On this voyage, the days are spend exploring with the expert guides – including naturalists, marine biologists and ornithologists. Cruising in our inflatable Zodiac boats is the perfect way to get from the ship to shore and another memorable activity included as part of the voyage. For the adventurous at heart, there are hiking opportunities as well as the option to sea kayak. This voyage commences in South America, with a flight from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the Falkland Islands, where we board the ship. This saves a full day of sea travel allowing us to maximize time, exploring on shore.
The mid-season departures during the height of the Antarctic summer. Penguins are busy rearing their young chicks, while whales are fully focused on feeding. Much of the early season sea ice has broken up which increases the number of potential landing sites along the Antarctic Peninsula and in the South Shetland Islands.
|Day 1||Punta Arenas / Port Stanley||Short flight to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. Meet the expedition team and board the ship|
|Day 2||Falkland Islands||Explore Sea Lion Island and perhaps Bleaker Island|
|Day 3-4||At Sea||Sea Birds, onboard lectures|
|Day 5-8||South Georgia||Majestic snow covered mountains, penguins, seals|
|Day 9-11||At sea towards Antarctica||Albatross and giant petrels|
|Day 12-16||South Shetland Islands||King George Island, Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbour, Hannah Point.|
|Day 17-19||Drake Passage to Ushuaia||Drake Passage, Beagle Channel|
Your journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, transferring from the central meeting point to the airport and flying on the scheduled service to Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands (this short 90-minute flight is included in the price of your voyage). Here in the Falkland Islands, you will encounter a relatively warm climate where a range of unusual wildlife thrives. Sixty species of migratory birds and the rare rockhopper penguin inhabit the archipelago. Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a rural town in coastal England or Scotland. It is a charming place with brightly coloured houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral and several local pubs. The waterfront memorial, built to commemorate the lives of the servicemen lost during the Falklands War in the early 1980s, acts as a sobering reminder of recent history.
On arrival in Stanley you will be met on arrival and transferred to the pier. There is time to explore the town before you make your way to your expedition ship, Akademik Ioffe, for embarkation. After settling in to your cabin and exploring the ship, familiarising yourself with your ‘home’ for the coming days, you will meet your expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner and cast off, bound for South Georgia – and the adventure of a lifetime.
Please note that while it is the intention to adhere to the arrangements described below, there is a certain amount of flexibility built into the itinerary and on occasion it may be necessary or desirable to make alterations. On the first day aboard, the Expedition Leader will give you an expedition overview.
Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov are Sister ships built in Rauma, Finland in 1989 and 1988 respectively, both vessels were designed for polar research and are now the only scientific vessels still actively participating in marine science. With extensive upgrades and expansions, Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Sergey Vavilov are not only safe and ice-strengthened, they are now modern, comfortable and very spacious. Both vessels transit open water crossings from Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula, to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia with ease due to their mass and integrated internal ballast system, resulting in a tremendous reduction from severe rolling in heavy seas. Once along the Antarctic peninsula the technical features of both the Ioffe and Vavilov shine for the advantages they offer to the passenger experience. With bow and stern thrusters, both vessels can spin on their axis and the multiple pitch propellers offer immediate reduction in speed when a wildlife opportunity presents itself.
Having cruised down the eastern coastline of the Falkland Islands overnight, you are at the far south-eastern end of the archipelago. Approaching Sea Lion Island, you will note the barren and windswept landscape, exposed to the prevailing weather that originates in the Drake Passage. Launching the zodiacs, you 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 you can expect to see, while the flightless Steamer duck is another resident. If there is good weather there may be time to visit neighbouring Bleaker Island, another settlement on the exposed south-eastern coast of the Falklands and equally rich in wildlife. In the evening the ship pushes out into the Scotia Sea heading towards the island of South Georgia.
Now you chart a south-easterly course bound for South Georgia and the anticipation grows, particularly as you cross the Antarctic Convergence and immediately notice a dramatic drop in temperature. These days at sea are never dull – much of your time will be spent on the outer decks watching the giant albatrosses and numerous petrels as they weave and soar on the winds of the South Atlantic. The on-board experts continue to fill your minds with heroic stories of some of the earliest daredevils to explore Antarctica. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the ‘HMS Endurance’ expedition is central to any trip to South Georgia. Perhaps you will pick up some more valuable tips from our onboard photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. You will also learn about Polar conservation, a theme particularly close to the hearts of the guides and crew.
Majestic snow-covered mountains greet you on the island of South Georgia, the most rugged island in this region. Weather permitting, you will have three full days to explore this island. Launching the Zodiacs you begin your exploration of the island in the vicinity of Elsehul Bay. Then cruise along the protected waters of the eastern coast looking for suitable landing spots such as Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbour and St Andrews Bay. The highlight of these excursions is the mind-boggling abundance of king penguin adults and young that live in these locations by the hundreds of thousands, covering every inch of the shore. But that is not the only wildlife on display. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water, skuas and giant petrels swoop in the skies above, and large numbers of albatrosses fill the skies above, coming and going from their nests.
Known for its brutal whaling and exploratory history, this 170km long and 40km wide island is considered the first gateway to Antarctica and was the centre of the huge Southern Ocean whaling industry from 1904 to 1966. The famous English sea captain, James Cook, was the first to land on South Georgia on January 17, 1775 and named the island after King George III. During the 62 years of whaling activities, any number between first year’s 183 whales and the record toll of 7,825 whales in the 1925-26 season were killed annually for their oil. Whales weren’t the only animals hunted for their oil at that time: a total of 498,870 seals – mostly giant elephant seals – were also slaughtered. South Georgia is a thrilling location for history buffs with the rusting relics of the early whaling industry all around and it is hoped to observe several of the old stations at locations including Leith, Husvik and Stromness.
