Summary : South Georgia has rightly been called "the most staggering wildlife show on earth." South Georgia—the jewel of the the South Atlantic Ocean—is an incredibly remote and wild island home to an abundance of wildlife. Your guides and naturalist know this seldom-visited corner of the planet intimately and look forward to visiting every season. Your experienced expedition staff, some with more than 100 journeys south, cherish every visit to South Georgia, and your voyage is timed to coincide with the arrival of spring as South Georgia emerges from the long and frigid winter. It's an exceptional time to visit, marking the beginning of the wildlife migration and commencement of the breeding cycle for many species—male elephant seals battle for control of the beaches and female harems, the albatross demonstrate their intimate beautiful courtship rituals, and the antics of young penguin chicks delight visitors. For lovers of remote, small-ship expedition cruising, this voyage ticks every box you could possibly imagine.
Activities : Birding, Camping, Child-Friendly, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography
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Your journey commences this morning in the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Meet at the airport and fly on the scheduled service to Stanley in the Falkand Islands. After a short 90-minute flight, arrive in Stanley where you're met by representatives and transferred to the pier. Stanley is home to just over 2,000 residents and is reminiscent of a charming rural town in coastal England or Scotland, with brightly colored houses, pretty flower-filled gardens, a quaint cathedral, and several local pubs. The waterfront memorial, built to commemorate the lives of the servicemen lost during the Falklands War in the early 1980s, is a sobering reminder of recent history. There's time to explore town before embarking the ship. After settling in to you cabin and exploring the ship, meet your expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dinner, and then cast off—bound for South Georgia and the adventure of a lifetime.
Chart a southeasterly course bound for South Georgia. This stretch of the South Atlantic is rich in its biodiversity and showcases an abundance of astonishing wildlife. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions as you make your way to South Georgia. Photographing these magnificent birds from the deck of the ship takes patience and skill and the onboard photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of a modern research vessel. Throughout the day, onboard experts educate with a series of presentations about the environment, wildlife and history and the locations you hope to visit in the coming days. History is a key theme of this voyage and the epic story of Shackleton is central to the journey.
These next days will be unlike anything you have ever imagined. Majestic snow-covered mountains greet you on arrival in South Georgia. Begin your exploration on the southern coastline. Navigate the ship into the very historic location of King Haakon Bay. It was here that Shackleton and his men made landfall in their small lifeboat—the James Caird—after completing the perilous ocean crossing from Elephant Island, 100 years ago. From here, they set off to cross the mountainous spine of South Georgia, a feat never before attempted. This is a very dramatic place, visited by just a handful of ships each season. From here, make your way around to the protected waters of the north-eastern coast. Indulge in an in-depth exploration, navigating the ships into the bays and harbors the entire length of the island. Elsehul Bay and Possession Bay are possible landing sites and you may catch a glimpse of the rusting buildings of Prins Olav Station, a former Norwegian whaling location abandoned in the 1930s. One of the most anticipated sites in South Georgia is Salisbury Plain. The black sand beaches and tussock covered dunes are home to a staggering abundance of king penguin adults and their young. The rookery is believed to have a population of up to 100,000 adult and juvenile penguins. This is just one of several such king penguin rookeries on South Georgia. At the height of breeding season, the rookeries are believed to have more wildlife per square foot than any other place on the planet. You have to experience it to believe it. The majestic "Kings" are not the only wildlife on display. Fur seals can be seen poking their heads above the water; the elephant seals will enjoy lazing about the beach, while the skuas and giant petrels fill the skies above. Meanwhile, the albatross, your constant companion on this journey, is never far away.
Continue your journey further down the coastline of South Georgia; visit several beautiful locations including Prion Island, in the Bay of Isles. This island has been designated as a "Specially Protected Area" by the South Georgia Government, due to the breeding wandering albatross colonies at this location. Boasting the largest wingspan of any living bird, typically ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 m (8ft to 11ft), they spend most of their life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. Distances traveled each year are hard to measure, but one bird was recorded traveling 6,000 km in just twelve days. It is rare to experience them up close and personal and on land. If you are exceptionally lucky, attempt a landing here. The site is closed to visiting ships between November and mid January, due to the massive concentration of fur seals on the beaches.
Your adventure takes you next to Fortuna Bay, a majestic three-mile long and one-mile wide fjord. It was named after the ship Fortuna, one of the original vessels of the Norwegian-Argentine whaling expedition which established the first permanent whaling station at Grytviken, further down the coast. In Fortuna Bay, expect to see king penguins and elephant seals and you may spot light-mantled sooty albatross which are known to nest in the area. They are spectacular birds with magnificent plumage.
History comes into sharp focus as you continue west to Stromness and Grytviken. From 1912 until the 1930s, Stromness (and nearby Leith and Husvik), operated as whaling stations and the rusted and ghostly remnants of these old stations seem out of place in such a pristine environment. This area is key to the Shackleton story and it was here, in 1916, that Shackleton and his companions, Worsley and Crean, arrived after their epic crossing from King Haakon Bay on the south coast. This is after having completed their 800-mile journey by small boat from Elephant Island. If the weather cooperates, you may be able to hike the last few miles across the saddle separating Fortuna Bay from neighboring Stromness, in the footsteps of Shackleton and his men.
