March represents a critical time for whales in Antarctic waters as they feed on the vast swarms of krill to build energy stores either for the long migration to tropical breeding grounds or to maintain their energy as they struggle to survive in the ice-choked waters that soon will take possession of the region. For humpback whales there is growing evidence to show that while many migrate, some remain in areas that, due to a warming climate, now remain free of ice for long periods of time. The expedition will survey several locations along the Antarctic Peninsula that are the focus of long-term research projects to determine how the abundance of whales changes throughout the course of the Antarctic summer. You are joined on board by several world-renowned cetacean (whale) experts and can observe their important fieldwork in close proximity. They share with you unique underwater footage and scientific data and interpret the behaviour, migration characteristics and feeding patterns of adult whales and their calves. Their participation on the voyage is greatly valued and provides a fascinating glimpse into world of Antarctic science. Of course, there will continue to be discussions of other areas of interest in Antarctica, with presentations on Antarctic history as well as on the peninsula’s seals, bird and penguin life.
|Day 1||Santiago to Stanley||Fly from Santiago, Chile to Stanley, Falkland Islands|
|Day 2-3||At Sea towards Antarctica||Giant Petrels and birdlife, Antarctic Presentations|
|Day 4-8||Gerlache Strait & Antarctic Peninsula||South Shetland Islands, Gerlache coastline, adelie and chinstrap penguin rockeries, seals|
|Day 9-10||Drake Passage||
Drake Passage, Cape Horn
|Day 11||Ushuaia, Argentina||Farewell your fellow travellers as your voyages comes to an end|
Depart Santiago in the morning on a charter flight direct to Stanley, the small capital of the Falkland Islands. You will be met on arrival and transfer 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 will chart a southerly course for Antarctica. The Scotia Sea is rich in bio-diversity and showcases a great abundance of wildlife. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and the photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Throughout the day the onboard experts educate guests with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history of the locations you may visit in the coming days. There is great excitement when the dark cliffs of Elephant Island appear on the horizon. This is one of Antarctica’s most important historic locations and a fitting introduction. On the rocky beach at Point Wild, Shackleton and his men camped here for many months under their three upturned life boats, having lost their ship, HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice, far to the south in the Weddell Sea in 1915. It was from this location that Shackleton and six companions set off on the rescue mission to South Georgia, aboard the tiny lifeboat, James Caird. To this day, the epic ocean crossing and crossing of South Georgia on foot is considered one of the greatest tales in polar history. If weather conditions permit, you will be able to participate in a Zodiac cruise to view the site from close proximity. This is a thrilling location for history buffs and sets the scene for an exciting expedition.
Head south overnight, navigating into the Bransfield Strait, wondering about the days of exploration ahead. The coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula provides literally a hundred or more sites for potential shore landings and excursions. The expedition team will be looking forward to showcasing some of the well known locations, and visiting a few hidden gems they have discovered over the years.
Approaching the South Shetland Islands on your way south, you may aim for a shore landing at Half Moon Island – home to a boisterous colony of nesting chin strap penguins. A short hike takes you to an elephant seal haul out. These are fascinating animals to observe as the naturalist guides explain the unique family dynamics and behavior. There are several other nearby locations, including Yankee Harbour or Hannah Point which may be chosen 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 hanger can be viewed. It’s from here, the very first flight in Antarctica took to the air.
It’s an awe-inspiring sight as the ship approaches glacier covered mountains stretching as far as the eye can see. The ship will enter the maze of islands and waterways where you can participate in shore landings, Zodiac cruises and kayak excursions several times per day. Willhelmina Bay is always an impressive location and one where large pods of humpack whales are often seen. Cruising into the Errera Channel, you will have a couple of great landing sites to consider including Cuverville Island – with its sizeable Gentoo penguin rookery. Nearby Danco Island, has a fantastic hike to the snow-covered summit, providing staggering views. Neko Harbour is another possibility for a landing and an opportunity to set foot on the actual continental landmass of Antarctica. 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.
While you’re enjoying the fabulous surroundings and revelling in your busy activity program, the research team will be out in the Zodiac’s observing and recording the movements of the migrating whales. This is done through non-invasive tags which attach to the animals using suction cups for around 12-24 hours. The digitally recorded data provides great insight into the feeding behavior, dive profiles and migration patterns of several whale species. The science team will share their observations and findings once back on board the ship and are happy to discuss their important work. It provides a fascinating insight into the current scientific field research happening in Antarctica.
As the ship pushes further south you have a few more glorious locations to explore. Paradise Harbour provides another opportunity for a continental landing. A climb to the top of hill above the old Argentine refuge reveals another spectacular viewpoint. Zodiac cruising under the cliffs here allows you to observe nesting imperial cormorants, and after a short distance you come to Skontorp Cove. This narrow body of water is surrounded by immense glaciers on three sides – one guest likening it to a ‘heavenly ice cathedral’. It’s easy to see why.
Venturing further south, if ice conditions allow the ship will transit the Lemaire Channel. Snow covered cliffs tower about the Lemaire on both sides and navigating through is a thrilling experience. At Pleneau Island, visit and observe a substantial gentoo penguin rookery. In the shallow waters nearby, witness a vast field of icebergs which have run aground after drifting on the current and the winds. For many, a Zodiac cruise here will be a highlight of the trip. A working science station is located in the vicinity and a visit to the base provides an intriguing insight into the life of permanent residents in Antarctica. The station staff welcome us ashore and provide a tour of the facilities and explain the important climate change research work taking place.
Nearby Winter Island allows for an excellent hike over a snowy saddle to an old historic hut. As you return to the ship, cast your gaze back to the north towards the soaring peaks of Mount Shackleton and nearby Mount Scott. This is an impressive sight. The time has come to commence your return journey to South America.
As you leave this magical place and make your way back, heading again across the Antarctic Convergence and the Drake Passage before rounding Cape Horn (conditions permitting), there is no doubt that time will be spent sharing and reflecting on the wonderful experiences of the last few days. Sailing up the Beagle Channel, you will celebrate the conclusion of your Polar expedition at 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.