Icebergs, glaciers and volcanos, Alison Godfrey hops on board one of the Qantas Antarctica flights for the experience of a lifetime.
At the first sign of ice, everyone on our flight rises to their feet, rushing the windows with hastily zoomed cameras and smartphones.
Heads bob up and down to secure the best view. From this height, the white sea ice looks like bean bag balls tossed into the water. It clumps together in patches big and small.
I’m onboard the last of the Qantas Antarctic flights for the 2020/2021 season. Our Antarctic expert tells us the sea ice can extend up to 400km from the landmass of Antarctica.
It’s hard to wrap your head around the scale of this continent, even for Australians who are used to travelling long distances.
Our flight will spend four hours over the ice, and yet we can only cover a tiny sliver of Antarctica. It’s just that big.
The southernmost continent is the coldest and windiest place on the earth. And despite the fact that it holds 90 per cent of the world’s water, it’s actually classified as a desert because so little moisture falls from the sky.
Antarctic Flights has 19 different flight patterns to choose from, depending on the weather. We’re headed towards the Ross Sea and the Transantarctic Mountains.
This region, directly below Australia is not accessible by cruise ship.
“It’s too rough and would take far too long,” one of the Qantas Antarctica flights guides tells me.
“By the time you finally crossed that ocean, you would be sick.”
The best way, and perhaps the only way, for regular Australians to see this incredible part of the continent is on one of these “Antarctica in a day” flights.
I had expected to be wowed by the white tips of icebergs dunked into the cool blue ocean. But it was, in fact, Antarctica’s rugged alpine region that left the biggest mark.
Wave after wave of steep snowy mountains pass by the plane window; the peaks reminding me of whipped meringue.
Vast glacial tributaries ooze between them joining an immense flow of ice carving out valleys on its way to the sea.
If you look closely, you can see cracks in the ice, tinged with blue. We’re told these are crevasses, giant holes created by the creaking and pushing of the ice. Some of these crevasses can be as deep as 3km, a dangerous obstacle to any Antarctic explorer on land.
Luckily we’re safe up in the sky, drinking champagne in climate-controlled comfort.
As we pass Mount Melbourne, the plane circles both ways to give everyone ample viewing time. The cone volcano has a similar shape to Mount Fuji, but far fewer worshipers. On the day we fly past, a low cloud obscures the base. Only the top juts out above, reaching for the sky.
The 1km wide caldera on top of the volcano is filled with snow and the mountain surrounding it is covered with permanent ice, which extends all the way to the coast.
While we’re too high up to see penguins, you can just make out the tops of the buildings of a Chinese Antarctic Base. Our captain tells us the Italian base is close, but it is under cloud cover.
As the plane swoops over the tongue of the Campbell Glacier, I’m awestruck watching huge plumes of snow blowing off the edge of the ice shelf and into the sea. This really is a continent of extremes.
On board the flight, few people stay in their seats. You’re free to wander around the cabin, gazing at the view from the gallies or any spare window.
Those who do have window seats, graciously let others peak through.
Halfway through the journey over the ice, passengers conduct a covid-safe seat swap. We meticulously wipe our seats, tray tables and TV screens down before those with the windows, swap their seats for the aisles.
As the plane turns around and heads back towards Australia, I notice several people sigh. They don’t want to leave. This Qantas Antarctica flight really is a once in a life-time experience that will leave you wanting more.
My seat was in premium economy, 23J and 23K.
We were supplied a snack pack with a bottle of water, chocolate, crackers, buts, Mentos and a cookie.
Qantas does serve breakfast, dinner and a snack on the flight.
The exact meal depends on catering on the day.
How much does the Qantas Antarctica flight cost?
Prices start from $1,199 per person for economy over the wing.
The best business class deluxe seats will set you back $7,999 per person.
Antarctica Flights will run journeys from Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney in 2021 and 2022.
You can also board a special New Year’s Eve flight over Antarctica from Sydney, where you will be one of the first people on earth to welcome the new year, in broad daylight.