South Georgia is one of the most stunning places on earth. This small archipelago rears up from the Southern Ocean to a height of almost 3,000 metres and is home to millions of birds. The rugged landscape forms a dramatic backdrop to the many beaches and coves which are home to millions of penguins and petrels, thousands of elephant and fur seals and hundreds of albatrosses.
|Day 1||Punta Arenas, Chile to the Falkland Islands||Depart Punta Arenas for the short flight to Port Stanley, Falkland ISlands|
|Day 2-3||At Sea||Seabirds, onboard lectures|
|Day 4-5||South Georgia||King Haakon Bay & Northwest Coast|
|Day 6-7||South Georgia||Fortuna Bay, Stromness, Grytviken & Central North Coast|
|Day 8-9||South Georgia||St Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour, Eastern Coast|
|Day 10||South Georgia||Godthul, Prion Island|
|Day 11-13||At Sea towards Falkland Islands||Seabirds, onboard presentations|
|Day 14||Falkland Islands||Sea Lion Island, penguins, Bleaker Island|
|Day 15||Stanley to Punta Arenas, Chile||Flight to Punta Arenas|
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 Sergey Vavilov, 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.
This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its bio-diversity and showcases an abundance of astonishing wildlife. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as you make your way to South Georgia. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and the 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 your modern research vessel. Throughout the day onboard experts educate you with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history of the locations you may visit in the coming days. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Shackleton is central to your journey.
These next ten days will be unlike anything you have ever imagined. Majestic snow-covered mountains greet you on arrival in South Georgia. You begin your exploration on the southern coastline and it is hoped to navigate the ship into the very historic location of King Haakon Bay. It was here, 100 years ago, that Shackleton and his men made landfall in their small lifeboat, the ‘James Caird’, after completing the perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island. They then set off to cross the mountainous spine of South Georgia – a feat never before attempted. This is a very dramatic place, visited by just a handful of ships each season. From here, the ship makes its way around to the protected waters of the north-eastern coast, and you can now indulge in an in-depth exploration, navigating into the bays and harbours for the entire length of the island. Elsehul Bay allows for great Zodiac cruising and will be a possible location to launch the kayakers for a paddle. One of the most anticipated sites in South Georgia is Salisbury Plain. The black sand beaches and tussock-covered dunes are home to a staggering abundance of adult king penguin and their young. The rookery is believed to have a population of up to 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins. This is just one of several such king penguin rookeries on South Georgia. At the height of breeding season this area is believed to have more wildlife per square foot than any other place on the planet – it has to be experienced to believe it. The majestic ‘Kings’ are not the only wildlife on display. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water, the elephant seals will enjoy lazing about the beach, while the skuas and giant petrels swoop and weave in the skies above. Meanwhile the albatross, your constant companion on this journey, is never far away.
Your adventure takes you next to Fortuna Bay, a majestic 4.8km long and 1.6km wide fjord. It was named after the ship Fortuna, one of the original vessels of the Norwegian–Argentine whaling expedition which established the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken, further down the coast. Here at Fortuna Bay you can expect to see king penguins, elephant seals and even reindeer – a species introduced by the early Norwegian whalers as a source of protein and a reminder of their distant homeland; their increased numbers over the years have very detrimental to the island and they continue to be subject to an eradication program.History comes into sharp focus as you continue west to Stromness and Grytviken.
From 1912 until the 1930s, Stromness, and nearby Leith and Husvik, operated as whaling stations and the rusted and ghostly remnants of these old stations now seem out of place in such a pristine environment. This area is key to the Shackleton story and it was here, in 1916, that Shackleton and his companions, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean arrived after their epic mountain crossing from King Haakon Bay on the south coast. This was after having completed a 1280km journey by small boat from Elephant Island. If the weather co-operates, it is hoped to be able to hike the last few kilometres across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighbouring Stromness, in the footsteps of Shackleton and his men.
Journeying further to the southeast the ship enters the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay. At the head of the bay lies Grytviken, the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia. A highlight of the landing here is a visit to the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his loyal right-hand man, Frank Wild. Frank Wild’s lifelong wish was to be buried beside Shackleton. However his wish never materialised due to the outbreak of WWII only a week after Wild’s passing in South Africa. Your voyage falls four years after the transport of Wild’s ashes to South Georgia some 95 years after his last voyage with Shackleton in 1921.
The next few days will take you to St Andrew’s Bay and Gold Harbour, places that are teeming with wildlife including fur seals, elephant seals and massive colonies of the colourful king penguins. As with all of the landings, every opportunity possible will be used to explore on foot, as much or as little as you like. Gold Harbour is so called because the sun’s rays make the cliffs yellow with their light in the morning and evening – it’s an exhilarating location. Drygalski Fjord at the far eastern extremity of the island has been called one of the most spectacular sites in South Georgia and you will undoubtedly agree. If it is calm enough you can hear the glacier calving large chunks of ice, reminders of what early sealers, whalers and vessels needed to pay close attention to.
Your exploration of South Georgia is far from over and the ship meanders its way back along the northern coastline. There are few in mind, including the old whaling shore depot at Godthul where there is a terrific hike up to a beautiful lake. Cooper Bay is home to a sizeable Macaroni penguin rookery nesting among the tussock grass behind the landing site. Nearing the end of your visit to South Georgia, it’s hoped to enjoy a shore landing at Prion Island, yet another spectacular location and, some would argue, the jewel in the crown.
Situated in the breathtaking Bay of Isles, Prion Island has been designated as a ‘Specially Protected Area’ by the South Georgia Government, due to the breeding wandering albatross colonies at this location. Boasting the largest wingspan of any living bird, typically ranging from 2.5-3.5 m, they spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. Distances travelled each year are hard to measure, but one bird was recorded traveling 6000km in just 12 days. It is rare to experience them “up close and personal” and on land and you are exceptionally lucky to be able to attempt a landing here. The site is closed to visiting ships between November and mid-January due to the massive concentration of fur seals on the beaches. The boardwalks provide access to several observation platforms where you can view nesting wandering albatross at close quarters. Your visit to this breathtaking place is a fitting way to complete your journey. Tonight, as you depart South Georgia, you might pause to reflect on your epic days of exploration as the ship begins heading back towards the Falkland Islands.
Your final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media room with your photography expert. For some, it’s a chance to catch some well-earned rest after a busy week of exploration. The lounge and bar on the ship provides fantastic panoramas and is a great place to sit with a book and a hot drink. The educational presentations continue and you will enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by your Expedition Leader. A particular highlight of the return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean. Take the time to enjoy a quiet moment on the outer deck, reflecting on a truly remarkable journey to the farthest reaches of the planet.
Wake to the sight of landfall in the Falklands. 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. Weather permitting, 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. As you cruise along the coast of the Falklands, bound for Stanley, you will enjoy a special dinner attended by the ship’s Captain.
In the early morning, the ship navigates through the narrows and into the harbour of Port Stanley. After disembarking, it will be time to say farewell to your crew and you will be transferred to the airport for the return flight to Punta Arenas (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). On arrival it will be possible to connect to flights through to Santiago or other destinations in Chile, or make your own way into town for another night in this delightful city.