This itinerary will give you a brief idea of what you may encounter on this voyage. The emphasis is on wildlife encounters, personal contact with the environs, visiting sites of historical interest and to a lesser extent scientific stations. However we stress that this is an expedition style cruise.
The actual program will vary to take best advantage of local conditions, spontaneous opportunities and wildlife. No two voyages are the same; there is always an element of the unexpected.
PLEASE NOTE: JAN 25th Departure operates in reverse and starts in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands and ends in Ushuaia, Argentina. There is a flight (cost approx $660) from Punta Arenas to the Falkland Islands is operated by LAN Chile on a Saturday ONLY. It is considered a domestic flight, therefore, duty free is not available. The Falkland Islands airport is based at the Mount Pleasant Military Complex and is not a commercial airport. Given this, you may experience delays in arrival and departure processes.
Note: We recommend Expeditioners arrive into Ushuaia the day prior to voyage departure.
Expeditioners will gather in Ushuaia, and have time to explore the bustling community that lays claim to being the world’s most southerly town. It sits beneath the spectacular mountains of Tierra del Fuego on the edge of the Beagle Channel. There are plenty of things to keep you occupied while waiting to board Polar Pioneer at 1600 (4pm). You could take a trip to the Lapataia National Park by train or bus, or visit the small museum, which has informative displays about the original inhabitants and the current population of Tierra del Fuego.
Ushuaia is a duty free port with a reputation for its Argentine chocolates, cheap alcohol and leather goods, and is a great place to buy souvenirs and presents. There are a host of excellent restaurants available whether looking for a quick coffee, an excellent meal of king crab or an Argentine barbecue.
Our competent crew will welcome us aboard Polar Pioneer in the afternoon. Sailing down the Beagle Channel, we will settle into shipboard life and enjoy our first meal on board.
Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the American continent, has stimulated the imagination of mankind since Sir Francis Drake inadvertently rounded it back in 1580. Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation but despite its reputation, there are times when the Drake resembles a lake, with lazy southern ocean swells rolling under the keel. On the other hand sometimes we have encountered rough crossings with large waves. The size of the waves and the force of the gale will take on gigantic proportions when related around the fire back home.
Polar Pioneer is not a luxury ship, she is homely and strong, built to be a working vessel and refurbished to comfortable passenger standard. The mood on board is definitely casual. At sea we are totally self sufficient. The days flow by whilst we travel snugly in our cocoon. A favourite pastime on board is to stand at the stern watching the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following our wake. They will rise and fall skilfully, using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. Feeling transformed, we approach Antarctica, receptive and open.
During the crossing of Drake Passage, we will commence our lecture program about the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Antarctic Peninsula. We will be given guidelines for approaching wildlife and we'll talk about the implications of the Antarctic Treaty. Antarctica is a photographers' paradise, for the professional or the amateur. There will be discussions about how to protect your equipment from salt water and tips for taking good pictures.
Excitement reaches fever pitch as we wait for the sight of our first iceberg. We near the tip of the Peninsula towards the end of day three, everyone will be on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of the sight of your first iceberg is likely to remain with you for ever.
Depending on the weather, we will first approach Antarctica near the South Shetland Islands, entering Bransfield Strait either at the eastern end of King George Island or the western extremity of Livingston Island. We may pass by historic Smith Island, which is the outer limit of the South Shetlands.
A host of choices are now open to us and depending on the ice and weather conditions the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours' daylight and the days will be as busy as you wish. There is plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
We are always keen to explore new territory, so if the opportunity arises, we will! Who knows where we will go?
During this voyage, there might be an opportunity for the more intrepid to camp for a night on land. This will give you the chance to sample the style of adventure that Scott, Shackleton and other legendary Antarctic explorers experienced. Be comforted - our warm and comfortable ship with its hot showers will be only a short distance away!
Once we arrive in the calmer waters of Bransfield and Gerlache Straits, we hope to make landings and/or go kayaking two to three times a day. To get ashore we will use Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats). You will have been briefed on the workings of these sturdy craft and their use, during our Drake Passage crossing. Sometimes we will cruise along spectacular ice cliffs, or make contact with whales, penguins and seals. In these situations we will appreciate the distinct advantage of being on a small vessel, which gives everyone the opportunity to experience these very special close encounters with wildlife.
Our Western chefs serve hearty meals in our cosy dining rooms. Accompanied by good conversation, they will become a focal point of our shipboard life.
A sample of the many exciting places that we would like to visit follows:
A unique landing place on the Peninsula – tiny toes of land that are literally alive with wildlife. Here we will find two species of penguins breeding, chinstraps and gentoos.
