Mawson's Hut at Commonwealth Bay

East Antarctica: In the Wake of Mawson: Shokalskiy

East Antarctica

Built in 1911, Mawson's Hut at Cape Denison still stands; protected against the extreme weather the region is renowned for. Cape Denison is one of the very few ice free and readily accessible areas along the East Antarctic coastline. However when the Mertz Glacier tongue broke off in 2010 it blocked the annual movement of sea ice preventing any shipping and effectively isolating the area. Conditions in this region have been carefully monitored since and there are now opportunities to return and explore this majestic, remote coastline. Adelie penguin colonies abound

  • Visit Mawson's historic hut and scientific research bases (where possible)
  • Experience 24 hours of daylight and possible Aurora Australis activity
  • Emperor, King, Adelie, Gentoo, Rockhopper penguins, cetaceans, seals and a host of other wildlife
  • Confront the impressive Mertz Glacier an enormous body of floating ice
  • Visit New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands and Australia's Macquarie Island
Voyage to one of the least visited coastlines in the world and discover for yourself why East Antarctica held such a fascination for pioneering Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. Enjoy the pleasures of exploration and observation and experience the panoramic and the intimate; the majestic vista of the world's largest glacier and a young Adelie Penguin taking its first ocean dip. The natural world beckons and rewards with rare whale sightings and abundant birdlife. East Antarctica opens to us further as we examine Mawson's legacy.

A contemporary of legendary explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson was a passionate scientist, explorer and academic who spent his life devoted to exploring and studying Antarctica. Mawson's 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) and joint 1929-1931 British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) mapped and explored the coastal area of Antarctica closest to Australia, and in so doing defined Australia's claim over the icy continent.

Our journey takes us from New Zealand via the 'stepping stones' of the rugged and wild Subantarctic Islands; The Snares, Auckland and Macquarie Islands breaking our long journey and introducing us to nesting seabirds, seals and rare flora - the islands' rich biodiversity paving the way to our Antarctic experience. There will be opportunities for thrilling wildlife encounters from nesting albatross and rowdy penguin rookeries to lazing seals and sea lions.

Crossing the Antarctic Circle, where the sun stays above the horizon, we move closer to Mawson's Antarctica. Pelagic birdlife wheels overhead on our journey south as we navigate astounding ice formations and marvel at Mertz Glacier's ice tongue. The dynamic weather, sea and ice conditions remind us that as responsible travellers together, we must keep an open mind and make the most of opportunities as they arise.

Weather conditions will determine our final expedition explorations in East Antarctica; our aim is to gain first-hand insights into this remarkable destination. Highlights of our voyage in this region will include exploring and retracing history at Cape Denison, the location of Mawson's Hut, where we plan to visit the far eastern sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Whilst visiting the hut is high on our wish list we are reminded that landings in this area are determined by the effects of Katabatic wind and ice. Mawson was very much one for science and knowledge, but realised the need to push the boundaries of endurance to achieve this goal, our experienced crew and expedition team will be monitoring conditions closely so we might achieve our goal, and follow in the footsteps of this legendary explorer.

We have planned our itinerary with a good number of days in Antarctic waters to maximise the time we have for landings, so there will be opportunities to explore on Zodiac cruises along the ice edge and among passing floes too. We should encounter Adelie Penguins swimming close by or resting on floes, and if we are lucky Emperor Penguins. Cetaceans on previous expeditions have included Fin, Minke, Blue and Humpback Whales; Orca also can be seen in this region. Birds we might encounter include Snow Petrels, Antarctic Petrels, Giant Petrels, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Cape Petrels and Antarctic Fulmar, whilst Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals may be resting along the ice edge. With long daylight hours and magnificent landscapes the photographic opportunities are endless in this land of snow and ice.

We also plan to visit the region Terre Adelie which has a coastline of roughly 300 kilometres and comprises the French sector where the French station Dumont D'Urville is located, and close by, Port Martin.

Stewart's Take

Exceptional and rare chance to visit a seldom-seen and majestic region of Antarctica!


