Midway Atoll ...

The Trip of a Lifetime

 

from GALAPAGOS TRAVEL

 

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Midway

Midway Atoll
&
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument


(Please see box to the right for news on the 2014 visitor season.)

Midway is a place that most of us have heard of, typically from history class and reading about the WWII “Battle of Midway,” or maybe from the movie of the same name. What many don’t realize is that Midway Atoll is also one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles!

The atoll is comprised of 3 small islands set within a protective coral reef nearly 5 miles across, located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; a chain of 9 islands and atolls extending more than 1200 miles out from the main Hawaiian archipelago. Today these Northwestern islands comprise the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument - one of the largest protected marine areas in the world. As a wildlife refuge the Monument is home to upwards of 7,000 species, nearly a quarter of which are endemic. These numbers are truly staggering if you really think about it.

Long closed to visitors, Midway is today the only atoll or island in the Monument that is open to any form of tourism. As much travel as we do to exotic and hard to reach wildlife locations, Midway stands alone. Here you may encounter upwards of 3 million seabirds, nearly all with no fear of man. We have never encountered another place where you are so surrounded by the wildlife, and afforded such a leisurely look at their lives, not even Galápagos or South Georgia Island.

Wildlife highlights at Midway include the world’s largest colonies of 4 species: Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, White Terns, and Bonin Petrels. Laysan ducks - the northern hemisphere's rarest duck - are also endemic to the Monument, with their population on Midway well established. The extremely rare Short-tailed Albatross, or Golden Gooney, is also here in very limited numbers. Other species might seem familiar, but different, including Frigates, Boobies, Tropicbirds, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Noddies, Shearwaters, Terns, and many more.

Midway is at the northern limits of where coral grows in the Pacific, with the emergent reef protecting the lagoon and islands. In addition to wonderful fish (over 200 species within the reef) the turquoise waters of the lagoon support Spinner Dolphins, Hawaiian Monk Seals, and Green Sea Turtles. Snorkeling the crystal clear waters around the emergent reef is amazing!

For history buffs Midway is also outstanding. Starting in 1903 the Pacific Cable Company had a base of operations here, allowing for the first around-the-world telegraph connections. Starting in 1935 Pan Am World Airways inaugurated trans-Pacific China Clipper flying boats, with one of the way-stops here. The U.S. Navy presence also began in the early twentieth century, first with a radio station. By the 1940’s Midway was considered our second most important base in the Pacific, behind Pearl Harbor. While the majority of the navy buildings were removed in the 90’s, a number of historic structures still remain – many are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings today. In 2010 UNESCO listed Papahānaumokuākea as a World Heritage Site, of both natural and cultural significance - the first new site in the United States in 15 years. In addition the entire Monument is of great importance culturally to the native Hawaiians.

Today Midway Atoll is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Together with FWS, the Sate of Hawaii and N.O.A.A have a hand in regulating tourism, and approving visitor permits. GALAPAGOS TRAVEL is privileged and delighted to be able to open the door to Papahānaumokuākea and Midway Atoll to our visitor groups starting in 2011.

Update for 2014 Visitor Season

As of May 2014

Due to budget issues U.S. Fish & Wildlife has been forced to suspend all visitor programs on Midway Atoll for 2013 and 2014 - no visitor groups, from any tour operator, will be traveling to Midway this season.

We have every hope that visitor programs will resume in the future, although that is entirely dependent on Federal budget issues. For now we will leave this page available on our site to share information on this truly remarkable destination. Our hope is to once again share the wonders of Midway Atoll with visitors in the future.

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Midway Atoll Itinerary
(Honolulu - Honolulu)

There is no formal day-by-day itinerary for our expedition. Working with the FWS visitor ranger we will make the most of our 7 full days on Midway with the wildlife and weather guiding our daily plans. We aim for a balance of twice-daily guided excursions as well as generous free time allowing everyone to make the most of their time on Midway...

Day 1 (Monday) • Flight from Honolulu to Midway Atoll
Our anticipated departure from Honolulu via chartered 18-seat Gulfstream twin-engine jet, will be at roughly 5pm, with the flight to Midway lasting close to 3 hours. We'll have a simple dinner in flight. All flights must arrive and depart Midway under cover of darkness to minimize bird disruption. On arrival at Sand Island you will get your first sense of the enormous bird colonies surrounding us as we make the short drive to our accommodations in the Charlie Barracks Hotel.

