Cold comfort

It costs close to $100,000 a person to travel to the newly renovated Antarctica luxury accommodation White Desert, but you will definitely holiday in style

Walk through an ice tunnel in Antarctica.
Walk through an ice tunnel in Antarctica.PHOTO: WHITE DESERT ANTARCTICA
Visitors can get up close to penguins (above) or trek below an icefall.
Visitors can get up close to penguins (above) or trek below an icefall.PHOTO: WHITE DESERT ANTARCTICA
Visitors can get up close to penguins or trek below an icefall (above).
Visitors can get up close to penguins or trek below an icefall (above).PHOTO: WHITE DESERT ANTARCTICA
The sleeping area in a room in White Desert camp.
The sleeping area in a room in White Desert camp.PHOTO: WHITE DESERT ANTARCTICA

NEW YORK • Travel to Antarctica has reached a fever pitch.

You can go by yacht. You can book a fly-around for New Year's Eve. And now you can stay in a five-star hotel with bespoke furnishings and its own fleet of aircraft.

To be fair, the White Desert camp is not exactly new. And it is no secret spot either - the guest ledger includes names such as Prince Harry and Bear Grylls.

But as a means of celebrating its 10th anniversary, the so-called most remote property in the world has gotten a complete luxury overhaul.

What it now humbly calls "sleeping pods" are six heated fibreglass domes with bamboo headboards, Saarinen chairs, fur throws and en-suite bathrooms stocked with sustainable Lost Explorer-brand toiletries, created by a scion of the de Rothschild family.

Wooden skis adorn the walls; thick parkas for each guest hang from free-standing coat racks. And each suite stands alone on a rugged strip of land in the interior of Antarctica, midway between a frozen lake and towering walls of ice.

Drama is in no short supply.

Perhaps the most significant renovations have taken place in the library lounge and dining room.

Whereas the dining room once consisted of one long wooden table, it is now a more formal affair, with furs thrown over chairs that would not feel out of place in a Brooklyn Heights apartment in New York. 

After hangout sessions with 6,000 emperor penguins, this is where guests share convivial, three-course meals comprising ingredients and wines flown in from Cape Town. (They are prepared by an in-house chef who cooks privately for British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton when he is not at camp.)

Running a camp such as White Desert requires "some of the most complex and remote logistics in the world", said Ms Robyn Woodhead, who co-founded and directs the lodge with her husband.

Renovating one is even more of a challenge. "Everything for the refurbishment had to come in on an Il-76 cargo plane, costing €15 (S$22.90) a kilogram," said Ms Woodhead.

Plus, getting the materials to Antarctica's Unknown International Airport - yes, that is its official name - required multiple flights.

Since each plane could transport only 20 tonnes at a time, the Woodheads had all the furnishings unpacked in Cape Town pre-flight to maximise efficiency. Once the cargo landed on the blue ice runway, she said, "it was transported by a specialised 4x4 across a crevasse- ridden route" to the camp.

Then the old materials had to be shipped back to Cape Town for safe disposal. White Desert, she said, "operates on a zero-impact policy".

Sustainability was a key concern throughout the process. "Many of the simple elements, such as getting water for the construction work, involved drilling through a 2m-thick ice lake," she added.

The wallpaper was sourced from environmentally friendly designers - as was the glue - and installation had to be done with great speed and precision.

"Everything here freezes far quicker than normal conditions," she said, adding that "the metal freezes to your hands, so our team had to be extremely focused and careful when working".

Want to see the fruit of their labour? As with anything here, it is not as easy as taking to Expedia.

The season for travel to inner Antarctica is short - only November to December - so you will have to book one of White Desert's two trips that still have availability.

One is eight nights long, the other is 11. Both cost the same: US$72,000 (S$97,450) a person, all-inclusive.

For that price, you will get all the cold-weather adventures your heart can desire. Popular choices send guests trekking into blue ice caves, kite-skiing, abseiling and visiting researchers. Round-trip flights from Cape Town are also part of the deal.

The one thing that will cost you extra? An exclusive souvenir.

If you nominate yourself for an overnight excursion to the South Pole, which requires a flight in a prop plane and a trek in frigid temperatures, you will earn access to a custom Bremont timepiece. It is US$7,500 and comes engraved with the date of your visit - as if you might forget it.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Cold comfort'. Subscribe