When we look at the map of the Earth, one of the first things that we see is that its surface is divided into land and water. The land consists of several continents and millions of islands, and the water is all the oceans and seas. We, humans, live on continents and islands. Do you know which continent is the coldest? This is Antarctica, the mysterious southernmost continent, covered by ice. Now, let’s make a journey around Antarctica and reach its extreme points!
Let’s get into geography and open the physical map of the Earth. You can see the large and long white land on the lowest side of the map. This is Antarctica. But its real size can be seen only on a globe, or on Google Earth. This is the second smallest continent, and it is located almost entirely within the southern polar circle. The South Pole of the Earth is located on this continent, and it is one of its extreme points.
Antarctica is different than any other continent. First, almost the whole of the continent is covered by a continental glacier, with thickness reaching more than 3 km, in some places even more than 4 km (2 miles). This is the largest glacier on the Earth, making Antarctica the highest continent.
Yes, there is rocky ground below it, but it can be seen only partially at the seacoast. At the same time, parts of the glacier penetrate into the ocean. Thus, the rocky coastline of Antarctica and the icy boundary are not the same.
Antarctica is the only uninhabited continent on our planet. Not exactly uninhabited, if we count the polar bases established on it, but even the “population” of these bases is not permanent. So, there are no countries on Antarctica, and the whole continent is not a country too, like Australia. Even the wildlife of the continent is only at the coastline, while its interior is a complete wilderness, like on another planet.
Mainland and islands
Let’s look at the map of Antarctica. As you can see, it is a quite compact continent, with a large eastern part, a small western part, and only one significant peninsula, stretching northward to South America.
There are no significant islands around the continent. The continental shelf of Antarctica doesn’t include much more than the continent itself. Only around the main peninsula- the Antarctic Peninsula, the shelf is stretching northward, then eastward, until it touches the shelf of South America.
There are several archipelagos in this area- South Orkney, South Sandwiches, and South Georgia Island. And since they are located on the shelf connection between South America and Antarctica, they could be considered as parts of both continents.
But probably the main problem of identifying the extreme points of Antarctica is the continental glacier. There are shelf glaciers (parts of the main glacier located directly on the ocean) which can be considered either as parts of the ocean or of the continent. Thus the exact coastline of Antarctica remains unclear.
The extreme geographical points of Antarctica
Having all of this in mind, let’s identify the extreme points of Antarctica. The first thing we can notice is that according to the geographical coordinates (latitudes and longitudes), there could be only a northernmost point of the continent. And we can easily identify it.
But about the south- obviously, the southernmost point of Antarctica could be only the South Pole, and it is not a continental tip, but a certain geographical point almost in the middle of the continent. As for the east and west- since all the longitudes of the Earth cross Antarctica, there can’t be easternmost and westernmost points.
Instead, we can identify the southernmost ocean point on the continent or the southernmost place on Earth with ocean water. And since it is covered by shelf glaciers, we can consider both the glacier point and the rocky point, having in mind that the glacier point is slowly moving.
Finally, we can identify the Pole of Inaccessibility of Antarctica, which is a point different than the South Pole. So, let’s go!
The extreme North
In searching for the northernmost extreme points of Antarctica (mainland and island), we have to focus on the obvious piece of land stretching northward to South America- the Antarctic Peninsula. We can easily identify the mainland extreme point. It is called Prime Head, and it is a headland covered by the continental glacier.
And as we can see on the map, many islands are belonging to the continental shelf of Antarctica, located much north of Prime Head. One small and icy piece of land draws our attention. This is Coronation Island, the northernmost (and easternmost) island of South Orkney Archipelago.
However, we can see that the continental shelf of Antarctica proceeds further, making an arc open to the west. There are the islands of the South Sandwich Archipelago on the east, and then the shelf turns westward to South America. On the north side of the shelf “bridge arc”, we can see South Georgia Island. It looks like it is what we are looking for, but there are several spots located even further. These are Shag Rocks, and if we consider them as a part of Antarctica, they should be its northernmost island point.
