Skulpod_Echo_Runway_RGB 2 copy
© Kelvin Trautman

Antarctica Combines Adventure with Luxury and Comfort

Endless distances and an unearthly clear light: In Antarctica, you feel like you're on a foreign planet. Fittingly, the luxury lodges of White Desert look like something out of a sci-fi movie.

15 January 2023

Antarctica adventure

Even people who aren't particularly interested in adventure stories may be familiar with this historic shot: a sailing ship stranded in an inhospitable landscape, dramatically lifted and crushed by pack ice. The famous Endurance polar expedition of 1914 to 1917 is a legend - not because the Briton Ernest Shackleton brought home important scientific findings, but because he was able to save all expedition members from presumed death.

This adventure inspired a young couple to cross Antarctica themselves in 2004 and later to set up the first tourist camp on the icy continent. The luxurious capsules of the White Desert project are reminiscent of accommodations on the moon; there is an astronaut vibe. The futuristic design not only fits perfectly with the surreal landscape, but the camps are so remote that the International Space Station (ISS), which is floating in space some 400 kilometers away, is actually the closest "human neighbor".

White Desert

"Echo" is the latest White Desert camp. © Kelvin Trautman

But back to the beginning of the 20th century. Shackleton's real goal was to cross the Antarctic continent for the first time. Two teams were to set out from opposite sides, meeting in the middle and supporting each other. If you look back at this early phase of Antarctic exploration, you are still amazed today: How could anyone survive with this simple equipment? What a madness to set out for this extreme region without a satellite phone or any other connection to the outside world! For most of us, this fascination remains abstract, but Robyn Woodhead is an adventurer through and through: She and her husband Patrick Woodhead have never let go of the story of Shackleton. A crazy idea turned into a concrete plan: In 2004, the two decided to recreate the expedition. Robyn Woodhead boarded a Russian cargo plane, and her husband set off across Antarctica. "My first breath nearly froze my lungs, while the glare of the sun nearly blinded me," Robyn Woodhead recalls of her first impression. "It was immediately clear to me that this infinite white was pretty close to visiting another planet."

White Desert

Echo Camp's Skypods. © White Desert Interiors

Alone at the tent

But even this expedition didn't go according to plan - the adventurer was forced to endure two months alone in a tent. At first she cried, but in retrospect Woodhead raves about the magic of this "time out": "Every journey is a self-discovery, but nowhere are you so dependent on yourself as in the eternal ice and snow." She says she learned then what one is capable of in an emergency situation, how much one can feel part of nature.

Others write books about extreme experiences, Robyn and Patrick Woodhead decided to make it possible for others to experience the incomprehensible beauty of the continent of ice. There was no provider who would have set up camp on the ice sheet like the early polar explorers. South Pole visitors usually travel to the Antarctic Peninsula by ship, but they do not spend the night on land.

Luxusurlaub in der Antarktis

Perfect cooling is provided in Antarctica. © Marko Prezelj

And so White Desert has become a place of longing for well-heeled adventurers seeking extremes. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience - there are not many places on our planet as mysterious and magical as Antarctica. The guestbook of the world's most remote luxury hotel contains illustrious names, including that of Prince Harry.

Impressive landscape

A maximum of 300 visitors per year enjoy this tailor-made design trip, in a season that lasts only from November to December. A private jet takes the small groups from Cape Town, landing on a runway made of ice. A team of polar explorers take guests on expeditions, such as to a colony of emperor penguins; they go ice climbing, snowkiting or on a trip to the South Pole. In the evening there is a six-course menu from a star chef and drinks with glacier ice are served at the ice bar or in the igloo.

Luxusurlaub in der Antarktis

The landscape includes blue ice tunnels as well as rugged mountains. © provided

Meanwhile, there are three different camps: Whichaway, the first luxury camp, is located on a lake that has frozen over, the landscape has something lunar - and there is a sauna with a glass front and a view of the blue ice lake. Wolf's Fang is located in the mountains of Queen Maud Land and is especially ideal for adrenaline junkies, as you can go ice climbing and extreme hiking, but there are also skidoo tours and easy routes. The landscape is surprisingly diverse, ranging from shimmering blue ice tunnels to bizarre ice formations and jagged mountains rising from the ice sheet. Or you can leave your luxury glamping accommodation and actually move into a small tent for one night to get even more of a polar explorer feeling.

Luxusurlaub in der Antarktis: White Desert Luxuslodges

Fine dining at Wichaway Camp. © Marko Prezelj

Futuristic space movies

Echo is the newest camp and most reminiscent of futuristic space movies: In the Sky Pods, you feel as if you've been beamed to Mars; huge floor-to-ceiling windows guarantee a fantastic panoramic view. The architecture is actually inspired by the International Space Station. U.S. astronaut Terry Virts has also been a guest and said that the mountains all around were among the most beautiful he had ever seen on Earth, Venus and Mars. Sounds like a publicity stunt, but if you look at the photos, you'll believe him immediately.

Isn't luxury vacationing with travel to the far corners of this planet where few people have ever set foot decadent? The carbon footprint you put down for your private adventure is considerable. Robyn and Patrick Woodhead love this area so much that they went CO2 neutral back in 2007, offsetting all their flights. They have since adopted a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) so that as little black soot as possible ends up on the ice. The camp is powered by wind and solar energy anyway, and environmental regulations are strict; all trash is removed, no human footprints are allowed to be left behind.

White Desert Private Jet

The White Desert private jet takes guests from Cape Town directly to Antarctica. © Marko Prezelj

A trip to Antarctica is a life-changing experience. You experience firsthand how small a person is in this infinite expanse, marvel at the beauty of this planet, realize how fragile the balance is. You may come home an adventurer and adrenaline junkie, and at best an ambassador for the preservation of this incomparable wilderness. At least that's what the two operators hope for: they see responsible tourism as a force for good, and to quote British wildlife filmmaker and author David Attenborough, who points out, "Travel can help us understand our planet; to see that we need to look after it, that it's vital for survival to protect places like Antarctica." The impacts of climate change start at home - not in Antarctica. But through travel, we experience the connections more directly than ever before.

This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Winter 2022/23.

Scroll to Top