Antarctica, The Falklands & South Georgia Wildlife Spectacular

Photography on a different planet

Amazing scenes like these Gentoo Penguins emerging from the ice are quite literally daily events in Antarctica. It really is like being in another world! (Pete Morris)

Amazing scenes like these Gentoo Penguins emerging from the ice are quite literally daily events in Antarctica. It really is like being in another world! (Pete Morris)


Thursday 9th November - Wednesday 29th November 2017
(21 days)

Leaders: Dani López-Velasco and Oceanwide Expeditions leaders
Group Size Limit: 15


Potential photographic highlights

  • Amazing encounters with several photogenic species of penguins, including Rockhopper, King, Macaroni, Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo at their colonies.
  • Close up encounters with breeding albatrosses, including Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses.
  • Fantastic Antarctic scenery, with unbelievable blue icebergs, glaciers, and snow-covered mountains rising from the sea.
  • Unrivalled opportunities to photograph flying seabirds including several species of albatross and Snow and Antarctic Petrels.
  • Great encounters with marine mammals, including several species of cetaceans and several confiding species of seals and sea-lion

Antarctica is the last frontier on our ever-shrinking planet, a place that every traveller longs to explore but so few ever see. An uninhabited continent of more that twelve million square kilometres almost entirely encrusted with ice - an awesomely silent but starkly beautiful frozen world. Here some of the most magnificent scenery of all can be seen under the cleanest skies on earth. Towering volcanoes, stark mountain ranges, lowering headlands, icebergs like floating cathedrals - all are enhanced by the peculiar quality of the light, which lends an ethereal beauty to the savage grandeur of the landscapes.

This is a land of superlatives, at one and the same time the coldest, highest, windiest, driest, most barren and least known area on earth. Some 90% of the world’s fresh water is locked up in Antarctica’s icecap, which if it were to melt would cause sea levels to rise over 200ft (over 60m), drowning much of the world’s arable land and hundreds of major cities.

One of the strangest features of this lost continent is the fact that Antarctica is surrounded by the richest oceans of all, thronged with marine life ranging from tiny krill to elephant seals and whales, and supporting enormous numbers of seabirds. The tameness of Antarctica’s seabirds and sea mammals is legendary and this remarkable journey will not only provide numerous opportunities to see albatrosses, petrels, penguins and seals at sea but also see us wandering right amongst their breeding colonies, accepted without question by creatures that have learned no fear of man. Whale-watching is a feature of Antarctic cruises and we are likely to enjoy some spectacular views of these leviathans breaching and sounding right next to our ship.

Our journey starts in earnest either at Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, situated on the windswept but spectacularly beautiful shores of Tierra del Fuego, or at Puerto Madryn further north in Patagonia. Here we join our ship and sail out into the South Atlantic en route to the Falkland Islands.

The sea crossings from South America to the Falklands and onwards to South Georgia and Antarctica offer some of the best pelagic birding experiences in the world, with no fewer than five species of albatross routinely encountered (Black-browed, Grey-headed, Light-mantled, Wandering and Southern Royal) and several others possible, as well as both Southern and Northern Giant-Petrels, Cape, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Atlantic, Kerguelen and Blue Petrels, Slender-billed, Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Great Shearwater, Wilson’s, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-petrels, and Common and Georgian Diving-Petrels. We can also expect a good selection of cetaceans, including some large whales.

The sea crossings from South America to the Falklands and onwards to South Georgia and Antarctica offer some of the best pelagic birding experiences in the world, with no fewer than five species of albatross routinely encountered (Black-browed, Grey-headed, Light-mantled, Wandering and Southern Royal) and several others possible, as well as both Southern and Northern Giant-Petrels, Cape, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Atlantic, Kerguelen and Blue Petrels, Slender-billed, Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Great Shearwater, Wilson’s, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-petrels, and Common and Georgian Diving-Petrels. We can also expect a good selection of cetaceans, including some large whales.

