Summary : Imagine flying in a helicopter to the vicinity of this astounding rookery, then walking across the sea ice to come within several feet of chicks so young they’re huddling with their parents. Watch in awe as these extraordinary creatures toboggan across the ice on their way to the ocean to dive for food. If you’re lucky, some may even approach you! An experience like no other, it’s like a wildlife documentary come to life.
Activities : Birding, Triple/Quad Cabins
$19,995 to $34,995
You will begin your journey in Ushuaia, a small but bustling port town at the tip of South America. This Argentine hot spot is the ideal gateway for you to explore the southern extent of Patagonia while preparing for your adventure ahead. Stay overnight in your included hotel.
In late afternoon, transfer from your group hotel to the pier, where you’ll board Kapitan Khlebnikov. This iconic icebreaker should be instantly recognizable at the port, as the shape and bulk are very distinctive. As the ship sets sail, you’ll first pass through the historic Beagle Channel, which opens up to the vastness of the Southern Ocean. Named after the famed ship on which Charles Darwin voyaged, the channel presents many great photo opportunities to capture seabirds hovering overhead and possibly seals and sea lions cavorting in the water.
Crossing the legendary Drake Passage is as much a part of the Antarctic experience as penguins and seals are. These two days will have an air of anticipation, as you prepare for your first landing at the elusive Snow Hill emperor penguin rookery. Plenty of activities will keep you engaged at sea, including educational and informative presentations by your expedition team. You’ll learn about such things as the history of whaling in Antarctica and the emperor penguins’ biology, unique habitat, and adaptive behavior.
You may also want to spend some time on deck with your binoculars and camera at the ready, watching for wandering albatross, petrels, whales, and dolphins. Crossing the polar front, keep a close watch, as you should see your first iceberg, too.
As you approach the island, remember that no two polar expeditions are alike, particularly this voyage through the icy Weddell Sea, since landings and wildlife sightings are determined by weather and ice conditions, as well as the natural cycles of the wildlife. But it’s exactly this element of the unknown that makes expedition-style travel so exhilarating and adventurous.
That said, expeditions will have some elements in common, such as landings, wildlife sightings, helicopter sightseeing, and ice—truly massive amounts of ice! Having broken away from the ice shelf, large tabular icebergs, so named for their plateau-like flat top and steep sides, will signal your arrival to Antarctica.
Located on sea ice, the emperor rookery is situated some distance from Snow Hill Island, so your captain will navigate to a position in the ice that’s within helicopter range of the rookery. As you draw near, a few curious penguins may be attracted to the open water by the ship, so keep your eyes peeled for them. Deployed in a rotation of flights, your onboard helicopters will land as close to the penguins as possible, yet still at a safe distance (at least 0.75 nautical miles), to protect the birds. Since you must carry all your own gear for the entire distance to the rookery and back across sea ice several feet thick, you’ll want to keep items in your backpack to a minimum. A must-bring, however, should be your camera.
Everyone is encouraged—photographers and nature lovers alike—to carry a camera during your rookery visits, because any visit could reward with that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Your expedition team will include a professional photographer, who will conduct onboard workshops and assist you on-site to help you get the most out of your camera, whether you’re a newbie or a pro.
Though the number of excursions that will occur during your stay in the vicinity of the rookery is unpredictable, rest assured that your expedition leader will take every possible advantage of good weather and flying conditions, and the intention is to spend as much time as possible in the area to give you plenty of chances to observe the emperors in their natural environment.
Since you are visiting earlier in the rearing season, the emperor chicks are still young, so you may see a few brooding on their parents’ feet or even several huddling together in large communal crèches. It’s possible you may catch the impressive sight of a constant trail of adults walking or tobogganing in single file from the sea to the rookery to feed the chicks, and then heading back out again to hunt for more food. Listen closely for a parent trumpeting upon its return to the rookery—the call is instantly recognized by the chick, who whistles in response.
To protect the penguins, the group will remain at least 15 feet away, but you may have the opportunity to encounter them up close. Curious creatures, emperors are unafraid of humans. If you stand still and remain quiet, the birds may actually approach you. If you are crouching on the ice, eyes focused down through your camera lens, pause for a moment and slowly look around you—you may find yourself surrounded by the very birds you’ve been trying to photograph!
A day at sea can be as busy as any day ashore. Share stories and photos with your shipmates in the lounge, relax in the Polar Library or attend dynamic presentations by your expedition team, who may even screen documentaries. Lecture topics can range from the Historic Age of Exploration to Whales of the Southern Ocean.
If you choose to spend time outside on deck, keep an eye out for the large seabirds that have accompanied mariners through the Southern Ocean since Magellan made his first navigation of the globe. By now, you should be able to recognize albatross and petrels on the wing.
As you enter the mouth of the Beagle Channel on your way back to Ushuaia, a small vessel will come alongside and a local pilot will board the vessel to help navigate this last stretch of water. If the weather is fine, you may want to watch from the deck, enjoying the soft light of austral summer.
This morning, you’ll say farewell to your expedition team and fellow travelers before disembarking to catch your homeward flight.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition.
Due to the remoteness of the areas in this itinerary, travelers should have a minimum $50,000 of emergency medical coverage. The shipping company will not be held responsible for delays due to force majeure. Any additional costs accrued will be the responsibility of the traveler. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends at least $200,000 Emergency Medical/Evacuation coverage for Antarctic trips which includes coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
One pre-cruise hotel night in Ushuaia with breakfast; transfer from Ushuaia airport to hotel, transfer from hotel to ship, transfer from ship to Ushuaia airport; shipboard accommodations; group scheduled helicopter flightseeing and excursions; parka and photographic journal to keep; waterproof expedition boots on loan; all meals onboard the ship; soft drinks, beer and wine with dinner; coffee, tea, cocoa available around the clock; gratuities; miscellaneous service taxes and port charges; luggage handling aboard ship; emergency evacuation insurance for all passengers to a maximum benefit of $500,000 per person*. Subject to change without notice.
Airfare; passport and visa expenses; government arrival and departure taxes; any beverages that are not in the complimentary selection; any meals ashore that are not specified as included; baggage, cancellation and medical travel insurance; excess baggage charges; laundry and other personal charges; phone and internet charges; additional overnight accommodation; fuel surcharge may apply.
*Emergency Evacuation Insurance:
Emergency evacuation coverage to a maximum benefit per paying passenger of $500,000 is included in the cost of this expedition. Included coverage is applicable only to travel between the first and last day of the expedition purchased. Additional days of travel prior to the expedition and/or after the expedition are not covered by the included emergency evacuation insurance. We strongly advise all passengers to purchase medical, cancellation and baggage insurance, and additional emergency evacuation coverage.
Photo Credit: © Quark Expeditions