But let’s first start from the mainland.
The northernmost mainland point of Antarctica- Prime Head
Let’s focus on the Antarctic Peninsula- the emblematic “tail” of Antarctica. Its northernmost part is another “sub-peninsula”, called Trinity Peninsula, pointing to the northeast. And when we zoom in, we can see its northernmost point. This is Prime Head, a harsh place, covered by the end of the continental glacier.
Prime Head is not a tourist attraction- it is too difficult to access by mass tourism. There are rocks in front of it, a favorite place for the local penguins, seals, and other local animals. Sometimes, if the surrounding ocean is free from ice, furious waves crush into the headland, but most of the time the icebergs ensure quiet waters.
How to reach Prime Head
There are two ways to reach it. The easiest way is by cruise if the cruise line passes nearby. Then the ship can stop and you can enjoy the cold landscape of Prime Head. But it depends on the cruise line and the weather conditions in the area. And you can’t reach the land, you can only observe it from afar.
Another way is to reach one of the two nearby bases. Esperanza Base is located southeast of Prime Head, at a small bay, called Hope Bay. This base belongs to Argentina, and being permanent, today is gradually turning into a civilian village. Another base (although not permanently inhabitable) is General Bernardo O’Higgins, located on the other side of Prime Head. It is smaller, not a permanent settlement, but still can be a good starting point for polar trekking to the northern mainland point of Antarctica.
You can reach one of these two bases on a polar cruise. There are such cruises, usually starting from Ushuaia in Argentina, organized by companies like Oceanwide Expeditions, Poseidon Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, and others. Once you arrive in Esperanza or O’Higgins, you can make a 40-45 km trekking (go and back) to the Prime Head on the glacier, if the cruise schedules allow that. But have in mind that all of this requires special permits since Antarctica as a whole is a protected area. Normally, these permits can be obtained by the cruise companies, however, be prepared for a high price, in some cases exceeding 10 000 USD.
Let’s get to the islands.
The northernmost island point of Antarctica- Coronation Island
There are two archipelagos located near the Antarctic Peninsula- South Shetland and South Orkney. While the South Shetland Islands are just a peninsula’s satellite pieces of land, South Orkneys go further north and east. And one of them is Coronation Island, not only the largest one of the archipelago but also the northernmost one.
Coronation Island is a desolate piece of land, almost completely covered by a glacier. Its highest peak, called Mount Nivea reaches 1265 m (4150 ft) altitude. Only some coastal rocky areas are free from ice, a home for rich Antarctic wildlife.
However, the real northernmost island spot of Antarctica is not on the island itself, but it is one of the rocky islets constantly hit by the furious ocean, located northwest of the main island, again covered by ice.
How to reach Coronation Island and its neighboring satellite islets
It is difficult since this island is normally not included in the cruise expedition’s itineraries. First, the island is not always accessible, but it requires proper weather conditions. So, normally, only private routes pass by the island, and if the conditions allow, tourists can land on the ground by Zodiacs and enjoy the stunning landscapes and the amazing wildlife.
As for the nearby islets, needless to say, they are more difficult to reach. Probably you can do it by Zodiac if the waters are calm, which is quite rare. But normally, nobody goes there, you can only take photos at these islets from the ship, and that’s all.
Let’s go further north, to the northernmost island point of the “South American” version of Antarctica- Shag Rocks.
The alternative northernmost island point of Antarctica- Shag Rocks
Although, if we follow the continental shelf arc between Antarctica and South America, Shag Rocks and their “big sister” South Georgia are closer to the latter continent, they still can be considered as Antarctic islands. At least, their natural landscape is closer to the Antarctic environment, than to the nature of South America.
Shag Rocks are six small rocky islets, located northwest of South Georgia. They are a home for rich local wildlife, mainly birds. There is almost no grass on them, but only moss and bird guano. And they are often covered by snow.
