In Shackleton’s Footsteps - South Georgia and Antarctica

Polar Pioneer Cruise Ship
Polar Pioneer
54 Passengers
Adventure Options

Late summer offers the best chance to chart a course through the Weddell Sea’s shifting pack ice and vast tabular bergs, where Shackleton’s ship Endurance was trapped and crushed. We hope to explore fossil-rich islands, historic huts and set foot on the continent before retracing Shackleton’s heroic journey to save his men – first to Elephant Island, then on through waters where blue, sei and fin whales roam. South Georgia offers nesting albatross, mating elephant seals, the world’s largest king penguin rookeries and a visit to Shackleton’s grave.

Voyage Highlights
Antarctica
• Explore the most accessible and wildlife-rich region of Antarctica
• Daily shore visits and Zodiac cruises offer close encounters with penguins, whales, seals and sea birds.
• Visit historic research huts and working scientific stations
• Be surrounded by massive icebergs and cruise past ancient glaciers
• Enjoy the pristine beauty and vast landscapes
• Witness the endless sunlight of the midnight sun
• Learn about Antarctica’s unique geology, history and wildlife from our expert team
• Kayakers will glide through narrow sheltered waterways and fjords, paddle amongst ice floes and drift quietly alongside wildlife.

South Georgia
• Witness the incredible wildlife of South Georgia, one of the greatest wildlife concentrations on the planet
• Visit some of the world’s largest king penguin rookeries and search for wandering albatross on nests
• See beaches thick with elephant and fur seals
• Cruise past Elephant Island’s dramatic north coast (weather permitting)
• Trace the final leg of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s perilous journey from Fortuna Bay to Stromness
• Pay your respects to the great explorer at a visit to his gravesite at Grytviken.
• A small group will have the opportunity to trek across South Georgia as part of our Alpine Crossing

Note: This voyage includes a flight from Stanley, Falkland Islands to Santiago (or Punta Arenas), Chile.

Brief Itinerary

Day 1 Embark Ushuaia, Argentina
Days 2 & 3 Drake Passage
Days 4 to 7 Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula
Day 8 Elephant Island
Days 9 & 10 At Sea
Days 11 to 15 South Georgia
Days 16 & 17 At Sea
Day 18 Stanley, Falklands - Fly to Santiago (or Punta Arenas) Chile

Day 1 — Embark Ushuaia, Argentina

In Ushuaia, you can independently explore the bustling community that lays claim to being the world’s most southerly town. The town itself sits beneath the spectacular mountains of Tierra del Fuego on the edge of the Beagle Channel. You may choose to enjoy 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 delicious Argentinian chocolates, cheap alcohol and leather goods, and is a great place to buy souvenirs and presents. There are a host of excellent restaurants available, so whether you are looking for a quick coffee, an excellent meal of king crab, or an Argentine barbecue, you are spoiled for choice.

Make your way to port in the late afternoon to meet your expedition team and commence boarding. As Polar Pioneer pulls away from port, we’ll gather on the deck to commence our adventure with spectacular views over Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego.

Days 2 & 3 — Drake Passage

As we commence our Drake Passage crossing, we make the most of our time getting comfortable with the motions of the sea. Our expedition team prepares you for our first landing with important wildlife guidelines and biosecurity procedures, and starts our lecture program to help you learn more about Antarctica’s history, wildlife, and environment.

Our wildlife experiences begin as we enjoy watching and photographing the many seabirds including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following in our wake. They rise and fall skillfully, using air currents created by the ship to gain momentum.

Nearing the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula towards the end of day three, the excitement is palpable with everyone converging on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you for a lifetime.

Days 4 to 7 — Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula

A peek out of the porthole very early this morning should confirm that we have reached Antarctica. Depending on the weather, we will first approach Antarctica to the north of King George Island or in narrow channels between the South Shetland Islands. From there we will head through the Antarctic Sound to the eastern side of the Peninsula to reach the Weddell Sea.

