1 877 412-8527

East Antarctica – In the Wake of Mawson

Antarctica Cruise Information

Summary : Voyage from Invercargill, New Zealand to one of the least-visited coastlines in the world and discover for yourself why East Antarctica held such a fascination for pioneering Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. East Antarctica is one of the most isolated places on the planet, where the massive polar ice cap rolls down to a sea rich with wildlife. It is also where explorers—both heroic and modern day—have landed and lived in the face of nature. Douglas Mawson was a contemporary of legendary explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton and a passionate scientist, explorer, and academic who spent his life devoted to exploring and studying Antarctica. Mawson, David, and Mackay were the first to reach the South Magnetic Pole in January 1909 after trekking some 1,000 miles. Sail along East Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay from Mertz Glacier to Cape Denison and Dumont d'Urville via Australia's icy outback, Macquarie Island, and New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands. Zodiac cruise past gigantic ice shelves and feeding whales, walk among emperor penguins and rowdy penguin rookeries, and spot lazing seals and sea lions on ice. If weather and ice conditions permit, you'll celebrate the holidays inside Mawson's hut on Cape Denison.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Antarctic Circle


Prices from
$17,000 to $24,000

View All Rates

Day 1
Invercargill, New Zealand

Arrive at Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city. Established by Scottish settlers, the area’s wealth of rich farmland is well suited to the sheep and dairy farms that dot the landscape.

Make your way to the Ascot Park Hotel where your group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening there will be an informal get-together at the hotel for dinner—an excellent opportunity to meet your fellow adventurers and some of your expedition team.

Day 2
Port of Bluff / Embark

Enjoy breakfast in the hotel restaurant and explore some of the local Southland scenery and attractions before heading to the Port of Bluff to embark the Akademik Shokalskiy. Settle into your cabin and join your expedition team and the captain for a welcome on board.

Day 3
The Snares

It has been said The Snares (the closest of the Subantarctic Islands to New Zealand) are home to more nesting seabirds than all of the British Isles put together. Uninhabited and protected, the only mammals are marine. New Zealand fur seals and sea lions can be found at the base of the imposing cliffs. Learn how the islands got their name as you cruise in a Zodiac along the jagged coast. In the sheltered bays you may see endemic Snares crested penguins, Snares Island tomtits, and Snares Island fernbirds, plus sooty shearwaters and Buller’s albatrosses. From the water you can view the unique large tree daisies that dominate much of the island, draping the hills and creating a forest canopy.

Day 4
At Sea

As the ship makes its way through the Southern Ocean’s ‘Furious Fifties’ you will learn more about Subantarctic flora and fauna in preparation for arrival at Macquarie Island. En route there are great birding opportunities which may include the wandering albatross, royal albatross, black-browed albatross, light-mantled sooty albatross, Salvin’s albatross, grey-headed albatross, northern and southern giant petrel, sooty shearwater and little shearwater. Be on the lookout for the fairy prion, fulmar prion and antarctic prion.

Day 5 – 6
Macquarie Island

Prepare for arrival at Macquarie Island, or ‘Macca’ as it is also affectionately known. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a history firmly linked to Mawson’s endeavors. In 1911, he established the island’s first scientific station. As well as mapping the island and conducting geomagnetic observations, he studied the island’s botany, zoology, meteorology, and geology. This expedition also established a radio relay station on Wireless Hill that could communicate with both Australia and the expedition group at Commonwealth Bay.

This enduring windy, rocky outpost supports one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern hemisphere. Millions of penguins breed here and four different species (king, rockhopper, gentoo and the endemic royal penguin) call this island home. Spend your time divided between two approved landing sites, Sandy Bay and Buckles Bay. Enjoy a Zodiac cruise at Lusitania Bay if weather conditions permit.

You will never forget your first experience of Sandy Bay’s perpetually active penguin metropolis, where the dapper inhabitants show no fear of visitors. The king penguin rookery at Lusitania Bay is noisy and spectacular. A welcoming committee may porpoise around your Zodiac as a quarter of a million king penguins stand at attention on shore. Large groups of southern elephant seals slumber on the beaches and in the tussock. Unlike the penguins, these giant creatures will barely acknowledge your presence, lying in groups of intertwined bodies, undergoing their annual molt. In addition to the penguins and elephant seals, there are three species of fur seals to be found here and four species of albatross: wandering, black-browed, grey-headed, and light-mantled sooty.