Built in 1911, Mawson's Hut at Cape Denison still stands; protected against the extreme weather the region is renowned for. Cape Denison is one of the very few ice free and readily accessible areas along the East Antarctic coastline. However when the Mertz Glacier tongue broke off in 2010 it blocked the annual movement of sea ice preventing any shipping and effectively isolating the area. Conditions in this region have been carefully monitored since and there are now opportunities to return and explore this majestic, remote coastline. Adelie penguin colonies abound.
Day 1: Invercargill Arrive at Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city. Established by Scottish settlers, the area’s wealth of rich farmland is well suited to the sheep and dairy farms that dot the landscape. Passengers should make their way to the Ascot Park Hotel where our group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening there will be an informal get-together at the hotel for dinner; an excellent opportunity to meet fellow adventurers on your voyage and some of our expedition team. Day 2: Port of Bluff Enjoy breakfast in the hotel restaurant and explore some of the local Southland scenery and attractions before heading to the Port of Bluff to embark the Akademik Shokalskiy. Settle into your cabin and join your expedition team and the captain for a welcome on board. Day 3: The Snares It has been claimed that the closest of the Subantarctic Islands to New Zealand, The Snares, are home to more nesting seabirds than all of the British Isles put together. Uninhabited and protected, the only mammals are marine; New Zealand fur seals and sea lions found at the base of the imposing cliffs. Zodiac cruising the jagged coast we learn how the islands got their name, and in the sheltered bays we should see endemic Snares Crested Penguin, Snares Island Tomtit and Snares Island Fernbird plus Sooty Shearwater and returning-to-nest Buller’s Albatross. From the water we can view the unique large tree daisies Olearia lyallii and Brachyglottis stewartiae which dominate much of the island, draping the hills and creating a forest canopy. Day 4: At Sea As we make our way through the tumultuous Southern Ocean’s ‘Furious Fifties’, we will learn more about Subantarctic flora and fauna as we prepare for our arrival at Macquarie Island. En route there are great birding opportunities which may include the Wandering Albatross, Royal Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Little Shearwater. We will also endeavour to spot the Fairy Prion, Fulmar Prion and Antarctic Prion. Days 5 to 6: Macquarie Island We continue our passage through the ‘Furious Fifties’ this morning and prepare for our arrival at Macquarie Island, or ‘Macca’ as it is also affectionately known, later today. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Australia’s jewel in the Southern Ocean, has a history firmly linked to Mawson’s endeavours. In 1911, he established the island’s first scientific station. As well as mapping the island and conducting geomagnetic observations, he studied the island’s botany, zoology, meteorology and geology. This expedition also established a radio relay station on Wireless Hill that could communicate with both Australia and the expedition group at Commonwealth Bay. This enduring windy, rocky outpost supports one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern Hemisphere. Millions of penguins breed here with four different species: King, Rockhopper, Gentoo and the endemic Royal calling this island home. We plan to spend our time divided between two approved landing sites, Sandy Bay and Buckles Bay, as well as taking a Zodiac cruise at Lusitania Bay if, weather conditions permit. You will never forget your first experience of Sandy Bay’s perpetually active penguin metropolis, where the dapper inhabitants show no fear of visitors. The King Penguin rookery at Lusitania Bay is noisy and spectacular. A welcoming committee will likely porpoise around our Zodiacs as a quarter of a million King Penguins stand to attention on shore. Large groups of Southern Elephant Seals slumber on the beaches and in the tussock. Unlike the penguins, these giant creatures will barely acknowledge our presence, lying in groups of intertwined bodies, undergoing their annual moult. In addition to the penguins and elephant seals, there are three species of fur seals to be found here and four species of albatross, Wandering, Black-browed, Grey-headed and Light-mantled Sooty. An amazing island, and our last Subantarctic Island visit on this leg of our journey as we head to open seas. Days 7 to 10: At Sea towards Commonwealth Bay Soaring albatross and petrels circle the vessel as we steam southward through the Southern Ocean. Lectures concentrate on the Antarctic region, and beyond the bow of the ship, drifting icebergs of extraordinary shapes and colour begin to appear. Manoeuvring in close for your first ice photographs, we pass the Antarctic Circle and into the continent’s realm of 24-hour daylight. Relax in the ship’s bar and catch up with some reading in the library. If you have brought your laptop with you, there will be time to download and edit your just-taken photos. Days 11 to 17: Commonwealth Bay and beyond An authentic expedition into the vast icy desert of East Antarctic, our ‘In the Wake of Mawson’ voyage channels the spirit and tenacity of its heroic namesake exploring the historic and isolated coastline of Commonwealth Bay where very few have ventured before. Located almost entirely within the Eastern Hemisphere, East Antarctica (or Greater Antarctica) is renowned for the thickness of its ice, up to almost 5 kilometres in some areas, and some of the coldest and driest conditions on the planet, yet is still home to Emperor and Adelie Penguins, seals, seabirds and cetaceans. A celebration of Australia’s contribution to Antarctic exploration, our own expedition carries the same thrill of the unknown as we traverse the frozen coastline following in the wake of these great adventurers. Due to the unpredictable nature of ice and weather conditions, a day-by-day itinerary is not possible. The captain and Expedition Leader will assess daily conditions and take advantage of every opportunity to make landings and enjoy Zodiac cruises during the long daylight hours. Our program emphasises wildlife viewing, key scientific bases and historic sites, as well as the spectacular scenery of the coastal terrain, the glaciers and icebergs of East Antarctica. Whilst specific landings cannot be guaranteed, we hope to visit the following as well as seek out new, perhaps previously unvisited areas: Commonwealth Bay Our first explorations on the remote East Antarctic coastline will be at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, it is notoriously known as the ‘home of the blizzard’ due to the strong Katabatic winds that frequently blow here. If a lull in the weather allows we hope to see, and experience, Mawson’s Hut – established for the 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition – and its environs, which includes the Memorial Cross to