Arrive in Ushuaia, where you will be met and transferred to your downtown hotel (preferred flights only).
This morning, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before exploring Ushuaia on a half-day city tour. Ushuaia is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel and it is surrounded by the Martial Range, which offers a unique landscape as a result of the combination of mountains, sea, glaciers and forest. The city tour will visit The Mission, Brown and Solier neighbourhoods, where you can see old houses belonging to the first families in Tierra del Fuego, such as the Beban, the Pastoriza, and the Ramos. Head 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) out of town to Martial Glacier. The ride in the chair lift to the trails leading up to the glacier provides wonderful regional views and of Ushuaia town, the Beagle Channel and its islands. Afterwards, continue to the End of the World Museum with exhibitions explaining the history of Tierra del Fuego.
Transfer to the pier where our expedition team will warmly welcome you on board the Greg Mortimer at approximately 4.00 pm. As the Greg Mortimer pulls away from port, we’ll gather on the deck to commence our adventure with spectacular views over Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. You’ll have time to settle into your cabin before our important briefings.
As we commence the Drake Passage crossing, we make the most of our time getting comfortable with the motions of the sea. Our expedition team prepare you for our first landing with important wildlife guidelines and biosecurity procedures, and start our lecture program to help you learn more about Antarctica’s history, wildlife and environment. Our wildlife experiences begin as we enjoy watching and photographing the many seabirds, including majestic albatrosses and giant petrels following in our wake. They rise and fall skilfully, using air currents created by the ship to gain momentum.
Nearing the tip of the South Shetland Islands on day four, the excitement is palpable with everyone converging on the bridge watching for our first iceberg. The ocean takes on a whole new perspective once we are below the Antarctic Convergence and are surrounded by the surreal presence of floating ice sculptures. The memory of your first big iceberg sighting is likely to remain with you for a lifetime. Weather permitting, we may attempt our first landing in Antarctica by late afternoon.
Over the next five days a host of choices are open to us, and depending on ice and weather conditions, the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula is ours to explore. Our experienced expedition team, who have made countless journeys to this area, will use their expertise to design our voyage from day to day. This allows us to make best use of the prevailing weather, ice conditions and wildlife opportunities.
Because we are so far south, we will experience approximately 18-20 hours of daylight and the days can be as busy as you wish. We will generally try for two landings or Zodiac excursions each day; cruising along spectacular ice cliffs; following whales that are feeding near the surface; and landing on the continent and its off-shore islands to visit penguin rookeries, seal haul outs, historic huts, and a few of our other favourite spots along the peninsula. There will be plenty of time for sleep when you get home!
There are many exciting places we can choose to visit; a sample of some of the places where we may land, hike, and photograph or view spectacular wildlife follows:
A protected bay surrounded by magnificent peaks and spectacular glaciers, the rocky cliffs of this spectacular harbour provide perfect nesting sites for blue-eyed shags, terns and gulls. The serenity of Paradise Harbour envelops us once the ship’s engine is turned off. This is a haven for whales and we keep our eyes open for humpbacks, orcas, minkes, and crabeater seals, as we explore the bay in Zodiacs.
This group of low-lying unprotected granitic rocks protrude from the sea, swept by ocean swells. At first these rocks appear uninteresting, but on closer investigation, calm channels lead to a hidden interior where Weddell seals are hauled out on protected snow beds and noisy chinstrap penguins raise their families on rocky platforms. Hydrurga is the Latin family name for leopard seal (Hydrurga Leonina), and on occasions we see some skulking in the shallows. There are many places to simply sit and watch the rise and fall of clear green water and listen to the magic sounds and calls of the wildlife.
Half Moon Island
This wildlife-rich island is tucked into a neat bay at the eastern end of Livingston Island. On a clear day, the glaciers and mountains of Livingston Island dominate the vista. There is a large chinstrap penguin colony tucked in between basaltic turrets coloured by yellow and orange lichens. Gulls nest on these turrets and there are often fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the pebble beaches. There is a large rookery of nesting blue-eyed shags at one end of the island, while at the other end of the island lies a small Argentinian station that is sometimes occupied by scientists conducting research on the penguin colony and surrounding waterways.
If ice conditions allow, standing on the observation deck of the Greg Mortimer quietly as the ship sails along the narrow Lemaire Channel could certainly be one of the highlights of our voyage. Cliffs tower 700 metres / 2,296 feet straight out of the ocean on either side of the ship. The water can sometimes be so still that perfect reflections are mirrored on the surface and it is clear to see why this Channel is often called “Kodak Alley”. Gigantic icebergs may clog the channel, creating navigational challenges for our Captain and crew; occasionally they may even obstruct our passage.
