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Suggested flight (not included in the cost of the tour) British Airways BA 251 departing London Heathrow at 21.55 hrs. Subject to change.
Arrive in Santiago at 07.30 hrs. Transfer to hotel Cumbres Lastarria. Welcome dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure from Santiago airport on a special charter flight direct to Stanley, the small capital of the Falkland Islands. Meet your guides on arrival and transfer into town. There will be time to explore the town or enjoy a guided visit to nearby Gypsy Cove, which provides the first opportunity for observing the local wildlife, including nesting Magellanic penguins and other sea birds. Continue on to the port where you will board the expedition ship, RCGS Resolute in the afternoon. After settling into the cabins and exploring the ship, meet the expedition team and fellow passengers. Excitement is in the air as you enjoy a welcome cocktail and cast off to explore one of the most remote regions on Earth.
We chart a southerly course for Antarctica. The Drake Passage is rich in bio-diversity and showcases a great abundance of wildlife, hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross. Giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions on the journey south. Photographing these magnificent birds takes patience and skill and the 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 the modern expedition vessel. Throughout the day the onboard experts will educate with a series of presentations about the environment, the wildlife and history of the locations you will be visiting in the coming days. Approaching the coastline of Antarctica, we start to encounter icebergs and anticipate our first whale sightings.
We awaken today, and the magnificent snowy peaks of Antarctica’s fringing islands are laid out before us. Even our experienced expedition staff, some with more than 100 journeys south, will take a moment to pause and reflect on this incredible sight. Take a deep breath – you have arrived. This is Antarctica.
The McFarlane Strait makes a natural entry point into the South Shetlands. There are several landing sites in the vicinity including Half Moon Island, or the broad pebbly beach at Yankee Harbour, where we sometimes encounter Weddell seals sunning themselves. In the afternoon, we cruise along the coast of Livingston Island, which on a sunny day is a memorable experience. If the weather conditions allow, we sail the ship into the flooded volcanic caldera at Deception Island. This is a very dramatic place and history is all around us as we explore the old whaling station, with the rusted old boilers and dilapidated wooden huts. At the far end of the beach is an old aircraft hangar. This is where Australian, Sir Hubert Wilkins, made the very first flight in Antarctica in 1928. There is also an outstanding hike, high up onto the rim of the crater.
Overnight we have navigated across the Bransfield Strait and aim for the broad expanse of Willhelmina Bay. This is a known whale ‘hot-spot’. It’s a rich feeding ground for humpback and minke whales and we hope to encounter these gentle giants from the ship or when cruising in the Zodiacs. This is a spectacular location, featuring sweeping views of the glaciers up to the mountainous ridge of the Antarctic peninsula. Nearby lies the Errera Channel – home to several exceptional sites, including Cuverville Island with its substantial gentoo penguin rookery, Ronge Island and the snow-capped dome of Danco Island. In the soft evening light, we commence our journey south, towards the Antarctic Circle.
We have covered substantial distance overnight as we head south. Our objective is to cross the Antarctic Circle this afternoon, hoping for a shore landing at Detaille Island. An abandoned British science station – ‘Base W’ was established in the 1950s and is in a remarkable state of preservation. For the history buffs this is a fascinating place providing a glimpse into the harsh life of early Antarctic visitors. We toast our success on crossing the Antarctic Circle turning our gaze northwards, viewing the spectacular chain of glacier-covered peaks stretching as far as the eye can see. This coastline begs further exploration, which is exactly what we plan to do.
Heading north, the peaks of Mount Shackleton and Mount Scott loom on the horizon. These towering granite sentinels mark the southern entrance to the Lemaire Channel. Nearby Pleneau Island offers more opportunities for shore landings and observation of the gentoo penguins who nest here in large numbers. Just offshore, in the shallow waters of the Penola Strait, massive icebergs run aground. Constant wind and wave action sculpt these gargantuan chunks of ice into fantastic shapes, revealing more shades of blue than you could ever imagine. For many, a Zodiac cruise here will be a highlight of the voyage. If ice conditions permit, we aim to transit the Lemaire Channel on our way north towards Paradise Harbour, which provides a continental landing opportunity. There is a wonderful hike here, up to a high point which provides jaw-dropping views. Zodiac cruising in the glacial amphitheatre of Skontorp Cove is also a possibility. We navigate north through the Gerlache Strait towards Spert Island – a little visited rocky outcrop with remarkable geology. The island is criss-crossed by narrow channels which makes for fantastic Zodiac cruising and sea kayaking. The cliffs are home to numerous nesting bird species and we often encounter whales here. Nearby Mikkelson Harbour also allows for another off-ship excursion. After several busy days of exploration along the Peninsula, we head north, bound for the South Shetland Islands. This is an important whale migration corridor and we expect sightings of humpbacks, or the resident pod of orca that inhabit this stretch of water.
The adventure continues as we plan visits to several additional landing sites in the South Shetlands including the Aitcho Islands. There are some great hiking routes here showcasing the colourful mosses and lichens found on the island. Gentoo and chinstrap penguins nest here, and, on the beaches, we usually encounter seals coming and going from the surrounding waters. Fort Point situated on Greenwich Island is another favoured location for a visit. Eventually we leave the snow-covered peaks behind us, pushing northwards on our return trip to the Falkland Islands.
As we make our way back to Stanley and the Falkland Islands, the educational presentations continue, and we enjoy an entertaining and memorable voyage recap by our Expedition Leader. Join our photography experts in the multimedia room and download and back up your precious images. Approaching the coast of the southern Falkland Islands in the early evening light, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship.
Arrive back in the port of Stanley. We say goodbye to our crew and after some free time in town, make our way to the airport for our return charter flight to Santiago. On arrival in Santiago, transfer to Hotel Cumbres Lastarria. Evening under own arrangements.
Transfer to the airport for the suggested flight (not included in the cost of the tour) British Airways BA 250 departing Santiago at 16.15 hrs. Subject to change.
Arrival London Heathrow at 09.35 hrs.
Alison was more than helpful and practical. Nice people travelled in Royal style.- MC, Seychelles