Below is described by our Expedition Leader, who also happens to be an excellent ornithologist:
What a magnificent experience to spend some time on the gate to the Antarctic continent. Only few hours walking around the Chilean base Eduardo Frei, will give you a general idea how the base operate and how do people overwinter in this unusual area of the globe. You will be in one of the largest base on this part of Antarctica. It is a great opportunity to stamp your passport on one of the most inaccessible continent to have in your record. On king George Island there is exploring the penguin area, the Russian, Chilean and Chinese bases.
In term of wildlife you will have the chance to meet one of the most fascinating governor of the Antarctic continent, the Penguins, depending the time of the year, you can see all three different species of penguins wondering next to the base or in the shoreline:Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie. Plus many other species of seabirds: always next to human facilities there is the agresive Brown or Antarctic Skua, the Kelp or Dominican Gull, and the Antarctic Sheathbill, all of them feeding next to the kitchen where there is always some debris. On the coast you will be able to see the largest Petrel, Southern Giant Petrel, plus many other birds such as Antarctic Tern, King Cormorant and Wilson´s Storm Petrel.
Here on land also, you will have the chance to see a few seals, generally, the most common are Southern Elephant Seal, and Weddell seal lying on the beach. If you are lucky, as soon as our ship start sailing you have to keep looking for Antarctic Fur seal swimming next to our vessel or Crab eater Seal, and why not a Leopard seal lying on the ice. There is also good chance to spot some Humpback, or Menke whales or an impressive pod of Orcas.
Some of the most adventurous people would love to cross the Drake Passage, which is known to be at times one of the roughest oceans on the planet and at other times its as calm as a glass of milk. This will be an unforgettable and wonderful experience, to feel what the old sailors faced last century, you won't regret it. There will be plenty of activities on board the ship (fascinating lectures, and magnificent films). This is also a good opportunity to spend time on deck looking for different species of seabirds and why not to spot some whales nearby. Below, you will find a possible list of seabirds on the crossing.
Georgian Diving Petrel
We will also get to see the southern most tip of the south American Continent, the impressive island of Cape Horn, very well known by many of the sailors adventuring on this latitude. As soon as we enter in these beautiful and protected waters, surrounded by impressive virgin islands with impenetrable forest and hanging glaciers. Here, the fauna will change dramatically from Antarctica.
For more information on Cape Horn, see http://www.cape-horn.net/cape_horn.html
The species of penguins we have here is the Magellanic Penguin which nest in borrows on some of the islands. We will also get to see Magellanic Diving Petrel, Sooty and Pink footed Shearwater, among other sea birds. On the edges of the island it is possible to spot the big Flightless Steamer Duck and Kelp Goose, plus other waterfowl such as Chilean teal, Crested Duck and Yellow billed Pintail. Dolphin Gull is another very abundant species of this latitude.
Among the marine mammals you will be able to get the most beautiful black and white Dolphin called Commerson´s Dolphin, the Houglass dolphin and some South American Fur seals and sea lions.
The variety of song birds in the forest it is also very impressive including the elusive Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Parakeets, Thorn tailed rayadito among others. Maybe you should bring a book about birds.
After your Antarctic trip, we recommend the beautiful Torres Del Paime national park which is close by to Punta Arenas & Ushuaia. Please see http://cape-horn.net/patagonia.html This will give you plenty of wildlife, culture and scenery!
Hiking / Walking
How long are the walks?
As we are not allowed to eat nor leave any toilet waste behind on Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty/ IAATO regulations) our time on land is limited. We plan to go ashore immediately after breakfast or lunch and we will be back for the next meal. That means that there is only about 3 to 4 hours time for the hikes. When possible one longer walk of about 6 hours will be made at Deception Island.
How difficult are the walks?
In general the hikes are not too difficult for someone that has a vital state of health. You need to be able to do a 4 to 5 hour walk in fairly rugged terrain with some up and downhill walking. No other special skills are required.
Please note that we are going into fairly unknown terrain. There can be rocks, snow, mud or a frozen hard surface to walk on. We sometimes can only tell more about the difficulties of the hike when we are there at the spot, just before the landing. The weather can also make a walk easy or difficult.
How fast do we walk?
Normally the walking speed is fairly slow. The lack of a footpath and lose rocks and snow demand a slow speed. Everyone wants to enjoy the views and take pictures so that makes the walking also fairly slow. There will be frequent stops.
Do we walk as one big group or do we split up into smaller groups?
Yes, normally we split up into 2 smaller groups. Then there will be an easy and a more difficult option. We carry three guides on board of the ship so every group will have at least one guide. The more difficult option normally takes 2 guides on the walk.
Are the hikes optional? Can I stay behind onshore?