It is not uncommon to find wallows of elephant seals that are 60 beasts strong. Giant petrels nest on the ridgeline. The vegetation consists of mosses, lichens and the only grass species that grows in Antarctica. All this is set against a stunning backdrop, underneath long black scree slopes at the foot of the mountains and glaciers of Livingston Island.
Half Moon Island
A wildlife rich island tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the scene. There is a large chinstrap penguin rookery tucked in between basaltic turrets coloured by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and there are often fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beaches. At one extremity of the island there is a large colony of nesting blue-eyed shags. At the other end lies a small Argentine station that is sometimes occupied by scientists conducting research on the penguin colony and surrounding waterways.
Visiting Deception Island is like making a journey to the moon. We sail through the narrow opening of Neptune's Bellows to enter the flooded volcanic crater. Inside is an unworldly scene, virtually devoid of life. Glaciers flow down from the edge of the crater, littered by black volcanic ash.
We can explore the lifeless remains of a derelict whaling station and a vacant British base, or climb to the rim of the crater. Steam rises from the shore indicating that the water is actually warm enough for a swim, for those who dare. Outside the crater, if conditions allow, we might land at Bailey Head to explore the enormous chinstrap penguin rookery that featured in David Attenborough's Life in the Freezer series.
A protected bay surrounded by magnificent peaks and spectacular glaciers, the rocky cliffs of this unforgettable piece of heaven provide perfect nesting sites for blue-eyed shags, terns and gulls. The serenity of Paradise Harbour envelops us once the sound of the dropping anchor fades from our ears. This is a haven for whales and we keep our eyes open for humpbacks, orcas and minkes, as well as crabeater seals, as we explore the bay in Zodiacs. Imagine being so close to a whale that when he surfaces to blow, the fishy spray of his exhalation momentarily blurs your vision. Words cannot describe this experience.
If the ice conditions allow, standing on the bow of Polar Pioneer and quietly moving through the narrow Lemaire Channel could be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 700 metres directly above the ship. The water can be so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface. Gigantic icebergs clog the channel, creating navigational challenges for our captain and crew; occasionally they may even obstruct our passage.
This group of low-lying unprotected granitic rocks protrudes from the sea, swept by ocean swells. At first these rocks appear uninteresting, but on closer investigation, calm channels lead to a hidden interior where Weddell seals are hauled out on protected snow beds and noisy chinstraps raise their families on rocky platforms. Hydrurga is Latin for leopard seal, and on occasions we see some skulking in the shallows. There are many places to simply sit and watch the rise and fall of clear green water and listen to the magic sounds and calls of the wildlife.
Other places we may visit around the Antarctic Peninsula are:
Petermann Island; Penola Strait; Neko Harbour; Antarctic Sound; Scientific Bases of:
Ferraz – Brazilian; Vernadsky – Ukrainian; Port Lockroy, a historic British base that is now a museum and post office.
Today, if weather permits, we set course for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. En route, our recaps and lectures will resume and there will be time to gather energy for the busy days ahead. After their ship the Endurance was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, Shackleton and his men climbed into three open boats and finally, on 14 April 1916, made landfall on this tiny toe of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean. The men had not been on land for sixteen months! We plan to sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore. Weather permitting; we hope to follow the coastline six miles west to Point Wild, where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned open boats and some old tents.
We will attempt to make at least one landing on historic Elephant Island.
On 24 April 1916, Shackleton and five of his men piled into the James Caird, the most seaworthy of their open boats, to attempt a perilous journey to South Georgia, some 1290 km distant. Shackleton hoped to reach South Georgia in two weeks. There he would enlist the help of the whalers to return to Elephant Island and rescue the men who had been left behind. En route for South Georgia we'll head across the Scotia Sea in a south-westerly direction.
We can luxuriate in the comfort of our ocean crossing as we ponder the hardships Shackleton and his men experienced as they crawled about on the rocks used as ballast on board James Caird:
Nearly always there were gales. So small was our boat and so great were the seas that often our sail flapped idly in the calm between the crests of two waves. Then we would climb the next slope and catch the full fury of the gale where the wool-like whiteness of the breaking water surged around us. (Ernest Shackleton)
South Georgia is a tiny speck in the South Atlantic Ocean, located in one of the least accessible parts of our planet.
A 9000-foot mountain range forms the spine of this long, narrow island. Between the mountains, shattered glaciers carve their way through tussock grass to the deeply indented coastline.
To us, South Georgia is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Though geographically speaking the island lies in the Subantarctic area, as do the islands of Macquarie and Heard, it has a climate more in keeping with the true Antarctic regions. This is because South Georgia lies near the Antarctic Convergence.