expeditioners Ninnis and Mertz who perished during the infamous three man ‘Far Eastern Party’ sledging trip (which Mawson himself barely survived). Nesting near the hut are substantial numbers of Adelie Penguin and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. Dumont d’Urville, Port-Martin West from Cape Denison is the French Research Base, Dumont d’Urville, which we will visit if permission is granted and ice conditions permit. The base’s main area of study is wildlife, notably the Emperor Penguin. In summer, the rocks near the base are also home to an Adelie Penguin rookery, as well as skua, Snow Petrel, Giant Petrel and Cape Petrel. This French base was rebuilt on the current site after a fire destroyed the original research station located at Port Martin, over 60 kilometres east of Dumont d’Urville. We will also attempt to visit this abandoned site. McKellar Islands This group of approximately 30 small islands and rocks lie 3 kilometres north of Cape Denison and were discovered by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under Mawson. We will not land at these islets but there may be good opportunities for wildlife sightings close by. East from Cape Denison we follow the East Antarctic ice edge towards the Mertz Glacier. The Mertz Glacier emerges from the mountains of East Antarctica in King George V land. Extending into the ocean with a floating tongue, this tongue advanced from 1956 to 2010 a distance of 43 kilometres without calving. In 2010 the tongue was impacted by the B9B iceberg causing the Mertz Glacier tongue to calve off an iceberg that was 78 kilometres long. With the extended daylight hours, there is time to enjoy the light bouncing off the ice as we sail. Given the time we are spending down in these latitudes; take the time to study the different ice formations we encounter including fast ice, drift ice, frazil ice, slush, grease ice and pancake ice. Talk to one of the expedition staff, or browse through the library, to find out more information about the extraordinary variety of ice formations. We plan to cruise the icebergs and coastline in the Zodiacs looking for wildlife. Days 18 to 21: At Sea When we depart from the spectacular icebound majesty of Antarctica we will have some quieter time at sea to recover from the extensive daylight hours. Travelling along the Antarctic convergence for part of this, we will remain vigilant for all the sea and birdlife we will no doubt encounter along the way. There will be plenty of time to reflect on your amazing experience, download and edit freshly taken photos, pose questions to our knowledgeable expedition team and recap highlights with fellow passengers and staff. Just remember ‘God does not deduct from one’s allotted life span time spent sailing,’ so relax and enjoy. Take part in a series of lectures designed to prepare you for our visit to the Auckland Islands. Pelagic species abound here as they did en route to Macquarie Island earlier in our voyage. Above all, take the time to rest and enjoy shipboard life after the excitement of the Antarctic. Day 22: Auckland Islands – Carnley Harbour We arrive in Carnley Harbour, once the caldera of the Carnley volcano. The walls of the caldera have been breached on both the eastern and western sides, separating Adams Island to the south. The eastern entrance is navigable for smaller vessels such as ours. The extensive harbour is rich in history and in opportunities. Our activities are totally weather dependent as the wind often funnels down the harbour making anchoring and some landings impossible. We have a number of options including a reasonably difficult scramble to a Shy Albatross colony on South West Cape. For those not able to manage this there will be the option to Zodiac cruise the pristine shores of Adams Island and Western Harbour. If wind and weather prevent us from doing this, other options include a relatively easy walk to an abandoned Coastwatcher’s hut and lookout used during the Second World War. If landing on the shores on the north arm of Carnley Harbour where the Grafton was wrecked in 1865, the remains of the vessel and their castaway hut can still be seen. There are two other sites of interest that if we can’t land at the above sites we might consider. They are Camp Cove, site of the official Government Castaway depots constructed in the late 1800s and the ‘Erlangen’ clearing where the German merchant ship of the same name cut firewood on the eve of the Second World War which allowed it to leave New Zealand undetected. Day 23: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island Enderby Island is a wildlife rich island with no equal in the Southern Ocean, considered one of the most beautiful of the Subantarctic Islands. Enderby Island’s landscape is a mix of regenerating rata forest – playing host to native songbirds, the Tui and Bellbird, and chatterbox Red-fronted Parakeets – and megaherbs with languorous names; Bulbinella rossii and Anisotome latifolia, and vivid pink and white gentians. The island is home to the rarest sea lion in the world, the New Zealand Sea Lion, which breeds on Sandy Bay beach where we plan to land. As we walk around the island, we will enjoy close encounters with the Yellow-eyed Penguin, the rarest penguin in the world, and the Royal Albatross nesting amongst a hummocked sward of Oreobolus pectinatus and tussock. There is a good chance that we will see the endemic snipe, shag and Auckland Island Flightless Teal. Day 24: At Sea We are at sea en route to the Port of Bluff. We will take the opportunity to recap the many experiences we have had on this expedition. This is also a good opportunity to download and edit any remaining photos while they are fresh in your mind and you have the experience of our expedition team on board for questions. There will also be some good pelagic birding opportunities. Tonight we enjoy a farewell and celebratory dinner with new found friends with time to reflect on a wealth of new experiences. Day 25: Invercargill Early this morning we will arrive in the Port of Bluff. After a final breakfast and completing Custom formalities we bid farewell to our fellow voyagers and take a complimentary coach transfer to either a central city point or to the airport. In case of unexpected delays due to weather and/or port operations we ask you not to book any onward travel until after midday today. Note: During our voyage, circumstance may make it necessary, or desirable, to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and making the most of opportunities for unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. Landings are subject to government regulated authorisations and appropriate permits being issued. No landings are permitted at The Snares. This expedition is subject to approval from several Australian Authorities and may have to change depending on these approvals. Permits have been lodged for all the sites mentioned in the itinerary, depending on approvals these may have to be amended or substituted. We will endeavour to keep participants fully informed of any changes in the itinerary as and when they occur.