Access into the Weddell is heavily dependent on ice conditions, and our experienced leader will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day. We aim to make landings or Zodiac excursions two to three times a day. Days will be spent cruising along spectacular ice cliffs, following whales that are feeding near the surface, and landing on the continent and its off-shore islands to visit penguin rookies, seal haul outs, historic huts, and a few of our other favorite spots along the peninsula.

There are many exciting places we can choose to visit. A sample of some of the places where we may land, hike, photograph or view spectacular wildlife follows:

Brown Bluff
Situated on the eastern side of Tabarin Peninsula, the spectacular 2,450 ft (745m) promontory of Brown Bluff towers over some 20,000 nesting pairs of Adelie penguins and hundreds of gentoo penguins. Nesting skuas, snow petrels, and pintados inhabit the upper slopes and kelp gulls screech overhead.  Brown Bluff's volcanic origins have created some fantastically-shaped boulders that lie scattered across the ash beach and make colorful nesting sites for some of the penguins.

Paulet Island
This tiny volcanic island forms the nesting grounds of some 120,000 pairs of Adelie penguins, and the surrounding seas literally teem with penguins!

There is also a blue-eyed shag colony situated at one end of Paulet's long beach front. Leopard seals are often seen cruising offshore, hoping to pick up a penguin snack.

Weddell seals sometimes haul out here for a quiet nap on the beach. Apart from its plentiful wildlife, Paulet is also rich in the history of Antarctic exploration, for it was here that the 22 men of Larsen's ship Antarctic arrived on 28 February, 1903, after their ship sank. The men spent the winter on Paulet, living on penguins and seals, until eventually Larsen and five of the men rowed across Erebus and Terror Gulf to be reunited with members of Otto Nordenskjold's geological exploration party.

James Clark Ross Island
Separated from Trinity Peninsula by Prince Gustav Channel, the beaches and rocks of this mighty island are a mix of volcanic and sedimentary; creating a geologists’ paradise. The beaches are populated with kelp gulls while Antarctic terns and skuas nest on the island's higher slopes. Many of the island's rocks are decorated with bright red and orange lichens, presenting fantastic photographic opportunities. Ice floes in the surrounding waters provide temporary floating homes for Weddell and leopard seals. We may walk up to Hidden Lake, following a stream rich in fossilized remains of deciduous trees, ferns, and even clamshells. If ice conditions and time permit, we may also circumnavigate this fantastic island; a rarely-accomplished feat.

Devil Island
This very rarely-visited island was named for its two striking peaks or 'horns'. It is the nesting site for some 10,000 pairs of Adelie penguins. If weather conditions permit, we may walk up a scree slope to the top of the island's western peak. A few hundred meters in height, the summit provides superb views into Erebus and Terror Gulf. On the upper slopes, you may even see nesting snow petrels and Wilson's storm petrels. For those who are less active, the continuous commute of penguins on the beach and the accompanying skua population provide endless fascination. We may also cruise in our Zodiacs amongst the large numbers of icebergs that are often grounded offshore.

View Point, Duse Bay
View Point is one of the few places where we may be able to set foot on the Antarctic continent proper. A British hut was built here in 1953 and an Argentine refuge hut was established a few years later. In front of the old hut are the remains of crabeater seal carcasses, which provided food for the sledge dogs. Thanks to the cold conditions, the well-preserved hut looks just as it did all those years ago – a fascinating place to get a feeling for the olden days of Antarctic exploration.

Larsen Ice Shelf
Antarctica's most conspicuous geographical feature is ice. Glaciers inch towards the sea from towering mountain peaks and ridges. If conditions permit, we hope to cruise south and along part of the spectacular Larsen Ice Shelf, which runs continuously for some 500 mi (800 km) between Cape Longing and Cape Mackintosh.

