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East Antarctica – In the Wake of Mawson

East Antarctica Cruise Wake of Mawson

Summary : East Antarctica is one of the most isolated places on the planet. Here, the massive polar ice cap rolls down to a sea rich in wildlife. It is also where explorers both heroic and modern day have landed and lived in the face of nature. Mawson, David, and Mackay were the first to reach the South Magnetic Pole (January 15th, 1909) after trekking some 1,000 miles. Celebrate the achievement with a visit to the remains of Mawson’s Hut in Commonwealth Bay and several islands that were also visited during Mawson’s expedition. This voyage is an opportunity to experience a seldom-visited part of Antarctica, rich in history and wildlife.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Triple/Quad Cabins


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Day 1

Arrive in Hobart, Australia’s second-oldest city and southernmost capital. A city rich in colonial heritage, picturesque waterways, gourmet experiences and natural charms, this busy seaport at the foot of Mt. Wellington has something for everyone. Hobart's link with the Antarctic continent have grown over the years. In 1981 the Australian Antarctic Division moved its division headquarters from Melbourne to Kingston, Tasmania, as Hobart was often used as a departure point for ships servicing ANARE stations it seemed a logical move. This move has been influential in the increase in Tasmanian Antarctic-related institutions and enterprises, the Division provides transport and logistic support for its four permanent stations and co-ordinates Australia’s Antarctic scientific research programmes. The orange hull of Australia’s research and resupply vessel Aurora Australis is a familiar sight to look out for, and the French ship Astrolabe is also based in Hobart. The importance of Tasmania’s Antarctic-related enterprises was emphasized by the creation of the Office of Antarctic Affairs (1993), and the Tasmanian Polar Network – an association of industry, government, education and science, which aims to forge closer links between businesses and Antarctic activities. There is increasing international interest in Tasmania as a center for Antarctic research with science research organizations establishing themselves in Hobart and the University of Tasmania also has a large focus on the Antarctic and Southern Ocean with study programs. In December 2013, the Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum opened on the city’s beautiful waterfront, just 50 meters from Constitution Dock and opposite Mawson’s Place. Constructed by heritage architects and builders, the replica of the historic huts in Cape Denison was only made possible by a federal government grant and the generosity of many Tasmanian businesses and individuals who donated time, goods and goodwill. Passengers should make their way to the central city hotel where the 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 fellow adventurers on your voyage and some of the expedition team. An expedition briefing will also be included for Day 2 so it is requested that all passengers are present.

Please Note: During the voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. Landings at the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand are by permit only as administered by the Government of New Zealand. No landings are permitted at The Snares.

Day 2

Enjoy breakfast at your leisure in the hotel restaurant, there will also be a compulsory luggage security check in the foyer of the hotel this morning. Afterwards there may be time for you to explore locally until boarding the coach transport which will take you to the port. The daily program given to you on your arrival at the hotel will contain full details. After completing security formalities on arrival at the port your expedition team welcome you onboard as you embark the ship. You will have the opportunity to settle into your cabin and familiarize yourself with the ship; you will also take the opportunity to conduct a number of safety briefings. In the late afternoon you will depart the Port of Hobart, once one of Australia’s finest deep-water ports and the center for the Southern Ocean whaling and sealing trade; it is now a busy seaport and also serves as the home port for both Australian and French Antarctic operations. You are invited to join the expedition team and captain on the bridge as you set sail across Storm Bay. Strong winds can sometimes blow through the bay, coming straight up from Antarctica, via the Southern Ocean. You will sail pass Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula and set your course for Macquaire Island. As you sail along the Tasmanian seacoast remember that up until 55 million years ago, Tasmania was neatly tucked into the coastline of North Victoria Land, east Antarctica, before plate tectonics broke up the super-continent of Gondwana pushing the island much further north.

Day 3 – 5
At Sea

As you make your way through an area known as the roaring ‘40s you will have a series of video-supported lectures on the biology and history of the Sub-Antarctic Islands and the Southern Ocean. Learn more about the flora and fauna in a series of lectures from your onboard experts and you will prepare for your arrival at Macquaire Island. En route to Macquarie Island, you can observe pelagic species at your ease. Great birding opportunities may include the Wandering Albatross, Royal Albatross, Blackbrowed Albatross, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Salvin’s Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Little Shearwater. You will endeavour to spot the Fairy Prion, Fulmar Prion and Antarctic Prion—never an easy task—but you should get some great views. Other species to be on the lookout for include the Soft-plumaged Petrel, Mottled Petrel, White-headed Petrel, Grey-faced Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Grey-backed Storm-Petrel, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-Petrel and Common Diving Petrel.

