The Trip of a Lifetime
from GALAPAGOS TRAVEL
Antarctica, South Georgia Island, and the Falkland Islands
December 28, 2012 - January 15, 2013
We're back from our latest voyage! Here's the update
Each expedition south is unique. The book preview to the right might give you an idea of what we saw on our most recent voyage - it is a collection of my favorite images from the voyage. What it will not show you is the remarkable 79 species of birds and 21 species of mammals encountered once we boarded the ship (although it will show you the Magellanic Woodpecker our group saw the morning before we boarded). We saw a remarkable seven species of penguins, including upwards of 450,000 King Penguins on Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, alone. We had 28 species of tubenoses throughout our journey, including 7 species of albatross. We saw impressive numbers of Antarctic Fur Seals in South Georgia, plus hundreds of Southern Elephant Seals, and close sightings of Leopard Seals, Weddell Seals, and Crabeaters. We had incredible numbers of whales this year, including up to 80 large whales one day, with spectacular sightings of Humpbacks. Also noteworthy were pods of Orca and the incredibly unusual Strap-toothed Beaked Whales. One day we even had up to 125 Hourglass Dolphins. The kayaking group enjoyed calm waters and close encounters, and the continent-campers savored a night ashore serenaded by humpbacks feeding nearby throughout the night. It was another magical voyage in the Southern Ocean!
Next Trip: December 28, 2014 - January 15, 2015
Offering educationally-oriented, comprehensive trips to the Galápagos Islands will always be our focus at GALAPAGOS TRAVEL. At the same time, some of our Galápagos passengers have put mild pressure on us to take them somewhere else - basically, on another great adventure.
Antarctica is truly an awesome place. A vast desert of white, holding 90% of the earth's ice in a permanent ice cap, at times over 2 miles thick. In the southern winter its area doubles in size when sea ice forms around its margin. Antarctica is then at its most formidable - dominating and unpredictable - greater than life, and seemingly devoid of life. But, during our journey, it will be absolutely teeming with life. For we will be there during the peak of the austral summer, when the sun finally emerges from the long winter night, the sea ice melts, and life returns - to breed! With a background of glittering white mountains and blue-green icebergs, we will come face to face with incredibly large colonies of penguins; in all we will see 7-8 penguin species. We will also approach colonies of albatrosses (4 species), petrels, and shags (cormorants). We will walk and cruise among 7 species of pinnipeds, including large colonies of massive Southern elephant seals and roaring Antarctic fur seals. During our cruising time, we will be rewarded with good looks at pelagic sea birds gliding nearby and several species of whales.
The history of Antarctic exploration is legendary - names such as Cook, Scott, Amundson, and Shackleton. Each has had incredible, heroic adventures. We will go where they have gone, and we will learn what they accomplished and endured. Even in the relatively mild austral summer, we will occasionally feel the force of Antarctica, just as they did. There are times that it will be our master and control our activities. Our expedition puts us in touch with modern-day explorers as well, members of the global community of scientists working at polar research stations.
We have given it quite a lot of thought and personal travel, and feel that as with the Galápagos, most of the trips that are offered to Antarctica miss out on the best parts. We don't want to do that! If the Antarctic Peninsula (and adjacent islands) is the heart of the voyage, South Georgia is certainly the soul. Not included on most Antarctica itineraries, South Georgia will be a key part of ours.
With the seasonal ice melt expedition vessels are able to visit the Southern Ocean from late-October through early-March. Our visit is planned for mid-season – the weather should be at its best – when the penguin and albatross chicks have hatched, yet early enough that the colonies are booming.
Traditionally we offer this in-depth expedition to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands once every-other year. To do it right, it becomes a 19-day cruise – 21 days including travel days and an overnight in Ushuaia prior to boarding the ship. We will again be aboard our favorite polar expedition vessel, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov.
Begin in captivating Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire – where the southern tip of the Andes range finally meets the sea. The rugged mountains, lakes and views across the Beagle Channel are as breathtaking as the wildlife. We depart from Ushuaia and make our first stop in the Falkland Islands where we will spend 2 days. Here we will find a relatively warm climate where an abundance of unusual wildlife thrives. In addition to colonies of Black-browed Albatross, Rockhopper and Magellanic Penguins, the island diversity includes upwards of sixty species of migratory birds.