Located on Goudier Island, British Port Lockroy is an important site for both scientific research and visitors to the Antarctic continent. Designated a historic site in 1994 and opened to the Antarctic tourism industry in 1996, it was discovered in 1904 and used by the whaling industry in the first half of the 1900s. It was part of the British Operation Tabarin during World War II, and was later used as a British Research Station. Today, Pork Lockroy is manned by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and operates as a museum, gift shop and post office for visitors from passing Antarctic expeditions. You can even send a post card home from the Penguin Post Office, the world’s most southern Post Office.
Located in Andvord Bay, Neko Harbour is an inlet home to gentoo penguins, and regularly welcomes Weddell seals. The scenery is dramatic - towering peaks and calving glaciers surround the harbour. The thundering crack of the glaciers as they calve is sure to stop you in your tracks.
A fine example of the South Shetland Islands – tiny ts of land that are literally alive with wildlife. Here, there are two species of penguins breeding - chinstrap and gentoo. It is not uncommon to find wallows of elephant seals that are 60 beasts strong. Giant petrels nest on the ridgeline.
This morning, if weather permits, we set course for Elephant Island, a half-submerged mountain cloaked with an ice sheet at the outer limits of the South Shetlands. We’ll learn the story of Shackleton and hear how his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea, before him and his men climbed into three open boats, spending 16 months at sea, before finally making landfall on this tiny t of rock and ice in the vastness of the Southern Ocean on 14 April, 1916. We plan to sail past Cape Valentine to see the beach where the men first put ashore over 100 years ago. Weather permitting; we hope to follow the coastline 9.65 km/6 miles west to Point Wild, where the men eventually set up camp under two of their upturned open boats and some old tents. If weather permits, we’ll attempt to make a landing on historic Point Wild, Elephant Island. We then begin to position our ship in prime location for the eagerly awaited solar eclipse.
According to NASA, the optimum position to experience the solar eclipse is well into the Weddell Sea. The eclipse is visible from the following geographic regions: Antarctica, South Africa, south Atlantic, but the full eclipse will only be visible in Antarctica. The instant of greatest eclipse takes place on Dec 04 at 07:34:38 TD (Terrestrial Dynamical Time) or (07:33:28 UT1). Historically, early December would be considered too early to visit South Orkney Islands because of extensive sea ice. However, conditions have been changing every year and it may be possible to get into the South Orkneys on 04 December, 2021 – the unknown is part of what makes the experience even more thrilling. The eclipse belongs to Saros 152 and is number 13 of 70 eclipses in the series. All eclipses in this series occur at the Moon’s descending node. The total solar eclipse of 2021 Dec 04 is preceded two weeks earlier by a partial lunar eclipse on 2021 Nov 19. These eclipses all take place during a single eclipse season. An eclipse season is a period during which the Sun appears close enough to one of the Moon’s nodes to permit an eclipse to occur. Each season lasts approximately 34 days and repeats at about 173-day intervals.
En-route for South Georgia we'll head across the Scotia Sea, following the route that Shackleton and five of his men took in order to find help for the rest of their crew. On 24 April, 1916, they piled into the James Caird, the most seaworthy of their open boats, to attempt this perilous journey to South Georgia, some 1290 km (802 miles) distant. Shackleton hoped to reach South Georgia in two weeks. There he would enlist the help of the whalers to return to Elephant Island and rescue the men who had been left behind. As excitement builds for South Georgia, catch up with fellow expeditioners in the bar, keep watch for wildlife alongside our naturalist from the open bridge, or learn more of the Shackleton story from our historian.
South Georgia is one of the world’s most amazing natural environments. Just a speck in the vastness of the South Atlantic Ocean, and lying wholly within the Antarctic Convergence, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a life-sustaining haven to some of the world’s largest congregations of wildlife. The surrounding sea is one of the most productive areas on Earth and supports the life of millions of seals, whales, penguins and other seabirds.
A 3,000-metre / 9,842-foot mountain range forms the spine of this long, narrow island. Between the mountains, shattered glaciers carve their way through tussock grass to the deeply indented coastline – a landscape that is synonymous with the epic expedition of survival by Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean. Abandoned rusting whaling stations and remnants of explorers reflect a time of long ago, while summer workers conduct scientific and regeneration projects.
Politically speaking, South Georgia lies north of 60° South latitude and is therefore not part of the Antarctic treaty. It is a wholly British possession, claimed and named for King George III on 16 January, 1775 by Captain James Cook.
Originally a Norwegian sealing and whaling station, it was finally closed in 1965. Now it is the administrative centre and a hub of activity in South Georgia. The former whaling station stands as a solemn testament of the whaling days, but the museum offers much more than glimpse into Grytviken’s whaling past, including exhibitions of many of the local animals on display as well as the island’s history of exploration. As you wander around the site, skirting the ruins of factory buildings, peering into the past, you must be careful to avoid sleeping elephant seals or disturbing small groups of king penguins as you imagine what it was like when whale processing was in full swing. Abandoned ships lie sunken alongside hundred-year old wharves, while pitted concrete walls remind us of the more recent Falkland's War, which started here.
