This remarkable voyage on board the M/V Ortelius attempts to reach the Emperor penguin colony just south of Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. This Emperor Penguin colony was discovered only a few years ago. As the Weddell Sea is often clogged with heavy pack-ice we use our strongest ice-class vessel, mv Ortelius to reach this colony. The ship is equipped with helicopters which is a great advantage and can support us in our goal. Other wildlife to be seen include the Adélie Penguin which is the dominant species with a colony of more than 100,000 pairs on volcanic Paulet Island.
PLEASE NOTE: A typical itinerary to the Weddell Sea is illustrated below. The itinerary is for guidance only. Program may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. The final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises. If ice-conditions are favourable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice, we will reschedule our voyage and offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island at approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin Rookery. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience. Even so, remember that nature writes the final itinerary out here: Attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during the voyages of 2012 – 17 did not always succeed. In 2013 and November 2017 conditions were favorable to land by helicopter on Snow Hill Island and to visit the emperor penguin rookery.
Day 1: Ushuaia
In the afternoon, we embark in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world located at the Beagle Channel and sail through this scenic waterway for the rest of the evening.
Day 2 & 3: Drake Passage
During these two days we will sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area we may meet Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black-browed Albatrosses, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.
Days 4-7: Antarctic's Weddell Sea
A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.
We will sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the ice does not prevent us to sail further, we might see the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
During these days we use the helicopters in our attempts to find individual Emperor Penguins. During our previous voyages we were always able to locate emperors. We will also offer scenic flights and – if the conditions allow us - helicopter landings on tabular ice-bergs and locations otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.
Possible landing sites is for example Brown Bluff, probably the most scenic spot in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent. With steep canyon walls and tumbling boulders, an ice-cap looming above, beautiful volcanic creations and the scene is complete with thousands of adelie penguins nesting on the slopes, and a few gentoos mixed in for fun.
Helicopter flights are a great contribution to the voyage, for example on the west side of the Antarctic Sound, an area usually only rarely seen from the air. The scenery is stunning with landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers tumbling into the sea and ice-bergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. We can observe individual emperor penguins and adelie Penguins on the ice floes; cape, snow and giant Petrels fly high in the sky while kelp gulls, skuas and wilson’s storm petrels scavenge down below us. The landscape is dominated by Jagged mountains pierced through the ice-caps and walls of ice dropped onto the slopes below.
A beautiful helicopter flight over huge blue ice bergs and fast ice can also be made close to View Point in Duse Bay. We land on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There will be still a lot of snow and ice but much of the intended walk on the Antarctic continent will be over a beautiful frost-shattered rock, almost entirely covered with the most fascinating lichen of all shapes and colors.
If the ice-situation allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea area, we will visit Devil Island and Vega Island with a large colony of Adelie Penguins and a magnificent view for those hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes provides spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point ‘Well-Met’. Further south, we may also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.
On our way north through the Antarctic Sound we might pay a visit to the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic Continent. We will still look out for emperor penguins on the ice-floes. In the afternoon we may visit Gourdin Island, with three penguin species; chinstraps, gentoo and adelies.
Day 8: South Shetland Islands
In the morning we plan to visit Half Moon Island where we can see Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, various other bird-species and Southern Elephant Seals and Weddell seals. Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception where we have the last landing of our voyage at Pendulum cove.
Day 9 & 10: Drake Passage
In the Drake Passage we have again a chance of seeing many seabirds and to take advantage of the knowledge of our lecture team.
Day 11: Ushuaia
We arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.
Alternative Days 5-6: Alternative program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice (less than 50 % chance):
The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the Emperor penguin colony, but the itinerary is ruled by the forces of nature, ice and weather conditions. If the conditions are favourable, we intend to spend the first two days in the Emperor penguin rookery. The helicopter operation will take a full day and the flight duration takes approximately 15 minutes. The helicopter can accommodate 6 passengers per helicopter flight. The landing point of the helicopters will be carefully chosen and we will make sure that the Emperors penguins are not disturbed or stressed by helicopter noise. Therefore, after arrival, the passengers continue their expedition on foot. After a walk of approx. 45 minutes, passengers will experience an amazing rendezvous with the magnificent Emperor penguins. Keep in mind that we are in the world’s most remote area and there are no guarantees, including a specific amount of helicopter time. Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation and passengers should understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern and no compromises can be made.
Helicopters: The vessel will be equipped with a minimum of two helicopters which gives a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the scheduled landing sites, that otherwise are inaccessible. But, we are operating our voyages in the world’s most remote areas, ruled by the forces of nature. Providing the conditions, such as but not limited to ice and weather conditions, are suitable, the captain of the vessel will position the vessel at a safe and (for the helicopters and helicopter pilots) feasible distance from the intended landing site. Ship-to-shore helicopter transfers will enable us to offer the scheduled shore excursions, but every passenger who participates in those mentioned voyages, understands and accepts that no guarantees can be given, including a specific amount of helicopter time.
Photography ©: Stewart Campbell, Expeditions Online; Polar News; Hans Murre, Oceanwide Expeditions; Henry Malkiewicz; Rinie van Meurs; Wim van Passel.