Moving south we cross the Antarctic convergence to the pristine island of South Georgia. Towering glacier-covered mountains are the backdrop to thriving colonies of penguins – including hundreds of thousands of Kings on a single beach – seals, and albatross. We plan at least 3 days here. Next on our voyage south will be a day in the South Orkney Islands, where our arrival will be heralded by enormous icebergs.
Finally we will have four days in the South Shetland Archipelago and the Antarctic Peninsula; a land of spectacular ice and snow, with a profusion of wildlife.
At sea the expedition staff is typically the on bridge or out on deck eager to share the latest wildlife sightings. Throughout the voyage they will offer insightful presentations on the region, abundant wildlife and rich history.
Our plan is to fully exploit our time on the expedition - to maximize the viewing and photographic opportunities; there will also be time for exploration and discovery. Weather permitting, we plan to take full advantage of the long daylight hours in the austral summer. That means extended landings, flexible hikes from easy to challenging, and frequent zodiac sightseeing excursions. There will even be a few chances to do some kayaking for those who wish. For those not as adventurous or just feeling tired, the zodiacs are shuttled back and forth between the ship and landing sites.
EXPEDITION CRUISE LENGTH:
DAY BY DAY EXPEDITON ITINERARY:
We will be traveling in a very remote, unforgiving, environment where weather - wind and ice - will determine our every move. The Expedition Team will work closely with the captain, crew and zodiac drivers to give us the best possible expedition. Flexibility is paramount for all expedition cruising and this itinerary is for guidance only.
December 27: Arrival in Ushuaia
December 28: Tierra Del Fuego National Park - Embarkation
Boarding the Akademik Sergey Vavilov is scheduled for 4pm. Shortly thereafter the ship will lift anchor and begin the journey down the Beagle Channel to the sea. The passing shoreline is largely uninhabited and almost immediately you may begin to notice wildlife; Kelp Gulls, Dolphin Gulls, Blue-eyed Shags, Chilean Skuas, and even Magellanic Penguins.
December 29: At Sea
December 30 & 31: Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
We plan to make the most of our time here with several anticipated landing locations…
West Point Island • The Napier family has owned the island since the 1860s. Black-browed Albatrosses nest in colonies on cliffs along the water’s edge on the western side of the island. Rockhopper Penguins share the cliffs. Commerson’s Dolphins are often seen in the water surrounding the island, often even accompanying our zodiacs ashore.
Carcass Island • The island is named for a Royal Navy ship, HMS Carcass, which arrived in 1766. This picturesque island has a wonderful diversity of songbirds (due to the lack of a rat problem, which plagued many of the other islands) which nest amongst the luxuriant growth that covers the gently rolling landscape. In addition to Magellanic penguins the island is typically home to oystercatchers, geese and the flightless steamer duck.
Stanley • The deep-water harbor of Stanley was the economic mainstay of the archipelago following the port’s completion in 1845. Sailing ships damaged while rounding Cape Horn called in for expensive repairs as did whalers and other the questionable vessels used to carry fortune seekers to the gold fields of California and Australia. The town is remarkably British in feel, with pubs and fish and chips shops vying for attention with the museum and church.
December 19: At Sea
The richness of these waters is evident in the marine mammal life, especially the fur seals on fishing forays. There is a chance of sighting whales, such as Fins and Minkies as well. Fin Whales are very difficult to approach as they are the fastest of the rorqual whales and can quickly leave us behind. The birds circling our stern will be outstanding, especially the large albatrosses. We have counted in these waters six species of albatross: Grey-headed, Light-mantled Sooty, Wandering, Northern Royal, Southern Royal, and of course, Black-browed; eight species of petrels: Cape, Soft-plumaged, White-headed, Atlantic, Blue, White-chinned, and Southern and Northern Giant Petrels; three species of storm-petrels: Gray-backed, Black-bellied and Wilson's; plus common Diving-petrel, Greater and Sooty Shearwaters, Southern Fulmar and Antarctic Prion by the thousands.
January 3 – 5: South Georgia
In addition to the seabirds, half of the world's population of Southern Elephant Seals breed on South Georgia. Like the Elephant Seal, the Antarctic Fur Seal is restricted largely to the sub-Antarctic islands. Ninety-five percent of its world population breeds on South Georgia alone.