Days 2-7 (Tuesday-Sunday) • Midway Atoll exploration
Your days are as full as you would like them to be, with guided explorations and outings combined with ample free time for independent exploration, photography and beach snorkeling. Weather permitting, we anticipate one boat outing to Eastern Island, plus one or two snorkeling excursions to the emergent reef. Our first morning FWS staff will explain Monument regulations to the group (keeping to trails, keeping approved distances from threatened species, runway crossing rules, etc). Following the briefing we will have an orientation to Sand Island, or home for the next 7 days. Everyone wanting them will also be issued beach cruiser bikes this morning.

Ranger-led expeditions on Sand Island will typically be via "stretch" 8-passenger golf carts allowing us to cover the distances quicker, and carry our gear with us. Our focus will be a mix of the breathtaking wildlife surrounding us as well as the remarkable history. Sunrise and sunset are roughly 7am and 7pm, affording us 12 hours of light each day. The tour leader will also lead occasional forays to favorite sites for sunrises or sunsets, as well as give nightly presentation in the beach-side pub.

We plan a boat excursion across the lagoon to Eastern Island one day. Wildlife has reigned supreme on Eastern longer, with several seabird species (including the Short-tailed Albatross, Great Frigatebirds, Sooty and Grey-backed Terns, Red-footed and Masked Boobies, and Christmas and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters) found there that have yet to recolonize Sand Island. Attention will be paid during our week to see as much of the unique and wonderful wildlife as possible.

Snorkeling from the beach on Sand Island, especially near the Cargo Pier, can be wonderful - keep an eye out for all the amazing fish around the pilings, plus hopefully a few green turtles. Depending on conditions we will take the boat to visit the emergent coral reef for amazing snorkeling one day.

The options open to you for your free time are amazing... Maybe you would like to bike out to enjoy a solitary sunrise with the albatross at the outer harbor... or snorkel at the Cargo Pier midday... or swim from North Beach... or watch sunset over the lagoon from Rusty Bucket... or marvel at the white terns curiously hovering overhead... or witness the twilight spectacular of the incoming tens of thousands of Bonin Petrels... or the incredible stars at night laying on your back in the grass among the birds... The wildlife stars will be the hundreds of thousands of albatross everywhere around us - from "fluffy" chicks, to gregarious courting sub-adults, to Wisdom (the oldest tagged Albatross in the world at 60+ years), sitting on her nest. Savor the experience of being one with such remarkable nature 24 hours a day!

We will have an opportunity to "give back" to the Monument one day too. FWS requests that visitors take part in a short service project one day - typically 3 or so hours total. This might be anything from weeding or outplanting young native plants, to doing census work, or a beach clean up, depending on their current needs.

Day 8 (Monday) • Midway departure
After a last full day of exploring Midway it will be time to say goodbye to this magical realm. This evening our flight will depart for Honolulu at roughly 9pm.

Day 9 (Tuesday) • Honolulu
We anticipate arriving in Honolulu close to 1am (there is a 1 hour time change between Midway and Honolulu). We will offer an optional transfer and hotel package at a nearby airport hotel. Otherwise the charter office will be happy to phone taxis for anyone wanting to go either to Honolulu, Waikiki, or the airport.

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While there are no bad times to visit Midway, we feel there are better times. We are delighted to offer Midway in late-February and early-March! This is absolutely “prime time” on the atoll…

By now the albatross chicks have grown to the point that they are just starting to wander a bit from the nests, yet will be dependent on their parents for food for 3+ more months (and they are still in their wonderful "fluffy" phase)… The Bonin petrel chicks are just hatching and non-breeding activity over the colonies increases… The Red-tailed tropicbirds continue nesting and egg laying, with aerial courtship displays much more frequent… The Great Frigatebird courtship and nest building intensifies on Eastern Island, with occasional flyovers above Sand Island… The first chicks of the Red-footed Booby are hatching… Black Noddy continue nesting and chick-rearing… The number of White Terns increases with egg laying on any available flat surface, including tree branches, ledges, benches, window sills starting… More Gray-backed and Sooty Terns return… The Christmas Shearwaters begin returning to the atoll in March… Laysan Ducks begin nesting…

Temperatures during February and March are likely to be in the mid-70’s during the day, and mid-60’s at night. Rainfall averages about 3 inches over the month. The lagoon is starting to warm up, although the Tiger Sharks have yet to return. As I said, this is prime time on the atoll!

Expedition Length:
9-days / 7-nights

Group Size:
17 participants plus Tour Leader. We will also anticipate being the only visitor group on the atoll during our expeditions!

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Accommodations:
Charlie Barracks Hotel is the converted Bachelor Officers Quarters barracks, with the redesigned accommodations being 2 room suites, each with a bedroom, bath and sitting room. The furnishings are simple yet very comfortable; a double bed plus a single bed, ample storage, a desk (wired with internet access), couch, TV, mini-fridge and air conditioning. If you prefer fresh air the windows open, but be warned that the albatross & petrel chorus might keep you up at night (personally we love it!). The Charlie Barracks lobby has a computer for guest use, telephone, coffee machine, microwave, and ice machine. There are also self-serve laundry facilities in the building. Fresh towels are always available, and bed linens will be changed mid-stay.

