Tourists burn a trail to Australian Antarctic outpost

Thu Jan 8, 2009 1:35am EST
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - An isolated Australian outpost in remote Antarctica has become a popular destination for adventure-seeking tourists, as more tour operators put it on their itinerary for more than just researchers.

The 97-year-old Mawson's Hut, in Cape Denison at Commonwealth Bay, was home to Sir Douglas Mawson and his men during the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

It had more than 300 visitors in December -- a record number -- with another 100 expected on the last ship that arrives around January 23.

"It's becoming a more popular tourist destination, I think, because it's part of an increasing trend in Antarctic tourism," Bruce Hull, senior environment officer at the Australia's Antarctic Division, told Reuters.

"By the time the fifth ship arrives at Cape Denison between the 20th and 23rd of January, I think the numbers will be about 400 visitors for 2008/09," he added.

This compares with about 260 visitors in 2006/07, and about 200 visitors in 2000/01.

The gruelling sea and icy conditions makes the six-day passage across the Southern Ocean attractive to only the most daring type of traveler. Four companies, from Australia, New Zealand and Germany, go down to Cape Denison and Hull said the ships posed no threat to the environment.

"All activities in Antarctica are subject to an environmental assessment and each tourist expedition is subject to that," he said. "On the whole most tourist ventures are assessed as less than minor or transitory."   Continued...