In 1995 a massive iceberg measuring 37km x 36km calved from the Larsen Ice Shelf and drifted north. We may see some remnants of this spectacular event and perhaps even witness smaller pieces of ice splitting away.

Other places we may visit around the Weddell Sea area and on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula are:
• Joinville Island
• D'Urville Island
• Hope Bay
• Seymour Island
• Snow Hill Island
• Vega Island, Prince Gustav Channel
• Beak Island
• Crystal Hill
• Herbert Sound

Day 8 — Elephant Island

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. We’ll learn the story of Shackleton and hear how his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, before he and his men climbed into three open boats, spending 16 months at sea, before finally making landfall on this tiny toe of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean on 14 April, 1916.

We plan to sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore over 100 years ago. 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. If weather permits, we’ll attempt to make at least one landing on historic Elephant Island.

Days 9 & 10 — At Sea

On the journey for South Georgia, we'll head across the Scotia Sea, the same stretch of ocean that Shackleton and five of his men crossed in order to find help for the rest of their crew. On 24 April, 1916, they piled into the James Caird, the most seaworthy of their open boats, to attempt this perilous journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia, a 800 mi (1,290 km) journey. 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.

As excitement builds for Antarctica, catch up with fellow expeditioners in the bar, keep watch for wildlife alongside our naturalist from the open bridge, or learn more of the Shackleton story from our historian.

     “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

Days 11 to 15 — South Georgia

South Georgia is one of the world’s most amazing natural environments. Just a speck in the vastness of the South Atlantic Ocean, and lying wholly within the Antarctic Convergence, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a life-sustaining haven to some of the world’s largest congregations of wildlife. The surrounding sea is one of the most productive areas on Earth and supports the life of millions of seals, whales, penguins, and other seabirds.

A 9,850 ft (3,000m) 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 – a landscape that is synonymous with the epic expedition of survival by Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean. Abandoned rusting whaling stations and remnants of explorers reflect a time of long ago, while summer workers conduct scientific and regeneration projects.

Politically speaking, South Georgia lies north of 60° South latitude and is therefore not part of the Antarctic treaty. It is in British possession, claimed and named for King George III on 16 January, 1775 by Captain James Cook.

Cook recorded in his journal:

    "The wild rocks raised their lofty summits till they were lost in the clouds and the valleys lay buried in everlasting 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 colors and took possession of the country in His Majesty's name under a discharge of small arms."

On 20 May, 1916, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, and Frank Worsley stumbled into the busy whaling station at Stromness; hungry, exhausted, and covered in grime. They had just made the first ever crossing of the mountains of South Georgia, from King Haakon Bay, to find help for their three exhausted companions left at Cave Cove and to rescue the men they had left on Elephant Island. They had sailed in the James Caird for 16 days under horrendous conditions and finally found safety in the tiny entrance of Cave Cove. This epic story of survival began with the sinking of his ship, the Endurance, in the Weddell Sea, six months earlier. As we explore South Georgia, we will have the opportunity to reflect on Shackleton’s epic journey.

If conditions permit, we plan to follow in Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean’s footsteps and complete the final leg of their walk from Fortuna Bay to Stromness.

Some of the destinations we may visit in South Georgia are:

Grytviken
Originally a Norwegian sealing and whaling station, it was finally closed in 1965. Now it is the administrative center and a hub of activity in South Georgia. The former whaling station stands as a solemn testament of the whaling days, but the museum offers much more than a glimpse into its whaling past. It has many of the local animals on display as well as the island’s history of exploration.

As we wander around the site, skirting the ruins of factory buildings, peering into the past, we must be careful to avoid sleeping Elephant Seals or disturb small groups of King Penguins, as we imagine what it was like when whale processing was in full swing. Abandoned ships lie sunken alongside hundred-year-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. We pay our respects at his grave and possibly visit the cross his men erected in his memory looking out across beautiful Cumberland Bay.

