Punta Arenas, Chile to Port Stanley, Falkland IslandsYour journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Meet at the airport and fly to Stanley in the Falkland Islands (this flight is included in the price of your voyage). After a short flight, you 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 colored 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 making your way to the ship for embarkation. After settling in to your cabin and exploring the ship, meet the expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail, dinner and cast off for the adventure of a lifetime.
Sea Lion Island, Falkland IslandsHaving cruised down the eastern coastline of the Falkland Islands overnight, the ship is now at the far south-eastern end of the archipelago. Here lies the remote Sea Lion Island which features a barren and windswept landscape. Launch the 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, look for king cormorants and striated caracaras. The steamer duck is another known resident. Pending good weather conditions, visit neighboring Bleaker Island, another settlement on this remote eastern coast of the Falklands. In the evening, sail into the Scotia Sea towards South Georgia.
At SeaThe ship now charts a southeasterly course bound for South Georgia. 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. 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 the on-board photographic guide, learning about image composition, the subtle polar light and all the basics of good camera craft. The group 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 the ship approaches the deep bays of this rugged, rocky outcrop, you will begin to see why. Launch the zodiacs and 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 and they fill the skies above, coming and going from the nest.
The scenery is spectacular and the snowy peaks of the island will make you 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 surround you. 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 that you can 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.
Towards Antarctica and Elephant Island
Weather and ice will dictate the ship's crossing of the Scotia Sea from South Georgia to Antarctica, leading you perhaps to the South Orkney Islands or Elephant Island. As with all itinerary planning, the 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.
Edging ever closer to the frozen continent, large icebergs announce the ship's arrival in Antarctic waters. If conditions allow, 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, attempt a landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island.
South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
Around 60 miles off the coast of the Antarctic mainland lies the South Shetland Island chain. Possible landing sites here could include King George Island, Half Moon Island, Yankee Harbour or Hannah Point. Weather conditions permitting, the ship will sail 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, 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. Gulls, skuas and cormorants are also found nesting and feeding at many sites along the Antarctic Peninsula.
Explore by zodiac boat and ashore where a range of wonderful activities await. There is potential to visit 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. Enjoy a hike to the top of a snowy mountain saddle with one of the 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.
Drake Passage – return to South AmericaAfter several busy days of exploration along the Antarctic Peninsula, it’s time to return to South America. The educational presentations continue as you enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by the Expedition Leader. Join the photography experts in the multimedia room to download and back-up your precious images. If weather conditions allow, 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, enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
Ushuaia, ArgentinaIn the early morning, arrive into Ushuaia, Argentina. It is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travelers. You will be transported to your hotel or to the airport for return flights home.