Day 1 Depart London Heathrow
We depart London Heathrow on an overnight flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Day 2 Ushuaia
We arrive at Buenos Aires early-morning and transfer onward to Tierra del Fuego. Our flight follows the Argentinean coastline, over Peninsular Valdez and along the Beagle Channel into Ushuaia. Depending on the time of our arrival, the afternoon is free to explore the town or begin birding. At the harbour front, and on nearby ponds we may see Kelp and Dolphin Gull, Upland and Kelp Goose, Crested Dand and Fuegian Steamer Duck and South American Tern. Chimanga Caracara are overhead, and we may also see Southern Lapwing, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatcher, Red Shoveler, Night Heron and Chilean Skua. Our first Southern Giant Petrel and Great Grebe may be seen at sea, and landbirds include Austral Thrush, House Wren, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, Black-chinned Siskin and Rufous-collared Sparrow.
Day 3 Depart Ushuaia and entering the Beagle Channel
Today we board our ship, the newly built MV Hondius and our home for the next 19 nights. In Ushuaia, it is said that the world 'drops off the edge', and here we begin our ocean odyssey. Around the port we may again see Kelp and Dolphin Gull and on entering the Beagle Channel exciting seabirds including King Cormorant, South American Tern and Magellanic Diving-Petrel might be some of the first on our lists. If we are lucky a penguin species, Magellanic, might even make the checklist by the end of the day. Hourglass and Dusky Dolphin can be encountered, while in the channel larger cetaceans such as Fin Whale are possible as the land starts to disappear and the sea widens before us.
Days 4 & 5 Seabirds and Cetaceans though Drake Passage
Taking a southerly course, we make for Antarctica straight away, and to get there must first cross the Drake Passage. On the way, some time may be given to view Cape Horn, this iconic location popular for those with an interest in maritime exploration, though we want to get south quickly, and are keen to catch first sight of new seabirds on the wing. At times we will be able to seawatch from the upper decks but the Drake has a reputation and in rougher conditions we might well be forced inside. Albatrosses will be prime targets and we should find Black-browed to be common at this stage. Over the next few days at sea we stand chances of encountering another five species, with Grey-headed, Wandering, Northern and Southern Royal and sublime Light-mantled all possible in the southern oceans. Southern Giant Petrel can appear equally massive and we might also see Cape Petrel, Blue Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Grey-backed Storm Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and both Chilean and Sub Antarctic Skua in the early stages. At the same time we’ll be keen to test our ID skills by trying to separate any Diving Petrels or Prion’s we might see.
Cetaceans will hopefully feature too, Humpback Whale perhaps the most likely at any time during our voyage but the sharp-eyed may also gain views of Fin, Sei, Southern Right and perhaps Killer Whale! Active pods of Peale’s, Commerson’s and Hourglass Dolphins occur and there are chances of scarcer species with Southern Bottlenose Whale and a number of Beaked Whale species recorded in some years.
Day 6 Antarctica on the horizon!
By choosing to visit Antarctica before both the Falklands and South Georgia we have more assurance of spending a good amount of time here. Our plan will be to spend 3-4 days exploring with excursions to different islands, seabird colonies and other sites of interest. As we approach we could pass by Elephant Island and/or the South Shetland Isles and depending on conditions, maintaining a flexible approach could mean we pause to make landings before reaching the Antarctic Peninsula. The South Shetlands are volcanic, with an eerie atmosphere, these hostile lands turned into home by Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguin. Busy penguin colonies will be flanked by marauding Southern Giant Petrels and Sub-Antarctic Skuas, and there is a surprising amount of botanical interest here too.
Days 7, 8 & 9 Exploring Antarctica, a white wilderness!
Plenty of time to explore with daily excursions to a number of islands possible. We may well have seen a few penguins but now we’re within spitting distance of their colonies and while on land can find ourselves surrounded by them! High on the agenda will be a visit to Paulet Island on the east side of the peninsula to see the large colony of charming Adelie Penguin. Chinstrap, Gentoo, Macaroni and Emperor Penguin will hopefully all be seen at their nesting sites and in the water too. All the while we find ourselves in the most dramatic of landscapes, an expanse of pack ice stretching for miles, snowscapes stained only by wildlife activity and enormous floating icebergs! In fact there can be so much ‘white’ all around that the sea within which we’ve spent so much time can seem suddenly seem innocuous.
Wildlife interest will abound, with ferocious Leopard Seal on the lookout for any straying penguins. Crabeater and Weddell Seal seem a little more tolerant of Pale-faced Sheathbill scavenging around them. Other landings during this period may be made to Deception Island, perhaps near the old whaling station where there are also hot springs. At Brown Bluff, after breaking though the ice-clogged Antarctic Sound we could get the chance to set foot on the Antarctic continent itself if conditions are favourable. Many Cape Petrel will be seen and also Antarctic Fulmar, Antarctic Shag, Cape Petrel and Antarctic Tern to name a few, and as we cruise around we will be keen to add Antarctic Petrel (often difficult to find) to our list. Antarctic Minke and Humpback Whale may be spotted surfacing just off the ice and if our luck is in there could be opportunities to watch hunting pods of hunting Killer Whale. During our time in Antarctica we could also spend time around the northern Gerlache and/or Bransfield Straits, visiting Cierva Cove or the harsh ice mountains of the Davis Coast. Stops at Devil or Trinity Island could be options though please be aware that factors including weather, ice conditions and directions from the ship’s Captain and Expedition Leader will dictate our exact itinerary.
