Days 1 & 2: Flight to Ushuaia
Check in for the flight to Madrid. In Spain we board our connecting flight to Buenos Aires, and then take our final flight to Ushuaia which, thanks to its Southern Hemisphere location, will be enjoying spring at this time of year. Ushuaia, Argentina, is reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, located on the far southern tip of South America on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed ‘The End of the World’. Upon arrival in Ushuaia we transfer with our Tour Manager to our hotel for the night, where we stay on a bed and breakfast basis.
Day 3: Embarkation
We have the morning at leisure to explore the local area before we transfer to our ship, the M/V Hondius in the afternoon. This evening we sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel before our first night’s stay on our 19 night full board cruise.
Days 4 & 5: Drake Passage
Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, we enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence – Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas – we are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds we might see.
Days 6-8: Entering Antarctica
This extended voyage gives us the chance to sail even farther down the icy coast of the western Antarctic Peninsula. In the Gerlache Strait are several opportunities for great landings where we might be able to set foot on the Antarctic Continent, surrounded by an epic landscape of alpine peaks and mammoth glaciers calving at sea level. Gentoo penguins, leopard seals, Weddell seals, humpback whales, and minke whales are often seen here.
The volcanic islands of the South Shetlands are windswept and often cloaked in mist, but they nonetheless offer many subtle pleasures. A wide variety of flora (mosses, lichens, flowering grasses) and fauna (gentoo penguins, chinstrap penguins, southern giant petrels) live here. On Deception Island, the ship plunges through Neptune’s Bellows and into the flooded caldera. Here we can find hot springs, an abandoned whaling station, and thousands of cape petrels. A number of kelp gulls, brown skuas, south polar skuas, and Antarctic terns can be spotted here too. If ice permits, we will then sail into the Weddell Sea. Here colossal tabular icebergs herald our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We may also visit Brown Bluff, located in the ice-clogged Antarctic Sound, where we could get the chance to set foot on the continent. Paulet Island, with its large population of Adélie penguins, is another possible stop.
Days 9 & 10: East to the eclipse
Giant icebergs and a good chance of fin whale sightings enliven this segment of the voyage. This is also our best chance to spot Antarctic petrels. Depending on ice and weather conditions, the aim is to venture into the pack ice to find the best possible position for viewing the solar eclipse.
Day 11: Eclipse Day
This morning, the ship positions itself in the centre of the shadow of the moon, and if possible, some distance into the Scotia Sea drift ice. There will be plenty of time to find your own space and set up any equipment ready to take in the wonder of the eclipse and the highlight of this spectacular trip.
Day 12: Northward bound
Today we head north. There may be sea ice on this particular route, and at the edge of the ice, some south polar skuas and snow petrels could join the other seabirds trailing the vessel north so keep a look out.
Days 13-16: South Georgia journey
We arrive at the first South Georgia activity site. Over the next few days, there is the option to visit the following sites***:
A Zodiac cruise in Cooper Bay offers a great opportunity to see macaroni penguins below a large rookery. Numerous fur and elephant seals are found on the beach, while majestic light-mantled albatrosses can be seeing gracefully gliding above.
In this abandoned whaling station, king penguins walk the streets and elephant seals lie around like they own the place – because they basically do. Here we might be able to see the South Georgia Museum as well as Shackleton’s grave.
Near beaches inhabited by various penguins and seals, we have the chance to follow the final leg of Shackleton’s route to the abandoned whaling village of Stromness. This path cuts across the mountain pass beyond Shackleton’s Waterfall, and as the terrain is partly swampy, be prepared to cross a few small streams.
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 seals. Only during this time of year do they peak in their breeding cycle. Watch the four-ton bulls keep a constant vigil (and occasionally fight) over territories where dozens of females have just given birth or are about to deliver. There are also a substantial number of Antarctic fur seals here during the breeding season (December – January).
***Please keep in mind that weather conditions in this area can be challenging, largely dictating the programme so some activities may not be available.
Days 17 & 18: At sea
On the way to South Georgia, we cross the Antarctic Convergence. The temperature gradually cools, and nutritious water rises to the surface of the sea due to colliding water columns. This phenomenon sometimes attracts a multitude of seabirds near the ship, including several species of albatross, shearwaters, petrels, prions, and skuas.
Day 19: Port Stanley
Today we arrive in Port Stanley. The capital of the Falklands and centre of its culture with a population of approximately 2,100 people, Port Stanley offers a little Victorian-era charm: colourful houses, well-tended gardens, and English-style pubs are all to be found here. We will also be able to see several century-old clipper ships nearby, silent witnesses to the hardships of 19th-century sailors. The small but interesting museum is worth a visit too; covering the early days of settlement up to the Falklands War (museum admission is not included).
Day 20: The Falklands
The Falkland (Malvinas) Islands offer an abundance of wildlife that is easily approachable, though caution is always advised. These islands are largely unknown gems, the site of the 1982 war between the UK and Argentina. Not only do various species of bird live here, but chances are great we’ll see both Peale’s dolphins and Commerson’s dolphins in the surrounding waters.
Day 21: At sea
On this leg of the journey look out for several species of albatross that follow the vessel into the westerlies, along with storm petrels, shearwaters, and diving petrels.
Day 22: Disembarkation
As every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end, it’s now time for us to say goodbye to the M/V Hondius. After disembarking in Ushuaia or Buenos Aires, we transfer to our overnight hotel where we stay on a bed and breakfast basis. Here we can reflect on what has been a truly memorable experience.
Days 23 & 24: Flight to London
After our last breakfast at the hotel, we transfer to the airport for our flight home via Rome, arriving back in the UK the following day.
*Please note: itinerary details and the flight schedule are provisional and as a result, are subject to change.