Since the end of whaling activities more than 40 years ago, wildlife has slowly returned to the island. Today the island’s wildlife is extraordinary, not only in its variety but also for its sheer abundance. South Georgia is home to roughly 300,000 elephant seals, 3 million fur seals, and 25 species of breeding birds, including wandering albatrosses. The gravel beach at St. Andrews Bay has a king penguin rookery of 100,000 and an estimated 5 million macaroni penguins.
The best-known adventurer connected with this part of the world would have to be the British explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. On his attempt at the South Pole his ship, Endurance, was captured by pack ice in the Weddell Sea on January 19, 1915. The ship was ultimately destroyed by the heavy ice in November, and after almost 5 months in desolate isolation and struggling to travel over the ice and sea to land, in April 1916 he and his men finally made it to Elephant Island. Because the island was uninhabited, Shackleton decided to risk an open-boat journey to the far-distant South Georgia whaling stations where he knew help was available. After a 15-day journey of 1,300km in a 6m open boat, he finally landed with five chosen men at King Haakon Bay on the south-west coast of South Georgia Island. They proceeded to hike the ice-covered mountainous terrain, arriving at Stromness whaling station on May 20, 1916. Shackleton returned to South Georgia in 1922 for one last assault on Antarctica but passed away after suffering a major heart attack while in his cabin. At the request of his wife, he was buried at the whalers’ cemetery at Grytviken Station.
A visit to Grytviken, the largest of the whaling stations and situated at the head of Cumberland Bay, is a highlight. Aside from Shackleton’s gravesite, there’s also an excellent museum, maintained by the South Georgia Heritage Trust, while the restored church, built by the original Norwegian whalers, provides a fascinating glimpse into the past.
The ship crosses the Scotia Sea, sailing ever closer to Antarctica and leading you perhaps to the South Orkney Islands or legendary Elephant Island, depending on conditions. Linked to the Antarctic Peninsula by an enormous submarine mountain range called the Scotia Arc, these often mist-shrouded islands are protected by large icebergs and sea ice for much of the year and a chance to visit them doesn’t come often.
As the ship edges ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce your arrival in Antarctic waters. You may be lucky enough to see the dark cliffs of Elephant Island appear on the horizon. Shackleton and his men were encamped here for many months, and from the tiny beach at Point Wild, he and his selected men set off on the rescue mission to South Georgia rowing the tiny lifeboat, ‘James Caird’. To this day, the epic ocean crossing is considered one of the greatest in history. Shore landings at Point Wild are notoriously difficult due to the surging ocean currents and pounding surf on the rocky beach but, if conditions allow, a landing will be attempted.
Around 95km off the coast of the Antarctic mainland you will arrive among the South Shetland Islands that frame the north-west edge of the Peninsula, providing some shelter from the winds. Dazzling wildlife sightings await you on your excursions to some of these islands and possible landing sites could include King George Island, Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbour or Hannah Point. If the weather allows, you will visit the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island. With rugged scenery, great sites of geologic interest and an overwhelming display of whaling and scientific exploration history, Deception Island is a perfect museum of natural and exploration history. For those wanting to stretch their legs, a spectacular hike to the crater rim offers a challenge.
Finally, after so much anticipation, you will enter the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula in the vicinity of Mikkelson Harbour or Cierva Cove. The scenery here – from the colossal icebergs to the seemingly endless Antarctic ice sheet – is breathtaking. Antarctica is a continent of superlatives; it is the coldest, windiest, driest, iciest and highest of all the major landmasses in the world. It is the continent with the longest nights and the longest days and also one of the last true wilderness areas left on earth – largely unchanged since the early explorers and whalers first landed on its inhospitable shores less than two centuries ago. Along the shoreline in the bays and harbours of the Peninsula lives an incredible abundance of wildlife. Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins thrive here, as do several species of seal, including the powerful leopard seal that you might encounter. Gulls, skuas and cormorants are also found nesting and feeding at many sites.
If conditions are good, you will undertake a shore excursion and set foot on the ‘Great White Continent’ itself.Locations you may visit include Wilhelmina Bay, Orne Harbour, Cuverville Island and the Errera Channel. Perhaps join the photographic guide to take close-up photos of the penguins, or of the impossibly blue ice. Or enjoy a hike to the top of a snowy mountain saddle with one of your adventure guides. If the opportunity presents itself, visit a science base or an old historic hut. The sea kayakers may range up to several kilometres from the ship – a truly memorable experience. Each and every day, you will be presented with a range of great choices.
As you leave this magical place and make your way back, heading again across the Antarctic Convergence and the Drake Passage. The educational presentations continue and you’ll enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by your Expedition Leader. Join your photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. If weather conditions permit, you may make a rounding of Cape Horn, the fabled stretch of water that is known for legendary tales of exploration and early navigation. It’s a fitting place to reflect on a wonderful expedition to one of the most remote corners of the planet. Sailing up the Beagle Channel, you will celebrate the conclusion of your Polar expedition at a special dinner attended by the Captain.
Early on the last morning, arrive back in Ushuaia. It is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travellers. You will be transferred to your hotel or to the airport for your onward flight.