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Expedition Vessel: M/V Akademik Shokalskiy

expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy

The Akademik Shokalskiy is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research. This class of vessel is world renowned for polar exploration, because of its strength, maneuverability and small passenger numbers. The Shokalskiy provides comfortable accommodation in double and twin cabins with private facilities. All cabins have outside windows and ample storage space. On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room, where the science team and expedition staff will present a programme of talks.

For full information about this vessel click here:

  • Pre/Post cruise transfers
  • one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (inc. dinner/breakfast)
  • all on board ship accommodation with meals
  • all expedition shore excursions.
  • All items of a personal nature
  • laundry
  • drinks
  • gratuities
  • International/domestic flights,
  • visas and travel insurance.
Additional Charges - Landing Fees of $880 per person for visits to sub-Antarctic Islands. These will be added during the booking process. Deposits - Reservations require a deposit of 25% at the time you receive a booking confirmation from Expeditions Online. A payment link will be sent to you and this may be paid by major credit card. Bookings within 120 days of departure require full payment. Final Payments - Balances are due 120 days prior to departure. Cancellations - All requests for cancellation must be received in writing to Expeditions Online. Cancellations received 180 days or more prior to departure, are refunded less a $US750.00 per person administration fee. For cancellations received within 179 and 121 days of the embarkation date the full deposit will be forfeited. If cancellation occurs within 120 days prior to the departure date the total price is forfeited. If cancellation occurs within 90 days and full payment has not yet been received, the total price will still apply and any unpaid monies are due immediately. We strongly recommend that you obtain adequate trip cancellation insurance. Booking Terms - Please read carefully the General Booking Conditions for Expeditions Online. This voyage is operated by Heritage Expeditions and you additionally travel under their terms and conditions as the operator as well as of the Shipping Company/transport carrier. Details will be forwarded to you at the time of booking.
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