Day 6 – 7
Macquarie Island

Australia’s prized Sub-Antarctic possession, it supports one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern Ocean. Millions of penguins of four different species—King, Rockhopper, Gentoo and the endemic Royal—breed here. Plan to spend your time divided between the two approved landing sites, Sandy Bay and Buckles Bay as well as a Zodiac cruise at Lusitania Bay if weather conditions permit. At Sandy Bay a Royal Penguin rookery teems with feisty little birds trotting back and forth, golden head plumes bobbing as they march to and from the shore. All three million of the world’s Royal Penguins breed on Macquarie Island. There is also a substantial King penguin colony. Some of the best observations will be had by quietly sitting and letting the birds come to you. They are both unafraid and inquisitive—the combination is unique. At Buckles Bay you will have a guided tour of the Australian Antarctic Division Base which was established in the late 1940s and has been manned continuously since then. There is a range of scientific research being undertaken here as well as a very strategically important weather station. Large groups of Southern Elephant Seals slumber on the beaches and in the tussock at both of your landing sites. These giant, blubbery creatures will barely acknowledge your presence, lying in groups of intertwined bodies, undergoing their annual moult. Younger bulls spar in the shallow water, preparing for their mature years when they will look after their own harems. The King penguin rookery at Lusitania Bay is noisy and spectacular. A welcoming committee will likely porpoise around our Zodiacs as a quarter of a million King penguins stand at attention on shore. In the center of the rookery, rusting condensers are grim reminders of a time when scores of penguins were slaughtered for their oil. Now their offspring have reclaimed this territory. In 2011 the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service undertook one of the most ambitious eradication projects anywhere in the world. Their plan was to rid the island of all introduced species including rabbits, rats and mice. It looks like it has succeeded and the island and its wildlife is responding. The vegetation is re-establishing and petrel and prion numbers are increasing. It is an amazing island, in addition to the penguins and elephant seals, there are three species of fur seals to be found there and four species of albatross, Wandering, Black-browed, Grey-headed and Light-mantled Sooty. Once you have concluded your exploration of Macquarie Island, you will set your course south.

Day 8 – 10
At Sea

Soaring albatross and petrels circle the vessel as you steam ever southward through the Southern Ocean. Lectures now concentrate on the Antarctic region. You will pay attention to water temperatures so that you know when you cross the Antarctic Convergence into the cold but extremely productive Antarctic waters. Drifting icebergs carry vivid colors and come in extraordinary shapes. Each is a unique, natural sculpture. The captain will maneuver the ship in close for your first ice photography and announce a special celebration as you pass the Antarctic Circle and into Antarctica’s realm of 24-hour daylight! Relax in the ship’s bar and catch up with some reading in the library. If you have brought your laptop with you there will be time to download and edit photos while they are fresh in your mind.

Day 11 – 19
Commonwealth Bay and Beyond

Your first landing on the remote East Antarctic coastline will hopefully be at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay. The region is notoriously known as the ‘home of the blizzard’ largely on account of the strong Katabatic winds that frequently blow here. You will wait for a lull in the weather then land. Here you will see (and experience) Mawson’s Hut and its environs which include other relics from the 1911-14 expedition and Adelie Penguins. The Mawson Hut Foundation has been instrumental in protecting this hut from the ravages of the many storms that occur here. Due to their efforts it is now possible to go inside the hut and experience it for yourself, an amazing experience that immediately connects you with the men and achievements of that remarkable expedition. There are substantial numbers of Adelie Penguins and Wilsons Storm Petrels nesting near the hut which you will also be able to enjoy and photograph. West from Cape Denison is the French Antarctic Research Base, Dumont D’Urville which you will visit if permission is granted and ice conditions permit. There is also an Emperor Penguin colony nearby. Breeding season will be over but birds could possibly still be around. Other landings could include Port Martin (abandoned French Base) and the McKellar Islands. You will also cruise the icebergs and coastline in the Zodiacs looking for wildlife. East from Cape Denison we can follow the ice edge towards the Balleny Islands. It is a very productive area for cetaceans; large numbers of Humpbacks have been recorded here. The Balleny Islands were discovered in 1839, by a sealing Captain in the employment of the Enderby Brothers. Because of their location, remote and isolated, they are rarely visited. The islands are rugged and landing sites are rare, but if conditions are right we will be able to Zodiac cruise Sabrina Island where there is a small colony of Chinstrap Penguins. This is also one of the few places where Greater Snow Petrels breed. Further south is Cape Adare, arguably one of the most historic sites in all of Antarctica. It was here in 1895 that one of the first landings on the Antarctic continent was made and in 1899 the first party to winter over in Antarctica built their hut here. Other potential sites in the Northern Ross Sea that you could land if ice and weather conditions permit include the Possession Islands. These were named by Sir James Clark Ross in 1842 after he had landed on them and claimed the region in the name of Queen Victoria. A little further south is Cape Hallett, it was the site of a joint American New Zealand base from 1958-1973 when it was abandoned. It was demolished in the 1990s and now the Adelie Penguins are reclaiming the site which was rightfully theirs anyway. From Cape Hallett you can get amazing views of the northern trans-Antarctic mountains.

