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We start the tour to antarctic at Ushuaia, in the afternoon. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world located in the shadow of the Andes. This beautiful city is located to the south of the Beagle Channel and is the biggest settlement on the Channel.
Beagle Channel is a strait separating islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago, Argentina. It separates Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego from the islands Nueva, Picton, Navarino, Hoste, Londonderry, Stewart Islands and other smaller ones to the south. The Channel gets its name from the ship ‘Beagle’, in which the famous scientist Charles Darwin had done a hydrographic survey of the region. We’ll sail through this scenic waterway during the afternoon.
The optional activity available on this cruise is Kayaking
Our vessel and home for the next few days is the M/v Plancius.
The next two days will be spent sailing across the Drake Passage. The Drake Passage or Mar de Hoces is the body of water between the southern tip of South America at Cape Horn, Chile and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. We will arrive at the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone, as we cross the Antarctic Convergence. Look out for Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black- browed Albatrosses, Light- mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels in this region! We will catch a glimpse of the first icebergs, near the South Shetland Islands.
If the conditions are favorable, the Master of the vessel may decide to sail through the narrow English Strait between Robert Island and Greenwich Island. If we take this route, we will land on Antarctic waters, late in the evening on day three. We will land at Aitcho Island in South Shetlands. Alternatively, if conditions are not favorable, instead of opting for the English Strait, we will continue sailing south of Livingston.
Barrientos Island at the Aitcho Islands is one of the frequently visited spots on the Island. The 1, 5 kilometer long island is dominated by steep cliffs on which Giant Petrels breed. Several of the beaches are taken by Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins and a gentle walk brings you to an Elephant Seal wallow.
The South Shetland Islands is a 540 kilometre long chain of islands that is located about 800 kilometers from Tierra del Fuego and about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Antarctic Peninsula. The archipelago consists of 11 major islands and numerous smaller ones. South Shetlands are mountainous, volcanic islands, windswept and often shrouded in mist and fog; yet they offer quite a few subtle pleasures to visitors. There is an amazing variety of flora which includes mosses, lichens and flowering grasses. The marine mammals consist of species such as Crabeater Seal, Leopard Seal, Weddell Seal, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, and the Southern Right Whale, a rich species list as the Southern Ocean contains the greatest quantity of animal protein on Earth and hence is ideal for sea mammals.
Seal hunters used to frequent the islands in search of Fur Seals. The Fur Seals were almost completely wiped out of this region. Today, the seals are totally protected, and a few Fur Seals can be found breeding around the South Shetland Islands.
The journey continues further ahead, and we pass the Melchior islands and the Schollaert Channel between Brabant and Anvers Island. On Cuverville Island which is a small precipitous island nestled between the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula and Danco Island, look out for a large colony of Gentoo Penguins and breeding pairs of Brown Skuas.
If conditions remain favorable, we might land on Danco Island and observe Chinstrap Penguins and possibly Weddell and Crabeater Seals as well. In Neko Harbour, we will have the opportunity to set foot on the Antarctic Continent in a magnificent landscape of huge glacier and enjoy the landscape during zodiac cruises.
As we sail towards Paradise Bay, we will come across myriad icebergs and deep cut fjords,that provide excellent opportunity for zodiac cruising. A zodiac is a inflatable rubber boat which is very stable and agile and is ideal way to explore areas where larger vessels cannot maneuver. It is a thrilling experience to sail between the icebergs in the inner parts of the fjords to have a closer encounter with the animals around. In this area we have good chances to see Humpback Whales and Minke Whales, that surface out of the icy waters every now and then. We continue to sail towards the Neumayer Channel, known for its majestic cliffs. The channel, in the form of inverted S-shape, is often mistaken to be a maze with no visible exits. Later, we hope to get permission to visit the British research station and post office Port Lockroy on Goudier Island. Close to Port Lockroy we may also offer a landing on Jougla Point, a rocky peninsula which is a breeding ground for Gentoo Penguins Imperial Shag and Skuas.
Sailing through the spectacular Lemaire Channel, we arrive at Pleneau and Petermann Islands where there are many Adelie Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. Here there are good chances to encounter Humpback Whales, Minke Whales and Fin Whales as well. A visit to one of the scientific stations in Antarctica will give you an insight about the life of modern Antarcticans working on the White Continent. Further south we may visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station, where we will receive a warm welcome from the station crew. Sailing north through Neumayer Channel we arrive at the Melchior Islands with a very beautiful landscape with icebergs, where we may encounter Leopard Seals, Crabeater Seals and a few species of Whales.
We will spend the next two days in the Drake Passage, where we again get a chance to spot seabirds. Our lecture team will help us with their experienced suggestions, while we enjoy the thrill of bird spotting. The Drake Passage or Mar de Hoces (referred above) is the passage connecting the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean (Scotia Sea) with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. Before the passage opened, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were separated entirely with Antarctica being much warmer and having no ice cap. The joining of the two great oceans started the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and cooled the continent significantly.
This is the last day of our exhilarating cruise. We will reach Ushuaia in the morning and disembark from the vessel.
Requires a spirit of adventure and some degree of fitness, as the trip might consist of many activities or long journeys. These adventures involve walking, trekking, hiking, cycling, rafting, sea kayaking, or driving for long hours, at times for up to six to eight hours a day at a steady pace. The maximum altitude is 3000m, so it requires you to be reasonably physically fit because you may be travelling in extreme weather conditions. The trips are usually 6 to 12 days in duration.
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