Antarctica is the world's seventh continent, and for many, it represents the final frontier of adventure travel. It's a place so remote that few will ever experience it; and so beautiful that those who do remain under its spell forever. Largely untouched by humans, it is the ultimate wilderness - a fantasy land of blue-tinged bergs that belongs to no-one but the penguins colonising its ice floes and the whales sounding in the deep.
There are several ways to reach Antarctica, the most traditional of which is to cross Drake Passage from Ushuaia in southern Argentina. In the past, research ships have embarked on Antarctic expeditions from both Cape Town and Port Elizabeth - but as yet, there are no regular Antarctic cruises scheduled for departure from South Africa. However, for those with time and a considerable amount of money, South Africa does offer one option for travel to the end of the Earth.
Luxury tour company White Desert boasts three different Antarctic itineraries, all of which depart from Cape Town via private charter. The flight, which takes 5.5 hours, touches down inside the Antarctic Circle at the company's own luxury camp. There are three different itineraries: 'Emperors & South Pole', 'Mountain & Emperors' and 'Greatest Day'.
The first two itineraries last for eight days, and offer a range of activities including treks to the area's research bases and a visit to the emperor penguin colony at Atka Bay.
'Emperors & South Pole' also includes a flight to the South Pole, the most southerly point on Earth; while 'Mountain & Emperors' gives guests the opportunity to test their climbing and abseiling skills on the region's impressive peaks.
These are luxurious trips with no expense spared, and consequently, the price tags are considerable.
In 2016, the 'Emperors & South Pole' expedition was priced at €64,000 ($67,950) per person. Perhaps the most extravagant option of all is the 'Greatest Day' itinerary, which gives those that are pushed for time the opportunity to experience just 12 magical hours in Antarctica before returning to Cape Town the same day.
Although no Antarctic cruises currently operate from South Africa, it is possible to combine your polar adventure with a visit to beautiful Cape Town. Several cruise companies offer trans-oceanic itineraries that depart from Ushuaia and travel to Cape Town via Antarctica. One of these companies is Silversea, whose Ushuaia - Cape Town itinerary lasts for 22 days and includes stops at the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
Travelling by sea offers the opportunity to experience the Antarctic in the same way that the explorers of old would have done. It also creates better opportunities for whale-watching and pelagic birding; however, those that suffer from seasickness should be aware that the South Atlantic Ocean has a reputation for being very rough. It is undeniably the most affordable option, with fares for Silversea's 2017 cruises priced at between $11,150 and $28,850.
Although these prices seem modest in comparison to those advertised by White Desert, for many of us, cruises like these are still well over budget. Don't despair, however - penguins are one of the major highlights of an Antarctica trip, and you can see them without leaving South Africa. The Western Cape is home to several African penguin colonies, the most famous of which is the one at Boulders Beach. Here, you can walk within a few feet of nesting penguins and even swim with them in the sea.