Day 20 – 22
At Sea

When you depart from the spectacular icebound majesty of Antarctica you will have some quieter time at sea to recover from the extensive daylight hours of the Antarctic. There will be the opportunity to relax and this will be a good time to download, edit and catalogue your photos, catch up on diaries and reading. En route to Campbell Island, take part in a series of lectures designed to prepare you for your visit tomorrow. Pelagic species abound here as they did en route to Macquarie Island earlier in your voyage. Above all, take the time to rest and enjoy shipboard life after the excitement of the Antarctic.

Day 23 – 24
Campbell Island – Perseverance Harbor

New Zealand’s southernmost Sub-Antarctic territory, the Campbell Island group lies approximately 660 km south of Bluff. You will visit Campbell Island, the main island in the group, and spend the day exploring the island on foot from Perseverance Harbor, a long inlet cutting into the undulating landscape. Campbell Island is a truly magnificent place of rugged scenery, unique flora and abundant wildlife. Perseverance Harbor where you will drop anchor is an occasional refuge for Southern Right Whales who come here to calve. Here we will find a now abandoned New Zealand meteorological station as well as Campbell Island Shags, penguins, fur seals and rare Hooker’s Sea Lions. As rats and sheep have been successfully removed, there has been an encouraging increase in small bird numbers and the recovery of wild flowers and megaherbs. Campbell Island Flightless Teal have been successfully reintroduced, a previously unknown Snipe is re-colonizing the island from neighboring Jacquemart Island and the Pipit is making a comeback. The highlight of your visit however is a walk to the hilltop breeding sites of Southern Royal Albatross, over six thousand pairs of which breed on Campbell Island. These magnificent birds, close relations to and the same size as the Wandering Albatross, have the largest wingspan in the world and are very approachable, making superb photographic subjects.

Day 25
At Sea / Auckland Islands

You will spend this morning at sea en route to the Auckland Islands, arriving in Carnley Harbor this afternoon, 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 yours. The extensive harbor is rich in history and in opportunities. Your activities are totally weather dependent as the wind often funnels down the harbor making anchoring and some landings impossible. You will have a number of options including a reasonably difficult scramble to a Shy Albatross colony on South West Cape. For those not able to manage this there will be the option to Zodiac cruise the pristine shores of Adams Island and Western Harbor. If wind and weather prevent you from doing this, other options include a relatively easy walk to an abandoned coastwatchers hut and lookout used during the Second World War. If landing on the shores on the north arm of Carnley Harbor where the Grafton was wrecked in 1865, the remains of the vessel and their castaway hut can still be seen. There are two other sites of interest that if we can’t land at the above sites you might consider. They 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 26
Auckland Islands – Enderby Island