How to reach Shag Rocks
Shag Rocks are not only uninhabited but almost inaccessible. They are sharp rocks, and it is very difficult to find a proper place to land a boat on them. So, the only way to visit them is to join an Antarctic cruise from Ushuaia to South Georgia and observe them from the ship. At least, the main island of South Georgia is much more interesting, and much more “Antarctic”, no matter that it lies a little south of the Shag Rocks.
Now, let’s back southward, and let’s try to reach much harsher places. Let’s explore the southernmost ocean point on the Earth.
The southernmost ocean point on the Earth
The Southern Ocean penetrates deep into Antarctica. It goes so deep that its southernmost area is permanently covered by ice. This ice is the Ross Ice Shelf, and it creates two points that we are looking for.
The first one is the southernmost point of the ocean’s liquid water. It is the Bay of Whales, a part of the Ross Sea. And the second one is the southernmost end of the Ross Ice Shelf- it is still the ocean, but permanently frozen. This place is called the Gould Coast. Let’s explore these two points.
The southernmost liquid ocean point- the Bay of Whales
Let’s look at the map again. Antarctica is divided into the so-called Eastern and Western Antarctica. These parts are divided by two concave areas- the Weddel Sea and the Ross Sea. And of them, the Ross Sea penetrates a bit south than the Weddel Sea. There you can see the southernmost liquid ocean waters on the Earth (only in summer)- the waters of the Bay of Whales.
In fact, the southernmost liquid ocean waters don’t meet a rocky coast, but the thick ice cover of the Ross Ice Shelf. The Bay of Whales has been a temporary base for several Antarctic expeditions from the first half of the 20th century. But their traces disappeared when a huge iceberg broke off the Ross Ice Shelf. In fact, this event helped the open ocean to penetrate even a bit further south.
Let’s proceed further south too- to the southernmost frozen ocean coast on the Earth.
The southernmost frozen ocean point- the Gould Coast
This place is much more remote, harsh, and unearthly. In fact, this is the natural southernmost point of the Ross Sea and the all oceans of the Earth. But it is completely frozen, covered by the Ross Ice Shield, which from this point connects into the main Antarctic continental glacier.
There is nothing here, except an endless white surface. To the north, this surface is flat- this is the frozen ocean. And to the south, it turns into an icy mountain. It is unclear where the “ocean coast” exactly is because it is not a normal coastline.
How to reach the southernmost ocean points of the Earth
Forget about normal tourism. These places are outside of the regular cruise tours range. Probably the easiest way to reach the Bay of Whales is first to travel to McMurdo Station, located about 550 km west, then arrange a local expedition. It can be a local cruise, which can be great rewarded by watching the whales in the bay, playing in the water, just below the thick ice cliffs of the “coast”. Or it can be polar trekking on the ice shelf.
And reaching the Gould Coast is the same- a challenging polar adventure. It can be done only by polar trekking on the ice shelf. Today, both treks to the Bay of Whales and the Gould Coast can be also done by special tractors, but again, it requires a serious organization and a lot of fuel.
Now, let’s get to one of the most popular geographical points of the Earth- the South Pole.
The southernmost point of Antarctica and the whole planet Earth- the South Pole
The South Pole has been a dream of many explorers. Although it is located in an endless white middle of nowhere, the fact that this is the southernmost latitude of the Earth has been an attraction for those people, who have been geography lovers too.
This emblematic point is the place where the Earth’s axis crosses the surface of the planet. If you stand on this point for 24 hours and don’t move, you will make a complete turnaround. You can make a circle around the point, and it would be a kind of a “world around journey”. And if you want to leave it, there is only one direction- north.
The point of the South Pole is located on the Antarctic continental glacier, at 2835 m (9301 ft) altitude. It is a dry ice desert, with very rare snowfalls. The temperature is usually between -30 and -60°C (-22 and -76°F), but the record lowest temperature is -82°C (-115.6°F). It never gets above 0°C, as the highest temperature ever recorded there is -12°C (10,4°F).
