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Day 1: Tue 31 October 2023 - Depart London Heathrow
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we depart London Heathrow on an overnight flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Day 2: Wed 1 November 2023 - Ushuaia
Arrive at Buenos Aires early-morning and transfer onward to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost large settlement, found on the barren shores of the island of Tierra del Fuego. This is a wild, windswept place, and whilst bird numbers are lower at this southern latitude, the quality is undeniable.
Depending on time of arrival, the afternoon is free to explore the town or begin birding. At the harbour front, and on nearby ponds you may see Kelp and Dolphin Gull, Upland and Kelp Goose, Fuegian Steamer Duck and South American Tern. Chimanga Caracara are overhead, and you may also see Southern Lapwing, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatcher, Red Shoveler, Night Heron and Chilean Skua. The 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: Thu 2 November 2023 – Farewell The End of The World!
Having enjoyed some birding around the city – often referred to as ‘The End of The World’, we embark from Puerto Madryn in the afternoon, and head for the Falkland Islands. Golfo Nuevo and the waters in the early part of the voyage are renowned for their visiting Southern Right Whales, and we have a good chance of spotting one as we sail toward the open ocean to start our oceanic lists!
Days 4 & 5: Fri 3 & Sat 4 November 2023 – Life on the ocean waves
For two days, we acclimatise to life on the open sea, and start to learn the various seabirds and cetaceans of the Southern Ocean. There is rarely a dull moment on the decks as several bird species will follow us as we head southeast - albatrosses, storm petrels, shearwaters, and diving petrels will test our ID skills, and we may see whales and dolphins as well.
Day 6: Sun 5 November 2023 - The Falklands
The Falkland Islands remain largely unknown gems. The islands offer an abundance of wildlife that is easily approachable, with not only many species of bird, but chances are we’ll see both Peale’s Dolphin and Commerson’s Dolphin in the surrounding waters. Birds may include ‘Johnny Rook’ – the very localised Striated Caracara, Falklands Steamer Duck, and several species of Antarctic Goose (including Upland, Ruddy-headed and Kelp Geese).
During our time in the area, we may visit the following sites:
Steeple Jason – Home to the world’s largest Black-browed Albatross colony -totalling approximately 113,000 birds! Steeple Jason is a wild and rarely visited island buffeted by wind and waves. Weather and swell conditions will dictate whether we spend time here.
Carcass Island – Despite its name, this island is pleasantly rodent-free and hence abounds with birdlife. Anything from breeding Magellanic Penguin and Gentoo Penguin to numerous waders and passerines (including Cobb’s Wren and Blackish Cinclodes (often called the Tussock Bird)) live here.
Saunders Island – On Saunders Island you can see the Black-browed Albatross and its sometimes-clumsy landings, along with breeding Imperial Shag and Rockhopper penguin. King, Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins are also found here, making it one of the greatest places on Earth to get to know your penguin species!
Day 7: Mon 6 November 2023 - Stanley
The capital of the Falklands and its cultural centre, Port Stanley has some Victorian-era charm: colourful houses, well-tended gardens, and English-style pubs are all to be found here. You can also see several century-old clipper ships nearby, silent witnesses to the hardships of 19th century sailors. The small but interesting museum is also worth a visit, covering the early days of settlement up to the 1982 Falklands War. Approximately 2,100 people live in Port Stanley.
Days 8 & 9: Tue 7 & Wed 8 November 2023 – Time to wrap up warm!
En route to South Georgia, we cross the Antarctic Convergence. This is where cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters meet the relatively warmer waters of the sub-Antarctic, bringing nutrients to the surface of the sea. This phenomenon attracts a multitude of seabirds, including several species of albatross, shearwaters, petrels, prions, and skuas as well as Minke, Humpback and Fin Whales and Orca. The air temperature cools considerably within the space of a few hours, so don’t forget to wear that extra layer as you enjoy the wealth of wildlife on show!
Days 10 - 13: Thu 9 – Sun 12 November 2023 - South Georgia
The disputed British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is home to five million seals and 65 million seabirds, including the largest global populations of Light-mantled Sooty and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrel and White-chinned Petrel. This inhospitable, mountainous archipelago has played a major role in Antarctic exploration as well as being a haven for wildlife.
Weather and sea state will decide our itinerary whilst in South Georgia, but our visit may include:
Prion Island – This location is closed during the early part of the Wandering Albatross breeding season (November 20 – January 7), mainly to stop disturbance of breeding Fur Seals on the landing beach. The previous summer’s albatross chicks are almost ready to fledge, and adults are seeking out their old partners after a year and a half at sea.