South Georgia is a British possession, having been claimed and named for King George III on 16 January 1775 by Captain James Cook, who records in his journal:
"The wild rocks raised their lofty summits till they were lost in the clouds and the valleys lay buried in ever-lasting snow. Not a tree or a shrub was to be seen, no, not even big enough to make a toothpick. I landed in three different places, displayed our colours and took possession of the country in His Majesty's name under a discharge of small arms."
Quote from "Antarctic Housewife" by Nan Brown.
Some of the glorious destinations that we plan to visit in South Georgia are listed below:
Originally a Norwegian sealing and whaling station, it was finally abandoned in 1965. Here we must be careful to avoid stepping on sleeping elephant seals as we skirt the ruins of factory buildings peering into the past, trying to imagine what it was like when whale processing was in full swing.
Abandoned ships lie sunken alongside old wharves, while pitted concrete walls remind us of the more recent Falkland's War, which started here.
Sir Ernest Shackleton died from a heart attack during his final expedition on board the Quest on 6 May 1922. His body was laid to rest at Grytviken and we will make a pilgrimage to visit the cross his men erected in his memory looking out across beautiful Cumberland Bay.
St Andrews Bay
The sandy black beach is a resting place for hundreds of elephant seals that haul out on the shore to molt. Behind the beach, the sight and sound of tens of thousands of king penguins at different stages of their breeding cycle will be overwhelming. The glacial river that runs into the sea here will be alive with penguin chicks and elephant seal pups testing their aquatic skills. If we lift our gaze from the wildlife for a moment, we will glimpse the snow-capped peaks of some of the world's most spectacular mountains.
At 4.00 pm on 20 May 1916, Shackleton, Worsely and Crean arrived here after their arduous 27 km journey across the mountains from King Haakon Bay. As well as examining the ruins of the old whaling station, we may also wander up to the mountains behind the old whaling station to see the waterfall descent that formed the last section of Shackleton's epic journey. We may even get the opportunity to walk from Fortuna Bay across the saddle to the waterfall as Sir Ernest did.
Bay of Isles
One of the wildlife highlights will be visiting the serene wandering albatrosses sitting proudly on their cute downy chicks. We can sit within respectful metres of these gentle birds whilst they perform intimate courtship dances, feed their young or clumsily launch themselves into the air, bound for a fishing trip.
Other stunning wildlife destinations we may visit include:
Elsehul Bay Royal Harbour
Cooper Bay Drygalski Fjord
Larsen Harbour Stromness
Salisbury Plains Gold Harbour
Right Whale Bay Possession Bay
We may pass Shag Rocks, six small islands in the westernmost extremity of South Georgia.
We begin cruising towards the Falklands. On this leg we are usually travelling into the prevailing weather so it is difficult to estimate our arrival time in the Falklands. We will continue our lecture program. While at sea there is ample opportunity to observe the sea birds that follow the ship, join the whale watchers on the bridge, or just relax and read a favourite book.
Polar Pioneer glides into Port Stanley for our early morning arrival.
Expeditioners have the choice of extending their stay in this very British outpost or continuing directly onto LAN Chile’s afternoon flight to Punta Arenas (note flight is at an additional cost).
Should you choose to travel to fly on this day, you will be greeted by our local guide who will assist you with the transfer to Mount Pleasant airport for your afternoon flight.
Note: The flight from Punta Arenas to the Falkland Islands is operated by LAN Chile on a Saturday ONLY. It is considered a domestic flight, therefore, duty free is not available.
The Falkland Islands airport is based at the Mount Pleasant Military Complex and is not a commercial airport. Given this, you may experience delays in arrival and departure processes. We apologise in advance if you experience these delays.
* Itinerary may be subject to change
|Per Person USD|
Ushuaia - Falklands
Charter Flight Falklands/Punta Arenas
Begins Falklands, ends Ushuaia
Charter Flight Punta Arenas-Falklands
Fly Antarctica to Punta Arenas
Fly Punta Arenas to Antarctica
Embark Ushuaia, Disembark Port Stanley
Charter Flight Falklands/Punta Arenas
Embark Port Stanley, Disembark Ushuaia
Fly Antarctica to Punta Arenas
Fly Punta Arenas to Antarctica
Airfare Not Included. Rates are per person, based on twin-share. Single costs are 1.7 times the twin rate.
Mandatory Flight for Fly/Cruise (Punta Arenas to Antarctica) and Cruise/Fly (Antarctica to Punta Arenas) - $1200
Optional Flight Punta Arenas / Falklands or Falklands / Punta Arenas $660
Adventure options must be pre-booked and paid for prior to start of the trip. Space is subject to availability. Some activities require experience.
Optional Activities: Kayaking $995-1295, South Georgia Alpine Crossing $1250, Photography $250, Camping is Free.
Mandatory Emergency Evacuation Insurance Required. All trips subject to possible fuel surcharge.