Our exploration of the wild yet beautiful Falkland Islands will be enlivened by the spectacular and very approachable wildlife of the archipelago. Here are some of the largest colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins in the Southern Ocean, while other attractions include South American Fur Seal, Magellanic Penguin, Rock and Imperial Shags, Kelp, Upland and the rare Ruddy-headed Geese, Falkland’s Steamer Duck, Striated Caracara, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Two-banded Plover, Brown Skua, Dolphin Gull, South American Tern, Blackish Cinclodes, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant, Cobb’s Wren and White-bridled Finch.

After enjoying the attractive scenery and marvellous birdlife of these rugged, wind-swept islands we sail onwards to South Georgia, enjoying some wonderful pelagic seawatching en route. This most mountainous of the sub-Antarctic islands appears like a series of snow-covered peaks rising from the sea, scalloped with fjords carved by more that 150 glaciers. Here we will experience some of the most unforgettable wildlife spectacles of our journey amidst dramatic scenery, walking amidst huge colonies of stately King Penguins, standing close to gigantic Southern Elephant Seals and enjoying superb views of nesting Wandering Albatrosses, while other notable creatures include Macaroni and Gentoo Penguins, South Georgia Shag, South Georgia Pintail, South Georgia Pipit, the hugely impressive Southern Elephant Sea and the bad-tempered Antarctic Fur Seal.

To the south across the Scotia Sea lie the bleak, ice-mantled South Shetlands, home to millions of penguins and petrels. Steaming even further south we come at last to our ultimate goal, the Antarctic Peninsula, an icy finger of land pointing towards South America and first seen by human eyes only last century. Here we will watch Weddell and Leopard Seals, penguins and whales amidst the ice floes, visit Adelie and Chinstrap Penguin rookeries, experience the awesome scenery of the ice-choked Antarctic channels, watch pure-white Snow Petrels and piebald Antarctic Petrels soaring around icebergs, and visit the shores of the Antarctic continent itself.

From the Antarctic Peninsula we sail northwards across the deep waters of the Drake Passage to the southernmost tip of South America, where the turbulent waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific meet at lonely Cape Horn, before very reluctantly returning to ‘civilization’ at the port of Ushuaia with memories that only a lucky few can ever hope for. A visit to Antarctica is like no other journey on earth; it is indeed about as close to visiting another planet as any of us are likely to get. We can say without hesitation that this is the ultimate wildlife adventure, a wilderness experience that is truly uplifting, that makes the heart sing with the joy of being alive. If you ever have the chance to go to South Georgia and Antarctica then take it, for you will surely never regret it!

We shall be sailing on the MV Plancius, a converted, ice-strengthened former Dutch naval vessel of 3434 tons and 89 metres in length operated by the well-respected Oceanwide Expeditions, who are based in the Netherlands. While significantly more comfortable and more modern than the old Russian expedition ships, this is still not a ‘cruise ship’ in the traditional manner and is designed for exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers. Plancius can accommodate up to 114 passengers in 53 passenger cabins, all with private toilet and shower. Cabins consist of quad cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and two upper, triple cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds and one upper, twin cabins with a porthole and two lower single beds, twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds, somewhat larger deluxe twin cabins with a window and two lower single beds and superior twin cabins which are almost 50% larger than a standard twin, with at least one window and one queen-sized bed. Cabins have ample storage space and an outside view.

Public facilities include a restaurant/lecture theatre, an observation lounge/bar with panoramic views, a library and a small shop. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waitress-served and prepared by experienced chefs. Both ships carry a small complement of expedition staff who, as well as guiding excursions ashore and zodiac cruises, double up as guest lecturers and give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the areas visited. There will be at least one birder/ornithologist among them who will also be there to point out seabirds and cetaceans at sea. The bridge is normally open to all (except when the ship is docking) and provides a great viewpoint whenever it is too breezy to stand comfortably outside.