Day 7 – 10
At Sea

Soaring albatross and petrels circle the vessel as it steams southward through the Southern Ocean. Lectures concentrate on the Antarctic region. Beyond the bow of the ship, drifting icebergs of extraordinary shapes and color begin to appear. Maneuvering in close for your first ice photographs, the ship will pass the Antarctic Circle and into the continent’s realm of 24-hour daylight. Relax in the ship’s bar, catch up with some reading in the library or review your latest photographs.

Day 11 – 17
Commonwealth Bay and Beyond

An authentic expedition into the vast icy desert of East Antarctic, this voyage channels the spirit and tenacity of its heroic namesake by exploring the historic and isolated coastline of Commonwealth Bay where very few have ventured before. Located almost entirely within the Eastern Hemisphere, East Antarctica (or Greater Antarctica) is renowned for the thickness of its ice (almost 3 miles in some areas) and some of the coldest and driest conditions on the planet. However, it's still home to emperor and Adelie penguins, seals, seabirds, and cetaceans. A celebration of Australia’s contribution to Antarctic exploration, your own expedition carries the same thrill of the unknown as you traverse the frozen coastline following in the wake of these great adventurers.

Due to the unpredictable nature of ice and weather conditions, a day-by-day itinerary is not possible. The captain and expedition leader will assess daily conditions and take advantage of every opportunity to make landings and enjoy Zodiac cruises during the long daylight hours. The program emphasizes wildlife viewing, key scientific bases, and historic sites, as well as the spectacular scenery of the coastal terrain, the glaciers, and icebergs of East Antarctica. Whilst specific landings cannot be guaranteed you may visit the following locations as well as seek out new, perhaps previously un-visited areas:

Commonwealth Bay
Your first explorations on the remote East Antarctic coastline will be at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, notoriously known as the ‘home of the blizzard’ due to the strong Katabatic winds that frequently blow here. If a lull in the weather allows, hope to visit Mawson’s Hut. Nesting near the hut are substantial numbers of Adelie penguins and Wilson’s storm petrels.

Dumont d’Urville, Port-Martin
West from Cape Denison is the French Research Base, Dumont d’Urville, which you might visit if permission is granted and ice conditions permit. The base’s main area of study is wildlife, notably the emperor penguin. In summer, the rocks near the base are also home to an Adelie penguin rookery as well as skuas, snow petrels, giant petrels, and cape petrels.

McKellar Islands
This group of approximately 30 small islands and rocks lie 1.8 miles north of Cape Denison and was discovered by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under Mawson. There may be good opportunities for wildlife sightings close by.

East from Cape Denison the ship will follow the East Antarctic ice edge towards the Mertz Glacier. The Mertz Glacier emerges from the mountains of East Antarctica in King George V land. Extending into the ocean with a floating tongue, from 1956 to 2010 this tongue advanced for almost 28 miles without calving. In 2010 the tongue was impacted by the B9B iceberg, causing the Mertz Glacier tongue to calve off an iceberg that was 48 miles long.

With the extended daylight hours, there is time to enjoy the light bouncing off the ice as you sail. Take the time to study the different ice formations you'll encounter, including fast ice, drift ice, frazil ice, slush, grease ice, and pancake ice. Chat with the expedition staff or browse through the library to learn about the extraordinary variety of ice formations. Plan to cruise the coastline in a Zodiac looking for wildlife.

Day 18 – 21
At Sea

Depart from the spectacular icebound majesty of Antarctica and take some time at sea to recover from the extensive daylight hours. As the ship travels along the Antarctic convergence, remain vigilant for any sea life and birdlife you will no doubt encounter along the way. There will be plenty of time to reflect on your amazing experience, review recent photos, pose questions to the knowledgeable expedition team, and recap highlights with fellow passengers and staff. Along the way, take part in a series of lectures designed to prepare you for your visit to the Auckland Islands. Pelagic species abound here as they did en route to Macquarie Island earlier in the voyage. Above all, take the time to rest and enjoy shipboard life after the excitement of the Antarctic.