Sir Ernest Shackleton died from a heart attack during his final expedition on board the Quest on 5 January, 1922. His body was laid to rest at Grytviken. We pay our respects at his grave and possibly visit the cross his men erected in his memory looking out across beautiful Cumberland Bay.
St Andrews Bay
The long black sandy beach fronts a broad valley that stretches well back from the sea. This valley shelters the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia. Toward the landing beach on the north end of the bay, the beach is a resting place for hundreds of elephant seals that haul out on the shore to moult. Behind the beach and as you move along to the south, the sight and sound (and smell) of over 200,000 pairs of King Penguins at different stages of their breeding cycle will be overwhelming. The colony can be so dense that the penguins prevent even the seals from using the beach! The glacial river that runs into the sea here will be alive with penguin chicks and elephant seal pups testing their skills. If we lift our gaze from the wildlife for a moment, we will glimpse the snow-capped peaks of some of the world's most spectacular mountains.
Imagine indented bays lined with bleached whalebones, teeming with fur seals and penguins just ‘hanging about’. In Godthul you have the opportunity to clamber through the tussock to a spectacular plateau offering magnificent views across the island and the waters beyond. A careful descent leads us to a magnificent Macaroni penguin rookery.
Salisbury Plain has one of the largest King Penguin colonies on South Georgia. With about 100,000 pairs, the shore and beach can be completely crammed with penguins. Along the beach you will also find fur and elephant seals in the mix. You will have plenty of free time for walking and exploring independently during this landing, allowing you the opportunity to enjoy some personal time amongst the kings.
Fortuna Bay & Stromness
Fortuna Bay is surrounded by high mountains with glaciers pushing down from the high country to terminate in the open valley that is home to a small king penguin colony. This is where Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean descended from the treacherous glaciers of the interior on their way to Stromness whaling station. If conditions allow, we can retrace the footsteps of the explorers and follow their track over the last mountain pass. It’s a moderately difficult 6 km / 3.7 mi. walk over a 300-metre pass, and is well worth the experience for those that are fit and able. The Greg Mortimer will meet us as we arrive into Stromness Bay.
Bay of Isles
One of the wildlife highlights will be visiting the serene wandering albatrosses sitting proudly on their cute downy chicks. We can observe within respectful distance of these magnificent gentle birds while they perform intimate courtship dances, feed their young or clumsily launch themselves into the air, bound for a fishing trip.
En-route to the Falklands~Malvinas, you will be entranced by the ceaseless flight of the many seabirds that follow our wake, skilfully using the air currents created by the ship to gain momentum. On this leg, we are usually travelling into the prevailing weather so it is difficult to estimate our arrival time in the Falklands~Malvinas. Our lecture program will continue and highlight all of the amazing sights we have witnessed over the past few days. We’ll have ample time to enjoy the rest of our time observing the sea birds, whale watching from the bridge, or simply relaxing with a book.
Located 477 kilometres/296 miles east of southern Argentina, the Falklands~Malvinas are a unique mix of wildlife hotspot and inhabited outpost. An archipelago of over 700 islands, but consisting of two main islands, East and West, only seven of the islands are inhabited. The cold nutrient-rich waters surrounding the islands makes them a prime location for marine life including seabirds and seals. Our time in the Falkland~Malvinas includes a short walk in historic Stanley town, and Sealion Island located in East Falkland’s south, where you can get insight into the unique experience of Sealion Island Nature Reserve. You will discover how the raw beauty and solitude of the island makes it a haven for wildlife and visitors alike. In 2009, Sealion Island was officially declared a National Nature Reserve, with no introduced predators living on the island. Tussac grass covers much of the island providing an ideal habitat for elephant seals and sea lions that can be found on many of the island’s spectacular beaches. A plethora of birds such as thrushes, finches, tussac birds and Megallenic penguins also inhabit the tussac. Pods of orcas, Peale's dolphins and leopard seals are regularly seen in the waters around the island. The island's southern giant petrels, with a wingspan of two metres, act as a welcoming party to ships as they approach Sealion Island. Rockhopper, gentoo and Magellanic penguins come to Sealon Island to breed. Macaroni, king penguins and Striated and Crested Caracaras are also common seen on the island.
You may choose to spend the sea days returning to Ushuaia editing your photos, enjoying the onboard facilities, or listening to an informative lecture. Celebrate the end of an unforgettable voyage with newfound friends at a special Captain’s farewell dinner.
During the early morning, we sail along the Beagle Channel, before quietly slipping into dock in Ushuaia, where we begin disembarking at around 8.00 am. Farewell your expedition team and fellow travellers as we all continue our onward journeys, hopefully with a newfound sense of the immense power of nature.