Happy New Year from the Bottom of the World
When it rolls around to New Year’s Eve each year, it can be difficult to remember what celebrations took place the year before. Was it that epic party in the suburbs? Or was that the year before? Did we sit on a couch and binge Lord of the Rings?
For those on Chimu Adventures’ recent New Year’s Eve Antarctica flight, it is safe to assume that this won’t be a New Year that evaporates from memory. In fact, it is difficult to think of a more blockbuster way to bring in the New Year than at the bottom of the world, with a glass of champagne and endless plains of white.
Giddy excitement at the prospect of catching an international flight for the first time in several pandemic-ravaged years turned into panic. My flight wasn’t on the list of departures. I searched high and low for Qantas flight 1336 to Antarctica, but it was nowhere to be seen. Did I get the time wrong?
It wasn’t until I realised that Antarctica wasn’t the destination, rather Melbourne – this flight is unique in that it is the only international flight departing Tullamarine Airport (that I know of) where the destination point is the same as the departure. Chimu Adventures run flights from Melbourne to Antarctica and back – a 12 hour round trip.
After checking in, and receiving a complimentary Antarctica sticker in my passport (if you don’t get the sticker, did you really go?) we were in the air and on our way to The Big Ice.
Antarctica is perhaps the only place on Earth we haven’t conquered as humans. It is shrouded in mystery, impossible for even the most indifferent of humans to not feel at least a little curious about. This was certainly the case for Dan Bull, world-record holding adventurer who became the only Australian to climb Antarctica’s highest mountain, Mt Sidley (4,285m). Bull was on-board on the night and offered valuable insights about his experiences in a speech to guests during the flight.
There’s not much that can prepare you for the first glimpse of the bottom continent’s coast, blue ocean water and the white of the ice creating a beautiful contrast. As well as being the coldest and windiest of the seven continents, it’s also easily forgotten that it is the most mountainous. So while flying along at 18,000 feet might sound like a long way up in the air, it is in fact quite close to what’s happening below.
Minimal cloud cover meant the vast mountainous regions, covered head to toe in glacier, could be seen without effort, as could the swathes of frozen lakes and ice bergs of epic proportions. Mount Erebus too, the southernmost active volcano on Earth which only erupted two years ago, was visible, steam emitting eerily from its apex.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Antarctica wasn’t any of the major landmarks that we saw, but the sheer level of white – bright, almost glary white as far as the eye can see.
At midnight Melbourne time, with complete light visible from outside, there was the most unusual of countdowns into the New Year. The entire plane is in a festive mood, flight attendants and occasionally pilots interacting with the guests as if they are hosting the party. Dan Bull is in demand – walking around fielding questions amicably as if in a 12 hour press-conference.
After plenty more champagne and plenty more white, it’s time to head back to Melbourne. The last few hours are mostly filled with sleep, curtains drawn on the still very bright light outside, and the year gone, and an extraordinary experience.
Chimu Adventures sightseeing flights over Antarctica depart from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.
This is a round trip, and just as well…Antarctica is pretty light on for accomodation.
Chimu Adventures has plenty of sightseeing flights, including Antarctica scenic flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth; Southern Lights flights and the first commercial scenic flight from Australia to the South Pole. Fares for Antarctica scenic flights start at $1195 for limited view economy seats, and go up to $7995 for business premium class. See chimuadventures.com