significantly enhances the overall experience.
Those interested in learning more about the region may like to check out former British scientific base Port Lockroy. Now a protected historical site, its museum is the centre of a long-term environmental study. Other research centres include Argentinian Base Primavera Scientific Research Centre on Cierva Cove and Vernadsky Research Base at Marina Point on Galindez Island.
In recent years, the charter scene has witnessed an increase in go-anywhere explorer yachts as the world's most discerning travellers seek out ever-more far-flung destinations. This means there is a fine selection of superyachts available to transport you on an Antarctica yacht charter in the utmost style and comfort.
Rugged and robust, expedition yachts are specially engineered to handle extreme weather conditions, break through ice and cruise for long distances while remaining totally self-sufficient.
They can also offer all the luxuries expected from a modern-day motor yacht, from a five-star crew to impeccably styled interiors to facilities such as spas, gyms and a choice of entertaining areas.
Some of the top charter yachts capable of venturing to the continent include the 73m/240ft expedition yacht 'Planet Nine' from Admiral Yachts, Abeking & Rasmussen's 72m/238ft expedition yacht CLOUDBREAK and the 77m/253ft expedition yacht LEGEND.