St Andrews Bay
The long black sandy beach fronts a broad valley that stretches well back from the sea. This valley shelters the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia. Toward the landing beach on the north end of the bay, the beach is a resting place for hundreds of elephant seals that haul out on the shore to moult. Behind the beach and as you move along to the south, the sight and sound (and smell) of over 200,000 pairs of king penguins at different stages of their breeding cycle will be overwhelming.

Eventually the colony is so dense that the penguins prevent even the seals from using the beach! The glacial river that runs into the sea here will be alive with penguin chicks and elephant seal pups testing their 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.

Godthul
Imagine indented bays lined with bleached whalebones, teeming with fur seals and penguins just ‘hanging about’. In Godthul, you have the opportunity to clamber through the tussock to a spectacular plateau offering magnificent views across the island and the waters beyond. A careful descent leads us to a magnificent Macaroni Penguin rookery.

Prion Island
Prion Island is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to visit wandering albatross sitting on their nest – and if we are lucky, witness the magnificent courting rituals of the younger birds forming life-long pairings. We must take great care with the albatross on the island and remain on a boardwalk. Despite these restrictions, the photographic opportunities are excellent. Prion Island is also one of the best places to find the unique and endemic South Georgia pipit.

Salisbury Plains
Salisbury Plain has one of the largest King Penguin colonies on South Georgia. With about 100,000 pairs, the shore and beach are simply covered with penguins. Along the beach you will also find fur seals and elephant seals amongst the mix of penguins. There is a tremendous scope for walking and exploring on your own during this landing, allowing you to enjoy some personal time amongst the kings.

Fortuna Bay & Stromness
Fortuna Bay is surrounded by high mountains with glaciers dropping out of the high country to terminate in the open valley that is home to a small king penguin colony. This is where Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean came down off the treacherous glaciers of the interior on their way to Stromness whaling station. If conditions allow, we can walk in the footsteps of Shackleton and follow their track over the last mountain pass. It’s a moderately difficult 3.5 mi (6km) walk over a 1,000 ft (300 m) pass, and is well worth the experience for those that are fit and able. The Polar Pioneer will meet us as we stagger into Stromness Bay just as Shackleton and his men did 100 years ago.

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 distance 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 Harbor
• Cooper Bay
• Drygalski Fjord
• Larsen Harbor
• Gold Harbor
• Right Whale Bay
• Possession Bay
• King Haakon Bay
• Moltke Harbor
• Larsen Harbor
• Shag Rocks

Days 16 & 17 — At Sea

Between South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, you will be entranced by the ceaseless flight of the many seabirds that follow our wake, skillfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. On this leg, we are usually traveling into the prevailing weather so it is difficult to estimate our arrival time in the Falklands. Our lecture program will continue and highlight all of the amazing sights we have witnessed over the past few days. You’ll have ample time to enjoy observing the sea birds, whale watching from the bridge, or simply relaxing in the bar with a book.

If time and weather conditions permit, we could pass close to Shag Rocks, a fascinating group of jagged rocky islets protruding from the sea.

Day 18 — Stanley, Falklands - Fly to Santiago (or Punta Arenas) Chile

Polar Pioneer will glide into Port Stanley for our early morning arrival.You will be greeted by our local guide who will assist you with the transfer to Mount Pleasant airport for your afternoon flight to Santiago (or Punta Arenas), Chile.

Note: Please refer to this itinerary as a guide only as changes may occur due to unpredictable sea and weather conditions.

Alpine Crossing Option

A small band of adventurous souls will attempt to repeat the epic crossing of Ernest Shackleton and trek for up to three days from King Haakon Bay to Stromness. The crossing distance is 20 - 30 mi (35 to 50 km) depending on the route, and involves crossing large, heavily crevassed glaciers and alpine passes. Experience in crevassed alpine terrain is essential. A surcharge applies. 

