The Epic Antarctica voyage is purely what the name suggests, epic. This 22 day cruise combines the 10-night Quest for the Antarctic voyage and the 11-night Ultimate Antarctica – Weddell Sea and Falklands voyage. This itinerary offers amazing places to explore, years of knowledge and experience from friendly guides, active wildlife and endless photographic opportunities.
|Day 1||Punta Arenas / Port Stanley||Flight from Punta Arenas to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.|
|Day 2-3||At Sea||Sea birds, lectures onboard|
|Day 4-5||King George Island / Antarctic Peninsula||Penguin Island, Turret Point, penguins, birds|
|Day 6-8||Antarctica towards Antarctic Circle||Crystal Sound, Detaille Island, scientific base, hike at Winter Island, camping|
|Day 9-10||Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands||Paradise Harbour, Neko Harbour, Deception Island, Whalers Bay|
|Day 11||King George Island||Go ashore for a walk, relax onboard|
|Day 12-14||Gerlache Strait and Antarctic Peninsula||Gerlache coastline, Port Charcot, Orne Harbour, Andvord Bay, Errera Channel, Danco Island, Wilhelmina Bay|
|Day 15||South Shetland Islands||Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbour, Deception Island|
|Day 16-17||Antarctic Sound and the Weddell Sea||Massive tabular icebergs, huge Adelie penguin rockeries, Hope Bay, Paulet Island, Brown Buff|
|Day 18||Elephant Island||Chinstrap penguin colony, macaroni penguins, elephant seasl and Antarctic fur seals|
|Day 19-20||At Sea||Sail Falkland Islands, sea birds|
|Day 21||West Point and Saunders Islands, Falkland Islands||Rockhopper penguin rockeries, black-browed albatrsses, Port Stanley|
|Day 22||Port Stanley, Falkland Islands / Punta Arenas, Chile||Flight to Punta Arenas, Chile|
Your epic 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 less than 3,000 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.
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.
The ship charts a southerly course for Antarctica. Your days at sea are never dull – much of your time will be spent on the bridge or outer decks, scanning the horizon in search of whales and other marine mammals. This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its biodiversity and showcases an 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 from the deck of the ship takes patience and skill and your resident photographic guide 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 your onboard polar experts will educate you on the wonders of the South Atlantic Ocean and Antarctic eco-systems with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history and the locations it is hoped to visit in the coming days.
This morning you are in position at the northern end of King George Island, the largest island in the South Shetlands group. There are two landing sites here and a visit depends on the prevailing weather conditions – Penguin Island and nearby Turret Point offer good opportunities for shore landings to view Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins. Southern giant petrels, kelp gulls and Antarctic terns are also known to nest here.
This afternoon continue your journey south, navigating into the broad expanse of the Bransfield Straight and making your way ever closer to the Antarctic coastline. This is an important migration corridor for wildlife and you should keep a lookout for whales in the waters surrounding the ship. Large icebergs will be present from this point onwards and make for striking photographs in the evening light. By morning, the towering mountain peaks of the Antarctic continent loom into view and you should make landfall around Wilhelmina Bay. The ship cruises under the towering cliffs of Spigot Peak and into the Errera Channel, hoping for a shore landing at Cuverville Island, home to a rookery of gentoo penguins. It’s a fantastic location for a Zodiac cruise or a paddle in the sea kayaks.
You are encouraged to spend time on the outer decks soaking up the scenery as you navigate south. The ship passes through the ice-strewn waters making its way towards the ultimate objective, the Antarctic Circle. Given favourable ice conditions, the first goal will be to sail south of the Antarctic Circle and into Crystal Sound where a favoured landing site is Detaille Island, home to an abandoned British science hut from the 1950s.
This vicinity marks the turnaround point and from now on you will return in a northerly direction exploring the dramatic coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is hoped to visit a working scientific base to learn something of the important climate-related research happening here. A hike over the snowy saddle of nearby Winter Island allows you to stretch your legs and explore a historic British Antarctic Survey hut. If the conditions are right, the overnight camping program will be offered to all adventurers somewhere in this area – with all the gear aboard and an experienced team, this will be a night to remember!
Note: In December, mid-season ice conditions may block the journey to the Antarctic Circle and if this happens there are a dozen other great landing sites to go and explore along the Peninsula.
Petermann Island is home to an Adélie penguin rookery. Adélies, the smallest of the Antarctic penguins, nest here and share the location with gentoo penguins and Imperial cormorants. The view to the north of Mt Shackleton and Mt Scott is impressive; these towering granite sentinels mark the southern entrance to the nearby Lemaire Channel. Pleneau Island offers more opportunities for shore landings. Just off shore, in the Penola Strait, massive icebergs run aground in the shallows. Constant wind and wave action sculpt these gargantuan chunks of ice into fantastic shapes, revealing more shades of blue than you can possibly imagine. For many, a Zodiac cruise here may well be a highlight of the voyage.
The ship cruises north towards Paradise Harbour, which may be the first opportunity for you to set foot on the ‘White Continent’ of Antarctica itself. Nearby Neko Harbour offers another continental landing. Both locations offer excellent hiking opportunities up to panoramic lookouts providing stunning 360° degree views. Zodiac cruising among the ice is a memorable activity and the sea kayakers may range several kilometres from the ship. Your photography guide will be on hand to help you with your camera handling, image composition and the peculiar light found in Antarctica. Expect to be in full sensory overload by this time in the voyage.