All accommodations are shared by two people, except by special arrangement. If you are traveling alone and willing to share with another adventurer of the same sex, we will attempt to book a roommate for you. If we do not find a roommate you will have the accommodations to yourself at the shared cost. If you prefer, guaranteed single accommodations are available for a surcharge of $500 total.

Meals:
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served in the modern ocean-front Clipper House dining room, buffet-style. The food will be a healthy mix of American and Thai dishes, typically including fresh produce grown on the island. Coffee, tea, ice-tea, punch, and juices are included with meals. While there are tables inside, one of the best views in the Pacific is from the outside tables on the surrounding deck, across the turquoise lagoon with albatross and tropicbirds continually gliding past, and canaries flitting overhead in the rafters.

Most evenings the Captain Brooks Pub will be open between 7 and 9pm, with wine and beer available for purchase.

Itinerary:
The itinerary reflects the plan for this expedition and should be read as a general guide only. As with all wildlife expeditions flexibility is required. By assessing and responding to environmental conditions and wildlife sightings we are a confident of fulfilling visitors' well-deserved expectations of an experience of a lifetime.

Tour Cost:
$5,700 per person, double occupancy*.

* While we are loath to think about fuel surcharges, we need to keep the door open to that possibility. We have chartered the plane based on jet fuel at $4.80 per gallon in March 2011. We will guarantee this expedition price up to a jet fuel price of $6.30 per gallon. If the fuel price exceeds that we may be forced to levy a fee of $200 maximum per participant.

Deposits & Payments:
A deposit of $1,000 per person is required to reserve space. The balance of the Expedition Cost is due 75 days prior to departure. Payments may be made by Personal Check, Visa, MasterCard, or Wire Transfer.

Expedition rates include:
8-days/7-nights on Midway, including all meals on the atoll, roundtrip airfare between Honolulu and Midway, daily excursions with a FWS Visitor Ranger and expert Tour Leader, daily Monument entrance fee and Midway visitor fees, the use of beach-cruiser bicycles and basic snorkeling equipment throughout the week, use of all exercise facilities on the atoll, and extensive pre-departure materials. Depending on lagoon conditions an excursion to Eastern Island as well as a snorkeling expedition to the emergent coral reef are also included.

What's not included:
Airfare from your home airport to Honolulu; accommodations or transfers in Honolulu; sodas or alcoholic beverages; passport or visa fees; optional gratuities to the island staff (suggested at $50 per visitor); travel or evacuation insurance; or items of a personal nature such as telephone charges. Depending on need and availability a limited number of 2-seat golf carts might be available for rent (rates are roughly $25 per day, and would be paid locally)

Expedition Team:
In addition to a expert FWS visitor ranger guiding our excursions, Mark Grantham from GALAPAGOS TRAVEL will be leading the group. Mark's past experience on Midway includes 4 stints as a volunteer with FWS on the annual albatross count. He was also on the atoll with a visitor group during the March 2011 tsunami and helped with bird relief and rescue efforts. To read more about his experiences on Midway, including photos, visit www.WheresMarco.com/Midway.html Midway stands out for Mark as the most magical wildlife place on earth, for the experience of truly being a part of the vibrant ecosystem 24 hours a day.

Facilities:
In addition to the modern beach-side Clipper House dining room, and Captain Brooks Pub, many of the classic Navy facilities remain. The Ship's Store is open most evenings and sells food stuffs, beer and wine, laundry soap, etc - this is where the residents do their shopping. The Friends of Midway shop is also located in the Ship's Store and carries a variety of souvenirs, including T-shirts, postcards, books, etc. There is a gym, indoor basketball and racquetball courts, a sauna, plus once a week the classic bowling alley is open. There is also a surprisingly well-stocked library, plus the traditional All Hands Club, complete with old fashioned "arcade" games.

Cancellations:
All deposits and payments are non-refundable based on the small number of expeditions and the expense of operating on Midway Atoll, including the charter flights. If a cancellation occurs 75 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 participants who do not complete the tour for any reason whatsoever. For this reason you are strongly encouraged to purchase Travel Protection Insurance. A comprehensive insurance package is available through GALAPAGOS TRAVEL for all U.S. and Canada residents. You will receive a policy application along with your deposit receipt

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Documentation requirements:
A valid Passport is required for travel to Midway. Midway has the unique status of being an unincorporated U.S. territory, while not a part of the state of Hawaii. All visitors must pass passport control in Honolulu.

