Simon Calder: So where exactly is Queen Elizabeth Land?
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Tuesday 18 December 2012
Seen from some imaginary point above the South Pole, Antarctica’s political geography resembles a frozen pizza. And, as practised colonisers, the British laid claim to the prime slice.
The British Antarctic Territory (disputed by both Argentina and Chile) includes all of the Antarctic Peninsula, the finger of land that wiggles towards South America. Almost every visitor to the world’s driest, coldest and windiest continent makes landfall here.
The main sights during Antarctic expeditions are ice and ocean, frequently obscured by blizzards or fog - just two of the perennial maritime hazards. Many tourists do not even cross the Antarctic Circle before retreating for the relative comforts of Tierra del Fuego.
The newly named Queen Elizabeth Land comprises the thin end of the pizza slice, tapering from the frozen shore of the Weddell Sea to a wickedly cold point at the South Pole itself. The first English-language report from here, in 1912, concluded: “Great God! This is an awful place”. The author, Captain Robert Scott, added “The cold is intense, minus 40 degrees at midday“. Even Balmoral doesn’t get that bad.
Queen Elizabeth Land is the bitter end of Earth. All the colour has been squeezed from the land and sky, the spectrum reduced to shades of grey. Yet a century on from Scott’s fatal expedition, Antarctica has become the ultimate tourism trophy – not least because this is the closest most of us could ever get to visiting an alien planet.
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