A Week’s Stay at Antarctica’s Only Luxury Campsite Costs as Much as a Car
On a good day in Antarctica, the wind will quiet, the sun will shine, and the temperature will reach a balmy 23 degrees… Fahrenheit. Okay, so it’s not Tahiti. “But it feels really pleasant,” says Patrick Woodhead. He would know. As the CEO and co-founder of White Desert, Antarctica’s premiere travel experience, it’s his job to ensure that your stay on the notoriously inhospitable continent is as enjoyable as conditions allow.
Which, as it turns out, is still pretty damn enjoyable. White Desert is Antarctica’s first and only luxury resort. Woodhead started the operation 10 years ago, on the heels a four-month skiing expedition to the South Pole. He found the unforgiving landscape breathtaking, and figured others—even those disinclined to spend months actively combatting the elements—might, too. “We realized that no one was doing tourism in the Antarctic with any sense of luxury,” he says. “It was all really grueling, tough trips.” White Desert’s camp is neither grueling nor tough. In fact, it’s royalty-level cushy. “We’ve hosted Saudi princesses who have never seen snow before,” Woodhead says.
The camp is modeled after fancy safaris, only instead of expansive grasslands, lions, and luxury huts, you get icy plateaus, emperor penguins, and a fiberglass sleeping pod bedecked like a scene from Hipster Game of Thrones. Inside each 23-foot-diameter shelter, you’ll find beds set against bamboo headboards, fur throws draped over the backs of chairs, and warm parkas to throw on after your shower. Everything you see in the the camps was flown in by plane, at a shipping fee of $38 per pound. Each pod weighs three tons. Without furniture. Go ahead and do the math.
The upshot is that a stay at White Desert will cost you. Eight nights in one of its newly designed “sleeping pods” runs a minimum of $45,000. (For an extra 25 grand, you can visit the South Pole.) The camp is situated on a stretch of land 150 miles from the South Pole that’s dotted with mountains, blue caves, and clear water lakes. Getting to White Desert requires that your jet touch down on an icy landing strip in the middle of a vast field of otherwise untouched snow. It’s a beautiful land untouched by humans—save for the filthy rich ones and the occasional researcher. “The cruise ships don’t go here,” Woodhead says.
The whole enterprise is luxurious, almost obnoxiously so. And yet, it’s still in Antarctica. Woodland says the continent’s brutal climate presents a significant design challenge. The pods require solar and propane heaters, in case the sun disappears. And then there’s wind. Woodland says the domes were designed to withstand the 180 mph gusts that can sweep the region during winter. He adds things are usually milder between late November and late December, when the company usually operates—still, it’s reassuring to know you’ll be safe and comfortable, whatever the weather. Even if that comfort doesn’t come cheap.