Passengers can of course stay on board during a walk but they cannot stay behind on the beach. All the guides are needed for the hikes and passengers are according to the regulations not allowed to stay behind without being accompanied by a guide.
Is it possible to take food on the hikes?
Eating snacks on shore is not allowed (Antarctic Treaty/ IAATO regulations) to prevent the spreading of diseases and seeds of alien plant species.
Is there a possibility to go to the toilet?
No toilet visit possible on land (Antarctic Treaty/ IAATO regulations). If someone knows he/ she has a frequent need for a toilet then this person has to take a bottle (e.g. a Nalgene bottle with a wide opening, sold in outdoor shops or other field toilet options) with him/ her. Please note that Oceanwide Expeditions is not providing any field toilet. One of the important things is not to drink too much before the walk. Then during the walk only drink when feeling thirsty.
If one brings hiking boots, does one then have to carry the rubber boots in one's pack? Or do those rubber boots (for the landings) stay with the inflatable and get returned at the end of the hike pickup spot?
Normally rubber boots will stay on the landing/ pick-up beach together with the life-jackets. Sometimes they might be taken in the zodiac and delivered to the landing place. So the rubber boots do not have to be carried in the back-pack.
How do I prepare for my expedition voyage?
Our voyages are "expedition" style cruise. Our emphasis is on wildlife encounters, personal contact with the environs, visiting sites of historical interest and to a lesser extent scientific stations.
Our actual program will vary to take best advantage of local conditions, spontaneous opportunities and wildlife. Experience in Antarctic waters shows us that a flexible program is essential when it comes to dealing with the published itinerary as a guide to some of our best opportunities. No two voyages are the same, there is always an element of the unexpected.
When packing, don't weigh yourself down with too many clothes or too much gear. Select informal, practical attire for your trip that can be worn in layers.
Please download our Expedition Manual with detailed information on clothing lists, what to pack and what to expect on our voyages
Are there restrictions on what can be done while ashore?
Yes, an overriding concern is the protection of the wildlife, environment and cultures in any of the areas we visit. We will ad-dress conservation issues in the on board briefings and the expedition staff will assist you ashore. Most important rules are:
- Do not leave anything but footprints
- Do not take anything but memories
How much time do we spend ashore?
That is hard to say. It depends on the weather and constraints of time and distance. Depending on the voyage, you may spend several days aboard the ship, followed by a series of landings, each several hours long. On some voyages you land two or three times every day. During our time at the high latitudes, we will have almost continuous daylight, which means we may schedule excursions before breakfast, after dinner - or in the middle of the ‘night'. Often the light for photography is best at these times. We would like to show you as much as possible but leave it up to you to skip an excursion.
Does the crew speak English?
On the motor vessels we have an international crew. Ships language is English and on some departures bi-lingual. All staff (Guides/Lecturers, Purser, Chef, Expedition leaders) speak English, and most of the time other languages as well.
Do I have to be really 'fit' and in good health to join this expeditions?
You must be in good general health and you should be able to walk several hours per day. The expedition is ship-based and physically not very demanding. Although we spend as much time as possible ashore, you are welcome to remain aboard the ship if you like.
To join most excursions, you must be able to get up and down the steep gangway from the ship to the water level to board the Zodiacs. Staff will assist you in and out of the boats. This will become progressively easier with practice. Ashore it can be slippery and rocky. You are travelling in remote areas without access to sophisticated medical facilities, so you must not join this expedition if you have a life-threatening condition, or need daily medical treatment.
Can I recharge my batteries and use electrical appliances on board?
Yes, the power supply is 220 volts, 50 cycles. The wall plugs accommodate two thick round pins like those found in most European countries. You may need a transformer and international adapter for your particular equipment.
What is the age range aboard?
Passengers on a typical voyage range from their 20s to their 80s - with a majority usually from 45 - 65 (a little bit younger on our sailing vessel). Our expeditions attract independent-minded travellers from around the world. They are characterised by a strong interest in exploring remote regions. The camaraderie and spirit that develops aboard is an important part of the expedition experience. Many departures have several nationalities on board.
Many people ask us if they will get sea-sick. This depends very much on the individual. Our experience is that a small percentage of people get sick on any trip and most of these people are fine after a day or so at sea. If you feel that you are particularly susceptible to sea-sickness then it is a good idea to talk to your local doctor. Bring enough motion sickness tablets, or plasters with you and be sure you have eaten enough and feel rested. Our ships physician will be there for emergencies and to treat sick passengers.
What will the weather be like?
In the Polar areas the weather is always an unknown factor and is usually very changeable. Temperatures can be cold, though not perhaps as cold as you might expect. On calm sunny days it can feel quite warm. But wet, windy weather must also be expected.