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Finale: Trips to the seventh continent are not just for scientists

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By Kerry Sanders, NBC News Correspondent

If you’ve followed each blog post, and you’ve wondered how to venture beyond the web and touch the so-called seventh continent, you have one choice: Go by boat.

There is no commercial airport in Antarctica.

Nery Ynclan / NBC News

Icebergs in Antarctica

Antarctica doesn’t even have a government. This land is controlled by a treaty with numerous nations. The companies that take passengers (tourists and scientists alike) generally sail from New Zealand or Argentina.  That means you have to fly before you can sail. Then you need to buy passage on a ship. Some ships are comfortable, some a little more spartan, but all are so-called "expedition ships." Costs to travel are in the thousands of dollars, but for those willing to book 18 months early, the passage can be significantly less expensive. Just remember: This is not a cruise in the Caribbean.

Our ship, the Ocean Diamond, had seven decks and room for about 180 passengers. Not everyone on our voyage was a journalist or scientist. On our passage,  we met a 13-year-old boy holding strong with some of the huskier men who spend their weekends camping and hiking.

Nery Ynclan / NBC News

A Zodiac boat and the Ocean Diamond expedition ship

If you're prone to seasickness, then it’s certain you will feel the motion of the ocean on the notorious Drake Passage, just off the southernmost tip of South America. 

On our return, the waves were more than 17 feet high as we rounded Cape Horn. At one point, winds hit the ship at gusts of 127 miles per hour. The Drake Passage has been a graveyard for many explorers over the centuries because of these rough conditions, but it can also be quite still. On the way down from Argentina, the Drake Passage became more like the Drake Lake. The swells were only a couple of feet against our hull, making it feel like we were sailing through a bathtub.

 

From left, Nery Ynclan, Kerry Sanders and Kyle Eppler

If you want to experience this trip, I’d recommend you have no fear of water. Not that falling in is likely, but much of those up-close, inspiring moments I've been writing about are best experienced in the inflatable Zodiacs as they skip across the seas.

If you do make the trip, be sure to bring a camera and take some amazing photos and videos, like those you see here. But don't be afraid to put the camera down once in a while and take it all in. With so much change happening here, Antarctica won't look like this forever.


Day 1: Greeted by dirt, not ice

Day 2: Climate change decimates food supply for penguins

Day 3: Watching Mother Nature in action

Day 4: How to sleep outdoors in Antarctica