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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.
We may start day 4 with a landing on Half Moon Island. The crescent shaped island lies close to Livingstone Island and is home to a colony of Chinstrap Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. On the island a small Argentine station, Teniente Cámara, can also be seen. Whales are often seen patrolling the shores, and this small island offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Seals often haul out on to the beach.
Later on, we will sail to Deception Island. The ring-shaped island is in fact the top of a volcano, a caldera. On one side there is a narrow entrance through which ships can enter the crater. Below some of the beaches, the seawater is heated by the still active volcano in a geothermal manner. In Whalers Bay the remains of an early 20th century whaling station can be seen. It is one of the safest harbors in Antarctica. Here we find thousands of Cape Pigeons and many Dominican Gulls, Brown and South Polar Skuas and Antarctic Terns. Wilson’s Storm Petrels and Black-bellied Storm Petrels nest in the ruins of the whaling station.
On our way further South we will sail across the Gerlache Strait to Cuverville Island, a small precipitous island, nestled between the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula and Danco Island. It contains a large colony of Gentoo Penguins and breeding pairs of Brown Skuas. In Neko Harbour and Paradise Bay, punctuated with myriad icebergs and deep cut fjords, we set foot on the Antarctic Continent. Here, we shall get a chance to opt for some adventurous zodiac cruising(small inflatable boats that have a capacity of around ten to eleven passengers) between the icebergs in the inner parts of the fjords. To add to the excitement, we may chance upon Humpback Whales and Minke Whales. We will sail through the spectacular Lemaire Channel to Petermann Island, where we can spot Adelie Penguins and Blue-eyed Shags. We will also try making a stop at Pleneau Island, famous for the Elephant Seals. We have a good chance of encountering Humpback, Minke and Fin Whales here.
We will also visit one of the scientific stations in Antarctica to get an insight about the life of modern Antarcticans working on the White Continent. Further south, we might visit the Ukrainian Vernadsky Station and meet the amazing crew there. Sailing north through Neumayer Channel we will arrive at the Melchior Islands, famous for its beautiful landscape. We can explore the possibilities for another zodiac cruise among the icebergs and even encounter Leopard Seals, Crabeater Seals and Whales. We may visit the British research station in the Neumayer Channel and also Port Lockroy post office on Goudier Island. We can land very close to Port Lockroy at Jougla Point, where we will have Gentoo Penguins and Imperial Shags for company!
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.
For Advanced level tours, we recommend previous experience of the activity involved. These are our most challenging and advanced expeditions. They include long walks, cycling, trekking, hiking or rafting in variable weather conditions for more than ten hours a day. These trips may often be over three weeks in duration. Ascents and descents are over 1000m at altitudes up to 6000m and the climate can be rigorous and challenging. Excellent physical condition and previous mountain trekking experience or appropriate preparation is essential.
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