By morning you will arrive in the South Shetland Islands. If the weather conditions allow, the ship will sail into the flooded volcanic caldera at Deception Island. Whalers Bay 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 its rusted boilers and dilapidated wooden structures. At the far end of the beach is an old aircraft hangar; this is where the Australian, Sir Hubert Wilkins, made the very first flight in Antarctica in 1928. There is an outstanding hike here, high up onto the rim of the crater.
This morning you are anchored off King George Island. It is time to say farewell to many of your fellow passengers as they disembark, transfer to the airstrip and board their charter flight back to South America. There will be an opportunity to go ashore, or you may wish to relax on board, updating your diary or visiting the multi-media room to download and back up your images. New guests are welcomed aboard the ship and you are soon underway again – for the second leg of your epic adventure.
For the next three days you have a varied itinerary exploring the Gerlache coastline. This whole region is one large playground with numerous highlights and a variety of landing sites. As always the weather and ice will dictate your route. Planned visits could include Port Charcot, Orne Harbour or Andvord Bay – all three locations offer excellent hiking opportunities – or perhaps a cruise through the Errera Channel to land on Danco Island, a large dome-shaped island affording stunning 360° views of the whole region from its summit.
Wilhelmina Bay is another favourite location where you may stop at for a second visit, as pods of humpback whales are frequently encountered in this area. If the channel south of Brooklyn Island is ice-free, the ship may cruise through here as it pushes northwards into the broad expanse of the Gerlache Strait. Cierva Cove and Mikkelsen Harbour are also possible locations for visits, both providing good Zodiac cruising opportunities.
You are now on your way towards Antarctic Sound, the gateway into the icy Weddell Sea. On the port side will be the South Shetland Islands – it won’t be the first time you have cruised these waters but there are some terrific sites here which you may explore. Half Moon Island is nearby and is home to a sizeable chinstrap penguin rookery. Across the MacFarlane Strait is Yankee Harbour with its broad pebble beach, a known location for Weddell seals. If the weather is good, a second visit to Deception Island may also be a possibility. It’s always a thrill to navigate the ship through the narrow passage known as ‘Neptune’s Bellows’ – and to further explore inside the submerged caldera.
At about 25 nautical miles long and 10 nautical miles wide, the Antarctic Sound separates Joinville Island from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. As the ship sails into the sound you witness for the first time the vast sweep of the Antarctic icecap; it is an awe-inspiring sight. Heading into the Weddell Sea you will notice a significant increase in the number of huge tabular icebergs and the presence of sea ice. These massive icebergs break from the huge ice shelves to the south and drift north on the currents. This always makes for exciting navigation – and stunning photographic opportunities in the soft Antarctic twilight. This is the wild and remote Antarctica and has a distinctly different feel from locations visited so far.
The Weddell Sea region is home to Adélie penguin rookeries that are of staggering size, some containing more than 100,000 nesting birds. Such colonies dwarf the rookeries you have so far visited. Weather permitting excursions may include Hope Bay, Paulet Island and Brown Bluff. All eyes will be trained on the ice floes through which the ship navigates as successful sightings of emperor penguins have been enjoyed in this area in recent years. Based on their size and plumage, the naturalists believe them to be juveniles out exploring and fishing – and possible residents of the emperor penguin colony that is known to be on the southern side of Snow Hill Island.
The history of exploration in this region is incredibly rich. Remnants of Nordenskjöld’s Swedish expedition of 1901-1904 are found in several locations in this area. The epic story of Shackleton and his HMS Endurance expedition also has strong links to the region. It was here that he and his men drifted north on the ice after their ship had been lost in the ice months earlier. As you head north and out of the Weddell Sea, with the lavender-and-pink sunset off the port quarter of the ship, you may pause to consider the bravery (or foolhardiness?) of those early polar explorers who travelled these regions a hundred years ahead of you.
The ship approaches Elephant Island from the south. Point Lookout, on the southern tip of the island, is home to an impressive chinstrap penguin colony; Macaroni penguins also breed here and are a species you have yet to encounter. Both southern elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals are seen hauled out on the beaches in large numbers. If conditions allow, you may visit the fabled location of Point Wild on the north coast of Elephant Island where Shackleton was encamped with his men under their upturned life boats before, realising no-one was going to find them there, he and five men set off on a rescue mission to South Georgia in their tiny lifeboat, the ‘James Caird’.
While sailing north towards the Falkland Islands your onboard polar experts will recap your Weddell Sea adventures and prepare you for the final days ahead. The spectacular seabirds, including several albatross and petrel species, will once again join you and test your photographic reflexes as they soar above the ship. Meanwhile your onboard educational program continues and the experts entertain with presentations and lead lively discussions.
Arriving among the Falkland Islands overnight, you’ll explore the islands of West Point and Saunders, both in the West Falkland archipelago and home to a profusion of seabirds and migratory birds. West Point is known for its rockhopper penguin rookeries and a large colony of nesting black-browed albatrosses. The opportunity to observe these spectacular birds in close proximity while they are on the nest is an immense privilege and an experience not easily forgotten. A final highlight awaits you: a visit to the wildlife-rich Saunders Island along whose white sand beaches and in the tussock grass it is hoped to encounter no less than four penguin species living in close quarters. These include gentoo, magellanic, rockhopper and – the ultimate goal during the Falkland Islands visit – the impressive king penguin. Saunders Island is a fitting end to a truly epic Antarctic adventure.
Charting a course eastwards to Port Stanley in early evening light, you will enjoy a special farewell dinner attended by the Captain of the ship, with time to reflect on what is surely one of the great travel experiences of your life.
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 if you are staying in Punta Arenas, a transfer will be provided to several downtown locations.