Our plan is to fully explore the more sheltered northeast cost of the island - our options for landings are amazing, and will likely include several of the following!
Drygalski Fjord • Some of the peaks that rise straight out of the sea were not subjected to glaciation, and therefore are sharply peaked.
Gold Harbour • The backdrop to this harbor is the hanging Bertrab Glacier. King and Gentoo Penguins, Elephant and Fur Seals are common here.
Grytviken • This was the busiest whaling station in the world for much of the first half of the 20th century. Now only a handful of people live, albeit temporarily, here on South Georgia, a United Kingdom overseas territory. There is a very nice small museum on the natural history of the island, plus a small gift shop and post office. The church was built for the whaling community and is the only building in Grytviken that is still used for its original purpose. Drink a toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton at his grave.
Prion Island • Located in the Bay of Islas, Robert Cushman Murphy named the island for the species of petrels that are seen there, Prion. This is the only site where we can see Wandering Albatross nesting. Other nesting birds include the Southern Giant Petrel, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, South Georgia Pintails, and also the South Georgia Pipit.
Salisbury Plain • One of the largest King Penguin rookeries on the island is located on Salisbury Plain. The Murphy and Lucas Glaciers flank the plain.
St. Andrew’s Bay • This is the largest King Penguin colony on South Georgia, with an estimated half a million individuals, all in impossibly dense colonies. The setting is beautiful with high peaks towering over the bay and a fast-flowing meltwater stream running off the island's glaciers. Reindeer, introduced by Norwegian whalers often feed on the grass in the area. Snowy Sheathbills and Skuas patrol, while Fur Seals keep watch on the beach.
Stromness • This abandoned whaling station was in full operation the day that Ernest Shackleton and his companions staggered in after a 36 hour trek across the island of South Georgia.
January 6-8: At Sea & South Orkneys
January 9 – 12: South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Mainland
While most of Antarctica is frozen throughout the year, an exception is the long panhandle of the Antarctic Peninsula which stretches far enough north to be largely ice-free in the summer. To the east, it is exposed to the frozen Weddell Sea, while the western shore is warmed by the Southern Ocean and buffeted by fierce winds.
The Bransfield Strait separates the Shetland Islands from the Antarctic Peninsula, with the islands stretching for 335 miles from northeast to southwest. Whales have made a great comeback in this region. Wonderful Humpback behavior is common in these summer feeding grounds. Other cetaceans commonly include Orcas, or even rare beaked whales. Here in the cleanest of air watch for a possible "green flash" as the sun drops below the sea.
Here again the possible landing/cruising areas are nothing short of awesome!
Brown Bluff • A towering (2,225 feet) ice-capped red bluff dominates the landscape. Below, a 2-mile north-facing beach is home to Adélie and Gentoo Penguin rookeries.
Cuverville Island • A rocky beach here extends to a steep cliff that absorbs the summer sun, and is home to the largest Gentoo Penguin rookery on the Peninsula. Near the steep cliff face the area is rich in vegetation with lush lichens, moss and grass. Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Terns, Snowy Sheathbills, Antarctica Brown Skuas, and South Polar Skuas all breed here as well.
Danco Island • This small island is home to Gentoo Penguins, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and shags, to name just a few.
Deception Island • This horseshoe shaped volcanic island is still active, and amazing in many ways. Conditions permitting the ship will enter the caldera via a narrow passage called Neptune’s Bellows. Landings inside might be possible at Whaler’s Bay where dilapidated buildings and rusting boilers from the early 20th century whaling operations sit on the beach amid Weddell Seals and raucous Kelp Gulls. Watch for steam that may rise from hot geo-thermally heated water along the shoreline. Bailey Head is a landing on the exterior of the island, and home to a huge Chinstrap colony dominating the natural volcanic amphitheater of the site - probably the most beautiful of all Chinstrap colonies. The island is the site of Sir Hubert Wilkins’ first Antarctica flight.
Enterprise Island (Gerlache Strait) • Located in Wilhelmina Bay, the island was long used by whalers (a Zodiac cruise around the island passes a still-visible wrecked whaling ship).
Half Moon Island (Livingston Island) • The crescent-shaped island was known to sealers, if no one else, as early as 1821. Sealers were notorious for keeping secret the location of valuable sites. Many Antarctic birds breed on the island – Chinstrap Penguins, shags, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Kelp Gulls, Snowy Sheathbills, Antarctic Terns and Skua.
