"If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it." — Andrew Denton (1960- ), Australian actor.
A lot of email I receive contains the following question: "How can I get to Antarctica too ?" So here's a compilation of information on the different ways to get there, as far as I know. Keep in mind that: it's not easy, it might require lots of work on your part, it might require lots of money, it depends a lot what country you are from. And no, don't ask me for referral, I'm not enough into politics to do that.
Left: A bunch of tourists from the Bremen are visiting Terra Nova Bay.
How can you go to Antarctica too ?
Pay for a cruise
Just book a boat or a plane to go there. That's the easiest solution, but also one of the most expensive and you don't get to spend much time there if you are on a boat: they usually coast along where you see plenty of icebergs but you only get to set foot on the continent for a couple hours at most. Plenty of companies offer cruises to Antarctica, and you can click on the advertised links on my page to access some of them.
While in Terra Nova Bay, the Bremen unloaded a score of bright red tourists. I was working on some really greasy mechanical stuff, covered with grease and grit, and felt like an animal in a zoo when they all started surrounding me, taking pictures and filming me on the beach. They stayed only a hour or so. The Lonely Planet Antarctica guidebook contains a lot more information for potential tourists.
Right: A geologist prospecting for rock samples in Dumont d'Urville.
Go with your own ship
Well, if you are a good sailor and have a solid ship (in case you are wondering, that's an understatement. Strong aluminum hull advised against the ice), why not ? There's no law against it, and it's been done before, usually to the Antarctic peninsula. I know one such sailor who wintered over on his tiny sailboat at Desolation Island with his wife and kids a few years ago. In '93, at the end of our winter over in Dumont d'Urville we received a radio communication: a sailboat wanted permission to come to the station. They were 5 Australian women doing a 'round the world sailing trip... and we hadn't seen women for 10 months ! The authorization was promptly granted (you bet !) but the next day a big storm blew and the ship had to sail away without reaching the coast... We were heart broken.
Pay for an overflight
This is probably the easiest and cheapest way to see Antarctica, unfortunately you don't get to set foot on the continent. Some companies, offer sightseeing flights of Antarctica. Those trips were forbidden for a while after a Fokker crashed in a the Rockefeller Mountains many years ago, but they've resumed since then. Flights usually start from some southern country (Tasmania, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina...)
The reason why there are only overflights and no landings is that wheeled aircrafts can only land on hard airstrips, which excludes snow landing, the most common one on the 7th continent. Fortunately this may change as of 2006: Australia has completed construction of a hard runway at one of its stations and plans on opening it to tourist flights. So you may be able to enjoy a flight and short trip to Antarctica as well soon and for rather cheap.
Pay for an air-drop
If you are a climber/skier and wish to be air-dropped and later air-lifted off the continent itself, you can use the services of one or two companies like Adventure Network International or Borek who have been flying twin-otter flights for misc countries throughout Antarctica for years. I've flown with them many times and their pilots are nice and not as drunk as those I've seen in movies (hey, since they are not paying me to write this, I can say whatever I like, on the other hand if they were to give me free tickets... !)
Work as a scientist
The main goal of all the National Antarctic expeditions is to do scientific research down there. So if you are a student and want to have a chance, you might want to become a scientist. Easier said than done, I know. The most obvious choice is glaciology, but there's plenty of research in Atmospheric physics and chemistry, weather forecast, marine biology, ornithology... If you are a student in one of those fields, the best way is to integrate a research project that already does this kind of thing and to prepare a new project. A good PhD thesis subject can get you there.
Right: Xav, an electronician turned surgeon at the start of an appendicitis surgery during the 1993 DdU winter-over.
Scientists only form about one third of the total human population of Antarctica. The rest is generally called support personnel. Here's a little list of professions that are always necessary and sometimes there aren't as many volunteers as you'd think:
Doctor. The best job to have if you want to go around the world on climbing or exploring trips. But you do have to be able to stand the pressure if shit happens like during my winter-over, even though you'll get bored silly the rest of the time... General practitioner with a knowledge of surgery is a big plus.
Cook. The most important job for morale. If the cook is good, everyone has a good time. Not an easy job when you don't have any fresh products or in an international station like Dome C where the French want their snails and lobsters and the Italians want their pasta (good thing nobody cares what the few Americans here want...)
Right: Jean-Louis preparing easter chocolate in the kitchen at the Antarctic station of Concordia during the first winter-over.
Mechanics, builders, crane driver, electrician, plumber... You have to be real good at it and able to perform the job outside under horrendous conditions (wind, cold, accumulated snow...). Those personnel are often outside working on construction projects and they are also the first and last ones to arrive at Dome C to open/close the station for instance. Most good Antarctic personnel go again and again, taking breaks while they are not on the continent.
Mountain guides, helicopter pilots... Sure, it's the dream job and you get to go around a lot, but there are very few openings and they are very hard to get, so don't bother asking me for referral.
I did my first trip in Antarctica as my customary military (actually civilian) service. That was much cooler than spending the year running in the mud with a gun. Now there's no more military service in France, but you can still request to be a VAT (Volontaire de l'Aide Technique) for the TAAF (Terres Australes et Antarctique Françaises). It's a nice break from student life...
Right: Repairs being done on the roof of the sleeping building in Dumont d'Urville.
So you don't even know how to fill the tank of your car, you can't cook to save your life and the sight of blood makes you faint. In other words you are a Liberal Arts Graduate. Fear not, you can still go to Antarctica ! The American National Science Foundation sends a few artists to Antarctica every year with no strings attached. They are free to use what they see in paintings, books, poems... One example is Kim Stanley Robinson's book Antarctica which he wrote after such a trip. All you need to do is write a nice letter to the NSF...
If you are a journalist or photographer, you might petition the National organizations listed above. Each country sends at least one group every year in every base. One word of advice though: make a project on a specific point and have an edition/publication contract ready. For instance in 2000, there was a camera crew in Dome C to film the arrival of Laurence de la Ferrière, in 1997 a crew filming a scientist doing fish studies, a photographer/journalist following the work on micro meteorites in DdU... If you are too general, you won't stand a chance, remember that penguins have been filmed hundreds of times. Your best bet is to associate with some scientists. News coverage is good for everyone there, but we are often wary at seeing how our words are turned upside down by journalists.
If all else fails, lobby your way to Antarctica ! The niece of a French minister spent two weeks in Dumont d'Urville doing sightseeing in '94, all paid by the taxpayers of course. Princess Anne of England visited Antarctica in February 2002 to celebrate the centenary of Captain Scott's first Antarctic expedition. Plenty of 'important' people manage to get a seat on the routine C-130 flights to McMurdo... But don't be surprised if people snicker at you on the stations.
That's all I can think of. Good luck and send me a postcard if you ever get there.