Last week we joined 2007 Miss World Australia Caroline Pemberton as she pursued her dream to visit Antarctica. Her 10-day adventure began in Ushuaia in Argentina. She boarded Professor Multinovskiy
, a Russian icebreaker, in the world's southernmost city and headed into the Drake Passage.
Halfway through her adventure Caroline had spent time in a Zodiac close to whales and seals, conquered a rigorous climb and took a polar plunge into the icy waters. There's plenty more in store to take Caroline and her fellow adventurers out of their comfort zones.
They headed to Port Charcot on Booth Island. It was named after Jean-Baptiste Charcot who led the 1903-05 French Antarctic expedition.
Caroline's group was about to spend a night camping in the ice. They took the ice cave option over tents which, of course, meant they all had to literally dig in. They were roped up to avoid falling into a crevasse or taking a slippery slide down the mountain slope.
Well, it worked. Their snug ice cocoon kept them out of the weather and gale that was making its fierce presence felt outside.
There's a different activity every day, and next up was kayaking among the icebergs.
The big ones are called growlers and are best to avoid. They roll over easily and create little tidal waves. It's best to paddle amongst the little ones known as burgy bits. Caroline said it was a weird experience to be paddling away and all of a sudden your paddle hits a hard spot. Solid ice. She certainly wasn't ready for another polar plunge.
Being just metres away from fur seals and gentoo penguins was a fantastic and humbling experience.
The gentoos were weaning their chicks and had no fear of human visitors in their domain. As with the Adélie penguins on Pleneau, they have a courtship ritual. Males collect pebbles from the beach and the females use them to build nests.
It's all very keeping up with the Joneses the female chooses the male who has brought her the most pebbles to be the father of her babies.
The Vernadsky Research Base is run by a group of dedicated Ukrainian scientists. They operate from a place built by the British who created an English-style pub. The Ukrainians added their own quirky custom to the bar: Women trade a bra for a drink!
Vernadsky was formerly the British Faraday Station. It's the oldest in the Antarctic Peninsula and accommodates up to 24 people. Its field is upper atmosphere and climate science.
Data is collected and analysed in ionospherics, magnetospherics, geomagnetism, meteorology, glaciology and ozone research. Ultraviolet light is used to keep check on the ozone hole so what they are doing in their solitary existence is keeping an eye on things for generations to come.
Port Lockroy on Goudier Island is a little more sedate than the Ukrainian set up. On the Antarctic Peninsula of the British Antarctic Territory it was discovered in 1903 by the French expedition. It was used for whaling and British military operations during World War II and continued as a British research station until 1962.
It's recognised for its historical importance and designated as an historic site and monument under the Antarctic Treaty (Environment Protection) Act. Buildings were renovated in 1996 and since then have opened to visitors during summer. The site is operated as a living museum and has the world's southernmost post office.
Last stop was Deception Island and one last test of endurance was in store: another polar plunge!
Deception Island lies in South Shetland and has one of the Antarctic's safest harbours. In 1967 and 1969 volcanic eruptions caused serious damage to local scientific stations. They also left behind a crater which contains a man-made spa, and after the plunge, it provided welcome comparative warmth.
"Now you don't have to be crazy to get the most out of Antarctica but I think it helps," Caroline said when she summed up her experience.
"And over the course of the last few days and all the mad stuff we've done I think I've come to the conclusion whatever fears you bring down here, whatever personal barriers you have, Antarctica will make you face and break them every single time. It's a long way down south but it is the ultimate travel reward".