Both are ‘chilly’, blessed with twenty-four hour daylight in the summers and are home to an array of beguiling and unusual wildlife. Yet the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica are striking. They each offer a unique beauty found nowhere else on earth but offer almost completely different experiences. If you’re not sure which direction to head to this year then take a read of our guide to the Poles.
On Top of the Earth in the Arctic
With the summer months approaching and sunlight returning to the Arctic Circle, the best, if not only, time for an Arctic cruise is June through to August. Although the days are cool, the summer months on Franz-Josef Land or in the Canadian Arctic are crisp and clear, with beautiful blue skies melting the receding ice.
Similar to its southern twin, wildlife is what everyone heads north to see. But as opposed to the animal-rich southern continent, the pursuit of wildlife encounters is just that in the north: a pursuit. After centuries of human activity, from the whalers of the 17th century to the Arctic explorers of the 19th, the animals of the Arctic Circle have much to recover from. But they’re making an admirable effort. With Blue Whales now spotted regularly and Walruses returning in force, there is hope for this landscape that was described in the early 1900s as completely desolate. Yet a tranquil Zodiac cruise through the pack ice, eyes peeled for seals or a husky-sledge ride on Greenland while learning about the unique Inuit culture, is a reminder of just how far reaching and influential the human race has been. But this combination of, often, shocking human history with the genuine thrill of catching sight of a Polar Bear in pursuit of its prey is what makes an Arctic voyage truly unique.
An ocean surrounded by continents, the variety of holidays is also notable. All northern journeys are odysseys in their own right, requiring seven nights in the very least to do this region justice, and we offer a variety of Arctic exploration. Our seven to thirteen night Around Spitsbergen holiday allows travellers to experience the magnificence of this northern archipelago, from Polar Bear spotting, to kayaking alongside ancient glaciers and magnificent ice-flows. A dream for many Arctic historians, the fourteen night Into the Northwest Passage follows in the footsteps of Barrow’s boys who, in the 1800s, sought to map this illusive western route. It allows you to get up close and personal with the lifestyle of the Canadian Inuit, who live alongside the Polar Bear and Caribou in one of the harshest places on the planet. Or travel the Greenland Explorer, a thirteen or fourteen night cruise that dips into the isolated beauty of Greenland’s fjords while watching out for the unusual Mus kox.
Getting Way Down Under in Antarctica
Coming from Ancient Greek and literally meaning ‘ante-bear’, you know from the outset that Antarctica is going to be something very different from what you get in the far north. A continent devoid of land predators and touched only relatively recently by human history, the wildlife here is as easy going as it is prolific. Try as you might, it’s difficult to keep your distance from the endless penguins who, paying you no mind, go about their lives building nests and raising their young. Only taking note of you when their own curiosity drives them to investigate, many visitors report close encounters with the friendly Gentoos, who poke, climb and sometimes even fall asleep on their new human friends. With Elephant Seals lazing on the shore-line and Fur Seals posturing at each other for dominance of the beach, it’s clear why many have named this the ultimate wildlife experience.
Best seen in the southern summer, from November to March, the season here is long and a holiday this far under demands at least six nights to get acquainted. In waters that are alive with whales, seals and birdlife, a cruise is the most popular method of exploration and the nine to twelve night Classic Antarctica is definitely one of our most popular. Under the guidance of naturalists, who love the intriguing residents as much as you will, the chill in the air is the last thing on your mind as Humpbacks breach alongside and Chinstrap Penguins march through this icy wilderness. There are also a couple of escorted, fly-in holidays for those who want to stay on solid ground. Flying into the interior of the continent, the six night Antarctic Odyssey takes you to the very heart of Antarctica, introducing you to the midnight sun and showing visitors just what life was like for Scott, Amundsen and others who challenged themselves to reach the very bottom of the Earth. But if you have plenty of time on your hands, the ultimate Antarctic voyage is definitely the nineteen to twenty night Antarctic Circle, the Falklands and South Georgia. By far the most comprehensive Antarctic experience, you will witness not only the stunning wildlife on South Georgia, but the controversial history of the Falklands and oceans bedecked in icebergs as you push further south.