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Polar magic

Yang Feiyue
Updated: Dec 30,2014 9:18 AM     China Daily

Many Chinese tourists choose to travel to the South Pole to enjoy a different vacation.[Photo/China Daily]

Traveling to the South Pole isn’t very difficult anymore.

Wild penguins, glaciers, floating ice and the auras of the polar day and night created by Antarctica’s unique location are enticing adventurous tourists to head that way.

“It’s not difficult to reach the Antarctic now, which is just a strait away from Argentina, and the region’s special status as ‘the end of the world’ alone is enough to attract tourists,” says Jiang Yiyi, director of the Beijing-based China Tourism Academy’s International Tourism Development Institute.

In addition, many tourism agencies have launched trips to the polar area and offer well-considered services, says Jiang.

Many Chinese tourists choose to travel to the South Pole to enjoy a different vacation.[Photo/China Daily]

The Antarctic polar tourism market has witnessed clear growth in recent years. A total of 3,367 Chinese tourists trekked to the Antarctic Pole in 2013-2014, says Yang Mengyue, a publicity official for HHtravel, a subsidiary of Ctrip, a big online travel agency in China. The agency itself took more than 40 people to the Antarctic this year, four times more than the previous year.

“Most of the tourists are private business owners, senior managers and investors, who usually bring their family members,” says Yang.

The best time to visit the polar area is from November to March, when it is summertime in the Antarctic, and most passenger liners are setting sail during that period, according to Yang.

“Many Chinese tourists will choose to go during the Spring Festival holidays to enjoy a different vacation, and some of them will even get married or celebrate a wedding anniversary or birthday there,” says Yang.

Many Chinese tourists choose to travel to the South Pole to enjoy a different vacation.[Photo/China Daily]

Guests can enjoy skiing, hiking on snow-clad mountains and even swimming at the polar area during summertime, according to Du Yuechao, a senior tour guide with HHtravel who has been to the Antarctic twice.

“Penguins will gather at the polar area for breeding during the summer, and the scenery is spectacular, while the polar day phenomenon is also a special treat,” says Du. The South Pole can experience daylight for up to 21 hours in summer there. Unfortunately, the Aurora Australis (or Southern Lights) can only be seen in the winter, so visitors will miss that spectacle.

For those who have an adventurous bone in their body, going through the Drake Passage from Argentina’s Ushuaia to the polar area will give them a good taste of the force of nature.

Wind force is usually above 6 (the Beaufort scale goes to 12, which is hurricane force) at the passage, and it usually takes approximately two days to get across the passage, according to Du.

“I experienced a wind force of level 11 and saw a wave more than 7 meters high,” says Du.

There are many other highlights that make the polar area magical.

Many Chinese tourists choose to travel to the South Pole to enjoy a different vacation.[Photo/China Daily]

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is home to cutting-edge equipment for Antarctic research and a paradise for science fans. The century-old Ernest Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds enables tourists to watch legions of Adelie penguins. Travelers can also see a large number of whaling ship remains at the Paradise Harbor, and enjoy watching glaciers sloughing off ice with a loud crack if they ascend the mountain top. Deception Island offers geothermal water, and tourists can play in the hot spring in a world of ice and snow, according to publicist Yang.

“We will teach tourists how to appreciate the polar area,” says Du, “and follow the requirements of international conventions, such as no littering and no touching of local plants and animals.”

Although it’s become easier for people to visit the Antarctic, the special status of the polar area means it won’t become a mass market for tourists.

Many Chinese tourists choose to travel to the South Pole to enjoy a different vacation.[Photo/China Daily]

“There are some international conventions in place for local environmental and biological protection, and they have imposed certain restrictions on human activities and behavior,” says Zhang Guangrui, honorary director of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

It takes more than 30 hours to travel from Beijing to the Antarctic, and it generally costs around 120,000 yuan ($19,309) for each tourist to tour the polar area. The luxury trip offered by HH Travel fetched a price of more than 200,000 yuan.

“We offer business-class flights, a world-class Silversea Cruises experience, sumptuous meals that could equal those prepared by a Michelin chef, and professional service from experts on board, which will help tourists better explore the polar area,” adds Yang.

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