Day 22
Auckland Islands – Carnley Harbor

Arrive in Carnley Harbor, once the caldera of the Carnley volcano. The walls of the caldera have been breached on both the eastern and western sides, separating Adams Island to the south. The eastern entrance is navigable for smaller vessels such as the Spirit of Enderby. The extensive harbor is rich in history and opportunities. Activities here are totally weather dependent—the wind often funnels down the harbor which makes anchoring and some landings impossible.

Choose a reasonably difficult scramble to a shy albatross colony on South West Cape or take a Zodiac cruise along the pristine shores of Adams Island and Western Harbor. Other options include a relatively easy walk to an abandoned Coastwatcher’s hut and lookout used during the Second World War. You may also be able to see the remains of the Grafton's wreck in 1865 if you land on the shores of the north arm of Carnley Harbor. The remains of the vessel and their castaway hut can still be seen. Alternative locations are Camp Cove, site of the official government castaway depots constructed in the late 1800s and the ‘Erlangen’ clearing where the German merchant ship of the same name cut firewood on the eve of the Second World War which allowed it to leave New Zealand undetected.

Day 23
Auckland Islands – Enderby Island

Enderby Island is a wildlife rich island with no equal in the Southern Ocean, considered one of the most beautiful of the Subantarctic Islands. The landscape here is a mix of regenerating rata forest, playing host to native songbirds, the tui and bellbird, and chatterbox red-fronted parakeets. Megaherbs with languorous names can also be found here: Bulbinella rossii and Anisotome latifolia, and vivid pink and white gentians. The island is home to the rarest sea lion in the world, the New Zealand Sea Lion, which breeds on Sandy Bay beach where the captain plans to land. As you walk around the island, enjoy close encounters with the yellow-eyed penguin, the rarest penguin in the world, and the royal albatross nesting among a hummocked sward of Oreobolus pectinatus and tussock. There is a good chance you will see the endemic snipe, shag, and Auckland Island flightless teal.

Day 24
At Sea

En route to the Port of Bluff, take the opportunity to recap the many experiences you've had on this expedition. This is also a good opportunity to review your pictures while they are fresh in your mind or ask your expedition team any questions. There will also be some good pelagic birding opportunities. Tonight, you'll attend a farewell and celebratory dinner with new found friends and reflect on a wealth of new experiences.

Day 25
Invercargill, New Zealand / Disembark

Arrive in the Port of Bluff early this morning. After a final breakfast and completing Custom formalities, bid farewell to your fellow voyagers and take a complimentary coach transfer to either a central city point or to the airport.

*Please contact ExpeditionTrips for a full bird and mammal list.


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. Landings at the Sub-Antarctic Islands are by permit only as administered by the governments of New Zealand and Australia. No landings are permitted at The Snares Islands. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.

Mandatory Travel Insurance:
Due to the remoteness of the areas in this itinerary, all passengers must purchase full medical and emergency evacuation insurance for the specific areas they will be visiting. Proof of coverage is required prior to embarkation. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends that you select a travel protection plan that covers trip cancellation insurance, trip delay (interruption or after departure coverage), baggage and repatriation, and at least $200,000 in medical evacuation coverage. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions.

One-night hotel accommodation (twin share basis) the night prior to embarkation, including dinner and breakfast; pre- and post-cruise transfers; shipboard accommodations; all expedition shore excursions; gear on loan (rubber boots for shore landings); all meals onboard the ship; tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and water; juice with breakfast. Inclusions subject to change without notice.

Not Included:
International/domestic flights; passport and visa expenses; full medical and emergency evacuation insurance (mandatory), excess baggage charges, local payment of $800 per person (to be paid with final payment); juice, carbonated beverages, bottled water, and alcoholic beverages; all items of a personal nature such as laundry, ship to shore communications, medical supplies, souvenirs, etc.; gratuities; fuel surcharge may apply.

PHOTOS: © Ewen Bell, © Heritage Expeditions

Would you like to learn more about this trip or request availability?