This new Fly/Sail itinerary features the best of Antarctica across ten days and allows for more exploration, with only one crossing of the Drake Passage. Get up close with tabular icebergs, vast colonies of Adelie and gentoo penguins and dramatic volcanic landscapes in the ice-filled Weddell Sea; the Antarctic Peninsula’s many islands are alive with leopard seals busy with courtship, bustling penguins and maybe whales!
Day 1: Flight Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams – Expeditioners will gather in Punta Arenas, Chile, overlooking the Straits of Magellan. Situated astride one of the world’s historic trade routes, its prosperity has risen and fallen with that trade. Punta Arenas enjoyed its first great boom during the California Gold Rush, when it served as a haven for great clipper ships. Although the port’s importance diminished after the opening of the Panama Canal, the city reached even greater prosperity early in this century as the center of Chile’s international wool trade. Today, Punta Arenas reflects a great mix of cultures, from English sheep ranchers to Portuguese sailors, and it remains a fascinating testament to Chile’s rich history. Punta Arenas is also the starting point for excursions to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. The best spot to gain an introduction to Punta Arenas is the Cerro La Cruz promontory, which provides panoramic views of the city’s orderly streets, colorful tin roofs, and the strait beyond. Among the city’s most interesting attractions are the Museo Salesiano de Mayonino Borgatello, started by an order of Italian missionaries, and the Centro Cultural Braun-Menendèz, housed in the mansion of one of the city’s most prosperous families. The museum provides visitors with an eclectic introduction to the region. Its collection, accumulated by the missionaries during their extensive travels, is extensive—from ceramics to rare animals. The Centro Cultural is equally engaging, offering an intimate glimpse of the life of a prosperous Punta Arenas trading family. Furnished with fine European antiques, Italian marble floors, and grand ceiling frescos, this mansion showcases the economic stature of Punta Arenas before the Panama Canal.
Our midday charter flight from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams will take approximately forty-five minutes. The flight will provide a birds’ eye view of the breath taking landscape of Cordillera Darwin with its magnificent glaciers, narrow austral channels and hidden colored lagoons. On arrival in Puerto Williams, you will be taken on a tour of the town and its natural surroundings. In the early afternoon you will be greeted by your expedition team and Russian crew as you embark Polar Pioneer for your trip of a lifetime.
Days 2 – 3: Drake Passage – 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 and found entrance to the Drake Passage.
Some of us will approach this historic crossing with more than a little trepidation. But despite its reputation, there are many times when the Drake Passage resembles a lake, with lazy Southern Ocean swells rolling under the keel. On the other hand, we sometimes encounter 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.
The mood on board is definitely casual. At sea we are totally self-sufficient. The days flow by as we travel snugly in our cocoon. A favorite pastime on board is to stand at the stern watching 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.
During the Drake crossing, we will commence our lecture program on the wildlife, geology, history and geography of the Antarctic Peninsula. We will be given guidelines for approaching wildlife and talk about the implications of the Antarctic Treaty. Antarctica is a photographers’ paradise for professionals and amateur alike. Nearing the tip of the Peninsula towards the end of day three, excitement reaches fever pitch with everyone 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 forever.
Days 4 – 6: Weddell Sea – 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 Antarctic Sound to the eastern side of the Peninsula. A host of choices is now open to us and depending on the ice and weather conditions. Our experienced leaders, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use this expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather and ice conditions and wildlife opportunities. Because we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours of 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! That’s why we call our cruises, “Expeditions of Exploration and Adventure” – who knows where we will go? We arrive in the calmer waters of Antarctic Sound, and we aim to make landings 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. 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.
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:
Situated on the eastern side of Tabarin Peninsula, the spectacular 2,500 ft (745 m) 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.
This tiny volcanic island forms the nesting grounds of some 120,000 pairs of Adélie 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 off shore, 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 had sunk. The men wintered 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 floats 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 feat not often accomplished.
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 we may even see nesting snow petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. For those who are less active, the comings and goings of penguins on the beach and the accompanying skua population provide endless fascination.
There are often large numbers of grounded icebergs off shore that we may cruise among in our Zodiacs.
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 23 mi x 22 mi (37 km x 36 km) 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.
Days 7 – 9 : Western Flanks of the Antarctic Peninsula – There are many exciting places that we would like to visit. A sample of these 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 ridge-line. 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 colored 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 often 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 Harbor 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 2,300 ft (700 m) 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 protrude 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 Harbor; Antarctic Sound; and scientific bases of Ferraz (Brazilian), Vernadsky (Ukrainian) or Port Lockroy, a historic British base that is now a museum and post office.
Day 10: King George Island – As we approach Frei Base on King George Island, it is time to farewell Antarctica and our amazing adventure before boarding our flight to Punta Arenas, Chile.
Please Note: King George Island is located at the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula. This is one of the most remote places on Earth. A clear sky with perfect visibility is required in order to take off and land safely. We apologize in advance if you experience any delays.
On arrival at the Punta Arenas airport you will be transferred from the airport to our centrally located hotel in Punta Arenas.
Day 11: Punta Arenas – After breakfast at the hotel, bid a fond farewell to your fellow passengers as you make your journey home or continue on with your own arrangements.
Please note that all of our itineraries are at the mercy of weather conditions and not all landings are guaranteed. Our itineraries are flexible and will change voyage to voyage, allowing the best chance to make the most of surprising wildlife displays and unexpected opportunities.