(CNN) — “When you go back to work on Monday and people ask, ‘What did you do for the weekend?’ you can answer, ‘Oh, I just went down to Antarctica.'”
That’s how Phil Asker describes what may be the coolest day tour in the world — a 12-hour trip to the South Magnetic Pole.
Asker is the founder of Antarctica Sightseeing Flights. Since 1994, the operation has been a part of his larger tour business, Captain’s Choice, which runs luxury charter trips to remote destinations.
“I was having lunch with the chief pilot of Qantas prior to our first private jet tour when I casually enquired whether flights to Antarctica would be possible,” says Asker.
“The answer was enthusiastic and we commenced the regulatory process.”
Magnetic Pole and penguins from 10,000 feet
Antarctica Sightseeing Flights now operates 19 different routes from five Australian cities — Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane.
The scenic flights take about 12-13 hours on a Qantas 747-400ER.
Antarctica comes into view about three hours after takeoff. Planes fly over the southernmost continent for about four hours, without touching ground.
The two captains of each flight choose the best viewing route based on weather conditions and latest satellite pictures.
“Our favorite route and the most regular one is over the South Magnetic Pole, French Base at Dumont d’Urville, with a dramatic glacier behind it and Iceberg Alley in front of it, as well as Commonwealth Bay with the hut of explorer Douglas Mawson,” says Asker.
Other landmarks include Ninnis Glacier and Mertz Glacier, the range of Transantarctic Mountains, the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay and the mosaic ice formations of the Ross Sea.
Flights fly as low as 10,000 feet and avoid penguin colonies. Penguins can’t hear or see the aircraft at that height.
“While we must have a one-mile horizontal separation from a penguin colony we often see the huge one at Commonwealth Bay off to the side,” says Asker.
At that height, however, passengers won’t be able to see any Antarctic wildlife in detail.
“We do have a life-size ‘penguin’ parading around the gate lounge before departure.”
New Year’s parties above Antarctica
The company holds a New Year Party each year in which passengers dance to a live five-piece jazz band on board.
“On New Year’s Eve this year, we headed further south to the American base, McMurdo Station, and circled Mount Erebus (the continent’s southernmost active volcano),” says Asker. “The volcano was erupting, an amazing sight to welcome the New Year with it smoking away.”
The route also features the McMurdo Dry Valley, a highlight for geologists and photographers.
The flights are served by Qantas and the cabin is separated into seven classes, ranging from Economy Class Center (middle rows in economy class) to Ice Class (first-class cabin).
Even the lowest-tier passengers are allowed to peek over through windows from the aisle or near the aircraft door.
Experts are present on each flight to describe the sights and recite facts about Antarctica.
Flights also feature live streaming of presentations from Antarctica scientists located on bases below.
The flights are classified as a domestic routes requiring only photo ID but not a passport.
Two full meal services, snacks and complimentary bar service are offered as part of the flight.
Antarctica Sightseeing Flights, Level 1, 35 Seymour St., Ringwood, Victoria, Australia; +61 3 8814 5701
The next flight departs from Brisbane on January 18, prices ranges from AUD1,199 ($970) to AUD7,999 ($6,500) per person