Journey further to the southeast, entering the broad expanse of Cumberland Bay. At the head of the bay lies Grytviken, the largest of the old whaling stations on South Georgia. A highlight of your landing here is a visit to the gravesite of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his loyal right hand man, Frank Wild. Frank Wild’s lifelong wish was to be buried beside Shackleton. However his wish never materialized due to the outbreak of WWII, a week after Wild’s passing in South Africa. Your voyage falls exactly four years following the transport of Wild’s ashes to South Georgia aboard your ship, and some 95 years after his last voyage with Shackleton in 1921.
The next few days will take you to St. Andrew’s Bay and Gold Harbor, places that are teeming with wildlife including fur seals, elephant seals and massive colonies of the colorful king penguins. As with all landings, exercise every opportunity possible to explore on foot, as much or as little as you like. Gold Harbor is so called because the sun's rays make the cliffs yellow with their light in the morning and evening. It’s an exhilarating location.
Drygalski Fjord at the far eastern extremity of the island has been called one of the most spectacular sites in South Georgia and you will likely agree. If it is calm enough to hear the glacier calving large chunks of ice, reminders of what early sealers, whalers and vessels needed to pay close attention to. A visit to this breathtaking place is a fitting way to complete your journey. Tonight, reflect on ten epic days of exploration, and chart a course for South America and the most southerly city in the world—Ushuaia.
Your final days are spent catching up on journal entries, or perhaps downloading and reviewing photos in the multi-media room with your photography expert. For some, it’s a chance to catch some well-earned rest after busy days of exploration. The lounge and bar on the ship provide fantastic panoramas and are great places to sit with a book and a coffee. The educational presentations continue and you enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by your Expedition Leader.
A particular highlight of the return journey will be frequent sightings of the majestic albatross, petrels and other seabirds as they soar above the ship on the winds of the Southern Ocean. Take the time to enjoy a quiet moment on the outer deck, reflecting on a truly remarkable journey to the farthest reaches of the planet. Approaching the entrance to the Beagle Channel in the soft evening light, enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
In the early morning, arrive into Ushuaia, Argentina. It is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travelers. Guests will be transported to their hotels or to the airport for return flights home. It will be possible to connect to flights through to Buenos Aires or other destinations in South America.
The above itinerary is a guide only, as the exact program depends on weather and ice conditions and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition.
Passengers must have comprehensive travel insurance. Your own domestic government medical insurance and private health care plans will not cover you in most overseas countries. Your policy must provide coverage for your medical costs in case of hospitalization, emergency travel and repatriation. Cancellation insurance is also recommended. ExpeditionTrips can assist you with this.
Photography Symposium – Special Guest Daisy Gilardini: (10/15/2016)
Nature and wildlife photographer, Daisy Gilardini, will lead photography groups and teach skills to capture wildlife in its natural environment. Gilardini has almost two decades of polar exploration experience. She has joined over sixty expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic, including skiing the last degree to the North Pole. The photographic goals on this departure will be formed and led by the light available both onshore and on the water. With a varied and diverse itinerary and flexible plans, aim to make the most out of the beautiful Arctic light, even if outside conventional shore landing times.
Sea Kayaking Option: $795 per person
If you have some experience sea kayaking and are interested in doing this activity during the expedition, you will need to book this option prior to departure from home. You cannot book this activity once onboard. There is a separate document for sea kayakers that you will need to review beforehand. Provided equipment includes full Gore-Tex drysuits, kayak specific PFD's, neoprene booties, a waterproof deck bag, pogies and many other vital paddling accessories.
Snowshoeing: No additional supplement (Select departures)
No pre-booking required. If conditions are suitable, you may choose to snowshoe on the continent. Snowshoes and trekking poles provided. Traveling by snowshoes offers a new view of Antarctica! Come prepared with warm socks and comfortable clothing. A small knapsack to carry water and an extra layer of clothing is recommended.
Accommodation aboard the ship; one-way flight Punta Arenas / Port Stanley; all meals during the voyage prepared by onboard professional chefs; afternoon tea with fresh snacks each afternoon; coffee, tea, hot chocolate throughout the day; all Zodiac excursions; extensive program of relevant educational presentations; advice from experienced team of naturalists; overnight camping gear; use of snow shoes and ski poles; use of multimedia station; welcome reception; welcome dinner; farewell dinner hosted by Captain; 'Memory Book' (log book chronicling your trip, includes photos) is only complimentary for those in suites; onboard medical officer; pre-departure information; hairdryers available, on request, at no charge; group transfers from central meeting point in Punta Areas to airport on Day 1 of the cruise and from the pier to downtown hotels or the airport on the last day of the cruise.
All airfare (except where explicitly stated above); visa and passport fees; airport departure taxes; pre-cruise or post-cruise hotel accommodation; personal laundry charges; postage; telephone calls; drinks; medical expenses; meals / accommodation / transfers in welcome & departure cities; trip interruption and cancellation insurance; travel medical insurance including medical evacuation (required); gratuities to staff and crew; binocular rental; weather gear available for rent (pants/jacket/boots); private fitness sessions; massage therapy; fee for guided kayak program.
PHOTOS: © Adam Riley; © Claudio Suter; © Ira Meyer; © David Schultz