There are a lot of tourists everywhere except Antarctica. But soon even the South Pole may become overcrowded by people with cameras and backpacks. This year about 300 tourists are expected to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the race to the Pole on the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station over the course of the short summer season.
100 years ago, on Dec. 14, 1911 Norwegian Roald Amundsen arrived at the South Pole. He faced the desolate, flat expanse of white nothingness as well as English explorer Robert Scott who reached the Pole a month later. Scott put down in his diary: “Great God! This is an awful place.” And it still is but modern technologies make it easier to survive in such environment.
The South Pole was the final frontier of terrestrial exploration a hundred years ago. Today it’s considered to be the final frontier in adventure travel. The hordes of tourists — by South Pole standards — arriving in December to the US scientific station Amundsen-Scott. Some will ski from the continent’s edge, while others will fly in. In summer (Dec. – Feb.) visitors can expect temperatures in the -40 to -20 Farenheit range and a great deal of bustle at the station as everyone tries to take full advantage of the short summer to get their work done.
The program for visitors are aimed to give them a sense of history and an understanding of what happens at the station. Plus, a chance to buy souvenirs. Yes, there is the world’s southern-most gift shop on the South Pole. Visitors interested in a South Pole magnet or anniversary patch can pay only in US dollars, no credit cards are acceptable.
The visitors center and gift shop are both semi-circular tents with skylights and heaters. The computers and cash register inside are powered by solar panels. One of the challenges at the South Pole is that the area is a time-zone free-for-all because all the world’s time zones converge on that little point. Since it’s light 24 hours a day in the summer, it doesn’t really matter what you call noon and what you call midnight. But the station runs on New Zealand time, since personnel fly to the continent from Christchurch.
Visiting the South Pole is a trip for wealthy men. The tour operator PolarExplorers, making business on expeditions both to Antarctica and Arctic, takes between $40,000 and $65,000 for each person.