Much of the sailing is done at night (or what passes for ‘night’ in summer in high latitudes), thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the harsh but beautiful Antarctic landscape to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs/naiads, the rugged, fast-moving type of inflatables first developed by Jacques Cousteau for expedition work which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The speed and efficiency with which the crew and expedition staff carry out these landings allow everyone plenty of time ashore, a key factor when considering any cruise of this type.

Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including all cabin categories, are available on the Oceanwide Expeditions website: www.oceanwide-expeditions.com.

Wild Images has operated tours to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia since 1990.

This particular cruise is guaranteed to have a Wild Images leader on board, regardless of the size of our group.

To find out whether this particular year’s Wild Images cruise commences in Ushuaia or in Puerto Madryn, please check under ‘Tour Price’ below.



Itinerary

Day 1 Our expedition begins this afternoon at either Ushuaia or Puerto Madryn.

For Ushuaia departures: Ushuaia, which is situated on the south coast of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘toe’ of South America, at 55 degrees south, is the southernmost town in the world. If it is clear during the flight south across Argentina, you will be able to see the vast, arid landscapes of Patagonia far below and eventually the ice-clad spires and vast snowfields of Tierra del Fuego. Named by Magellan after the warning fires that the now-extinct Ona Amerindians lit when they saw his ships, Tierra del Fuego lies at the extreme southern tip of South America and is a wild land of grassland, windswept moors, stunted Nothofagus beech forests, snow-capped peaks and glaciers. This afternoon we will board our ship prior to setting sail this evening. We will spend the next 19 nights aboard. As we sail eastwards along the Beagle Channel, Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels and diminutive Magellanic Diving-Petrels will be on show, but they are only an appetizer compared to the seabird glories of the subantarctic and Antarctica that still lie ahead.

For Puerto Madryn departures: Puerto Madryn is a small port town in northern Patagonia, where we will board our ship this afternoon prior to setting sail this evening. We will spend the next 20 nights aboard. As we sail southwards, Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels and possibly diminutive Magellanic Diving-Petrels will be on show, but they are only an appetizer compared to the seabird glories of Antarctica and the subantarctic that still lie ahead.

Day 2  As we sail towards the Falklands we will be looking out for seabirds that are typical of these shallower, warmer waters such as Sooty and Great Shearwaters. We will also encounter our first Southern Royal Albatrosses and a number of other seabird species widespread in the southern oceans which will soon become familiar companions.

Note: Puerto Madryn departing cruises have two days at sea before reaching the Falkland Islands, which is why they are 21 days duration instead of 20 days.

Days 3-4  The Falkland Islands lie some 500 kilometres off the South American mainland. In spite of their remote location and apparent lack of resources the islands have had a varied history, with temporary occupations by the Spanish and French before the British finally settled the islands permanently in 1842. Although the archipelago consists of over 300 islands, it is dominated by the two main islands of East and West Falkland. A tiny population of only a few thousand is concentrated around Port Stanley, the picturesque little capital with its gaily painted Victorian style houses that briefly became the focus of world attention during the 1982 Falklands War. These windswept islands enjoy a much milder climate than South Georgia and there is only a little snow during the winter months. At this season the islands provide endless rolling vistas of yellow-green grasslands waving in the wind. With so few people to disturb them, birds are tame and abundant. Over fifty species breed in the islands, an almost overwhelming diversity compared to Antarctica proper. During our stay we plan to make several landings.

One of these will be at one of the spectacular seabird colonies that have made the Falklands famous. Most of these are situated on remote islands. At Saunders Island the open hillsides are populated by Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants and Correndera Pipits, whilst overhead Variable Hawks hang in the wind. Dramatic sea-cliffs face the open Atlantic and here we shall visit a Rockhopper Penguin rookery, smiling as we watch a succession of Rockhoppers popping up out of the sea onto the rocks like champagne corks leaving a bottle and then hopping and scrambling up the cliffs in a long line, working their way up a natural staircase that has been worn smooth by the passage of countless little feet. From time to time a Striated Caracara or ‘Johnny Rook’ appears in the colony, lurking on the periphery in the hope of making off with a titbit or two. Nearby at a large colony of Black-browed Albatrosses we will see some of the adults squatting on top of flattened grass tussocks rather like strange dwarfs on even stranger toadstools whilst others soar high above us or sweep in to the nest sites to greet their mates with an affectionate round of mutual preening and bill clicking. Other breeding seabirds here include Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins.

