Experience pristine landscapes in Antarctica and the incredible wildlife on the islands of South Georgia and the Falkland’s. The daylight hours are long, wildlife are out and about, bird colonies are busy nesting and opportunities to land are many as the sea ice breaks up. Following the route taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his astounding journey from Elephant Island across the Scotia Sea to South Georgia, arrive at the remote southeastern tip of South Georgia and sail along the northern coastline. This is a wildlife wonderland – massive king penguin colonies, nesting albatross, fur seals and the very impressive elephant seals. The human history of this place is apparent in the ghostly rusting remnants of whaling days which rest against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, green tussocks and snow covered peaks. Celebrate Christmas in South Georgia then onto the Falkland Islands and a final day discovering Sea Lion Island and nearby Bleaker Island. The ship then berths in Stanley and we fly back to South America. As with all expeditions, safety is our top priority and weather, ice or other conditions may mean we change our itinerary and shore excursions as we go. This is half the fun of polar exploring and makes for a unique and very special experience.
|Day 1||Ushuaia, Argentina||Embark on your voyage|
|Day 2-3||Drake Passage||Sail towards Antarctica, whales, seabirds|
|Day 4-6||Gerlache Strait Islands and Antarctic Peninsula||Penguins, seals, icebergs, Zodiac cruising|
|Day 7||Elephant Island||Wild Point, Shakelton history|
|Day 8-10||Scotia Sea||Albatross and giant petrels|
|Day 11-13||South Georgia||King Penguins, Seals, Gold Harbour, Royal Bay, St Andrews Bay, Salisbury Plain|
|Day 14-16||Sailing towards the Falkland Islands||Seabirds, on board presentations|
|Day 17||Falkland Islands||Sea Lion Island, penguins, Bleaker Island, Stanley|
|Day 18||Stanley to Santiago||Flight to Santiago, Chile|
Your journey to Antarctica commences this afternoon in Ushuaia, Argentina. Gather at our central meeting point and transfer to the pier and embark our expedition ship. After settling into your cabin and exploring the ship, meet your expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail, dinner and cast off, bound for Antarctica and the adventure of a lifetime.
The Drake Passage is rich in bio-diversity and showcases a great abundance of 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 south. 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 the modern expedition vessel. Throughout the day your onboard experts will educate guests with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history of the locations you may visit in the coming days. As the ship approaches the coastline of Antarctica, you will encounter more icebergs and anticipate your first whale sightings.
Take a deep breath and venture out on deck as the towering peaks of the Antarctic continent are laid out before you. This is the moment you have been waiting for. For the next three days you will have a varied itinerary exploring the Gerlache coastline and South Shetland Islands. The crew will aim for Paradise Harbour and an opportunity to step foot on the continental land mass of Antarctica. For many, this is the fulfilment of a life-long goal. A superb hike here leads up to a high point affording incredible views of the glaciers and mountains. This is a good location to observe nesting imperial cormorants on the cliffs. While Zodiac cruising or paddling the kayaks into nearby Skontorp Cove are other memorable activities – the small cove is surrounded by towering glaciers on all three sides.
The activity program will be in full swing by now, and each day enjoy guided walks on shore, visits to wildlife colonies, and Zodiac cruising among the ice with your expert guides providing insight and interpretation. The expedition team have been exploring this section of Antarctica’s coastline for many years and we have a few special locations in mind. The Errera Channel has several such spots – including Danco Island – a dome-shaped sentinel providing some great hiking options. Cuverville Island is another favourite – with its substantial Gentoo penguin rookeries. The ship will navigate north through the Gerlache Strait towards Spert Island – a little visited rocky outcrop with remarkable geology. The island is criss-crossed by narrow channels which makes for fantastic Zodiac cruising and sea kayaking. The cliffs are home to numerous nesting bird species and whales are often encountered here. Nearby Mikkelson Harbour also allows for another off-ship excursion. After several busy days of exploration head north, bound for the South Shetland Islands. This is an important whale migration corridor and you may have sightings of humpbacks, or the resident orca group that inhabit this area.
If weather conditions permit, the captain will sail the ship right into the middle of a volcanic caldera at Deception Island. This is a very dramatic place and home to several penguin rookeries along the black sand beaches. History is all around as you explore the old whaling station, with the rusted relics and dilapidated wooden buildings. 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.
After several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetlands, you will head for Elephant Island – a location forever connected to the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the HMS Endurance expedition a century ago. Point Lookout on the southern tip of Elephant Island is home to an impressive chinstrap penguin colony. Macaroni penguins also breed here and are a species you will not have encountered yet. Both southern elephant seals and fur seals are hauled
out on the rocky beaches. If conditions permit, you may be able to visit the fabled location of Point Wild on the north coast of Elephant Island. It is here that Shackleton and his men were encamped under their upturned life boats for several months in 1917, before five men set off on a rescue mission to South Georgia in their tiny lifeboat – the ‘James Caird’.
Departing Elephant Island marvel at Shackleton and four of his men who went on to attempt to sail the 800 nautical miles across the turbulent Scotia Sea and on to South Georgia in a 30 foot converted lifeboat. You will make the journey in comfort, kept busy with presentations by your onboard history and wildlife experts, and enjoying the company of seabirds. There is nothing like the majesty of albatross and giant petrels soaring above the South Atlantic Ocean. Prepare for the next stage of your journey as the peaks of South Georgia appear.
Spend the next three days exploring the coastline of South Georgia. 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 sizes are the majestic king penguins. The aim is to visit a number of these vast colonies – where naturalists estimate that more than 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins live in close proximity. Locations could 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. Continue your 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 against all odds.
By now we are in sensory overload, our cameras full of images and we begin our sea crossing towards the Falkland Islands. Hours can be spent scanning the horizon in search of whales and other marine mammals and spectacular seabirds including several albatross and petrel species are our constant companions soaring above the ship. Photographing these stunning birds in flight takes great patience and skill and our resident photography expert on board will help you with the best techniques. Our informative onboard program continues and our experts recap our remarkable journey to date. These days are great for catching up on journal writing and our multimedia room is set up to help you sort through your images. Many also enjoy the time to rest after a busy two weeks.
After several days, Sea Lion Island is the mark of our arrival at the Falkland Islands. This windswept spot on the southern archipelago gives us one last day of activity. Head ashore on the Zodiacs to view several species of penguins including Gentoo, magellenic and rockhopper. Southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are found hauled up on the beaches. Once ashore we also look for King cormorants and striated caracaras. Depending on the weather, we may have time to visit neighbouring Bleaker Island, another settlement on the exposed south-eastern coast of the Falklands. Then, setting off on a northerly course towards Stanley, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain and reflect on our remarkable expedition.
This morning you will pass through the narrows and navigate into the port of Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. With just over 2,000 residents Stanley is charming, with brightly coloured houses, flower-filled gardens, a picturesque cathedral and several pubs. Enjoy time to explore the town, before making your way to the airport for your charter flight to Santiago, Chile. If you are staying in Santiago a transfer is provided to a downtown location.