Today, there is a polar station established on the Pole. This is the Scott-Amundsen Polar Station. But since its ground is the ice of the continental glacier, it is slowly moving. From the time the South Pole has been reached for the first time until today, it has moved 300 m away. As a result, there are two markers on the ice- the current point of the pole, and the Ceremonial South Pole, turned into a tourist attraction.
How to reach the South Pole
It is a great challenge, but since this point is too attractive, there are tourist services providing trips to the South Pole. There are flights to the Scott-Amundsen Base, where you can spend 1-2 days and enjoy the feeling of what is to be at the “end of the world”. Another opportunity is to cross the continent from McMurdo station to the South Pole by special tractor vehicle, on a specially marked 1600 km trail.
But be ready for an extremely high price! The tour companies that arrange South Pole trips offer prices between 60 000 to 80 000 USD for group tours. And for individuals, it can reach 150 000 USD! So, if you are just an ordinary tourist, you need a lot of money. Another way is simply to become a scientific researcher, a journalist, or a sponsored explorer.
Probably you have noticed and heard this “theory” that the Earth is flat, becoming almost hysterically modern in recent years. According to it, the South Pole should not exist, and Antarctica is just an icy wall around the Earth. Sorry for the Flat Earth believers, the South Pole is there, and everybody with more money can travel, see and touch it! And Antarctica is still a continent, not a wall, and has been crossed by several explorers, including the famous Mike Horn.
And when mention Mike Horn and the crossing of Antarctica…let’s finally try to reach a point that is even harsher than the South Pole. This is the Antarctic Pole of Inaccessibility- the farthest point of the continent from any ocean.
The Pole of Inaccessibility of Antarctica- in “The Middle of Nowhere”
Although the South Pole should be supposed to be in the center of Antarctica, it isn’t. The continent is somehow “unbalanced” on the Earth’s axis, so the Pole of Inaccessibility is north from the South Pole. It is located in the Eastern Hemisphere, deep in Eastern Antarctica.
However, this Pole of Inaccessibility is different than its “brothers” of the other continents. It is much more difficult to calculate because the exact coastline of Antarctica is not strictly defined. Most of it is hidden under the ice. Yes, the ice can be considered like the rocky ground, but the problem is that it is moving and changing.
As a result, there have been at least four Poles of Inaccessibility, according to various criteria. One of them remained the most popular today, and it is the Soviet Pole of Inaccessibility, located on 82°06′S 54°58′E. It is the northernmost one, the farthest from the South Pole, but it doesn’t mean that it is the warmest.
How to reach the Soviet Pole of Inaccessibility
This is one of the hardest to reach spots on the Earth. Forget about tourism, nobody organizes tours to this extremely cold place. The only way to reach it is by joining an extreme polar expedition. When the first humans ever reached the spot in 1958, they established a temporary base on it, along with a monument of Lenin.
Today, only the shoulders and the head of Lenin remain over the ice, the rest is buried in the glacier. There are several other remnants, and that’s all. To this day, there are only a few expeditions that have reached it. Usually, the starting points for such expeditions are the polar bases Vostok, Novolazarevskaya (although it at the ocean coast), and Scott-Amundsen on the South Pole.
This is Antarctica- the coldest, the harshest, the most adventurous, and the most challenging continent on the Earth. It is so different from the other continents that it is like another planet, it is unearthly!
With Antarctica, we completed our “continent extreme points” series of articles. You can see these special places in Eurasia (yes, not Europe and Asia, because they are separate continents only culturally and politically, but naturally, there is only one continent- Eurasia), Africa, North America, South America, and Australia. Of course, there is so much more to see and explore, but these emblematic points can be highly rated and appreciated by travelers, who supposedly are also geography lovers. We hope these points would inspire you more to explore our beautiful planet!
Check some books about Antarctica:
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