Antarctic Peninsula and Snow Hill Island aboard the Ortelius

Overview

This is one of the most spectacular Antarctic adventures ever! Deep in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea is Snow Hill Island, home to a breeding colony of some 4,000 pairs of emperor penguins, the largest and most colorful penguins on the planet. Weather permitting, shipboard helicopters whisk us above the frozen sea to a base camp from where we head off on foot for fascinating encounters with these incredible creatures.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.

Itinerary

Day 1
Embark / Ushuaia, Argentina

Your voyage begins where the world drops off. Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, is located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed “The End of the World,” and sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.

Days 2-3
Drake Passage

Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, you enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence—Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas—you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. 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 are a few of the birds you might see.

Days 4-7
Entering Antarctica

You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for emperor penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there’s a good chance you’ll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights, and if conditions allow, helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year.  
 
Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include:
 
The west slopes of the Antarctic Sound: The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers, icebergs, and pack-ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual emperor penguins and Adélie penguins on the ice floes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below.
 
Duse Bay: A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this bay. There’s still a lot of snow and ice this time of year, but much of the walk in this location is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors.
 
Seymour Island: This is where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901—4 wintered under harrowing polar conditions. Sedimentary rock, fossils, and expansive views define this location.
 
If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include:
 
Devil Island: Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent vantage point for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met.
 
Brown Bluff: Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here, with gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels also to be found.
 
Gourdin Island: Chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie penguins love this island, which is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.
 
Esperanza Base: This Argentine research station, which operates year-round and is one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica, could serve as an alternative landing site.

Days 5-6
Alternate Program (If Needed)

Note: This is an alternate program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of pack ice (less than 50% probability)

Helicopters provide an advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but nature makes the rules in Antarctica. If conditions are favorable, you’ll spend the first two days at the penguin rookery. The helicopter operation takes a full day, and the flight duration is approximately 15 minutes. Each helicopter can accommodate 4-6 passengers per flight, and the landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not disturbed. Upon arrival to the site, it is about a 45-minute walk to the rookery. Please keep in mind that you are in the world’s most remote area: There are no guarantees. Conditions may change rapidly, which can have a profound impact on our helicopter operations. It is important to understand and respect this. Safety is our greatest concern, and no compromises can be made.

Day 8
Drake via Deception Island

In the morning, sail to Deception Island for the last landing of the voyage, either at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. Conditions on the Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure.

Days 9-10
Drake Passage

While crossing the Drake, you’re again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to you now, and you to them.

Day 11
Disembark / Ushuaia, Argentina

Disembark in Ushuaia and depart.

Highlights

Highlights

Encounter the emperor penguins of Snow Hill Island
Sail into the Weddell Sea, with the possibility of seeing its huge tabular icebergs
Cruise the South Shetlands, including Half Moon and Deception islands
If conditions permit, visit emperor penguin colonies by helicopter and Zodiac

Details

Length: 11 days
Cost From: $11,500  
Arrive: Ushuaia, Argentina
Depart: Ushuaia, Argentina
Lodging: 10 nights aboard an expedition vessel
Meals: All meals included aboard ship (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

11-day expedition cruise, nature walks on uneven ground, Zodiac cruising with wet landings, often rough seas and cold weather
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