Patrick and Robyn had a vision in 2004. Ever since then, the possibility of exploring Antarctica has been made available to the public with a luxurious twist. White Desert has also successfully managed to combine adventure travel and eco-tourism. How do they do it? Find out here.
Can you please provide an overview of White Desert and its mission, and how you two started it?
Patrick: As a teenager, I was inspired by Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ speech at the Royal Geographical Society, and it fuelled my desire for an extraordinary life filled with polar expeditions. After leaving university without a clear path, I embarked on a decade of expeditions, earning a world record in Antarctica in 2002. I was driven by the thrill of exploring uncharted territory, rather than following established routes.
In 2004, Robyn joined me on my second polar expedition, and this trip ignited the idea of offering people a chance to experience the rarely visited interior of Antarctica. The concept for White Desert emerged during a gruelling 2,000-mile traverse of Antarctica where, trapped in a tent, we envisioned a luxurious retreat with gourmet food and private jet access. We wanted to share the breathtaking beauty of Antarctica’s deep interior, a realm usually reserved for explorers and scientists, by creating a camp where regular people could enjoy relative luxury while witnessing this extraordinary world.
What unique experiences or expertise do you bring to the field of eco-tourism and adventure travel?
Patrick: With three world records and Robyn’s own polar exploration background, our company was founded by passionate and accomplished guides and explorers. Operating in the pristine environment of Antarctica has challenged us to develop innovative practices. For instance, we were the first Antarctic operator across both government and private sectors to trial sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). We also reduce packaging and even peel and compost potatoes in Cape Town to minimise waste transportation back from Antarctica. Our aim is to set an example and foster collaboration in these efforts. Antarctica, a place without a local population, is governed collectively by 56 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty, showcasing remarkable global collaboration. White Desert has been part of the International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators (IAATO) for nearly two decades. Robyn has played a pivotal role in the IAATO’s governance for the past five years, advocating for sustainability initiatives across the whole industry.
How do you ensure that White Desert’s expeditions are environmentally sustainable and have a minimal impact on Antarctica’s delicate ecosystem?
We have a whole list of systems and protocols that we use to make our operations more efficient every year and are constantly looking to partner with firms utilising cutting-edge green/clean technology. As an example, we built Echo on sleds so that there are no foundations and we can remove the camp without a trace. We have logistics systems that streamline the removal of all waste from the continent back to Antarctica (including human and organic). We have invested in new electric skidoos (snow mobiles), and as mentioned we are the first to trial sustainable aviation fuel. We use solar power to heat our pods in camp. We have also been carbon neutral since 2007 and are investing in new blue carbon projects like planting sea grass meadows, which are 35 times more efficient at capturing carbon than forests.
How do you envision the future of eco-tourism and adventure travel, and how does White Desert plan to stay at the forefront of these trends?
As a species, we must be more mindful of our daily choices and their impact on biodiversity and our planet’s future. Antarctica, a vital climate change battleground, houses 70% of the world’s freshwater and unique biodiversity. The future of eco-tourism should prioritise slower, less frequent, low-impact and enriching travel experiences. Operators like us need to constantly innovate in the area of sustainability, supporting Antarctic science and responsible governance to leave places better than we found them. Our seagrass project is a step in that direction. Exploration is in our nature, but we must do it with heightened awareness. Travel is a privilege carrying the responsibility to preserve the places we visit. We have only one planet, and safeguarding nature requires sacrifices. Green technology, like sustainable aviation fuel, is more costly but essential for reducing our footprint. We are exploring options to blend SAF with conventional fuel to mitigate costs.