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DESTINATION: Antarctica

By JOHN ROZENTALS

TRAVEL: 10 JANUARY 2015

Heading south ... very south ... to ring
in the New Year

Wow! What an absolute buzz! My most spectacular New Year ever ... and that’s saying something since I had a spot on Sydney’s Garden Island dockyard for the millennium fireworks back in 1999-2000.

This time I was fortunate enough to score a seat on a Qantas 747 chartered by Antarctica Flights, an affiliate of Captain’s Choice, for a 13-hour New Year’s Eve flight heading for the southernmost continent and a peek at its icy grandeur.

After a bit of delay due to a stray piece of velcro lodging in the cabin door, we took off from Mascot for the five-hour trip south — with plenty of Charles Heidsieck Brut and Qantas’s typically classy business-class fare to keep us more than happy.

Then suddenly it was on, as brilliantly sunny vistas of snow, ice, glaciers, icebergs, crevices opened up before us for the next three-and-a-bit hours.

The calmness of the flight was exemplified by extinguishing of the seatbelt sign and passengers able to wander around the cabin at leisure, taking photos from every vantage point. No one hogged window space, readily relinquishing a spot to another eager snapper and moving on to somewhere else.

I’m still working my way through the 150 or so images that I took, and have only included a taste here.

The most haunting part of the journey comes when we get up close to a still-smoking Mount Erebus, which in 1979 claimed an Air New Zealand tourist flight and 257 lives. It’s a spooky feeling that drives home the power of what we’re venturing into.

We’re in good hands, though. Captain Cameron Hartman is one of Qantas’s most experienced 747 pilots and he is clearly a master of extracting the most from the splendid scenic opportunities afforded him.

Professor Pat Quilty, former head of the Antarctic Division’s research program and an honorary research professor at the University of Tasmania, is on hand in the cockpit to provide the expert commentary and pass on plenty of inside knowledge of the great characters involved with the Antarctic over many years.

In the cabin, we’re under the charge of Phil Asker, founder of Captain’s Choice and participant in many Antarctic flights.

The experience truly is awesome — and for once I can use the word without any fear of contradiction or feeling of exaggeration. And would I do it again? Let’s just say that I’d only need to be asked once.

Seats aren’t cheap. They never are for this sort of genuinely unique and spectacular once-in-a-lifetime event.

Expect to pay from $1200 for centre economy seats to $8000 for first-class, renamed ice-class for this purpose.

Phil Asker ... founder of Captain’s Choice and participant in many Antarctic flights.

Mount Erebus ... still smoking ... and a tragic reminder of the massive power of where we're venturing.

DETAILS

Contact Antarctica Flights

Phone 1800 633 449 or visit www.antarcticaflights.com.au

Not that much remains of this summer’s program of flights. There are upcoming flights out of Brisbane on 18 January, from Perth on 26 January, from Adelaide on 8 February, and from Melbourne om 15 February.

Otherwise it’s probably a matter of planning to join the 2015-16 summer program.

Above and below: Antarctica in all its majesty.