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Aug 5, 2019 update: VERY LIMITED AVAILABILITY LEFT BUT DO ASK
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The itinerary is for guidance only. Unfortunately, programs may vary for reasons beyond our control (local ice, weather, and wildlife conditions). The final itinerary will be decided by the on-board expedition leader. Flexibility is vital for expedition cruises. If ice conditions allow and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice, you have the chance for ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (45 minutes walking distance from the Emperor Penguin colony). If successful, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that very few people ever get to experience. However, nature decides the final itinerary down here: Attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during the voyages of 2012 – 17 were not all successful. In 2013 and November 2017 conditions were favorable to land by helicopter on Snow Hill Island and to visit the Emperor Penguin colony.
This Weddell Sea cruise aims to give you the opportunity to experience one of the greatest wildlife spectacles that nature has to offer, a chance to visit an Emperor Penguin colony! Although sightings of Emperor Penguin are of course not guaranteed, it is most likely that this species will be encountered on the tour even if a helicopter trip to the colony on Snow Hill Island should not be possible. With the use of helicopters we will be transferred within walking distance of the colony, with plenty of time set aside to then enjoy the sights and sounds of the colony. There will also be other wildlife to be enjoyed while navigating to and from the Great White Continent. We should also encounter a number of other penguin species as well as Antarctic and Snow Petrels and various whale and seal species.
Itinerary (11 days/10 nights)
Day 1. Departure from Ushuaia
We will board our vessel today in the afternoon from Ushuaia, the world’s most southerly city. We then begin our exciting voyage south by passing through the picturesque, glacier-and-mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the rest of the evening. In the various bays that line the coastline we may encounter a few more common coastal species such as Dolphin Gulls, South American Tern, and Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers feeding on the rocky coastline.
Days 2 – 3. South through the Antarctic Convergence
The next two days will be spent at sea, steadily passing through Antarctic’s natural boundary, the Antarctic Convergence. We will spend as much time on the decks as the temperature will allow, waiting for seabirds and whales to pass us by. After crossing into the cooler, more productive Antarctic waters marine life should change fairly drastically. There should be good numbers of seabirds around, taking advantage of the massive quantities of plankton these waters have to offer. We can expect to find Wandering, Grey-headed, Black-browed, and the majestic Light-mantled Albatrosses as well as smaller tubenoses, such as Cape, Blue, and Antarctic Petrels, Southern Fulmar, and the tiny Wilson’s Storm Petrel.
Days 4 – 7. Entering Antarctica
We may sail into the Weddell Sea through the beautiful Antarctic Sound. Here we can expect to navigate between massive tabular icebergs which have recently broken off the melting Antarctic ice shelf. This is when the search for the Emperor Penguin truly begins. We have a decent chance of seeing Emperor Penguins on ice flows in the area; however. the real advantage is the use of helicopters which (depending on conditions) will hopefully get us to the Snow Hill Island colony. At the colony we will keep a lookout for South Polar Skuas, which predate on unguarded chicks and eggs. We may also enjoy scenic flights, and, if conditions allow, helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year. Ice flows should also be scanned for Weddell and Crabeater Seals!
Some of the other helicopter flight options may include the following:
The west slopes of the Antarctic Sound – Although rarely seen from the air, the western side of the Antarctic Sound is certainly worth the flight. Expect to see lava flows, layered sandstones, glaciers, icebergs, and pack ice extending to the horizon.
Duse Bay – A helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old, abandoned refuge hut overlooking Duse Bay. There’s still plenty of snow and ice around at this time of year; however, much of the walk will be over lichen-covered rocks of many different colors, making it rather beautiful.
Seymour Island – A helicopter trip over this rocky island should allow us to see many of the cute Adelie Penguins breeding in the area, as well as possibly Emperor Penguins on nearby ice flows.
We may also venture out on Zodiacs (dependent on conditions, of course!) to explore other geological features in the area:
Devil Island – This small, one-and-a-half-kilometers-wide island is home to a huge colony of Adelie Penguins and also hosts Subantarctic Skua, Kelp Gull, and Wilson’s Storm Petrels. We will keep an eye out for the reptilian-looking Leopard Seal, which lazes about on ice flows in the area. Devil Island offers a spectacular vantage point for hikers willing to make it to the top of a nearby hill.
Brown Bluff – Perhaps the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic continent. Its name is due to the rust-colored basalt rocks in the area. Here exists an even larger Adelie Penguin colony along with smaller numbers of Gentoo Penguins and nesting Cape and Snow Petrels.
Gourdin Island – More Penguins can be seen on this island, including Chinstrap, Gentoo, and Adelie. This is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.
Esperanza Base – This Argentinean research base operates year-round and is another landing option.
Days 5 – 6. Snow Hill Island visit (Alternate program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice – less than 50 % probability)
Helicopters provide an amazing advantage in reaching the Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguin colony. However, as always nature makes the rules in Antarctica. If conditions are favorable, we’ll spend two days at the penguin colony. The helicopter operation takes a full day, and the flight duration is roughly 15 minutes. Each helicopter can accommodate four to six passengers per flight, and the landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not stressed at all. Upon arrival at the landing site it is about a 45-minute walk to the colony. Please bear in mind that you are in the world’s most remote area; there are unfortunately no guarantees. Conditions may change rapidly, which can have a profound impact on our helicopter operations. It is important to understand and respect this and realize that safety is our greatest concern, therefore no compromises can be made.
Day 8. Leaving Antarctica via Deception Island
In the morning we’ll sail to Deception Island for our final landing of the voyage, either at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. While cruising between icebergs we will keep our eyes glued to the sea for sightings of whales, including Killer, Humpback, and Antarctic Minke Whales.
Days 9 – 10. Back north through the Drake Passage
Heading back north through the Drake Passage we will keep a lookout for any seabird species we may have missed on our journey south a few days ago.
Day 11. Back to Ushuaia
Unfortunately every adventure must come to an end, and this one is no different. We will disembark at Ushuaia. But we will have gained some truly spectacular memories that will stay with us for a lifetime!
This is a sample trip report. Please email us (email@example.com) for more trip reports from this destination.