Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctic Islands
Day 1 Arrive Montevideo
Today is an arrival day, an arrival transfer will meet you at the airport to take you to the hotel. There are no planned activities so you have time to enjoy the city. There will be a group meeting in the early evening to discuss the plans for tomorrow.
Day 2 Depart Montevideo (1B,1D)
Today we embark on the M/S Expedition. The group will leave the hotel together in the early afternoon. The morning is free for you to do any last minute shopping or visit one of Montevideos colorful neighborhoods. The evening is spent onboard the ship sailing southwards towards the Falkland Islands. Please note while it is our intention to adhere to the itinerary described below, there is a certain amount of flexibility built into the itinerary and on occasion it may be necessary, or desirable to make alterations. On the first day on board, your Expedition Leader will give you an expedition overview.
Day 3-5 At Sea (3B,3L,3D)
As we make the passage south you have time to become acquainted with the ship and our onboard staff and crew. Spend time on deck spotting wildlife including albatross and always keeping our eyes pealed for whales and dolphins. We also introduce our lecture and educational sessions about the extraordinary human and natural history of the Antarctic region begin.
Day 6-7 Falkland Islands (2B,2L,2D)
The Falkland Islands provide a rare opportunity to witness the biological diversity and extraordinary scenery of the southern islands. Nesting Albatross and penguins are abundant. Port Stanley provides an opportunity to meet the hardy local inhabitants whose colourful houses provide contrast to the long dark winters. The islands consist of 700 small and mostly uninhabited islands and 2 main islands - East and West Falklands. Located 490 km east of Patagonia, the Falklands have always been a land of hot debate. Officially discovered on August 14, 1592 by John Davis they remained uninhabited until 1764 when the French built a garrison at Port Louis disregarding the Spanish claim to the islands. From that moment on there have been many disputes between Spain, France, Britain and Argentina over the next 200 plus years until the end of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982 brought the islands firmly under Britain’s control. Now with a human population of only 2,491, the islands are the first stop in our journey. Here we hope to catch our first glimpses of penguins, including the Magellanic, rockhopper, and gentoo penguins. With a little luck we may also see sea lions, king cormorants, black-browed albatross, skuas, night herons, giant petrels, striated caracaras and of course sheep.
Day 8-9 At Sea (2B,2L,2D)
Sailing east now we’ll set course for South Georgia Island. Our lecture series resumes to prepare us for South Georgia and we will have plenty of time on deck to identify the abundant sea birds of the south ocean. We keep our eye peeled for the whales that inhabit these waters.
Day 10-13 South Georgia (4B,4L,4D)
South Georgia Island is home to many marvels including Shackleton’s grave, former whaling stations, incredible scenery and prolific wildlife. Weather permitting we will have 3-4 full days to explore this island. A huge colony of king penguins is the highlight of this part of the journey. On nearby islands we’ll hope to spot wandering albatross in their nesting grounds. Known for its brutal whaling and exploratory history, this 170 km long and 40 km wide island is considered the first gateway to Antarctica and was the centre of the huge Southern Ocean whaling industry from 1904 to 1966. The famous captain James Cook was the first to land on South Georgia on January 17, 1775 and named the island after King George III. During the 62 years of whaling activities, any number between 183 whales the first year and the record 7825 whales in 1925-26 season were killed annually for their oil. Whales weren’t the only animals hunted for their oil at that time. A total of 498,870 seals - mostly giant elephant seals - were also slaughtered. Since the end of whaling activities 40 years ago, wildlife has slowly returned to the island. Today the Island’s wildlife is extraordinary, not only in its variety, but also for its sheer abundance. South Georgia is home to roughly 300,000 elephant seals, 3 million fur seals, and 25 species of breeding birds, including wandering albatrosses. The gravel beach at St. Andrews Bay has a king penguin rookery of 100,000. The British explorer Sir Ernest H Shackleton landed at King Haakon Bay on the southwest coast after the 800-mile journey in a 20-foot open boat from Elephant Island. They proceeded to hike the ice covered mountainous terrain, arriving to Stromness whaling station on May 20, 1916. Shackleton returned to South Georgia in 1922 for one last assault on Antarctica but passed away after suffering a major heart attack while in his cabin. He was buried at the whaler’s cemetery at Grytviken station at the request of his wife.
Day 14-15 At Sea (2B,2L,2D)
Plotting as southwesterly course across the Scotia Sea, we sail for two days the legendary Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands. The waters are rich with nutrients and the long summer days provide the ingredient that is missing most of the year. The result is a complex food chain topped by several species of whales, seals, and seabirds.
