Every year thousands of scientists take the opportunity to converge on the icy wastes of Antarctica to study in this pristine natural laboratory. Now for the first time other visitors are outnumbering the science parties as the coldest place on earth becomes the hottest new destination for tourists.
Over the millennia the vast continent has waxed and waned with the passing ice ages, pristine and untouched. For the specialised creatures that evolved to survive in this harsh land, it was a paradise without parallel.
The first explorers to conquer the Antarctic wastes did it largely on their own. Expeditions of determined men fought their way across the final frontiers, and wrote their names in history. People like Scott, Shackleton and Amundson.
Antarctica is used to visitors, from the early whalers and sealers who plundered the icy seas during the brief summers, to the scientists of today, who have had permanent bases there for 40 years.
Now the ice is groaning under a new weight-tourists. For the first time in it’s history Antarctica is seeing more tourists than scientists, and the numbers are rising each year. In 1994 over 8,000 visitors paid to experience one of the hottest – and coldest destinations in travel.
This film joins an outstandingly ambitious tour-a luxury cruise on the 20,000 ton MV Marco Polo, starting from the tip of the South America and heading off into the storm-lashed seas of Drake Passage on the way to the Antarctic Peninsula.
More than 400 enthusiastic passengers are in good company, with Trans-Antarctic explorers Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Vivian Fuchs, and relatives of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundson.
On arriving in Antarctic waters the modem day adventurers arrive at Paradise Bay. Here Humpback whales and leopard seals cavort close inshore. Blue-eyed cormorants mingle with Gentoo penguins and scavenging Skua gulls and Sheathbills.
The wildlife has the tameness of ignorance. Death and destruction at the hands and clubs of whalers and sealers are now just a distant memory. Time has given the numbers a chance to multiply again, supported by the amazingly rich seas. Now it is the tourists who are warned to keep their distance for the good of all.
On the other side of the continent in the Ross Sea, Falcon Scott pays homage to his grandfather at the Discovery hut of the 1902 expedition. And at Scott Base old rivals Hillary and Fuchs step back in time, visiting the original buildings that housed the headquarters of their expedition 40 years ago.
This is Antarctica explored as never before-but will it ever be the same? Is tourism treading on thin ice. We explore the questions along with the unique wildlife on this trip of a lifetime to one of the last wild horizons.