On beautiful Carcass Island, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins potter along waving their little flippers as they wander inland to their nests. Rock and Imperial Shags sit about on rocky skerries whilst South American Terns and beautiful Dolphin Gulls patrol the shallows and Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers pipe shrilly from the shoreline. Upland Geese are especially numerous and there is a good population of the rare and beautiful Ruddy-headed Goose. Along the shoreline we will come across the striking Kelp Goose, which feeds almost exclusively on the beds of giant kelp. The endemic Falkland Steamer Duck or ‘Logger’ is a common sight and we shall soon realize how they got their name as these bulky ducks ‘steam’ over the water, kicking up a cloud of spray from the combined action of their wings and large feet whilst making loud sneezing alarm calls. The variety of landbirds is rather limited but this is more than made up for by the confiding nature of the little Blackish Cinclodes or ‘Tussock Bird’ which happily perches on one’s shoes. White-bridled (or Canary-winged) Finches and Black-chinned Siskins feed amongst the low herbage, Grass Wrens lurk in the damp grass and Cobb’s Wrens (split from House) forage along the shoreline amongst the cast up seaweed. Around the settlements Black-crowned Night Herons nest in the trees and Austral Thrushes and Long-tailed Meadowlarks are everywhere. Amongst the other birds we may find here are Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrel, Crested Duck, Speckled Teal, Turkey Vulture, Southern Crested Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, South American Snipe, Brown Skua and Kelp Gull. As well as South American Fur Seal and Peale’s Dolphin, we may also see the beautiful Commerson’s Dolphin.

Before leaving the islands we will call in at Port Stanley where there are opportunities to wander around the miniscule streets, visit the tiny cathedral, see the historic hulks of the ships that never made it around Cape Horn and observe that great pioneer of the avian world, the humble House Sparrow. Outside the town, there will be a good chance of Speckled Teal, Rufous-chested Dotterel and Two-banded Plover. You can walk out to the airport area to look for them, but it is quicker and more relaxing to pay for a taxi.

Days 5-6  The long sea crossing to South Georgia can often be a highlight of the voyage. As we travel ever further to the southeast we shall pass from the warmer sub-Antarctic waters that surround southern South America and the Falklands to the cold waters of the Antarctic. The line of demarcation between these two water masses is quite strongly pronounced and is known as the Antarctic Convergence. Here the upwelling currents create conditions ideal for plankton and the rich feeding attracts numerous seabirds and often cetaceans. As we watch from the decks we will see an endless succession of seabirds following the ship, or sailing indifferently past, including Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses, the graceful Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatross, the enormous Northern (or Hall’s) and Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels, Cape, Soft-plumaged and White-chinned Petrels, Wilson’s, Grey-backed and Black-bellied Storm-petrels, and Brown Skuas. We shall check the Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions for Blue Petrels and Fairy Prions but the star of this ever-changing spectacle will be the greatest seabird of all, the Wandering Albatross, with its remarkable wingspan (up to 3.5 metres!). As we watch these huge birds gliding low over the sea between waves and then circling high into the air without even the slightest movement of their wings we will be witnessing one of nature’s ultimate creations in action - a bird which is in total harmony with its environment. We will also come across the confusingly similar Southern Royal Albatross amongst the Wanderings and be reminded just how difficult it is to separate some seabirds! This is a good area for rarities and we shall keep a lookout for such occasional visitors to these waters as Atlantic, Kerguelen and Grey Petrels and Arctic (or Parasitic), Pomarine and Long-tailed Skuas (or Jaegers). We also have an excellent chance of seeing whales, especially when we cross a bank where the sea depth decreases from over 4000m to under 200m, producing an upwelling that creates a plankton swarm highly attractive to whales: the most regular species here being Minke Whale, Fin Whale and Hourglass Dolphin. If we are lucky we will encounter Gray’s Beaked Whale or Southern Bottlenose Whale. As we voyage southwards we will have a chance to listen to some fascinating lectures on the Antarctic environment and its wildlife or visit the bridge to learn about the many complex navigation instruments in use on our ship.