Salisbury Plain, St. Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour – These sites not only house the three largest King Penguin colonies in South Georgia, they’re also three of the world’s largest breeding beaches for Southern Elephant Seal. Only during this time of year do they peak in their breeding cycle. Watch the four-ton bulls keep a constant vigil (and occasionally engage in some bloody fighting) over territories where dozens of females have just given birth or are about to deliver their pups. There is also a substantial number of Antarctic Fur Seals here from late-November onwards.
Fortuna Bay – A beautiful outwash plain from Fortuna Glacier is home to a large number of King Penguin and seals. We may also have the chance to take a hike following the final leg of Shackleton’s route to the abandoned whaling village of Stromness. The boggy path cuts across the mountain pass beyond Shackleton’s Waterfall. Antarctic Tern, South Polar Skua can be seen in this area.
Grytviken – In this eerie, abandoned whaling station, King Penguins walk the streets and Elephant Seals lie around like they own the place – because they basically do! We may be able to see the South Georgia Museum, the famous church, the abandoned cinema, and the rest of the deserted village which used to be home to 500 inhabitants. We will also get to see Shackleton’s grave, where he was laid to rest following his death in 1922.
Day 14: Mon 13 November 2023 - Southward bound
There may be icebergs and some sea ice on this section of our route, and at the edge of the ice some South Polar Skuas and Snow Petrels are likely to join the other seabirds trailing the vessel south.
Day 15: Tue 14 November 2023 - South Orkney
Today we shall witness the wild scenery of South Orkney. Depending on the weather conditions, we may visit Orcadas Base, an Argentine scientific station on Laurie Island in the South Orkney archipelago. The personnel here will happily show us around their facility, where we can enjoy expansive views of the surrounding glaciers. If a visit isn’t possible, we may land at Signy Island – home to a research station run by the British Antarctic Survey which monitors Adélie, Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins.
Day 16: Wed 15 November 2023 – Icebergs
Plentiful Fin Whale sightings ensure there’s no time to rest on this last part of our southerly sea voyage. Our best chance of Antarctic Petrel is in this area too, as they swing past the boat with enormous icebergs as their dramatic backdrop.
Days 17 - 20: Thu 16 – Sun 19 November 2023 - Awe-inspiring Antarctica
If the ice conditions permit, we will enter the Weddell Sea. Colossal tabular icebergs herald our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We may make several stops - Paulet Island, with its large population of Adélie Penguins; or Brown Bluff, located in the ice-clogged Antarctic Sound, where we may get the chance to set foot on the Antarctic Continent itself.
If conditions aren’t favourable to enter the Weddell Sea from the east, the ship will set course for Elephant Island and head into the Bransfield Strait, between the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The volcanic islands of the South Shetlands are windswept and often cloaked in mist, but they do offer subtle pleasures: There’s a wide variety of flora (mosses, lichens, flowering grasses) and birds, including Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins and Southern Giant Petrel. Around Half Moon Island, amongst the penguins, Weddell Seals often haul out onto the beach near Cámara Base, an Argentine scientific research station. On Deception Island, the ship plunges through Neptune’s Bellows and into a flooded caldera. Here we find hot springs, an abandoned whaling station, and thousands of Cape Petrel, along with Kelp Gull, Brown Skua, and Antarctic Tern. A good hike is a possibility in this fascinating and desolate volcanic landscape. Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm Petrels also nest in the ruins of the whaling station in Whaler’s Bay.
If weather allows, this cruise will give us the chance to sail even farther down the icy coast of the western Antarctic Peninsula. There are several opportunities for zodiac rides ashore, where we might set foot on the Antarctic Continent, surrounded by an epic landscape of alpine peaks and mammoth glaciers at sea level. Gentoo Penguin, Leopard and Weddell seals, Humpback and Minke Whales are all often seen here.
The breath-taking scenery continues in the Bransfield Strait and, if the ice accommodates, further south in the Gerlache Strait.
Weather, sea and ice conditions within the Drake Passage determine our time of departure back northwards.
Days 21 – 22: Mon 20 – Tue 21 November 2023 – All at sea
Our return voyage to mainland Argentina is far from lonely - while crossing the Drake Passage, we will re-acquaint ourselves with the vast array of seabirds that accompanied us on our passage south, except identification is easier, and spotting whales and other mammals is also easier! It’s the last chance for some onboard photography as we traverse the waves of the mighty Southern Ocean for the last time.
Day 23: Wed 22 November 2023 – Terra Firma
In the morning, we arrive and disembark back in Ushuaia after a monumental journey across the far south of the world. From here, we fly home to London via Buenos Aires, arriving back in the UK on Day 24.