Lemaire Channel • This narrow 7-mile strait runs between Booth Island and the Antarctic Peninsula, and is one of the most scenic locations on the western coast. At just over 100 miles north of the Antarctica Circle the channel often becomes impassable when ice fills the passageway so it is not often on the itinerary until late in the season.
Neko Harbor • Little evidence remains that this bay was once used by the floating whale factory ship Neko. You might see some whale vertebrae used by the resident Gentoo Penguins as shelter from the wind. There is an unmanned refuge hut erected by Argentina. Climb past the hut and up a steep slope for spectacular views of the glacier rimmed harbor.
Paulet Island • Located in the northwestern Weddell Sea, Paulet is home to 100,000 or more breeding pairs of Adélie Penguins, with peak breeding season from late December through January. This is also a wonderful area to find penguin-covered icebergs. A Blue-eyed Shag colony is adjacent to the landing beach. Slightly uphill the remains of a historic stone hut from the Swedish Antarctic Expedition in 1901-04 are still visible.
Petermann Island • The southernmost breeding colony of Gentoo Penguins is situated on this small island located just below the Lemaire Channel. The dome of the island rises 650 feet above the sea. Large colonies of Adélie Penguins, Blue-eyed Shags and South Polar Skuas also nest here. Crabeater, Weddell and Leopard Seals are a common sight on the nearby ice floes. The surrounding mountains are spectacular with hanging ice and wind-sculpted snow.
Port Lockroy • Following a short inland hike you are rewarded with a broad panorama of rugged mountain slopes topped with glaciers. A sprawling Gentoo colony occupies the higher outcroppings. This once-secret WWII base is now designated a historic site.
Turret Point (King George Island) • The site is noted by high rock stacks along the eastern edge of King George Bay. Both Chinstrap and Adélie Penguin rookeries are found on this point, along with nesting Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Shags and Antarctica Terns. Southern Elephant Seals frequently haul out in large numbers, with Weddell Seals to a lesser degree.
Waterboat Point (Paradise Bay) • At low tide, Waterboat Point is connected to the Antarctic mainland, while zodiacs are used to explore the area when the tide is in. Two scientists studying penguin behavior lived in a waterboat on the Point from 1921-22, thereby giving the area its name. The remains of their camp have been designated an Antarctic historic site.
Yankee Harbor (Greenwich Island) • This natural harbor is entered between Glacier Bluff and Spit Point, with a coarse gravel bar protecting the bay. Gentoo Penguins have established a large rookery on the shingle terraces above the bay. The setting is spectacular with a large glacier along the east and north sides of the bay framing the view, and a large melt pond in the midst of the colony.
January 13 & 14: Drake Passage
January 15: Disembarkation in Ushuaia
PRE & POST EXPEDITION SERVICES:
The Akademik Sergey Vavilov has an ice-strengthened hull; her smaller size allows us to navigate scenic waterways with ease, venturing into areas closed to larger vessels. Powerful twin engines provide the speed capabilities to maintain our full itinerary. Designed to explore remote corners of the world, she is equipped with sophisticated navigation equipment and stabilizers for smoother cruising. The ship meets all international environmental and safety standards. A western physician trained in emergency medicine is on-board. The atmosphere aboard is relaxed, more akin to a private expedition than a conventional cruise. She has a crew of 35, largely Russian, all highly experienced in polar/ice navigation.
All ship cabins must be shared, except by special arrangement. We will attempt to arrange a roommate for you if traveling alone. Selected twin cabins are available for guaranteed single occupancy at 1.5 times the twin rate.
DEPOSITS & PAYMENTS:
NOT INCLUDED IN THE EXPEDITION:
All deposits and payments are non-refundable. If a cancellation occurs 90 days or less prior to departure, and full payment has not yet been received, the full penalty still applies and unpaid monies are due immediately. Refunds cannot be made to passengers who do not complete the tour for any reason whatsoever.
There are several flights daily between Ushuaia and Buenos Aires, Argentina, all on local carriers. We will make these arrangements for any expedition participants wishing them. At the moment this roundtrip fare is in the neighborhood of $450.
Photo credits: Debbie Brown (db), Mike Tossy (mt), and Mark Grantham (mg, plus all uncredited images), Peregrine Adventures (pa).