Days 7-10  South Georgia lies at the northeastern corner of the Scotia Ridge, a largely submarine formation with only the summits poking above the sea as islands, that links the Andes of South America with the mountains of Antarctica. Profoundly remote, a mass of inaccessible ice-clad mountains rising to 2934m, South Georgia is the most spectacular of all the sub-Antarctic islands. Described by Robert Cushman Murphy, that great pioneer of seabird research in the southern oceans, as presenting ‘one of the world’s most glorious spectacles - like the Alps in mid-ocean’, the coastline of South Georgia endlessly surprises and delights as one striking vista of deep fjords, jagged peaks and glacier-dominated valleys gives way to another and yet another.

During our stay in this marvellous area we will hope to make several landings. For over fifty years South Georgia was the hub of the South Atlantic whaling industry and we shall explore the eerie, silent ghost settlement of Grytviken, the oldest whaling station on the island. Here we will see the simple grave of Ernest Shackleton, a hero of Antarctic exploration, who died at Cumberland Bay and also the excellent whaling museum that charts the history of the island. South Georgia is famous for its vast nesting colonies of King Penguins, and we shall admire their handsome silver-grey, glowing orange, black and white plumage that contrasts so strikingly with the green tussock grass and beige sandy beaches, whilst inland the huge glaciers provide an even more dramatic backdrop. On one of the small offshore islands, provided landings are being permitted at the time, we may have to brave the Antarctic Fur Seals, now more than recovered from the depredations of nineteenth century sealers, in order to wander through a colony of Wandering Albatrosses – so graceful in the air yet so awkward on land! Not only will we be able to get right up to the nesting birds, which look even larger sat on a nest than they do on the wing, but we may be fortunate enough to see their wild, evocative display as several adults turn their outstretched wings towards the sky and throw back their heads to wail at the heavens. Not far away, Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels squat Dodo-like on their untidy nests, hissing at intruders. Light-mantled (Sooty) Albatrosses, the most beautiful and most gentle of all the albatrosses, are widespread as nesting birds and it is a thrilling sight to watch them gliding to and fro along the cliffs or displaying to their mates.

During our stay in South Georgia we will certainly want to track down the endemic South Georgia Pipit and also the rather tame endemic race of the Yellow-billed Pintail, which is sometimes treated as a full species (South Georgia Pintail), and we should also see Grey-headed Albatrosses, South Georgia Shags and bizarre-looking Macaroni Penguins. In the fjords or offshore we will find stunning Snow Petrels, diminutive Common Diving-Petrels and the localized Georgian Diving-Petrel, watching them get up hurriedly from the water and sweep past our ship on rapidly whirring wings. In some places large groups of enormous Southern Elephant Seals are piled on the shoreline like heaps of giant slugs, occasionally stirring from their slumbers to growl a protest as a neighbour jostles them beyond the point of acceptability.

Day 11  We sail southwestwards across the Scotia Sea towards the South Orkney Islands. Once again pelagic seawatching is excellent both for birds and cetaceans.

Day 12  Today we plan a landing at Orcadas station, an Argentine base in the South Orkney Islands. Visiting an Antarctic base is a fascinating experience in itself and few have finer views than this one with glaciers all around. In the South Orkneys we will surely encounter numbers of gigantic tabular icebergs which have been spewed forth from the mouth of the Weddell Sea. Some of the bergs are the most intense blue colour and have been sculptured into fantastic shapes by the action of wind, water and sun. The incomparable Snow Petrel regularly adopts these bergs as a ‘home away from home’ and we can expect to see these beautiful birds, that surely epitomize Antarctica, perched on the top or circling their floating ‘island’.

