This departure starts with a short, 90-minute flight from South America to the Falklands Islands, saving two days of sea crossings. The expedition coincides with the arrival of spring as the region emerges from winter. It is an exceptional time to visit, the commencement of the breeding cycle for many species. In South Georgia, scenes of male elephant seals battling for control of the beaches (and the female harems), and the intimate and beautiful courtship rituals of the albatross will have you believing you are ‘on the set’ of your very own wildlife documentary.
Day 1 / Punta Arenas, Chile to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands
Our journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. We meet at the airport and fly on the scheduled service to Stanley in the Falkland Islands (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). After a short 90-minute flight we are met on arrival and transferred to the pier. Stanley is currently home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a rural town in coastal England or Scotland. It is charming 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 1980’s, is a sobering reminder of recent history. There is time to explore the town, before we make our way to the ship for embarkation. After settling in to our cabins and exploring the ship, we meet our expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail, dinner and cast off for the adventure of a lifetime.
Day 2 / Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands
Having cruised down the eastern coastline of the Falkland Islands overnight, we are at the far south-eastern end of the archipelago. Here we find remote Sea Lion Island which features a barren and windswept landscape. We launch our zodiacs and go ashore to view the wildlife colonies found here. Three species of penguin including gentoo, magellanic and rockhopper exist in the vicinity. Southern elephant seals and South American sea lions are found hauled out on the beaches. Once ashore we also look for king cormorants and striated caracaras. The steamer duck is another known resident. If we enjoy good weather conditions we may have time to visit neighboring Bleaker Island, another settlement on this remote eastern coast of the Falklands. In the evening, we push out into the Scotia Sea towards South Georgia.
Day 3 - 4 / At Sea
We chart a southeasterly course bound for South Georgia. The seabirds join us from the moment we leave the Falklands. Spend time on the outer decks watching the giant albatross and numerous petrels as they duck and weave on the winds of the South Atlantic. Our educational presentations commence 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 our onboard photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. We will also learn about Polar conservation - a theme particularly close to the hearts of our guides and crew.
Day 5 - 7 / South Georgia
South Georgia has often been called the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’ – and, as we approach the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop, you will begin to see why. Launching the zodiacs we begin our 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 and they fill the skies above, coming and going from the nest.
The scenery is spectacular and the snowy peaks of the island make us pause to consider the incredible feat of mountaineering when Shackleton and his exhausted companions traversed the island from the wild south coast in 1916. They arrived into Stromness whaling station having crossed from King Haakon Bay, to raise the alarm that eventuated in the rescue of his men on Elephant Island, in Antarctica – 100 years ago. South Georgia is a thrilling location for history buffs and the rusting relics of the early whaling industry are all around us. We hope to 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 we visit the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton. For many, being in the presence of the great explorer will be a highlight of the trip. There’s 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.
Day 8 - 10 / Towards Antarctica and Elephant Island
Weather and ice will dictate our crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica, leading us perhaps to the South Orkney Islands or Elephant Island. As with all of our itinerary planning, our expedition leader and captain will make a decision based on the conditions at the time. The South Orkney Islands represent the peaks of a submarine mountain range called the Scotia Arc, connecting South Georgia to the South Shetland Islands. Often shrouded in fog and surrounded by ice much of the year, a chance to visit these islands doesn’t come often. As we edge ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce our arrival in Antarctic waters. If conditions allow, we will hope to see the dark cliffs of Elephant Island appear on the horizon. Shackleton and his men were encamped here for many months, having lost HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice, far to the south in the Weddell Sea in 1915. From the tiny beach at Point Wild, 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 is considered one of the greatest in history. If conditions allow, we will attempt a landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island.
Day 11-15 / South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
Around 60 miles off the coast of the Antarctic mainland we find the South Shetland Island chain. Possible landing sites could include King George Island, Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbour or Hannah Point. Weather conditions permitting we sail the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera of Deception Island. There are some outstanding hikes at these locations and the old whaling station and aircraft hangar at Deception Island beg for further exploration. After so much anticipation, we enter the icy waters of the Antarctic Peninsula in the vicinity of Mikkelson Harbour or Cierva Cove. Snow covered mountains soar from the dark waters. Along the shoreline in the bays and harbors of the Peninsula lives an incredible abundance of wildlife. Large rookeries are home to chinstrap, gentoo and Adelie penguins. Seals live on the ice floes, including the powerful leopard seal that we hope to encounter. Gulls, skuas and cormorants are also found nesting and feeding at many sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.
We explore by zodiac boat and ashore where a range of wonderful activities await. Locations we hope to visit include Wilhelmina Bay, Orne Harbour, Cuverville Island and the Errera Channel. Join the photographic guide and go take close up photos of the penguins, or of the impossibly blue ice. Or enjoy a hike to the top of a snowy mountain saddle with one of our adventure guides. If the opportunity presents itself, visit a science base or an old historic hut. The sea kayakers may range up to several miles from the ship, for a truly memorable experience. Each and every day, you have a range of great choices.
Days 16 - 17 / Drake Passage – return to South America
After several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula, it’s time to return to South America. The educational presentations continue and we enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by our Expedition Leader. Join our photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. If weather conditions allow, we hope to 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 to some of the most remote corners of the planet. Approaching the entrance to the Beagle Channel in early evening light, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
Day 18 / Ushuaia, Argentina
In the early morning, we 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.
About our Itinerary: Polar exploration can be unpredictable, which regularly causes variations to our itineraries. Specific sites visited will depend on prevailing weather and ice conditions at the time of sailing. The above itinerary should be read as a 'guide only' and may change. The ship's Captain in conjunction with the Expedition Leader continually review the sailing plan throughout the voyage, making adjustments to the itinerary along the way to take advantage of optimal weather and ice conditions or to maximize our encounters with wildlife. Decades of experience spent exploring these waterways mean we have a large number of outstanding landing sites and zodiac cruising locations to consider, even when the weather conditions may not be ideal or when heavy ice may block out a planned route. A flexible approach is something we encourage you to bring to the ship.