Baggage limitations:
The charter Gulfstream is the only regular source of fresh food and supplies for the residents on Midway. Based on the freight load participants will be restricted to a maximum of 50 pounds of luggage (carry on and checked combined) per person.

Flights and Hotels:
Arrive in Honolulu by midday on February 25 or March 5 at the absolute latest. The flight from Honolulu to Midway departs from the charter/private terminal at the airport requiring a short taxi ride around to the other side of the runway. The return to Honolulu will be in the early morning of March 6 or 13 (arriving roughly 1am). We will offer an optional transfer and hotel package for these evenings in Honolulu. You should be able to connect with a return flight home later that same day if you wish.

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Travel Insurance:
Emergency Medical Insurance is suggested for this tour. While you are welcome to use any insurance company, we recommend Access America We have been working with them for years and find them reasonable in their requirements and prompt in paying when needed.

Conditions:
Travel to remote places like the Midway is exciting, but understanding and accepting the risks, both medical and logistical, is important. There is a small infirmary and physician's assistant on the atoll and minor medical problems can be treated, but due to the remoteness there can be only limited expectation for medical evacuation by air or ship, even in cases of trauma, and at great cost. If this fact concerns you too much, do not choose this trip for your vacation. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this trip. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs.

Responsibility:
This expedition is being coordinated by gti Galapagos Travel corp (Aptos, California) in conjunction with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. gti Galapagos Travel corp acts only as agents and shall not be responsible or become liable for any delay incurred by any person in connection with any means of transportation, nor for the loss, damage, or injury to person or property by reason of any event beyond the control of the agency or default of such agency suppliers. We reserve the right to cancel the tour prior to departure in which case full refund will constitute full settlement to the passenger. No refund will be made for any unused portion of the tour unless arrangements are made at the time of booking. All rates are based on current tariffs, exchange rates and fuel prices and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited. Baggage is at the owner's risk.

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In 1942 Midway was a turning point in the battle of the Pacific. Today it is shaping up to be a turning point once again, this time in the remarkable conservation of the many species that call it home. Be a part of shaping that future!

We look forward to sharing the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Midway Atoll with you!

birdTriptic

MIDWAY ATOLL, as described by world-renowned, award-winning wildlife photographer, writer and conservationist, Tui De Roy...

Anyone who has been to the Galapagos Islands with us will likely remember the remarkable photography of Tui deRoy. You probably visited Tui’s idyllic childhood home in the Galápagos, where her mother, Jacqueline, still lives. Tui’s passion for wild places and amazing wildlife is unmatched. I don’t recall now, but it might have been from Tui that we first heard about the wildlife on Midway Atoll.

We received the following e-mail from Tui in early 2001:

“On our side, the BIG highlight for me was a quick trip to Hawaii for a Pacific-wide seabird conference which included a one week extension to Midway Atoll. I knew this place had been opened as a tourist destination since it was turned over from the Navy to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but I JUST HADN’T IMAGINED HOW FANTASTIC IT WOULD BE! Here’s how I described it shortly after my return two weeks ago:

“Wow, wow, WOW!!! What an incredible, unbelievable, jaw-dropping place! The grace the movement, the sound, the color, the FEELING of being adrift in a sea of a million-plus albatross just defies words. To think that they have survived the concerted onslaughts of a century of egg- and feather-hunters, rats, military eradication, fire, warfare - everything imaginable and unimaginable - and now longlines… the mind simply boggles. Then your heart REALLY bleeds when one of them walks over the tarmac to you and starts nibbling oh-so-gently at your fingers, your hair…”

All romanticism aside, it’s truly a nature lover’s paradise, and then some. Not only are all the facilities for visitors super pleasant (excellent accommodations, delicious food, bar, etc, etc.) but it’s all delivered with a total regard for individual flexibility and freedom, in an overwhelmingly friendly atmosphere. It reminds me of the golden years of tourism in Galápagos, when you could truly commune with nature on your own terms. I won’t go into all the details of how it’s administered, but suffice to say that I can’t think of anywhere else in the world - not even Galápagos or Antarctica - where you can lose yourself in nature and wildlife (terns, tropic-birds, petrels in addition to 3 species of albatross, including the extremely rare short-tailed albatross of Japanese fame) on a 24-hour-a-day basis, completely at your own discretion and still come back to a lavish meal in the French Restaurant or a cocktail watching the sunset over the coral lagoon. Or you can wander at night when the albatross go to sleep and the petrels come in, or rent a bicycle or electric golf cart (handy if you have a ton of camera gear like me) and scoot to the opposite end of the island for a private sunrise watching thousands of albatross returning to feed their chicks in the morning.”

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