Day 13  We sail on towards the South Shetland Islands. We may pass Elephant Island later today, one of the easternmost islands of the South Shetlands and a remote place where black rock outcrops and mighty glaciers speckled with pink algae create a dramatic landscape. This is the place where Ernest Shackleton’s men survived for more than four grim months after Shackleton set out on his epic attempt to reach South Georgia in a tiny open boat and so bring help. A bust to Captain Pardo, the master of the Chilean ship Yelcho that finally got through to Elephant Island on Shackleton’s fourth rescue attempt, still stands guard over this terrible place, a reminder of the days when explorers could not rely on radios or helicopters to save them but only on their own courage and determination.

Days 14-17  Colonies of Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins can be found in the South Shetlands and we may well make a landing at Half Moon Bay. Here, Brown (or Antarctic) Skuas will try to drive us from their territories by sweeping in low over our heads and breeding Wilson’s Storm-Petrels zigzag over the talus slopes where Antarctic Shags nest.

The entry to Deception Island, through the aptly named Neptune’s Bellows, is just wide enough for our ship to navigate and here we will be accompanied by some of the numerous Cape Petrels that nest fulmar-like on the surrounding cliffs. Our anchorage is at Whaler’s Bay, an abandoned whaling station, inside a volcano whose cone caved in to be filled by the sea. On the seaward side of the island, if conditions permit, we can see a huge rookery of Chinstrap Penguins, here breeding in their hundreds of thousands at Baily Head. The blackness of the obsidian beach and the green lichen-encrusted cliffs provide a startling contrast to the gleaming white breasts of the penguins as they file down to the water’s edge whilst others head inland to greet their mates at the nest.

As we get closer to the Antarctic mainland our excitement grows and we shall keep a careful lookout for Antarctic Petrels amongst the much more common Southern Fulmars and Cape Petrels. Adelie Penguins porpoise through the waves or scamper from side to side as we approach their ice-floes. Now we come to the climax of our expedition as we slip southwards through the Bransfield Strait, passing icebergs of immense size and awesome beauty, some white, others tinged blue-green by algae, and watching out for the huge flukes of sounding Humpback Whales, the high dorsal fins of Killer Whales slicing through the water and the unobtrusive Minke Whale. Here the silence is profound as the sun glows on ice floes dotted with Crabeater, Weddell and sinister-looking Leopard Seals whilst beyond is an endless vista of icebergs and distant, snow-coated mountains.

We plan to make a landing on the Antarctic continent itself, probably at Brown Bluff in Antarctic Sound. Here we will go ashore on the Antarctic mainland, watching chicken-like Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbills scavenging along the shoreline and South Polar Skuas keeping a watchful eye out for any opportunity for a meal. Out in the bay, graceful Antarctic Terns perch on blocks of floating ice. If ice conditions permit, we will penetrate through the sound into the Weddell Sea and visit the huge Adelie Penguin colony on Paulet Island. These little characters are surely the cutest penguins of them all.

Charlotte Bay on the west coast of Graham Land was discovered by Adrien de Gerlache during the 1897–99 Belgica expedition and named after the fiancée of Georges Lecointe, Gerlache's executive officer, hydrographer and second-in-command of the expedition. In this spectacular place, where nunataks rise through the ice cap, seals dot the ice floes and South Polar Skuas harry the local Gentoo Penguins. At Wilhelmina Bay the scenic spectacular continues as we admire the dramatic mountain- and glacierscapes of the Arctowski Peninsula.