Day 10 East into the Weddell Sea and the South Orkney Islands
We set a course east towards the South Orkney islands, and enter the Weddell Sea, passing huge icebergs on the way. By now familiar seabirds including the albatrosses, Cape Petrel and Wilson’s Storm Petrel may be seen tailing the Hondius as we make our way through the floating pack ice, while these waters offer more chance to catch a sight of Antarctic Petrel. If time is on our side, we may linger around the South Orkney archipelago and in favourable conditions head ashore. On Laurie Island we could visit the Orcadas Base, an Argentine scientific facility, and we may also enjoy wildlife including Fur Seal while ashore.
Day 11 Solar Eclipse then on towards South Georgia
Our vessel will be positioned overnight, preferably some distance into the Scotica Sea drift ice from where we can witness the Solar Eclipse. Just after 7.00 UTC, we gather out on deck to safely enjoy this dramatic celestial event. Tracking along the ice perimeter, we keep a sharp look out for surfacing Fin, Humpback and Antarctic Minke Whale before eventually heading north towards South Georgia. These seas will bring new challenges and we may see Black-bellied Storm Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Common Diving Petrel and both Antarctic Prion and Fairy Prion (if we rise to the challenge of separating the two!).
Days 12, 13, 14 & 15 South Georgia
After the best part of a day at sea, South Georgia comes into view. Over the next few days we will enjoy unique wildlife experiences as we take several excursions offshore. Salisbury Plain, St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour hold the three largest King Penguin colonies with another sizeable colony at Fortuna Bay. The noise and aroma coming from beaches packed with breeding Southern Elephant and Fur Seal add to the atmosphere and we may see bulls of either species compete and fight over territories and females. Any rocky outcrop might harbour resting Antarctic Tern, Kelp Gull, Sub Antarctic Skua or South Georgia Shag.
Prion Island is home to a large Wandering Albatross colony, and though we may not be able to come ashore (the island is off limits during the early part of their breeding season) we will see these iconic birds, famed for having the longest wingspan in the world, socialising in a way unique to their genus. Fortuna Bay will be worth a visit for other reasons. We’ll have the chance to follow the final leg of Shackleton’s route to the abandoned whaling station at Stromness. As we walk, a stunning waterfall named after the explorer is passed and we may see other less pelagic birds including South Georgia Pintail. At Grytviken, the buildings for another abandoned whaling station are surrounded by King Penguin and Elephant Seal. If there’s time we can visit Shackleton’s grave and see the South Georgia Museum. While on a zodiac trip to Cooper Bay, we will see gatherings of Macaroni Penguin returning from fishing forays. Battling for airspace anywhere here could be Sub-Antarctic Skua, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel and more elegant Grey-headed and Light-mantled Albatross. Please be aware that weather conditions in the archipelago can at times be challenging, with mist frequently affecting our plans.
Days 16 & 17 At sea towards the Falkland Islands
Our time in South Georgia having come to an end, the enchanting Falklands will be our next destination, but not before two more days at sea. We cross the Antarctic convergence, where water columns collide forcing nutritious water to the surface often attracting huge numbers of seabirds. The species may be familiar by now, but numbers will be impressive and we may gain some of our best views of albatrosses, Great and Sooty Shearwater, numerous petrels and maybe our best chance of separating troublesome prions with Slender-billed now in the mix just to make things difficult! Cetaceans may be attracted to the abundance of food and time on deck may yield several species, perhaps offering side by side comparison.
Days 18, 19 & 20 The Enchanting Falklands
The abundance and diversity of wildlife make the Falklands one of the most interesting destinations of our trip. On an excursion to Saunders Island we will see ethereal Black-browed Albatross grace the skies and posturing to one another in this busy colony. Three species of Penguin also occur here, King, Magellanic and Gentoo all perhaps being seen. Imperial Shag breeds here and on Carcass Island to the west and during our time on the islands we will hope to find endemic Cobb’s Wren and perhaps other passerines including Black-chinned Siskin, Black-throated Finch, Falkland Grass Wren, Tussockbird, Falkand Pipit and Falkland Thrush. Piratic Striated Caracara can be found among the throngs of nesting seabirds or near colonies of Fur Seal and among other native species we may see Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Magellanic Snipe, Crested Duck and perhaps Kelp and Upland Goose.
West Point island may also be visited, another beautiful location. There is a Black-browed Albatross colony here and Rockhopper Penguin, fresh from fishing trips, undertake an incredible climb over the rocky ground with the added struggle to avoid predators in order to reach their nests. A different aspect to life here can be found at Port Stanley, the island's capital. With its Victorian-era, charming colourful houses, well-kept gardens and English-style pubs comes an odd familiarity to proceedings after time away from such civilisation. On a cultural break from birding we may visit the small museum and explore the town.
Day 21 & 22 At sea and return to Ushuaia
Journeying in a south-west direction we now be head back towards Ushuia, enjoying our last chances to enjoy seabirds on the wing before we re-enter the Beagle Channel. After such a memorable trip we will be sure of a great, if a little sad final night on board the Hondius and at some stage during the next day, we dock in Ushiana.
Day 23 Depart Ushuaia
After breakfast we say goodbye to our friends the ship's crew and expedition staff before disembarking and spending the morning at leisure. Our flight back to Buenos Aires departs early afternoon, and on arrival we transfer overnight to a comfortable hotel.
Day 23 In Flight
After a leisurely morning we will return to Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport in time to catch our flight to London Heathrow.
Day 24 Arrive London Heathrow
We arrive into London Heathrow in the morning on day 24.