White Desert takes travellers to parts of the Antarctic previously only seen by polar explorers and scientists, yet in the lap of luxury
Luxury travel companies promise much, but White Desert offers something unique – a rare opportunity to experience the most remote place on Earth, Antarctica. Founded in 2005, the company curates unforgettable experiences that fuse luxury with an unabashed spirit of adventure.
“Being in Antarctica is deeply humbling,” says Patrick Woodhead, White Desert’s founder and CEO, who is also a polar explorer. “From the moment you land on our ice runway at Wolf’s Fang and the cold air hits you, you realise there are no pretences here. You’re at the mercy of the elements. But you’re also free from scrutiny and have the freedom to reconnect with yourself, surrounded by incredible, surreal visuals. It’s as close as you can get to being on another planet.”
White Desert’s luxury camps are limited to 12 guests each, so all activities take place in small groups. “You can wend your way through a 200-metre iridescent-blue ice tunnel or spend time with a 28,000-strong colony of magnificent emperor penguins. And there is an amazing sense of discovery, as you absorb these experiences in small groups led by an expert high-mountain guide.”
The adventure begins with the flight to the South Pole itself, which is very difficult to reach. “To get there, you have to fly over the high polar plateau,” says Patrick. “Dixie’s Camp, the refuelling point, is the remotest camp on the planet. Its nearest neighbour is the International Space Station, around 400 kilometres overhead.”
Flights to the South Pole and all other on- continent flying is handled by a pair of Basler BT-67 aircraft; based on the robust Douglas DC-3, they are equipped with modern turboprop engines, the latest avionics technology and a ski-adapted undercarriage for landing on snow and ice. For the 4,150-kilometre journey between Cape Town and Antarctica, White Desert has chosen two aircraft perfectly matched to ensure the highest standards of safety, comfort and logistical efficiency. The fast, luxurious Gulfstream G550 completes the return journey without refuelling. In addition to a small group of guests and scientists, the Airbus A340-300 delivers a vast payload of cargo and fuel.
Sustainability underpins all operations at White Desert, a World Travel Awards Winner over several years. The organisation has been carbon neutral since 2007, and is constantly minimising its footprint, from removing every scrap of waste to using groundbreaking solar air heaters. But it doesn’t stop there. “Last season, we delivered 40,000 litres of sustainable aviation fuel, in a drive to ensure all fuel consumed on-continent is sustainable over the next few years,” explains Patrick. “We were the first organisation to do this in Antarctica.” Sustainable aviation fuel has a much smaller life cycle carbon footprint than conventional fuel and contains far fewer sooty particulates, which is important in Antarctica as black soot absorbs heat, accelerating snow melt.
White Desert’s luxury camps at Whichaway and Echo are not just gorgeous places to stay. Every structure can be removed, leaving no trace. This is true of the company’s latest camp, Echo, which was inspired by Patrick’s love of space exploration and carefully constructed in Cape Town to combine sustainable luxury with accommodation offering unmatchable views of the lunar-like landscape.
A White Desert experience is transformational but guests do not have to be polar explorers, says Patrick. “The physicality required for our trips is not a barrier. Guests have included ten-year-old Saudi princesses and Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was 86 when he stayed with us. What any guest will discover is that we’re the real McCoy. People really do come back from Antarctica transformed.”