If we cannot explore Antarctic Sound and the edge of the Weddell Sea owing to too much ice, we may penetrate further south to Cuverville Island with its large Gentoo colony and may make a continental landing at Neko Harbour in Andvord Bay. Still further south, at Paradise Bay, the sea ice sparkles and 3000m high mountains and glaciers tower above us No description can do justice to this awesome, unearthly place where all the works of man seem puny indeed. We may even have time to sail through the Gerlache Strait and the narrow Neumayer Channel until we reach the historic British base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island, a fascinating landing site complete with Gentoo Penguins nesting all around the old base and roving skuas looking for a meal.

Day 18  To the north of the Antarctic Peninsula lies the thousand kilometres (600 miles) of the Drake Passage, separating the Antarctic Peninsula from the curving tail end of South America. Crossing this historic waterway, named after the great English seafarer whose expedition almost came to grief in these wild waters, is an exciting experience and gives us our last chance to enjoy a host of albatrosses and petrels which have become so familiar to us during our Antarctic journey. Almost as rich in seabirds as the seas between the Falklands and South Georgia, the Drake Passage will provide a fitting finale to our time in the great ‘Southern Ocean’.

Day 19  In the afternoon we should see the steep, rocky, greenish-grey headland of Cape Horn looming to the west whilst Sooty Shearwaters circle and dive, and Black-browed Albatrosses glide effortlessly down the troughs between the breakers. Once again we have the chance to see the rather uncommon Magellanic Diving-Petrel.

This southernmost point of South America, named by the Dutch navigator Schouten after Hoorn, his birth place in the Netherlands, has earned a reputation as one of the wildest places on earth. Here, at the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the ferocious winds can whip the waves into a frenzy of spray, although in the southern summer it can sometimes be flat calm!

Day 20  This morning we return to Ushuaia. Here we will very reluctantly disembark from the ship we have come to know so well and which has brought us so many unforgettable memories. The tour ends on disembarkation.

Note: This is Day 21 on cruises that depart from Puerto Madryn.

Ushuaia area photography: It is easy to see a number of birds, simply by walking in the vicinity of the town, that will either not be seen during the expedition itself, or which are only occasionally seen. Likely species include Black-faced Ibis, Ashy-headed Goose, Flying and Fuegian (or Flightless) Steamer-Ducks, Chiloe Wigeon, Southern Crested and Chimango Caracaras, Southern Lapwing, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-collared Sparrow and Austral Blackbird. Less frequently encountered species include Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Rufous-chested Dotterel and Brown-hooded Gull.

If the weather is fine, you might take the ski lift up to the Martial Glacier and search for species such as Bar-winged Cinclodes and Yellow-bridled Finch, or you could pay a visit to the municipal rubbish dump to look for White-throated Caracaras. If you decide to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, a spectacular region of seacoasts, forests, lakes and snow-capped mountains on the Chilean border, you may well see Great Grebe, the huge Andean Condor, Austral Parakeet, the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker (the largest of the South American woodpeckers), the attractive White-throated Treerunner, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-crested Elaenia and Patagonian Sierra-Finch. We can help you with information, hotel bookings and arranging a rental car, or we could arrange for you to take a day out with a local bird guide if you prefer.

Puerto Madryn area photography (for cruises departing from Puerto Madryn): It is easy to explore the famous Valdés Peninsula from Puerto Madryn. The Valdés Peninsula is a rugged headland protruding 60 miles (100km) out into the Atlantic Ocean. Almost cut off at its base by two huge bays, the peninsula affords a remote haven for an impressive array of marine and terrestrial wildlife.

This dramatic region is famous for its large colonies of seabirds and mammals. The bays around the peninsula are important mating and calving areas for the Southern Right Whale and you should see a series of these magnificent creatures breaching and sounding offshore, but in order to get close up views you need to join one of the regular whale-watching boat trips, which often provide truly spectacular encounters with these leviathans.

