|Day 1||Ushuaia||Embark on Antarctica voyage|
|Day 2-3||Drake Passage||Giant Petrels and birdlife, Antarctic Presentations|
|Day 4-6||Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands||Inflatable Zodiac Boats, Gentoo, Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Leopard Seals and Whales, Deception Island, Half Moon Island|
|Day 7-10||Antarctic Sound and Weddell Sea||
Tabular icebergs, Adelie penguins, Paulet Island, Brown Bluff, Gourdin Island, Danger Islands
|Day 11-12||Drake Passage||Cape Horn, Beagle Channel|
|Day 13||Ushuaia||End of Itinerary|
Akademik Ioffe was built in Rauma, Finland in 1988 and was designed for polar research and is now only 1 of 2 scientific vessels still actively participating in marine science. With extensive upgrades and expansions, the Akademik Ioffe is safe and ice-strengthened, and is now a modern, comfortable and very spacious ship. With a maximum of 96 guests (with room for more) everyone can go ashore at one time.
Ushuaia is known as the southernmost city in the world (although, with a population of around 60,000, really more of a large town). Set on the shores of the Beagle Channel, ‘Ushuaia’ actually means “the bay facing westward” in the language of the original Yamana inhabitants. Once a penal colony for political prisoners as well as hardened criminals – the Presidio (prison) was closed in the late 1940s – Ushuaia is now a major tourist centre, particularly for people cruising to Antarctica. The town is also a major ski resort area for both alpine and cross-country skiers and offers magnificent hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the only coastal national park in Argentina.
Today is the first day of your adventure. Your morning is at leisure to do any last minute shopping, take an optional excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park, or perhaps make a good hike up to the Martial Glacier. This afternoon board the expedition ship and in the early evening set sail, leaving behind Ushuaia and charting a course through the Beagle Channel.
As you make the crossing south across the Drake Passage, there is much excitement in the air as the ship comes ever closer to the white continent. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross while giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions. Photographing these magnificent birds from the deck of the ship 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 your modern research vessel. Guests eagerly soak up the friendly atmosphere aboard as the numerous onboard experts prepare you for your adventures with presentations on everything Antarctic, from wildlife to history. As you cross the Antarctic Convergence you will notice a distinct drop in temperature as you enter the waters of the Antarctic Ocean. As the ship approaches the coastline of Antarctica there is usually an increase in whale sightings.
Wake up to the magnificent snowy peaks of continental Antarctica. Arriving into Antarctic waters via the Bismark Strait, the excursion program will get underway . Anvers Island is one of the largest of the off-shore ‘barrier’ islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. There are several outstanding sites here and neighbouring Wiencke Island, such as Damoy Point, or Port Lockroy. These locations provide you with your first opportunity to venture on shore, and cruise in the Zodiacs. A short transit across the Gerlache Strait brings you along the actual continental landmass of Antarctica. A shore landing at Paradise Harbour will be a highlight for many – as you step foot on the continent proper, for the first time.
An Argentine refuge is located here and the nearby hike up a snow-covered hill provides staggering views. Iceberg filled waters, surrounded by the towering peaks of the continent will leave you lost for words. If the ice conditions allow, Zodiac cruising or sea-kayaking into the nearby ice ‘cathedral’ of Skontorp Cove is another memorable experience. On a still day, the dark water reflects the gigantic glaciers throwing a magical light over this ethereal scene. Navigate in a northerly direction along the Gerlache Strait overnight. This is an important whale migration corridor and with the long hours of twilight at this time of the season, you will be encouraged to be on the bridge looking for the tell-tale blows of the migrating pods of humbacks and minkes. You may even catch a glimpse of the resident orca pod that inhabit this stretch of water.
Visit several other favoured locations in the northern Gerlache. Places such as Cierva Cove or Mikkelson Harbour allow for some great excursions on shore and in the Zodiacs. There are substantial penguin rookeries located here and it’s a good place to look for leopard seals on the icefloes. The remote Spert Islands provide a fascinating lesson in geology. The island group is criss-crossed by narrow channels and coves and cruising in the Zodiacs or sea kayaking here is a real thrill. Seabirds nest on the cliffs above, while seals can be found resting along the shoreline. You may encounter whales in this vicinity as well.
Continue north to the South Shetland Islands. Sunrise over Livingston Island is a memorable site with the mountains a blaze of colour. Enter the McFarlane Strait and visit Half Moon Island, or nearby Yankee Harbour. Arriving on shore, a sizable rookery of chinstrap penguins act as a very noisy welcoming committee and you may observe your first substantial elephant seal colony here. Additional locations you may visit include Fort Point on nearby Greenwich Island with its pebble covered isthmus – a popular location for resting fur seals. After a busy day in the South Shetlands, set sail for Antarctic Sound – the gateway to the Weddell Sea.
Arriving into the Weddell Sea is a humbling experience. We notice an increase in the huge, flat-topped tabular icebergs in this vicinity. We always anticipate exciting ice navigation in the Weddell Sea and watching the Captain and Officers at work is a lesson in skilled seamanship. The Weddell Sea is rich in history. The early Swedish explorer – Otto Nordenskjold and companions spent several years here in a remarkable yet little-known tale of survival. Just over a decade later, Sir Ernest Shackleton and the survival of his crew from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (HMS Endurance), in 1914-17, grabbed the imagination of the entire world. To this day, Shackleton’s journey remains one of the great tales of polar exploration and survival.
The region is home to immense colonies of the smallest of Antarctica’s penguin species – the Adelie. In locations such as Paulet Island, Brown Bluff, Gourdin Island and the Danger Islands, these rookeries are home to as many as 100,000 nesting penguins. If ice conditions permit, we push south towards the fabled location of Snow Hill Island.
Our adventure is far from over and we have an exciting day planned with possible shore landings on Vega Island, which is home to some of the most fascinating palaeontology found in all of Antarctica. Fossils here tell the story of Gondwanaland, of giant penguins and other dinosaur species and early plant life on Earth. Brown Bluff and d’Urville Monument are other landing possibilities in the area. We celebrate our exploration of the Weddell Sea this evening, enjoying a fine Christmas celebration on board the ship commencing our journey home.
As you make your way back to South America, the educational presentations continue and you can enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by your Expedition Leader. Join the photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. If weather conditions allow, you might make a rounding of Cape Horn. This fabled stretch of water is home to legendary tales of exploration and early navigation. It’s a fitting place to reflect on a wonderful expedition. Approaching the entrance to the Beagle Channel in early evening light, enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
In the early morning, arrive into Ushuaia, Argentina. It is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travellers. Guests will be transported to their hotels or to the airport for return flights home. It will be possible to connect to flights through to Buenos Aires or other destinations in South America. Otherwise enjoy a night in town or venture further afield to explore the highlights of Patagonia.