Stat alert. Antarctica's massive ice-cap covers an area 1.7 times the size of Australia and contains some 29 million cubic kilometres of ice, or roughly 70% of the world's fresh water. Despite all this water, Antarctica is the driest continent on Earth - a huge, frozen desert that remains, to date, a genuinely unspoilt wilderness.
Appropriately enough, the idea of a holiday to Antarctica polarises opinion; it is undeniably expensive and involves a large amount of travel, yet for those keen to go, it is simply one of those 'must do' once in a lifetime experiences.
Cruises operate during the summer season from November to March, when the sun barely sets, and ice-strengthened ships provide much more comfortable accommodation than many expect.
If cruising all the way, as opposed to taking the fly-in option, the journey begins in Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. From here, set sail across the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands, and then on to the mainland to spend several days exploring the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Navigating between fjords and channels, the ship passes landscapes of breathtaking beauty - cliffs, rugged mountains and glaciers calving huge icebergs into the sea - with the ice formations reflecting a kaleidoscope of colours as the light changes.
Passengers can expect to encounter wildlife including sea elephants; sea lions; Weddell, crab-eater and leopard seals, gentoo; chinstrap and Adelie penguins, and a variety of seabirds including the ocean-going albatross, storm petrels, skuas and Antarctic terns. Orcas, humpback and minke whales are also spotted at close range occasionally.
The specialised ships have a team of lecturers and guides on board to explain the wildlife, geology and the epic history of Antarctica's exploration by the likes of Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott. The ships are also equipped with inflatable boats for excursions to shore.
At King George Island, the largest of the South Shetlands, there is an opportunity to visit the Argentine scientific base, and at Deception Island the ship sails into a huge flooded crater where it is even possible to take a dip in Antarctic waters heated by an active volcano.