* Itinerary may be subject to change

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Antarctica - Ushuaia
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Punta Arenas - Antarctica
Antarctica - Ushuaia
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Ushuaia - Antarctica
Falklands - Santiago (or Punta Arenas)

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Antarctica - Ushuaia
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International Airfare Not Included. Rates are per person, based on twin-share. Single costs are 1.7 times the twin rate.

Flights included for Fly/Cruise itineraries.

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 (rates as indicated), Camping  Free, Photography Free, Snowshoeing $250, Ski Touring $900, Climbing $900, South Georgia Alpine Crossing $2,150, Ski Touring $900.

Mandatory Emergency Evacuation Insurance Required. All trips subject to possible fuel surcharge.

DeckPlan_PolarPioneer

*Cabins #402 & #403 will be sold as:
Twin Private Cabins for the 2017-18 Season and as
Twin Economy Private Cabins for the 2018-19 Season.

   Captain's Suite
Polar Pioneer's most deluxe cabin, the Captain's Suite (on Deck 5) features a separate sleeping area and lounge room, a private en-suite and large windows for optimal viewing opportunities from your own cabin. Only one cabin available, so be sure to enquire early.
Cabin Features: Private en-suite • Double bed in separate room • Forward- and side-facing windows • Separate lounge area • Desk and table area • TV, DVD player and mini fridge • Air-conditioning control • Outside deck access from Deck 5.

242 sq ft (22.5 sq m)
    Mini Suite
Two Mini Suites on Deck 5 offer a more spacious cabin with a separate sleeping and sitting area as well as a private en-suite and large windows to enjoy the views from the comfort of your own cabin. Perfect if you're after a bit more space and comfort.
Cabin Features: Private en suite • Double bed in separate room • Side-facing windows • Separate lounge area • Desk and chair • Cupboard with hanging space • TV, DVD player and mini fridge • Air-conditioning control • Outside deck access from Deck 5.

180 sq ft (16.8 sq m)
  Twin Cabin, Private Bathroom
Twin Cabins with Private Bathrooms on Deck 4 & Deck 5. Each cabin accommodates two people and offers the convenience of private bathroom facilities.
Cabin Features: Private en-suite • Two lower bunk beds (Note: #402 and #403 have an upper and lower bunk and a couch - 2017-18 Season Only) • Side-facing window • Desk and chair • Cupboard with hanging space • Air-conditioning control • Outside deck access to main deck (Deck 4 cabins only) • Outside deck access to upper deck (Deck 5 cabins only).

130 sq ft (12 sq m)
  Twin Economy Cabin, Private Bathroom (2018-19 Season Only)
Twin Cabins with Private Bathrooms on Deck 4 (#402 and #403). Each cabin accommodates two people and offers the convenience of private bathroom facilities.
Cabin Features: Private en-suite • An upper and lower bunk and a couch • Side-facing window • Desk and chair • Cupboard with hanging space • Air-conditioning control • Outside deck access to main deck.

130 sq ft (12 sq m)
  Twin Cabin, Shared Bathroom
Twin Cabins with Shared Bathrooms on Deck 3. Surprisingly spacious, each cabin comfortably sleeps two people and are only a short distance from the ship’s public bathroom facilities. Outside decks are accessible from this deck.
Cabin Features: Two lower bunk beds • Outside porthole • Wash basin • Lounge and desk • Cupboard with hanging space • Air-conditioning control • Shared bathroom facilities on same deck • Outside decks accessible via Deck 3 and 4.

105 sq ft (9.8 sq m)
  Triple Cabin, Shared Bathroom
Two Triple Cabins with Shared Bathrooms on Deck 3. Perfect for friends or families, or for solo travelers who are happy to share their space with fellow passengers. Bathrooms are located close by on the same deck.
Cabin Features: Two lower bunk beds and one upper bunk bed • Outside porthole • Wash basin • Lounge and desk • Cupboard with hanging space • Air-conditioning control • Shared bathroom facilities on same deck • Outside deck accessed via Deck 4.

110 sq ft (10.2 sq m)