The towering peaks and immense glacial systems of the Antarctic Peninsula are home to a great abundance of wildlife which we observe on shore, from the zodiacs and the ship. Large penguin rookeries are found at several locations and we encounter seals and whales in the iceberg filled waterways. Opportunities to visit historic huts and active science stations add further interest. We explore on shore through guided walks which may last up to several hours. Or if you prefer to sit and observe the penguins as they come and go from the water – why not? The more active may choose the sea kayaking option and experience a whole new side of Antarctica.
Our journey continues as we follow the course taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton whose epic small boat journey, from Elephant Island across the Scotia Sea to South Georgia remains one of the greatest feats of navigation in history. We explore the northern coastline of the island, home to some of the largest king penguin colonies on earth. The shores are covered in wildlife – including nesting albatross, fur seals and elephant seals. Rusting relics from the old whaling era sit silent and provide a dramatic contrast to the green tussock grass, and snowy peaks that surround us. We then head for the Falkland Islands and aim to spend one final day exploring the wildlife-rich Sea Lion Island and nearby by Bleaker Island. Our voyage comes to an end in Stanley – the small capital from where we fly back to South America.
Your journey to Antarctica commences this afternoon in Ushuaia, Argentina. We gather at our central meeting point and transfer to the pier and embark our expedition ship. After settling into our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail, dinner and cast off, bound for Antarctica and the adventure of a lifetime.
Sailing south towards Antarctica we will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as we transit the Drake Passage. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and our photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques.
Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of our modern expedition vessel. Throughout the day our onboard experts educate us with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history and the locations we hope to visit in the coming days.
Take a deep breath and venture out on deck as the towering peaks of the Antarctic continent are laid out before us. This is the moment you have been waiting for. For the next three days we have a varied itinerary exploring the Gerlache coastline. If ice conditions allow, we cruise through the Lemaire Channel and may visit sites which may include Pleneau Island and the Penola Strait.
Southerly Petermann Island, is home to a sizeable penguin rookery where both Adelie and gentoo penguins nest side by side. A visit to an active research base nearby provides a fascinating insight into the important climate change science occurring in Antarctica.
The landscape all along this section of the Antarctic coastline feature heavily glaciated mountains permanently covered in ice and snow. Our activity program is in full swing by now, and each day we enjoy guided walks on shore, visits to wildlife colonies, and Zodiac cruising among the ice with our expert guides providing insight and interpretation.
Planned visits could include Paradise Harbour, Orne Harbour or Andvord Bay, or a cruise through the Errera Channel to visit the penguin rookeries at Cuverville Island. Wilhelmina Bay is another favourite location where we frequently encounter humpback whales.
We are now heading north, skirting the coastline of the South Shetland Islands. Along the way we hope to make a planned visit at Deception Island. If weather conditions permit, we sail the ship right into the middle of a volcanic caldera. This is a very dramatic place and home to several penguin rookeries along the black sand beaches. History is all around us as we explore the old whaling station, with the rusted relics and dilapidated wooden structures. Fur seals gather among the old structures seeking protection from the elements. At the far end of the beach is an old aircraft hangar. This is where Australian, Sir Hubert Wilkins made the very first flight in Antarctica in 1928. There is an outstanding hike here to a location known as ‘Neptune’s Window’ – high up onto the rim of the crater. If conditions allow, we hope to enter Antarctic Sound – the broad channel that separates the continent of Antarctica from Joinville Island. This is the entrance to the Weddell Sea.
After several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetlands, we head for Elephant Island – a location forever connected to the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition a century ago. On the windswept north coast, exposed to the swells of the South Atlantic is Point Wild. It was here that Shackleton and his exhausted men camped under their upturned boats – pondering their chances of survival. Shore landings here are notoriously tricky due to often gale force winds and pounding surf onto the rocky beach. This is a thrilling location for anyone with a passion for polar history.
As we depart Elephant Island we cannot help but ponder the journey made by Shackleton and his four companions – as they attempted the near impossible – navigating 800 nautical miles in a 30 foot converted lifeboat across the tempestuous Scotia Sea to South Georgia. We make a much easier time of the crossing in our state of the art expedition ship.
Onboard experts keep us busy with fascinating presentations and lead lively discussions throughout the day. The great pelagic seabirds are sure to keep us company – and we anticipate excellent sightings of albatross and giant petrels soaring on the winds of the South Atlantic Ocean. Anticipation builds as the mountainous peaks appear on the horizon, marking our arrival at South Georgia.
Rounding the remote south-eastern end of South Georgia, we spend the next four days exploring the coastline. Dark sand beaches, tussock covered hinterland and a backdrop of towering peaks and glaciers are a feast for all the senses. South Georgia has often been called the greatest wildlife show on earth.
Seals cover the beaches, seabirds fill the skies and living in rookeries of immense size, live the majestic king penguins. Our aim is to visit a number of these huge colonies – where naturalists estimate that more than 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins live in close proximity. Locations we hope to visit include Gold Harbour, Royal Bay, St Andrews Bay and Salisbury Plain.
Dotted along the coastline are the rusting relics of the early whaling era. The largest of these locations is Grytviken. Here we find a fascinating museum and a beautifully restored Norwegian Lutheran Church. Adjacent to the old whaling station lies a small cemetery. This is the final resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton – who was laid to rest here in 1922.
For many onboard, being in the presence of the great polar explorer is a highlight of the trip. We continue our journey along the coastline, hoping to visit Stromness – another former whaling station – and the final destination of Shackleton and companions Frank Worsley and Tom Crean having made the near impossible traverse across the interior of South Georgia after their epic boat trip from Antarctica a century ago.
By now we are in sensory overload, our cameras full of images and our journey towards the Falkland Islands commences. The spectacular seabirds including several albatross and petrel species are our constant companions as they soar above the ship.
The onboard educational program continues and our experts recap our remarkable journey to date.
These days provide a good opportunity to catch up on journal entries, sort through your images in the multimedia room and catch some rest after several busy weeks of activity.
We wake to the sight of landfall in the Falkland Islands. Approaching Sea Lion Island, we first note the very barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. We launch the Zodiacs and go ashore to view the incredible diversity of wildlife found at this location. Three species of penguin including gentoo, magellanic and rockhopper, as well as southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are known to inhabit the area. King cormorants and striated caracaras are just some of the bird species we expect to see. As we cruise along the coast of the Falklands, bound for Stanley, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the ship’s Captain.
In the early morning, we navigate through the narrows and into the harbour of Port Stanley. A transfer will take us to the airport for our return flight to Punta Arenas in southern Chile (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). It will be possible to connect to flights through to Santiago or other destinations in Chile. Otherwise enjoy a night in Punta Arenas, or venture further afield to explore the highlights of Patagonia.