On shore there are large and impressive rookeries of South American Sealions and Southern Elephant Seals. These seal colonies are a favourite scavenging area for Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbills, a bird which really has to be seen to be believed, while Killer Whales (or Orcas) are sometimes attracted by the presence of so many young pups and could put on a spectacular hunting display. Many Southern Giant-Petrels are also attracted by the prospect of some scrumptious carrion and they are sometimes joined by a few Northern Giant-Petrels. The steppe interior of the peninsula holds Lesser Rhea, Elegant Crested-Tinamou, Darwin’s Nothura, Common Miner, the endemic Patagonian Canastero, Lesser (or Least) and Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrants, the endemic Rusty-backed Monjita, Short-billed Pipit, Mourning Sierra Finch and Patagonian Yellow-Finch, as well as a variety of terrestrial mammals such as Guanaco (a smaller cousin of the Llama) and Patagonian Mara (an enormous rodent that sits on its haunches, rather like a kangaroo). We can help you with information, hotel bookings and arranging a rental car, or we could arrange for you to take a day out with a local guide if you prefer.

Accommodation & Transport: For details of the ship, see the introductory section.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

Climate: Quite mild at this season. Around the Antarctic Peninsula the temperature is generally a little above freezing point (around 4-5°C, or 39-41°F at South Georgia) and on sunny days it can feel relatively warm if there is no wind (but it feels decidedly cold on windy days at sea). Sunny spells are interspersed with (often longer) overcast periods and some rain or snow are to be expected. In southern Argentina and in the Falklands conditions are typically cool, but considerably warmer than further south.

Important:  Adverse weather conditions may prevent landings on exposed coasts. It is, however, unusual for more than two or three landings to have to be called off during a cruise. The information given about possible landing sites should be taken as a general indication about what is likely to be achieved: every Antarctic cruise is different, being dependent on the amount of time available, sea and ice conditions, and the weather, and so it is likely that some of the sites visited will be different from those described.

These are confirmed prices

Tour Price: This cruise starts in Puerto Madryn and ends at Ushuaia. For Puerto Madryn/Ushuaia arrangements:

€9650 (£7720, $10620) in a quad-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom
€10550 (£8440, $11610) in a triple-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom
€11550 (£9240, $12710) in a twin-berth cabin with porthole and private bathroom
€12100 (£9680, $13310) in a twin-berth cabin with window and private bathroom
€12900 (£10320, $14190) in a twin-berth deluxe cabin with private bathroom
€13900 (£11120, $15290) in a superior cabin with private bathroom.

Kindly note that this tour is priced in Euros (prices in Pounds Sterling and US Dollars are only indicative and based on the exchange rates prevailing at the time of calculation: £1 = Euro 1.25, €1 = $1.10). If you are paying in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars your deposit and final balance payment due will be calculated according to the exchange rate prevailing at the time.

Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, some soft drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, leader services.

Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew, and any fuel surcharge that may be imposed by the cruise operator, Oceanwide Expeditions, are not included in the tour price. The level of gratuities is entirely a matter for personal discretion. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around US$190-285 for a 19 days cruise (Ushuaia/Ushuaia) or US$200-300 for a 20 days cruise (Puerto Madryn/Ushuaia).
Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants have two hotel nights at the cruise start point prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you on request.

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of twin-berth cabins can be obtained in return for a 70% supplement on top of the tour price. Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.

Deposit: 20% of the tour price (including any single supplement).

If you are paying the deposit in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars rather than in Euros, please contact us before sending payment so that we can provide you with the appropriate figure based on the current exchange rate.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

A typical Antarctic scene! As we make our way back to the ship, a group of inquisitive Adelie Penguins have come to investigate us! (Pete Morris)

A typical Antarctic scene! As we make our way back to the ship, a group of inquisitive Adelie Penguins have come to investigate us! (Pete Morris)

To give some idea of the scale of the icebergsm this is just part of one, and the small dots at the left hand side of the image are a flock of Adelie Penguins! (Pete Morris)

To give some idea of the scale of the icebergsm this is just part of one, and the small dots at the left hand side of the image are a flock of Adelie Penguins! (Pete Morris)

A group of fabulous King Penguins make their way back to their colony (Pete Morris)

A group of fabulous King Penguins make their way back to their colony (Pete Morris)

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