Day 16-19 South Shetland Islands, Antarctica (4B,4L,4D)
Experience some of the most unique wildlife viewing and inspiring scenery in the world as we explore the islands of the Antarctic. Attempt two shore landings per day (weather conditions permitting), and encounter gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie penguin rookeries, Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals, and orca, humpback and minke whales in the cold Antarctic waters. The peninsula also has a remarkable human history. During the voyage we will learn about some of the most important and dramatic expeditions to this remote corner of the world. The South Shetland islands and further south the Antarctic Peninsula contrast between stark austere ice covered landscape and rich wildlife activity. At this time of year the sea ice is just breaking up and prevents wildlife like penguins and humans alike from entering many of the nooks and crannies of the islands and peninsula. Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins struggle across the frozen sea and climb snow and ice covered landscape to return to the exact same nesting sites they have used over and over again. If the snow is too high, they simple hunker down and wait for summer warming to melt away the winters piles. Keep a look out for whales as we cruise Bransfield Strait, it is early for large numbers of them to be present but there are always a few that spend their winters in Antarctica. Antarctic petrels are sometimes seen with their near cousin the Cape petrel in the early season. This time of year is perfect time to keep a look out for pup Weddell seal females pupping and nursing. You may even see a male quietly swimming the coast line waiting for an opportunity to breed. The sea ice is a destination all in itself. It surrounds the continent in winter expanding the size of Antarctica nearly twice of what the land mass covers. This ice rests on water that is -2 degrees Celcius (28F). All the ice seals give birth on the ice, crabeaters and leopard are two for us to keep a look out for! But wind and storm systems will determine if we can approach to the continent. The continent itself is roughly circular with a spindly arm, called the Antarctic Peninsula, reaching northwards towards Tierra del Fuego. South America is the nearest landmass, some 600 miles away. Considerably larger than either the United States or Europe, and twice the size of Australia, the continent is surrounded by a frozen sea that varies in area from one million square miles in summer to 7.3 million square miles in winter. Ninety-five percent of the continent of Antarctica is ice covered and contains the freshest water on earth - about 70 percent of all fresh water on earth in fact. The highest point in Antarctica is Vinson Massif, with an altitude of 16,864 feet above sea level; the lowest point is the Bentley Subglacial Trench at 8,200 feet below sea level, located in West Antarctica. Antarctica has the highest average elevation of all the continents at about 7,500 feet about sea level. Antarctica is a continent of superlatives. It is the coldest, windiest, driest, iciest and highest of all the major landmasses in the world. It is the continent with the longest nights and the longest days. The coastal areas we visit have some of the greatest concentrations of wildlife on the continent. It is also one of the last true wilderness, also the largest wilderness areas left on earth – largely unchanged since the first sealers, whalers, and early explorers first landed on its inhospitable shores less than two centuries ago. The lowest temperature ever recorded anywhere on earth, -89.2°C, was recorded on July 21, 1983, at Vostok Station. Winds have been recorded at 200 mph in the interior of the continent and the average annual water precipitation in the interior is only about 50 mm. Whales Thanks to the abundance of the small, shrimp like krill as the basis of the food chain, many species of whales make the water south of the Antarctic Convergence their summer home. Some of the species found in the frigid southern waters include: the Humpback Whale who consumes over a ton of krill each day; the Southern Right Whales easily identified by the whitish callosities on the jaws and forehead; the Sperm Whales made famous in Moby Dick; the Killer Whale which is actually not a whale at all but the largest of the dolphin family; the Sei Whale which can achieve speeds up to 55 km/h over short distances; the playful Minke Whales very common in the peninsula area; and the Fin Whale who can attain a length of 25 to 27 meters making them the second largest whales. Penguins Adapted for a life at sea, this flightless bird of the southern hemisphere is known commonly as penguins. Penguins have been grouped into 18 species and 6 genera, with most making their homes in Antarctica and the sub Antarctic islands, though others are native to the coasts of Australia, South Africa, South America, and the Galapagos Islands. Penguins are speedy and agile swimmers but awkward when walking on land, when going through breeding cycles. The regions we visit aboard MS Expedition are inhabited by 6 different species including the giant King Penguin who can grow up to 1 meter in height (found on South Georgia Island); the Adelie Penguin named after French explorer Dumont d’Urville’s wife; the Chinstrap Penguin identified by the distinctive black line connecting the black cap to below the chin; the Gentoo Penguin with its orange bill and white flash above and behind its eyes; while most numerous it is the most difficult to see the Macaroni Penguin (Only on South Georgia Island) who number roughly 12 million and are easily identified by the orange tassels meeting between the eyes; and the Rockhopper Penguin (we will see only in Falkland Islands) who are similar to the Macaroni in appearance but slightly smaller and have yellow tassels. Historical Figures Some of the bravest and best known explorers have sailed south in search of adventure and recognition. James Cook, the most travelled explorer of his time, was the first to circumnavigate Antarctica and the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to reach the South Pole and reached the pole on December 14, 1911. Captain Robert Scott, famous for being 35 days late, arriving at the South Pole on January 17, 1912 only to find the dark green tent and a note left by Amundsen. All 5 men in the Scott expedition perished on their way back from the pole. The best-known adventurer would have to be Sir Ernest Shackleton. On his attempt at the South Pole his ship, Endurance, was captured by pack ice in the Weddell Sea on January 19, 1915. The ship was destroyed by heavy ice, forcing he and his men to travel over the ice and sea to Elephant Island. However, because the island was uninhabited, Shackleton and 5 others made the 1300 km voyage for help to South Georgia, amazingly arriving at Stromness Harbour whaling station on May 20, 1916.
Day 20-21 Drake Passage (2B,2L,2D)
Turning north we embark upon the 400 mile crossing of the passage that bears the name of the 16th century English explorer Sir Francis Drake. The M/S Expedition is at home in this part of the Southern Ocean, known for the unimpeded never ending fetch of the winds that encircle the Antarctic. At some point on the first day we will cross the Antarctic Convergence, a meeting of cold polar water flowing north and warmer sub-antarctic water moving in the opposite direction. It is the largest biological barrier on earth and is marked by a change in temperature, salinity and nutrient levels. The north flowing Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath southward moving sub-antarctic waters. While further south associated areas of mixing and upwelling create an ocean very high in marine productivity. Wandering, Black-browed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Prion's and Cap Petrels are among some of the species of seabirds that may join us in our journey as we head back towards the South American continent.
Day 22 Depart Ushuaia (1B)
Our adventure comes to a close. Have a final breakfast on the expedition ship before saying our goodbyes as we disembark in Ushuaia in the morning. You are free to fly out of Ushuaia anytime from noon onwards.