Antarctica and remote islands of the South Atlantic are home to some of the largest wildlife colonies found anywhere on Earth. On the dark sand beaches and in the tussock covered dunes of South Georgia, king penguin colonies contain more than 100,000 adult birds and their young. To the south, in the remote Weddell Sea region of Antarctica, you will find Adelie penguin rookeries of a similar size and scale. These ‘mega colonies’ are the focus of this unique voyage – a world first in polar expedition travel. In March 2018, scientists from the esteemed Stony Brook University and their international colleagues announced the discovery of a previously unknown penguin colony, estimated to contain more than a million Adelie penguins. Studying detailed satellite imagery of the remote Danger Islands, researchers visited and confirmed the astonishing find. These islands sit at the remote and little-visited northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
While the mega fauna colonies are a highlight of this voyage, history can be found at every turn and we visit several important locations containing relics from early exploration and the whaling era. The waters are full of life and you can anticipate encounters with both whales and seals. Every day you will explore off the ship, in the Zodiac boats, by sea kayak and by hiking on shore – all in the company of expert guides who interpret and educate about your fantastic surroundings.
|Day 1||Santiago to Stanley||Fly from Santiago, Chile to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands|
|Day 2-3||At Sea towards South Georgia||Lectures onboard, seabirds|
|Day 4-6||Exploration of South Georgia||King Penguins, Shackleton’s grave, Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbour, St Andrews Bay|
|Day 7-9||At Sea towards Antarctica||Icebergs, onboard presentations|
|Day 10-12||Weddel Sea||Danger Island, tabular icebergs, Paulet Island, Gourdin Island|
|Day 13-15||Antarctic Peninsula||South Shetland Islands, Deception Island, Half Moon Island, penguins, seals, hikes|
|Day 16-17||At Sea||The Drake Passage|
|Day 18||Ushuaia||Disembark in Ushuaia, Argentina|
Depart Santiago this morning on a charter flight to Stanley, the small capital of the Falkland Islands. You will be met on arrival and transferred from the airport into town. There is time to explore the town or enjoy a guided visit to nearby Gypsy Cove which provides your first opportunity for observing the local wildlife, including nesting Magellanic penguins and other sea birds. Making your way to the port, board our expedition ship in the afternoon. 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 and cast off to explore one of the most remote regions on Earth.
The captain and expedition crew will chart a southeasterly course bound for South Georgia. The seabirds once again join the ship in the Southern Ocean. The educational presentations continue and are always popular. 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 valuable tips from the 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.
South Georgia has often been called the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’ – and as you approach the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop, you will begin to see why. Launching the Zodiacs you begin your exploration of the island, in the vicinity of Elsehul Bay. Large numbers of fur seals and the much larger elephant seal will line the dark sand beaches. Living in the tussock grass, king penguins and their chicks may number up to 100,000 birds in some locations, including Salisbury Plain, St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour. The island is also home to large numbers of nesting albatross as they fill the skies above, coming and going from the nest.
South Georgia is a thrilling location for history lovers and the rusting relics of the early whaling industry are all around. You may observe several of the old stations at locations including Leith, Husvik and Stromness. A highlight is a visit to Grytviken – the largest of the whaling stations, situated at the head of Cumberland Bay. It is here you visit the grave site of Sir Ernest Shackleton. For many, being in the presence of the great explorer will be a highlight of the trip. An excellent museum at Grytviken, maintained by the South Georgia Heritage Trust and the restored church built by the original Norwegian whalers provides a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Weather and ice will dictate your crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica. Onboard experts keep you busy with fascinating presentations and lead lively discussions throughout the day. The great pelagic seabirds are sure to keep you company – and sightings of albatross and giant petrels soaring on the winds of the South Atlantic Ocean are usually made on this leg of the voyage. As you edge ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce your arrival in Antarctic waters. Excitement grows as the low-lying Danger Islands appears on the horizon.
Your excursions today will be dictated by the prevailing weather. Strong currents flow out of the Weddell Sea bringing variable ice conditions to the archipelago. The Zodiacs will be launched to explore the waters around the island groups and it is planned to make shore landings at several locations. You will be struck by the immense scale of the Adelie penguin rookeries here. These are the smallest (and most comical) of Antarctica’s penguins, resplendent in their black and white plumage. They are fascinating to observe, coming and going from fishing forays, and sitting on the nest raising their precious chicks. Your guides will be keen to share their knowledge of the penguin life-cycle and tell of the recent scientific research at this location.
You will notice an increase in the huge, flat-topped tabular icebergs as the ship navigates into the Weddell Sea and you can always anticipate exciting ice navigation. This region of Antarctica 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), 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. Along with the Danger Islands, the region is home to a number of other sizable penguin rookeries at locations which include Paulet Island and Gourdin Island. Nearby Vega Island 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.
Approaching the South Shetland Islands as the ship navigates south, you may have a shore landing at Half Moon Island – home to a boisterous colony of nesting chin strap penguins. A short hike brings you to an elephant seal haul out. These are fascinating animals to observe as the naturalist guides explain the unique family dynamics and behaviour. There are several other nearby locations, including Yankee Harbour or Hannah Point which you may visit as alternative landing sites. A thrill for many will be sailing the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island. At Whalers Bay, the remains of a rusting old whaling station provide a glimpse into history. There are a couple of excellent hiking routes here – one up to a high point overlooking the entire bay. Another to the far end of the black-sand beach where an old aircraft hangar can be viewed. It’s from here, the very first flight in Antarctica took to the air. Places such as Cierva Cove or Mikkelson Harbour allow for some great excursions on shore and in the Zodiacs 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.
Enter the maze of islands and waterways along the Antarctic Peninsula, enjoying shore landings, Zodiac cruises and kayak excursions several times per day. Ship cruising into the Errera Channel, there are a couple of great landing sites to consider including Cuverville Island – with its sizeable gentoo penguin rookery. Neko Harbour is another possibility for a landing. A very active glacier can be heard creaking and groaning, and it is common to observe large slabs of ice calving from the glacier face into the dark waters.
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 our photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. If weather conditions allow, you may 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, you will 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.