Antarctica's wintery wilderness is one of the great natural wonders of the world offering the few visitors who make the trek the chance to gather unforgettable memories.
Whipped by the bitterest of winds and void of any familiar signs of human civilisation, Antarctica is nature at its most savage yet most dramatic. So it may seem a strange place to want to take a holiday The dazzlingly barren landscape is covered by endless craggy ice sheets in a multitude of shapes, forms and colours, broken only by the frozen mountain ranges and jagged icebergs rising majestically into the crystalline sky.
Making the trek to Antarctica is very much for those adventurous souls prepared to brave the extreme cold to experience its chilling beauty but even then the only way to do it is to join a cruise. And we're not talking about the sun beds and cocktails type of cruise either. Around 12 operators run expeditions of between one and three weeks starting out from Latin America or Australia between November and March.
Shorter cruises go across the Weddell Sea on a two-day passage to the Antarctic Peninsula taking in the sub-Antarctic islands and ice–free coastal areas. Alternatively, passing through LeMaire Channel offers a chance to marvel at the towering mountains and giant chunks of floating ice. Longer holiday trips offer the chance to see Sir Ernest Shackleton's hut, the penguin rookery at Cape Royds, the sprawling American research base and Captain Robert Scott's now abandoned century-old huts in the Ross Sea area.
The view from the main ship offers a spectacular chance to see the green, purple or blue ice of the jagged icebergs whilst listening to lectures on Antarctica's unique geology, history and climate. From the main ship, smaller boats are used for the onshore visits which often include ice walks and the chance to get up close to the penguins, elephant seals and other polar animals who have made a home out of the freezing wilderness. Many trips also run excursions to the research bases where scientists work and live.
Macquarie Island boasts one of the largest populations of Sub-antarctic wildlife, with thousands of seals and millions of penguins waddling about. It is also home to the world's only king penguin colony.
Ross Island is the place to see Antarctica's only active volcano, Mount Erebus, which is only one of three in the world to have a permanent lava lake as it erupts at least once a day. McMurdo Station is the biggest human settlement on the continent with some 1,000 residents during the summer months. Head to the Ross Ice Shelf to see a solid glittering wall of ice which is hundreds of feet high.
This is not a holiday for the faint hearted or for those on a budget, a trip to the ends of the earth does not come cheap, with many cruises running into the thousands. Those holiday makers who prefer to see some of the sights whilst staying a little warmer can take a 12-hour flight from Australia to glimpse a spectacular glistening panoramic of the ice sheets. The plane journeys may not touch down on Antarctica but they provide a running commentary on the scenery through the flight.
But those with real cash to splash and a good level of fitness can fork out for a private expedition to envelop themselves in the mysteries and wonders of this final frontier. Just be prepared to sleep in an insulated tent, strap on the cross- country skis for hours at a time and hang on tight to the frozen handles of your crampons.
Antarctica is the ultimate in adventure holidays for those brave or even foolhardy enough to take on the extremities of this most challenging of places. It may be cheaper and more comfortable to watch penguins and icebergs on the Discovery Channel from the warmth and comfort of your living room or hotel room but nothing can prepare you in body or mind for what will be the experience of a lifetime.