Adventure without limits: experience the heart of Antarctica with White Desert

Showcasing fly-in expeditions to the centre of Antarctica, luxury operator White Desert opens its newest camp: Echo Base

White DesertA trip to Antarctica is never for the faint of heart, but this dramatic and once-insurmountable landscape has become one of the world’s most fascinating expeditions for the true adventurers among us. White Desert, the luxury tour operator specialising in the south pole, has now launched its third camp, Echo Base, to join its existing Whichaway and Wolf’s Fang offerings.

Inspired by a visit from astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the futuristic space-themed camp consists of six state-of-the-art en suite sleeping pods, as well as luxurious communal dining and relaxing pods. Trips to Echo Base are targeted at luxury explorers with a price tag to match (a five-day stay starts from $62,500 per person, or $104,000 per person as part of a full buy-out) and, as one might expect, the resulting experience is truly, genuinely and magnificently unforgettable.

The immediate impression upon landing on a freshly groomed, blue ice runway is the complete otherworldliness of Antarctica’s scenery. This is a vast, beautiful and largely untouched continent; the air is so clear and crisp that distances can be hard to gauge, as its possible to spot mountain peaks (nunataks) over 100km away.

And yes, there are mountains – contrary to popular belief, the landscape consists of more than just endless ice. Far from cities and crowds, the silence is so absolute that the crackling and crunching sounds from simply walking over ice seems to travel for miles. And it may be a desert, but there is still wildlife down in this corner of the world, from penguins to migratory birds such as petrels.


Echo Base AntarcticaFor the explorers of long-ago, Antarctica represented cold, dangerous and lonely voyages from which a return was anything but guaranteed. Thanks to White Desert, founded in 2005, guests can swap the frostbite for champagne and enjoy unforgettable activities in this frozen paradise.

At Echo Base, guests can learn to climb an ice cliff with crampons and axes or choose to clamber and crawl through a natural ice tunnel – a completely organic and all-encompassing frozen blue world created by nothing but wind and water. Maybe climb a nunatak to gaze out over the frozen ocean or (if you’re feeling bold) don your crampons for a stroll out over the surreal rolling waves of ice or even venture out on an overnight ski tour.

Perhaps most memorably of all, take a 2.5-hour trip on a Second World War Basler BT-67 plane to Atka Bay, where you’ll spend the day admiring up to tens of thousands of Emperor penguins and their offspring in their natural habitat. Depending on the timing of your visit, you could be met by the sound of a multitude of hungry, noisy chicks all calling their parents – or the sight of the dads sliding back after a successful fishing trip. Still keen for more?White DesertIt’s not often the logistics of a trip make the highlights reel, but this is a well-deserved exception.  Each season a large ship delivers equipment to the coastline – which, in this case, is a 40m high ice cliff. Items are craned up onto the ice and then driven 500 miles along the Fimbul Ice Shelf, dodging deadly crevasses the whole way to camp. It takes dozens of machines (piston bullies, planes, 4x4s and 6x6s) and more than 120 staff to run an adventure of this magnitude – little wonder then, that it operates only for the four months of summer.

If just surviving this harsh landscape is a challenge, then providing the level of luxurious treats and spoils made available to guests is all the more impressive. Much thought has been put into the dining, which ranges from gourmet curry nights to delights such as pemmican – a calorie rich meal of dried meats that would have been eaten by early explorers.

The outdoor picnics are even more show stopping, with canapes, champagne, hot chocolate and even commemorative Shackleton beers served in the most spectacular locations. One such evening set-ups reveals a final feat of logistics: a party in an unforgettable snow lounge, with igloo bar complete with fine whiskies and cosy fur rugs, which are much needed to counteract the -5˚C chill.


White Desert AntarcticaWorking in such an ecologically sensitive environment, the sustainability of the operations is a very necessary focus. White Desert pioneered the use of sustainable aviation fuel in their aircraft – they have been carbon neutral since 2007 – and all the pod suites are primarily heated from solar energy. The camps are completely temporary, and so can be dismantled and removed at any time, while even the waste management is a feat of logistics with all consumables shipped off the continent at the end of the season.

A final highlight is the presence of White Desert’s extraordinary guides and staff, whose stories of Antarctic adventure are beyond compare. Take Manu, for instance, who was one of the lead guides in the search for Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance, which sunk in 1915; or Marco, who holds the record for climbing the most 6,000m mountains in the world. Equally impressive is camp manager Vila, who is the only woman to summit Everest and complete a solo expedition to the South Pole. The guides all have a genuine love for adventure so, no matter how active you are, you’ll be in expert and enthralling company.PenguinsWhite Desert offers many ways to experience the white continent at the bottom of the world, from a 24-hour Greatest Day fly-in trip ($14,500 per person) to their all-encompassing 24-day Ultimate Antarctica experience – for which they have partnered with pioneering adventure company, Cookson Adventures – and which comes complete with yacht, helicopter and even a submersible expedition.

Other options include a seven-day geographic South Pole and emperor penguin trip (from $98,500 per person) or a five-day photographic trip (from $62,500 per person) to witness the emperor chicks taking their first steps.

And new adventures to come include the launch of White Desert World, a 21-day luxury trip to ten destinations, with a maximum of 50 guests travelling in a customised Boeing to all seven continents, which is set to launch in January 2025. White Desert also works with Cookson Adventures to build experiences out of Cape Town or Patagonia before and after the trip, to ensure every expedition is unique and truly unforgettable.

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