Skip to main content

Antarctic Expeditions Yesterday and Today: 100 Years of Exploration

4 min read

This November, famed polar explorer and expert Jonathan Shackleton will once again join Quark Expeditions aboard the Ocean Diamond. This marks 100 years since his cousin Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary voyage on The Endurance, in which he and his crew had hoped to be the first explorers to traverse the seventh continent.

Antarctic travel and tourism has certainly increased since Shackleton and his brave crew set out to conquer the continent, yet visitors to the region know it remains one of the last truly untouched places on earth.

The video below illustrates how polar travel became accessible for travelers and also a magnificent journey for those wanting to get off the beaten path:


Much has changed – the vessels and equipment we have access to now are far superior to the technology available to early explorers. We've had a century to learn more about the environmental and meteorological challenges travelers face when crossing the rough waters en route and the harsh conditions they may encounter while exploring.

However, we also strive to lessen our environmental impact on the area; to be good stewards of the pristine Antarctic environment and the diverse wildlife that call it home.

Much has changed, it's true – but more has stayed the same. Travelers often tell us of the incredible sense of peace they feel in Antarctica; of the overwhelming wonder they experience in realizing they could be the first person ever to walk a certain path. That iceberg there – no one will ever see it exactly as you have. Those amazing pictures you have of penguins playing on an ice shelf – no one else has ever experienced that in quite the same way.

The Antarctic landscape shifts and changes constantly as wind, sun and water mold and shape it to their liking. Here, it's entirely possible to imagine a world free of human influence.

Frank Hurley accompanied Shackleton and his crew on that fateful journey as the official photographer; his photos are now housed in the State Library of New South Wales. Let's have a look at his photos and compare them to ours from recent expeditions to see what's changed over the last 100 years in Antarctica – and at what's stayed reassuringly the same.

Camping on the 7th Continent

Few people on the planet can say they've camped out in Antarctica. One hundred years ago, Shackleton's Endurance crew did, in their "Ocean" camp:


Today, Quark passengers can also choose to camp out and you'll notice that although our outerwear has certainly improved, the tents are still very similar. They're low to the ground and aerodynamic, to keep wind flowing over top and allow heat to stay inside.


Dining in Antarctica

In this photo of Hurley's, the Endurance party had just spent five days and nights in open boats to reach Elephant Island and are enjoying their first hot meal in that time.


Today, we're fortunate to enjoy far better fare at the bottom of the world. Onboard the Ocean Diamond, passengers enjoy chef-prepared meals, a bar staffed with professional bartenders and a spacious, elegant dining room. You can bet it's a lot nicer to return to after a day or trekking and exploring than the limited supplies the Endurance crew had with them!

Dining room

Magnificent Icebergs

Mother Nature's awe-inspiring ice sculptures are ever-changing, yet this is one of the features of the Antarctic you can rely on experiencing in all its glory in any visit. Hurley captured this color image of a New Fortuna glacier in his travels aboard the Endurance. We're lucky to have these images today, as he had to smash over 400 of his photo plates after the ship wrecked. There simply wasn't enough room to bring them all home on their rescue vessel.


Today, icebergs and glaciers are one of the most photographed scenes in the Antarctic (alongside penguins, of course!):


Majestic Wildlife

One hundred years ago, Hurley captured this Wanderer Albatross chick resting in its nest:


Today, wildlife and ornithology viewing and photography opportunities abound in the Antarctic, from this albatross pictured on South Georgia (Shackleton's final resting place) to the many different breeds of penguins you'll encounter on the seventh continent:


Life in Antarctica: Then & Now

Frank Hurley called this portrait of the Endurance crew on Elephant Island, "The most motely and unkempt assembly that ever was projected on a plate."

Endurance crew

The men had just reached the remote island after a harrowing journey from their marooned ship, dodging pack ice in the treacherous waters. They were exhausted and suffering the effects of being exposed to the elements. Hurley wrote in his diary April 15, 1916, "Conceive our joy on setting foot on solid earth after 170 days of life on a drifting ice floe... Many suffered from temporary aberration, walking aimlessly about, others shivering as with palsy."

Today, health and safety is our top priority on every Antarctic expedition. Each ship is ice-strengthened, staffed with an on-board doctor and equipped with medical equipment and medications. Staff are trained to use technology to gauge weather conditions and find safe passage around potentially adverse weather systems.


Our ships are a place of refuge for adventure travelers, with comfortable cabins, delicious meals and all the comforts of a luxury hotel. Top-of-the-line equipment and gear protects passengers from the elements.

Antarctic travelers today are far better equipped to cope with the conditions of the area, enabling them to fully enjoy all the wonder it has to offer. On this 100th year anniversary of Shackleton's Endurance expedition, we give thanks to all of those who came before us, opening the doors to Antarctic exploration in ways we're sure they never imagined!

Image credits: All historical images are from the Frank Hurley: Endurance collection in the State Library of New South Wales.

In this article

Related Posts