The Auckland Islands group was formed by two volcanoes which erupted some 10-25 million years ago. They have subsequently been eroded and dissected by glaciation creating the archipelago as we know it today. The group is one of the largest in the Sub-Antarctic and has a most colorful history of discovery and attempted settlement. Characterized by towering cliffs and rugged sea stacks, these islands have borne witness to many a shipwreck in days gone by. Enderby Island in this group is a great place to view birds and wildlife and is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Sub-Antarctic Islands. Located at the northern end of this cluster of islands, it offers a varying landscape with a low plateau of scrubland and cushion bog. You will enjoy the extensive areas of regenerating patches of megaherbs especially the Anisotome latifolia and Stilbocarpa Polaris. Introduced cattle, rabbits and mice were removed from this island in the mid 1990s and the plants and birds are responding, increasing in numbers and diversity. The island enjoys a much milder climate than most Subantarctic Islands because of its location. The plan is to land at Sandy Bay, one of three breeding areas in the Auckland Islands for the Hooker’s or New Zealand Sea Lion, a rare member of the seal family. Beachmaster bulls gather on the beach defending their harems from younger (ambitious) males, to mate with the cows shortly after they have given birth of a single pup. Hookers or New Zealand Sea Lion numbers are in a slow decline, for reasons which are not obvious but most probably connected with a nearby squid fishery. As you explore further inland it is not unusual to encounter a sea lion relaxing in the gnarled and windswept rata forest. In the forest behind the beach you will find Bellbirds, Red-crowned Parakeets and the friendly Tomtits. Yellow-eyed Penguins also nest in the forest and under the tangled divaricated shrub Myrsine divaricata. You can see them as they travel backwards and forwards across the beach to their nests, especially in the evenings. On the more open terrain beyond the rata forest you will find nesting Royal Albatross and the endemic Auckland Island Dotterel. There is also a good chance of seeing the endemic Auckland Island Flightless Teal and the Sub-Antarctic Snipe. Migratory waders (if there are any) congregate at Derry Castle Reef, and it is not unusual to observe Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone here. As you explore further you should also have the chance to see the following species: Northern Giant Petrel, Auckland Island Shag, Tomtit and Pipit and the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Other more common species you will see include the Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Blackbird, European Starling, Red-billed Gull and Redpoll.

Day 27
The Snares – Northeast Island

The closest Sub-Antarctic Islands to New Zealand, they were appropriately called "The Snares" because they were probably considered a hazard by their discoverer Lieutenant Broughton in 1795. Comprising of two main islands and a smattering of rocky islets, they are uninhabited and highly protected. North East Island is the largest of The Snares and it is claimed that this one island is home to more nesting seabirds than all of the British Isles together. You will arrive early in the morning and cruise along the sheltered eastern side of the rugged coastline by Zodiac if weather and sea conditions are suitable (landings are not permitted). In the sheltered bays, you should see the endemic Snares Crested Penguins, Snares Island Tomtit and Fernbirds. Cape Pigeons, Antarctic Terns and Red-billed Gulls are also present in good numbers. There are hundreds of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters nesting on The Snares; the actual number is much debated. Around Christmas time each year the Buller’s Albatross return here to nest. Out on the Western Chain (considered part of The Snares island group) the Salvin’s Albatross will already be nesting. Other nesting seabirds include Cape Petrel (or Pigeon), Mottled Petrel, diving-petrel and Broad-billed Prion. At sea en route to the Port of Bluff, take the opportunity to relax and reflect on an amazing experience. This is a good opportunity to download and edit any remaining photos while they are fresh in your mind and you have the experience of your expedition team on board for questions. You will recap the highlights of your expedition and enjoy a farewell dinner tonight as you sail to the final port.

Day 28

Early this morning you will arrive in the Port of Bluff. After a final breakfast and completing custom formalities you will bid farewell to your fellow voyagers and take a complimentary coach transfer to either a central city point or to the airport. In case of unexpected delays due to weather and/or port operations you are asked not to book any onward travel until after midday today.


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 Snares Island. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.

Mandatory Travel Insurance:

As a requirement of participation in this program, all passengers must purchase full medical and emergency evacuation insurance for the specific areas they will be visiting. The minimum coverage requirement is $100,000 for program. The policy provider, policy number and contact phone number must be provided prior to departure date. We also strongly recommend that all passengers purchase comprehensive travel insurance which would include coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. ExpeditionTrips can assist you with this.

Cabin accommodations; one night hotel accommodation including dinner and continental breakfast; all onboard lectures and access to public areas; all meals on board the ship; shore excursions as described; group transfers to embark the ship and transfer from the ship to city hotels and/or airport on disembarkation.

Not Included:
International / domestic airfare; passport, visa and vaccination fees; travel insurance; excess baggage charges; items of a personal nature such as laundry, beverages, communications, medical supplies, etc.; landing fees; gratuities; fuel surcharge may apply.

PHOTOS: © Ewen Bell

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