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The end of the earth

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Patagonia straddles Argentina and Chile. It is comprised of the Andes to the west and south, and plateaux and low plains to the east. To the east of the Andes, it lies south of the Neuquén and Colorado Rivers. The Argentine part of Patagonia includes Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the Buenos Aires province. The Chilean portion includes the southern part of Los Lagos, Ayesen and Magallanes. Chilean Patagonia is cut off from the rest of the nation by a massive ice field and locals consider themselves a different breed from their northern countrymen — hardier with a greater pioneer spirit. Patagonia excludes the portions of Antarctica claimed by Argentina and Chile.

For the most part, Patagonia is vast steppe-like plains, rising in abrupt terraces at about 100 metres at a time and covered with shingle but almost bare of vegetation. The hollows of the plains are ponds or lakes of brackish and fresh water.

Towards the Andes, the shingle is replaced by porphyry, granite and basalt lavas and animal life is more abundant. Vegetation becomes thicker and takes on the characteristics of the flora of the western coast, mainly southern beech and conifers.

High rainfall against the western Andes and low off-shore sea surface temperatures create cold, humid air masses which contribute to ice-fields and glaciers. They are the largest ice-fields in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.

Reaching Patagonia is not simple. It is way off every beaten track, but once there, the rewards of nature make up for the arduous journey.

The National Park Torres del Paine is one of the world's most spectacular national parks. It has an enormous variety of plants and animals and its breathtaking setting makes it an almost unequalled destination. It presents snow-capped mountain peaks, rivers and waterfalls, glaciers and mirrored lakes.

The three Torres del Paine granite monoliths have been shaped by the forces of glacial ice. They were created more than 12 million years ago and are gigantic. Despite that, they have been conquered by climbers. Stuart Shieber climbed the three of them in 48 hours. The South Tower — around 2500 metres — is thought to be the highest. The other two aren't much shorter.

There are loads of marked trails and hikes around the base of the peaks and winds can be frequent and ferocious, but with the right clothing, the true adventurer can enjoy and conquer the challenges.

A boat ride to the massive Grey Glacier on Grey Lake is spectacular. You go very close to the ice forms which are blue, glowing and ghost-like.

According to many, Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, is the world's southern-most city. Puerto Williams in Chile was nominated for that honour — it is further south but has fewer inhabitants, so is considered a town rather than a city! Ushuaia's population is around 50,000. It is surrounded by mountains and overlooks the Beagle Channel.

Ushuaia was once a penal colony but is now a place for those in search of earth's official last outpost, and it is a modern town with every convenience.


Chile and Argentina.


Intrepid Travel has 15-day End of the Earth tours from Buenos Aires. They cost $2425 per person, plus a local payment of $US300. Accommodation, transport, activities and some meals are included. Trips depart between November and April.

Aerolineas Argentinas has return flights to Buenos Aires, valid for sale and departure until October 31, 2006. Taxes are included.

Fares from;
  • Sydney, $1940
  • Melbourne, $2206
  • Brisbane, $2206
  • Adelaide, $2441
  • Perth, $2977
  • Darwin, $2977

Prices quoted are correct on September 21, 2006.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Intrepid Travel
Real Life Experiences
360 Bourke Street
Melbourne 3000
Ph: 1300 360 887
Ph: (03) 9419 4426

Aerolineas Argentinas
3/64 Clarence Street
Sydney 2000
Ph: (02) 9234-9000
Fax: (02) 9234-9020

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